For a lot of travellers, a trip to Thailand has become a gap year and holiday cliché. A few limited interactions across language barriers, perhaps attending the insanely popular full moon party, and then back home with a headache. But as fitness travellers, we’re about more than that. We’re about finding unique ways to explore an area’s culture and heritage, and if these ways can get us fit at the same time then even better.
Luckily, we’ve exactly the thing for you in Thailand. Introducing Muay Thai, or ‘the Art of Eight Limbs.’
What is Muay Thai?
Put simply, Muay Thai is a fighting art and combat sport native to Thailand. The art uses a combination of hands, elbows, knees and shins (hence the ‘eight limbs’) to deliver strikes to one’s opponent. The Professional Boxing Association of Thailand or PAT governs the sport, and it has grown significantly in popularity throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Today, Muay Thai is Thailand’s number one sport, attracting tens of thousands of participants. It is not unusual for fighters to start at a young age. Furthermore, many fighters have had dozens of competitive fights before the age of 18.
How does Muay Thai link to Thai history and culture?
Muay Thai links to Muay Boran (literally meaning ‘ancient boxing’) an umbrella term for all fighting arts in Thailand before the introduction of sporting elements. These arts can be traced back as early as the 1500’s and were widely used in warfare. The hand to hand fighting ability of a nation’s people was often seen as a mark of pride.
The most widely known story in the History of Thai fighting is that of Nai Khanomtom, a Siam (Thai) fighter who was captured in the year 1767. Wanting to see the abilities of his enemy, the Burmese King organised a fighting festival, pitting numerous Burmese fighters against Khanomtom. Each fighter not only lost but was devastated in the ring, leading many Burmese to believe that the Thai fighter was using some kind of black magic. Eventually, the Burmese king offered Khanomtom his freedom, along with the offer of either wives or money. (according to most records he chose the wives). His story is now celebrated every May 17th, in what is known as National Muay Thai day.
Muay Thai for fitness
Without a doubt, Muay Thai practitioners are some of the fittest people on earth. Practising the movements requires speed, power, balance and coordination. The length and intensity of training sessions require high levels of cardiovascular endurance.
The sport also places a high value on general conditioning and toughening the body. This means that practitioners are expected to dedicate training sessions specifically towards becoming fitter and stronger. Sessions can include bodyweight movements like squats, lunges and burpees. Also, they include distance runs, punch bag practice, shadow boxing, jump ropes and abdominal work. Practitioners will also spend time performing shin strikes against firmer ‘heavy bags’ in order to strengthen the bones of their shins to much higher levels than normal.
Here’s a video courtesy of Tiger Muay Thai that gives you a sense of the fitness that goes along with the sport.
How can I take part?
Whether you’re an experienced fighter or a complete beginner we’ve got the perfect place for you, Tiger Muay Thai. Located in Phuket, the training camp offers a variety of all-inclusive packages for all levels of abilities. It has established a reputation as one of the top training centres in the world.
Here’s a short video looking at one of the coaches and competitive fighters at the camp.
The class list is huge, with options to take you from 6:30 am all the way up to 8 pm should you wish. Morning and late evening classes are yoga, whilst the daytime they reserve it for Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and strength and conditioning classes.
For food, the on-site grill is run by an award-winning chef who specialises in delivering high-quality food to fill all your sports nutrition needs. The foods are inspired by Thai Cuisine and include a wide range of flavours and styles. You’ll also have access to smoothies and protein shakes throughout your trip. Prices are incredibly reasonable for such a high quality set up. Moreover, there are tonnes of options to cater for all types of interest and ability.
13400 THB (£310) covers all your classes plus standard accommodation and meals for a week. Whereas 17950 THB (£415) covers classes, accommodation and food but also gets you access to 7 private training sessions per week. There’s also the option to stay for up to 3 months if you really dedicate yourself to the sport!
It all sounds a bit intense? Is it right for me?
It’s only natural to feel some level of apprehension, especially when considering taking yourself outside your normal comfort zone. You probably worry that after a session of Muay Thai training you would have to visit a cosmetic dentist in Bangkok. However, you’ll find that most fighting art based communities are extremely welcoming. Tiger Muay Thai, in particular, is designed specifically to cater for all levels of ability, with a huge range of beginner, intermediate and advanced level classes, all of which are completely optional. What’s more, the coaches that train you are professional or ex-professional fighters. Coaching you is their way of making a living so that they can pursue the sport they love. For this reason, alone you’ll find yourself incredibly welcome at their training camp.
Hopefully, we’ve inspired you to take yourself away from the mainstream Thailand holiday and learn an art that has formed part of Thai culture and history for hundreds of years. Dare to take a trip outside your comfort zone and we’re sure you’ll have a once in a lifetime experience.