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Kicking up a Storm: Women’s Kickboxing in Thailand

By Peta Bassett

Boxing and women; it’s a scary combination many parents wouldn’t want to think about. Mine still can’t quite grasp the concept. But in Thailand, women’s kickboxing is a popular sport!

 

Some women may inherit the boxing instinct, like Leila Ali who has followed her Dad, Mohammed, into the ring. Do I have any genetic excuse? No. Mowing the lawn and sitting on the beach is more my style!

But a desire to get fit and spar with a 60 year old overweight Thai man, who will not accept "No" for an answer, takes me to a backyard Bangkok gym once a week for Muay Thai training (Thai kickboxing).

Trips to Thailand

Tucked away in a tiny, dead end soi (alley), there is nothing glamorous about the gym’s surroundings. A tin shed houses a boxing ring, a few dilapidated punching bags and a mirrored wall. A nearby building is home to about 15 professional fighters. Their washing is usually scattered around the perimeter fencing, along with smelly gloves and strapping.

All the trainers are male (even the one with the fluorescent pink hairband). Some are juniors; yet to step into the ring for their first major bout. Others are accomplished pros. I am not, however, the only woman wearing gloves.

Atsuko and Takako are amazingly fit and dedicated fighters who come down regularly from Japan. Training and living costs are cheaper in Bangkok and there are more opportunities for a professional fight. The petite, demure stereotype of Japanese women flies out the window as you watch them in action.

Elsa, a Taiwanese aerobics instructor, has also spent a month at "my gym" honing up her skills, but has yet to come to blows in the crowded Rangsit Stadium where the female fights are held. You won’t see me there though. I know for certain that I will just stick to my leisurely training.

So what makes Thai boxing more appealing to women than the Western Muhammad Ali version? Muay Thai is not just about throwing punches. High kicks come into play as well, hence the name kickboxing. The gloves and shorts may look the same as the mainstream Mike Tyson style boxing that the Western world, knows but the rules differ somewhat. Almost all of your opponent’s body is fair game! Headbutting isn’t allowed, but striking with any other part of your body is fine.

Muay Thai is also considered a martial art. Think of it as a cross between Kung Fu and the popular Western aerobics workout Tai Bo.

Training typically starts with 10 minutes of heart-starting skipping (a sports bra is a must!). Then Khun Duei, my trainer, straps my hands and forces them into shiny, red gloves before tightly lacing them. Now it’s time to fight. He straps on a stomach protector, slips on hand held shields and invites me to kick him. A week of pent up frustration is then unleashed. Short five-minute bouts seem to last forever. Collapsing in the corner from exhaustion usually signals that I can’t go on. "Get up!" and "Kick harder. Faster" are the persuasive and non-negotiable commands that follow!!

By the end of my workout, I am drenched and exhausted, but feel GREAT! Power surges through my veins and once again, I am ready to take on the world. Sometimes, in Thailand, you need to feel that way. At least, I do. And I’m not the only woman who agrees.

For More Information...

If armchair sportsmanship is more your style, try the following venues for a ringside view of the sport. Lumphini Stadium (Rama IV Rd) is home to the action on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights starting at 6:20pm. Seats range from 170 — 500 Baht (approx.US$4.25-$12.50), depending on the vantage point you’re after.

Ratchadamnoen Stadium
(Ratchadamnoen Nok Rd) has Muay Thai the rest of the week.Fancy your face on TV while you’re watching a fight? Channel 7 catches the action.Phone 272 0201-5 for more information about the live telecast fights.

Enquire at Muay Thai gyms for venues and schedules for women’s fights.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re interested in working up a sweat in Thailand, try Muay Thai. Grab some gloves and climb into the ring. It is a fantastic way to get fit and meet some locals at the same time.

While in Bangkok learn or brush up on your skills at:

Chitalada Gym
277 Soi Saensuk
Rama 4 Road
Prakanong Bangkok 10110
Tel: Khun Pongphan Sopa (manager/trainer): 01 656 2926 (mob)
Train with professionals and a number of foreign enthusiasts. The trainers speak limited English but welcome newcomers. Fees are negotiable but expect to pay about 200Bt (approx.US$5) per visit.

Jitti’s Gym near Khao San Road
Tel: 282-7854 or 01-906-8133

Will train you for 3000Bt (approx.US$75)/30 days.

Fairtex Muay Thai Camp
Bangkok office
Tel: 66-2-224 0766/ 0754
or 66-2-385 5148-9 fairtex.com
For about US$90/ week get along to kickboxing boot camp! You may like to take a friend along for moral support.

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Copyright 2006 Peta Bassett. All rights reserved.



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