by Mike Honore, http://www.reactiv.co.nz (2005-12-12)
A lot of you have asked about my Muay Thai training trip to the Fairtex camp in Thailand. Well here’s my brief rundown of 3 weeks of shin bashing, Muay Thai training torture!
As it turned out, and as painful as they were, my pulverized shins were the least of the impending suffering… don’t get me wrong though, the thrill of the training far outweighed the ‘discomfort’!
The decision was made when a friend of mine convinced me to join him and 2 other mates at Fairtex, the world’s number one Muay Thai boxing training camp based in the smoggy industrial outskirts of Bangkok in Thailand. Fairtex have been building fighting machines for the last 30 years – they pump out iron-willed, hard and conditioned fighters, and have over 30 world champion fighters to their credit, with titles such as Rajadamnern, Lumpinee, and ISKA among others. From what I saw there are plenty more on the way. The standard of fighters there is something you have to see, it’s UNBELIEVABLE, they are EXTREME athletes!
Fairtex like to describe their camp as ‘fun’, but of course it depends on your definition of fun. The way I see it a more accurate description would be summed up by the word ‘PAIN’. Sure, you are taught technique, and your fitness is taken to a new level (if you want to get lean and fit believe me 2 x 3 hr sessions a day at Fairtex is THE BEST way!), but at the end of the day what you are REALLY learning about is dealing with pain – and the trainers dish it out in copious amounts with a look of deviant glee on their faces. How you respond is up to you, but you better learn to deal with it – or, if you don’t, well you see them come and goes, surprisingly the majority stay… which gives you some comfort knowing there are other people around with similar self infliction mindsets as your own.
When there’s no alternative the only choice is pushing on, ha-ha pain becomes your partner in training. It turns out that part of the intended result of the punishing is developing self control, to be more relaxed. The trainers repeat the word ‘relax’ a lot – it makes sense, if you want to be a good fighter you need to be relaxed enough in the ring to react without restriction. The goal is to find that calmness, so with every movement you aren’t giving your game away. If you are uncomfortable with what’s coming then your body becomes tense, breathing becomes restricted and your responses are slow and rigid, too easy for an opponent to read, ha-ha so apparently you learn to relax.
The local Thai fighters have a very relaxed look about their fighting style, shoulders and hips appear loose – they say ‘dancing, dancing’, what they mean is relax and find your rhythm. Watching two Thai Boxers fight is like a dance, it follows a rhythm, and when they find their rhythm they unleash all hell!
Arriving at the camp I soon realized that English is not a strong point for the Thai’s – actually with the trainers it’s down to single words, not even sentences – that’s hard – so training becomes instinctual from the start, a good thing in any fighters book. Rather than relying so much on being told what to do, reading your trainers movements and responding to these becomes reflex.
Each morning you are there, at about 5am, if you haven’t already been woken by the mosquitoes and the suffocating heat, you are woken by the slapping crack of kicks on bags outside. Soon begins the first of the 2 training sessions for your day. My room was the closest to the training area – less than 3 meters away – the training area consists of 4 full-size boxing rings, a bag area of about 10 bags plus speed balls and some other ingenious punching and kicking gadgets that only the Thai’s could have invented.
At about 5am the youngest of the local Fairtex fighters begin their training before going to school. The rest of us including the local senior Fairtex fighters start training between 6 and 6:30am, beginning with a 30min run (or longer if you are so inclined), then some stretching, wrap your hands, then out to the rings – you choose a trainer, or they choose you – then you pretty much stick with them as your one on one trainer for the duration of your stay.
You get quite a bond, they push you to your limits so there is some bizarre bond thing there. And all the trainers are friendly, humble, and VERY laid back, always cracking jokes or playing tricks on you and each other.
The actual handpicked local Fairtex fighters training there train like their lives depend on it, and really they do – they have been handpicked to perform from some very ‘difficult’ backgrounds – this is their one chance to break out of what looks like a very bleak existence, Fairtex offers them a rosier future.
Like I have said they are true machines. These guys generally start about 6 years old and peak in their career at about 20 years, most retire soon after as they’ve been fighting for so many years, sometimes with a good 100 or 200 fights under their belt! Then if they are lucky enough they go on to become Fairtex trainers.
The second daily training session begins at 2:30pm and follows the same format as the morning session; I soon learned why there wasn’t much activity during the day. The only way I could sustain the intensity of 2 marathon sessions per day was by sleeping during the day too. After breakfast I would sleep for 2 hrs, eat then be ready to train again at 2:30pm, after that was dinner, relax for a bit then hit the sack again, and still everyone is nagged by annoying injuries – if you are unlucky they become excruciating injuries. And EVERYONE develops some type of injury.
Along with “relax” the other most used word by the trainers is “power”, constantly yelling “power, power” the trainers demand full power with every kick, punch, knee, or elbow, it’s 100% or get out of the ring. After kicking and punching full power it doesn’t take long for things to start hurting, ankles, shins, fists, muscle strains, heamatomas – and any grazes and cuts soon become infected, any open wound get’s infected as I found out.
On the third day my toe was throbbing and pusfilled. I’d ignored the flies buzzing around my weeping foot, for the next few days kicking became a truly ‘surreal’ experience – fortunately after taking a look the local Dr didn’t take too much convincing to give me a bag full of painkillers and antibiotics…
During your stay you soon build up a good fitness level – once in the ring it is 6 x 6min ballistic rounds on the pads – they HAMMER you – and you get drilled and drilled…. and drilled on the basics. You think you are getting it right, and then they make you do it again and again… remember ‘wax on wax off’ from the ‘Karate Kid’ well this has to be what that’s all about.
During my time I was frustrated, I wanted to get on and learn the moves I’d seen in the movie ‘ONG BAK’ (If you haven’t seen it, this a great Thai Boxing movie). Anyway now that I am at home I understand the benefit of their ‘wax on wax off’ approach, the subtle body positioning and technique is imprinted on my brain forevermore.
After rounds in the ring it’s bags for 3 to 5 rounds (6 mins each again), then after that some ab work, then if you are up for it, it’s rounds of grappling and sparring. All in all it’s hardout but then you always look over and see the Thai’s training far, far harder and for much longer – I wonder whether or not it’s possible for an ‘outsider’ to ever reach that same level?
If you have ever thought about traveling to Thailand for some Muay Thai training of your own, it is well worth doing. Yeah, it is hardout, and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted – but the exhilaration and satisfaction from the training far outweighs the ‘discomfort’ factor’. What you walk away with will be with you forever. Sure you learn technical skill – and yeah the Thai’s are all about technique – they are master technicians of the art and they won’t accept any less from you either – but you take home a WHOLE lot more than that… I can’t wait to get back there again for more!
The Fairtex Bangplee training camp is located in Bangkok, Thailand – very soon a multi-million dollar, second camp will be completed in Pattaya, Thailand. Please visit the Fairtex website for more information: http://www.fairtex.com