Some of my favorite pieces here at BE have been firsthand recounts of experiences from community members. I remember one in particular from BJJ Denver who told the story of his trip to Brazil to train BJJ and I found it inspiring. (Link below for those newer members who may not have seen this)
I don't really contribute too much to this community, mainly lurking to pass the time on the train to and from work, and occasionally commenting if I can be bothered to sign myself in. Given how great this community is, I figured I should take some time to write this up in case anyone was thinking of taking a trip to Thailand for a training holiday.
After following the sport of MMA since a friend at a weights gym introduced me to youtube videos of CroCop's left leg about 5 years ago, I finally decided to ante up and give Martial Arts training a try as a 2011 new years resolution. In January I signed up at the local gym in Melbourne, Australia, at the ripe old age of 25. I began by doing two Muay Thai classes, one boxing class and one BJJ class a week.
That combination stayed relatively consistent for my first 6 months of training, until I had my rather fragile nose broken badly by a BJJ blue belt when I was escaping from his side control. Suffice to say, the grappling and sparring sessions were out. As I was already planning to take my annual vacation in Thailand in September, I decided to book the first 2 weeks of said vacation at Tiger Muay Thai here in Phuket, Thailand. This would give me 2 months to heal the nose and to get in shape to make the most of my training time here in Thailand. I was able to focus on Muay Thai 5 times a week, as at our gym the classes mainly consist of pad work with a partner (unless you attend the dedicated sparring class) and my nose would be at little risk of getting hit. I was then at the gym an hour each day before work, Monday to Friday. In hindsight it is not really enough to prepare for a place like this, but as most of you would know, you can only fit in so much training around your work and family life (My girlfriend had just moved to Australia to live with me, and demanded to spend some time with me. Greedy woman!) A nasty bout of Bronchitis the week before my trip killed all my efforts at getting fit, but luckily the heat here in Thailand burnt the crap out of my lungs in the first 2 days.
I chose to come to Tiger mainly because of the fame of the gym, their website was the best, and the fact it is in Phuket (The main Thailand holiday destination) so that I could put my feet up for a week once training has finished. So here I am now at Tiger with 9 months of semi-casual training behind me. The first thing to mention is that this gym attracts alot of touristy types like myself, so no matter how novice you are you will fit in ok. On the flip side of that, as you all know there are serious professionals here too so if you are a superstar or wannabe fighter, then there are trainers and programs here which will help make you even better, and can get you a fight in Thailand if you like.
The trainers here are ridiculously well credentialed, and that is the highlight of the gym. I have been having 1 on 1 training sessions with a 3 time Lumpinee stadium champion every day! It is incredible. There is a good ratio of trainers to students in the group classes, and they are all open to having one on one sessions booked with them in between classes (For the measly sum of 600 baht - about 20 bucks for an hour) The trainer I am doing my private sessions with is actually the one whose daughter was saved by Dana White paying for her operation (About $50k) because of a failed liver. I am happy to report the girl is doing fantastically well, and she is often floating about the place and the trainers get her to hit the pads now and again. She is only a couple of years old and hits harder than I do :-) Article covering Dana Whites generosity is linked below
The techniques themselves are different to what I was taught at home, and there are a few people I have spoken to who say the same. I guess real Thai technique is a bit different. The main things they corrected on me were my stance (They use a quite wide and front on stance which would translate quite well to MMA) and also my kicks - They really teach quite a different kicking technique to the one my Kru back home teaches. (Kru = sensei for Muay Thai) In addition to the stance and kicks, they advocate a 'Bangkok' style of Muay Thai which is always staying close to your opponent, and very offensively oriented. If you step back to get some distance between yourself and your trainer during padwork, they will admonish you for it. This has certainly helped me with my pushkick! It is the only way to catch your breath.
