Kicking up a Storm:
Womens Kickboxing in Thailand
Boxing and women; its a scary combination many parents wouldnt want to think about. Mine still cant quite grasp the concept. But in Thailand, womens 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).
Tucked away in a tiny, dead end soi (alley), there is nothing glamorous about the gyms 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 wont 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 opponents body is fair game! Headbutting isnt 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 its 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 cant 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 Im not the only woman who agrees.
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 youre after.
Enquire at Muay Thai gyms for venues and schedules for womens fights.
If youre 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:
Fairtex Muay Thai Camp
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