Beginning Your Muay Thai Journey
This post comes from our newest Author: John Valentine.
Following a class I was teaching recently at Hidden Valley Martial Arts, Steve Spencer approached me about writing a piece on Muay Thai kick boxing. I was honored to do so, and then began to reflecting on my Muay Thai path and the things that originally drew me to the sport. While it has been over a decade since I first stepped into the gym, I could still remember the excitement and nervousness I felt as I contemplated my decisions. I also remembered that I had many questions. The following touches on some of the things you may be asking yourself as you consider starting your own journey into Muay Thai.
What is Muay Thai and where does it come from?
As one might guess, the art of Muay Thai originates from Thailand, and while there are conflicting opinions as to the exact date of its creation, many indicators point to it having been around in one form or another since the Middle Ages. Tracking the history proves difficult due to the lack of written records during Muay Thai’s early years, where we must rely primarily on its oral traditions.
What is not in dispute is that Muay Thai’s history is deeply entwined with the history of Thailand itself. Many believe that origins of Muay Thai were born out of necessity as constant invasions led the Thai people to look for effective ways to defend themselves in hand-to-hand combat when tactical weapons had failed or were unavailable.
Muay Thai is famous for and is commonly referred to as “the art of eight limbs” which comes largely from its use of punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes (eight points of contact). When you compare this style to others such as traditional western boxing that has only 2 points of contact (fists), you soon learn to appreciate the real life and deadly applications that this art holds. Muay Thai is a both a professional and amateur sport, and also has a popular following in the fitness community for its “hard charged” work-outs. It has also made a name for itself as one of the most effective and at times devastating forms of self-defense, a fact that has been proven time and time again in the UFC and other MMA venues.
However, for the people of Thailand, Muay Thai is more than just fighting. It represents a spiritual way of life and is deeply engrained in their history, culture, community, and identity. Like baseball here in the states, Muay Thai is Thailand’s highly revered national sport.
Is Muay Thai right for me?
Before you can answer this you must first decide what you hope to gain from your martial arts training. Is it to get in shape? For self defense? Your health? Challenge? Discipline? Fighter training? Regardless of the reasons you choose, you need to make sure that they are the right reasons for you. Knowing why you are training will help you understand what, how, and where to train.
For me, my goal was to become a more well-rounded fighter. I was already coming from a strong wrestling background, so Muay Thai seemed like a perfect choice for me to round out my already strong take-down and ground game.
Should you choose to train in Muay Thai, you will find that while there is much to learn, you can progress fairly quickly if you apply yourself to building and mastering a solid technical base. While the sport does have some physical demands you can go at your own pace and focus on those techniques that are within your limits. Additionally you can enjoy Muay Thai even if you are not ready spar, gaining skills through focus mitt and heavy bag training.
If you are looking for other rewards they are plentifully; transcending beyond simply the physical advantages. The art has enriched the physical and moral well being of the Thai people for generations, and when you become connected to the history and tradition you will find it will become an increasing part of your way of life.
Additionally, you should feel good about learning one of the most applicable forms of self defense making it a perfect choice for the young, old, both men and women, and yes children as well. So whether you choose to be involved as a fighter, student, or future “Kru” (instructor) Muay Thai is well worth your attention and a closer look.
How do I find the right gym?
While this process can be stressful at first, finding the gym can be easy if you know what you are looking for. Here are a couple of suggestions:
First, find a teacher that is both knowledgeable in the fundamentals and has training goals for his students that are aligned with yours. If he wants everyone in his gym to spar or be a fighter, then depending on your goals this may or may not be for you.
Second, try to understand as much about the gyms moral fabric and character as you can; this can also be referred to as the “vibe.” I often tell students that you can get a read on this if you take the time to talk to the students, and the instructors. When meeting your future instructor, share your goals openly and ask him/her how they can help you meet them. Respect is the cost of entry into this sport so if it is not shown by your instructor then keep looking!
If you find that the main focus of your discussions with the instructor seems to be about contracts or money, keep looking!
Case in point, when I was looking a new gym for my Jiu Jitsu training I stumbled upon Hidden Valley Martial Arts. The Gym’s owner, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo Black Belt, Michael A. Hermosillo told me, “The new student is the most important person in our gym and everyone needs to pitch in to help them develop.” For me these were the types of attributes I was looking for in my next Sensei (martial arts instructor).
We will each have our own criteria we are looking for when we look to choose a gym. But if you take the time to understand their atmosphere as well as their goals and intentions and how they align with yours you will find yourself building long-lasting, treasured friendships with your new gym-family.
What’s the hardest part of Muay Thai?
I tell prospective students that the hardest part of Muay Thai is the same as making any positive change in who we are: Taking the first step to begin your journey.
I still reflect back on when I started my Muay Thai training over a decade ago in a small gym in Las Vegas run by Grand Master Toddy and Master Chan. I remember feeling nervous, uncomfortable and yes a bit scared as I first slapped on the gloves. All of those feeling were not only normal but were also signs that I was about to embark on a special journey. One of character, humility, respect, and one that would push me farther than I ever thought I could go.
Today, while I am fortunate enough to be able to share knowledge through teaching, I am still approaching Muay Thai with a “new student mentality”, respect, and in many ways gratitude. I hope to meet you in the gym soon to discuss your Muay Thai goals but until then, good luck with your training and keep fighting!