Overall the gym here is what you make of it. There are classes running almost all day for a variety of Martial Arts, except Sunday which is a designated rest day. They advocate lots of sparring in the Muay Thai classes as it is a highly valued way of learning, and despite what the website says, sparring is NOT optional. If you go to the group classes, you will be getting in the ring. Be prepared for that if you do come here, as my first day the person I was paired up with to spar said he didn't want to, but there wasn't a choice and he had to overcome his fear right then and there. The heat and humidity is oppressive, and it really saps your energy as the classes run from about 7.45am to 10.30am, and then again in the afternoon from 3.45pm to 6.30 pm so that is bucketloads of sweat and tears that you have to put back into your body. You will learn quickly about fueling your body correctly: I have nearly vomited on more than one occasion while trying to perfect the timing of meals and the quantity/contents. There is a cheap restaurant onsite which does ok food, and there are several other places within walking distance to get food too if you like. I have ended up just sticking with the onsite restaurant, as they do not sell Ice Cream and with the heat here I would be eating it all day if given the opportunity!
some general advice about coming to Tiger to train:
- Stay at one of the nicer hotels nearby if possible. They are really close, and some have swimming pools and nice restaurants attached. There is accommodation onsite (which I am currently in) but it is hard to get rest during the day, as there is Rage against the Machine blaring all day and I can hear MMA and BJJ trainer Ray Elbe yelling (maybe he is just talking normally, but he has the loudest voice you have ever heard) at his students for hours on end: Especially Junie Browning, who is here training (and looking quite fat actually)
- Don't buy your gear from the Tiger Equipment shop. Just 10 minutes walk away is the Phuket Fight Store, where you can buy gear cheaper, and they are a wholesale outlet for Fairtex (By far the best gloves, shorts and shin-pads I have tried!) so it is better to go for a walk if you want to stock up on equipment during your trip. The prices are much cheaper than buying them outside of Thailand too.
- Bring your laptop and lots of stuff to do in your downtime, as the gym is in a pretty remote location on the island by way of tourist attractions. Outside of eating, there is not much else to do within walking distance. You will have to catch motorbike taxis around if you want to do anything (or hire your own, if you feel like risking your life on Thai roads) I have come across two students who have been in accidents here, and it is both painful and expensive. - The internet here is good, so don't worry about that. The guest support team in the office are also very helpful if you have any questions, and are a great resource.
- Bring your own supplements if possible, as they are quite expensive to buy here in Thailand. Make sure you bring in unopened containers or customs will give you trouble. If you are only coming for a short period of time and it is not worth buying bulk supplements, they do sell protein shakes etc. at the onsite restaurant, and electrolyte mix is available in most 7 elevens.
- The website is quite misleading: There is no running program, the class times are a little different than what is advertised, you don't have to sanitize your feet before going on the mats before class, the Grill bar and restaurant doesn't have everything on the menu that it offers, the budget fighter accommodation is like a prison cell, and the equipment shop is smaller than it looks and It mostly sells Tiger branded items at quite expensive prices.
Overall I am very glad I came here. My technique has improved out of sight in a short period of time, and it certainly gave me a new respect for Thai fighters! One of the trainers was in a brutal 5 round war last Friday night at the professional fights in Bangla Stadium in Patong Beach, and I saw him back at training like nothing happened this morning.
Personally, I have realized that 6-7 hours of training a day is far too much for me. In this heat it is too taxing, and also I simply lose interest. I love Muay Thai and MMA, but the group classes are too long (and the beginner one is very repetitive) for me, so I have now for my second week decided to take 1 on 1 classes during the day, and do the morning strength and conditioning workout (which is run separately to the other classes). 2 hours of intense training is enough for me, and the one on one sessions teach me SO much more than the group classes. Definitely do a group class on arrival though, as it is the best way to meet the trainers and see which one you think would be a good fit for your personal coaching.
In summary, no matter where you are in your training, you will benefit from a trip here to Thailand. just make sure you do your research before arrival!
The Well Read Idiot