Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand. It’s like kickboxing but also includes elbows, knees, and clinching. It’s fun, it’s killer exercise, and it affords you the rare opportunity to be praised for kicking strangers in the thighs. For the past month, I’ve been training the art of eight limbs at a gym in Pai, a little town in the mountains of Northern Thailand. I got in great shape and it was a cool way to round out my last month of living here. The one thing it was above all else though?
Doing a month-long camp like this has been at the top of my Thai bucket list for a while. I saved it for the end of my travels so that I could get fit before going home and just chill for my final month. I expected it to be tough. I also expected to be able to walk functionally at the end of each day… Turns out I was half right.
The gym I trained at was called Charn Chai and it came highly recommended from both the internet and a friend. The camp was two sessions per day, 8-10am and then again from 3-5pm, six days a week. By the way, it’s hot season here and the average temperature is a shade below 100. Before I started, I remember thinking, “What a great idea this is going to be!”
You remember the hip-hop group House of Pain from the 1990s? You probably at least know their famous single, “Jump Around.”
Let me tell you right now, that song wasn’t written by anyone training Muay Thai for four hours a day.
Every day something new hurt. Over the course of the month, I had sore shins, swollen knees, inflamed feet, strained muscles, a chafed nipple, and a staph infection to top it all off. I got bruises in places that I didn’t even know could be bruised. After morning session each day, between stints of stumbling around and grunting involuntarily, I resorted to podcasts because I didn’t have the energy to lift my head to see the TV.
Wednesdays and Saturdays were sparring days. This was when we would try out everything we learned on our fellow trainees. The UFC fan in me enjoyed this part, but it still took some getting used to. I had to loosen the self-imposed mandate that I’ve been operating under for 27 years that states, “Don’t get punched in the face today.”
All in all though, despite everything I just wrote, I actually really enjoyed the whole experience and hopefully can find a gym back in the states. Wikipedia describes Muay Thai as using different points of the body to mimic the weapons of war. Hands are your sword and dagger, shins and forearms are your body armor, legs and knees give you an axe and staff, and your elbows bring the hammer. After a month of training, I’m a second-rate war machine at best, but I’ll take it. My pale complexion and impending six-pack should blind and scare off potential foes anyways.