Muay Thai adventure day 1: Origins

I have a story about how Muay Thai came into my life. It’s kind of dumb.

I was watching my brother play this game, True Crime: New York City.  It was bad, but I liked it if only because you controlled a cop and didn’t necessarily have to keep things clean. My playthrough featured a protagonist who made The Godfather‘s Captian McCulskey look honest. Keep in mind I wasn’t even a teenager yet.

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The streets of the Big Apple were in bad shape when a controller was in my hands

My brother was different. He was a goody-two-shoes. His cop didn’t plant evidence, drive on sidewalks, take bribes or steal from the evidence locker. And he only beat up civilians when absolutely necessary.

To that effect he sent his protagonist into a dojo to learn a fighting style. Yes, you could go to a dojo in-game. After a few words with the astonishingly racist caricature of a sensei, he scrolled through all the fighting styles you could master with a press of a single button.

“Thai boxing?”

“Yeah. It’s like the Thai version of boxing.”

I nodded dumbly. I had no idea what that meant. In hindsight, it’s hard to think of anything more uninformative he could’ve said. But it stuck with me. “Thai boxing” had a certain ring to it. At the time, I was intensely proud of my Swedish ancestry.  But “Swedish boxing”, however awesome one imagines that being, just doesn’t have the same effect.

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Tonight’s venue for the Swedish boxing heavyweight title fight

Muay Thai is the “art of the eight limbs” because it uses hands, elbows, knees and legs. Unlike American kickboxing, it allows kicks below the waistline — if you watch it, you’ll see practitioners swinging their own legs like baseball bats into the side of their opponent’s thigh. While its history in Thailand dates back hundreds of years, it became better known worldwide after Muay Thai fighters started beating the snot out of other martial artists. I didn’t even know that last part until I started researching for this post, but I’m not surprised. The rest I learned pretty quickly after my brother’s unhelpful introduction.

I never played hockey. For me, it was baseball in the summer and karate in the winter. I unceremoniously received my black belt when I was 14, and two years later I started kickboxing of the non-Thai variety. I have no idea why I didn’t just start learning Muay Thai then, but I have many regrets in my short life. I would watch Muay Thai fights, instructional videos on Youtube, and movies. I did everything except actually train in the damn thing.

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Though I love both Tony Jaa and this film, I’m sure mention of it elicits eye rolls at the boxing camps in Thailand

Around this time I started really getting into Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, which combines stand-up fighting with grappling. It wasn’t the violence of the UFC that really hooked me. Like a lot of early fans, I was fascinated by the stylistic match ups — how would one of the greatest judokas in the world fare against an NCAA Division 1 wrestler? How about a kickboxer versus a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner who uses his knowledge of submissions to — sometimes literally — rip opponents arms off?

Muay Thai quickly became dominate as a stand-up style, particularly among Brazilian fighters. Those were all of my favourite fighters — Brazilians who kicked their opponents so hard they couldn’t stand after a few rounds. Guys like Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, and Thiago Silva.

There are a lot of Brazilian fighters named Silva…

My favourite, though, was Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.  His Muay Thai was classic, very traditional — similar to what you see in Thailand. But it also had a certain acrobatic flair, especially before his knees exploded. Fittingly, Shogun became light heavyweight champion by pounding the shit out of a karate guy, Lyoto Machida.

That was years ago, but I know what it means for my evolution as a martial artist. I must learn Muay Thai, and I must learn it in Thailand. I’m going to spend a few weeks getting ready at a gym here (in Milton, Ontario, more specifically), but the core of my journey will be done at Kiatphontip Gym, just west of Bangkok. The flights have been booked, the arrangements have been made. You might get the sense that I’m just a cynical, sarcastic, depressing person in general from this post. That’s true sometimes. But in all honesty I’m so excited for this adventure because it’s reaffirmed to me that it’s never too late to pursue your childhood dreams. Mine happens to involve getting kicked in the head, but regardless I’m happy you’re with me on this adventure.