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Here’s what to expect from a session of Muay Thai training in Thailand and what it takes to understand a form of Thai national pride.
I booked myself in for Muay Thai training in Thailand, and it was far from easy. However, I wouldn’t take back the gruelling yet unforgettable cultural experience, which is a must for any fitness fan looking for a glimpse into the country’s national sport.
The martial art form of Muay Thai in Thailand is a big deal, and there’s a huge sense of national pride over a skill that is just as recognised and victorious as other martial arts. It’s so popular that Muay Thai training is a common offering, even for complete beginners.
Whether you are a dedicated amateur boxer or the most unfit person to have landed in Thailand and are keen to shed a few pounds, you can put yourself through the gruelling training of champions.
It’s advertised everywhere, sometimes with booming radio slogans from big trucks shouting, “You see Muay Thai, you see Thailand!” inviting you to attend matches in nearly every big city, from small-scale 400 Bhat matches to world champion competitions with 2,000 Bhat ringside seats. You’ll soon be thinking about it with more interest than you first thought.
The closest I’ve ever been to performing Muay Thai was my years spent doing ‘combat aerobics’, arming me with great aim and basic skills. But I couldn’t defend myself, nor did I have much strength. It was time to take my curiosity to the next level.
I had considered a week-long Muay Thai course in Chiang Mai, but something at the back of my mind told me I wasn’t quite ready for that length of training – I’ve always been into dancing and trekking, and this would be a whole new level of fitness I would be putting my body through.
In the nearby town of Pai, a relaxing mountain valley haven where there are more Thai Rastas than fighting rivals, I came across a gym and decided to give Muay Thai a try for a four-hour afternoon session. After all, training in a beautiful and relaxing town like Pai could only ease the pain, right?
Let’s call it a very intense introduction.
Muay Thai Training – Lesson Breakdown
Part 1: Body Conditioning
Within minutes after arriving and being asked whether we preferred running to skipping, my friend and I were out on the road running in the intense heat around the scenic mountain valleys and villages.
Muay Thai, as a full-contact sport, focuses a lot on body conditioning to achieve the high levels of fitness needed for competitions. Fighters are also normally stripped of too much bulk and are not muscle-pumped, Arnie style. Therefore training regimens include running, jumping, skipping and abdominal exercises.
Our 20-minute run was just a small taster of that. It wasn’t a casual, get-the-blood-pumping-while-lapping-up-the-view jog, but a proper run, leaving me lingering far behind my friend and the trainer – a small but fierce Italian champion fighter. Although disappointed on arrival that I wasn’t going to be trained by a Thai, this guy knows his stuff.
This wasn’t going to be an afternoon full of high jinx and giggles; it was serious, and I had to focus. What had I gotten myself into?
Part 2: Learning the Basic Moves
Back at the training area, annoyed that I had been left behind and, as a consequence of trying to play catch up, was left looking like a bruised tomato (more purple than red), we had a few minutes to recover and drink lots of water before getting straight into training.
The trainer bandaged our hands with a strong, thick black material that held in place a cushioned covering over our knuckles for protection. This was serious business, and I was expected to show some high-impact contact. Once the gloves were on, it was time to line up in front of the mirror and get to work.
We were taught how best to balance on our feet and move around while always defending; the correct aims and angles for striking with our fists using jabs, crosses and uppercuts; using our elbows as a form of contact; the various forms of kicking from high kicks (roundhouse kick) to straight kicks to the stomach using the flat of your foot (foot jab); and how to use our shins and knees correctly without breaking any bones.
We were then straight onto the heavy bags to put these moves into practice.
Muay Thai is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because of the contact used by all these body parts. Hands, elbows, legs and knees mean using eight points of contact instead of two in boxing (hands) and four in other contact sports like kickboxing (hands and legs).
It’s exhausting, as my face shows, yet exhilarating regarding the adrenalin rush.
Part 3: In the Ring
After perfecting my moves, it was time to have a one-on-one with the trainer for a sparring session. With the trainer holding the pads and shouting instructions, I was performing kicks, punches and elbow strike combinations on the pads in set sequences for one-five minutes, testing my new skills and timing over and over until I felt like collapsing.
During the final minute, I would cry out in pain while my body gave out and couldn’t give any more as the instructor shouted at me to continue.
“Five more!” sounds like the end of the world. Yet, no matter how exhausted I felt, the adrenaline pumping through me felt incredible, despite the other part of me longing for the end.
While the sparring and pad training helps you to perfect your technique, it does become the more serious part of the training session. It’s at this point where you learn your strengths and weaknesses, and there’s no messing about.
When I forgot to defend myself properly, the trainer gave me a light hit on the head to show how quickly you can get taken down. It was a little too hard for my liking and not the level of contact I was expecting during my first session, but I guess that’s just how serious this sport is, even if you are only trying it out.
Part 4: The Cool Down
If you think a few simple stretches end the session, think again. Just when you thought you were done, your body is put through a cool down of intense abdominal exercises and stretches. Those which are practically impossible when your body is dying, and you have nothing left to give. But I knew I had to do it or regret it the next day when I couldn’t move.
And then, well… I just rested a little.
Review of Muay Thai Training
Four hours of Muay Thai training certainly took it out of me, but in that short time, I learnt more than I expected. I felt it making an impact on my body.
While I walked away knowing that at that time I was not going to take up a week or more of training, I did have a new appreciation for the sheer level of skill and extreme fitness involved in this martial art and beloved national sport and can watch it with a bit more insight.
Nonetheless, it was a fun afternoon that certainly took it out of me.
Just don’t expect me back in the ring anytime soon.
Where to Book Muay Thai Training in Thailand
There are plenty of options across Thailand to take a Muay Thai lesson, but easier to do so in the major city hubs.
I recommend longer sessions if you are interested, as once you build up initial skills, you won’t want the training to end too early.
For around $70, you can enjoy this half-day Muay Thai training lesson in a gym set within a peaceful, rural area, much like the one I visited in Pai. It’s a chance to train at an actual boxing camp with professional trainers to help you improve your game. Pick up and drop off are included, as well as lunch. A half-day is to be well spent for the fitness and the views.
A half-day training session at Sor Wisarut Gym costs around 450 Bhat and lasts approximately four hours. It’s a 10-minute walk from the main walking street of Pai, where the main office is based. It’s both sign-posted in town and well-known by word-of-mouth. Many thanks to Sor Wisarut Gym for the opportunity to be their guest and try out Muay Thai for the first time. All opinions, as always, remain my own.
Try a 90-minute first-timer training session and learn the basics. If you already have some base skills, you can use this gym time with a trainer to practice further.