Fighters Guide: Why Thailand by Alex Tyler
I’m sitting here drinking coffee around the corner from the Sportland Muay Thai shop waiting for it to open. I left my gloves and shin guards back in the states knowing I could get quality made in Thailand gear for dirt cheap once I got to Chiang Mai. It’s been more than two years since my last trip to Thailand, and ever since I got back from that trip, I had been saving up to move back. I worked 7 days a week as a trainer at my gym Rogue Combat Club in Asheville NC, and also as a cook at a pizzeria. I sacrificed a lot of my social life to get back here. So why did I do it? What brings me back to Thailand?
I had been fighting back home in North Carolina and in Tennessee for about three and a half years as an amateur. I had a record of 4 wins 1 loss and 2 knockouts and had also won a local Tough man tournament. As anybody who competes in amateur boxing, Muay Thai, or kickboxing knows, opponents, drop out all the time. You can’t always tell if the excuses are legit or not but we all know how everybody wants to be a fighter until it’s time to get punched in the face. If all the fights I had scheduled went through I would have over twelve fights. I’ve had opponents not show up to weigh-ins. I’ve had one opponent who showed up to weigh in, but didn’t show up on fight night. I even had one opponent who didn’t show to weigh in because he decided to do a “Walmart Challenge” which is apparently where you attempt to spend the night in the store without getting kicked out. Yeah, you read that right, he was sleeping in a Walmart for fun. But even if all those fights went through it would still have taken me 3-4 years to get 12 amateur fights. So that is the most obvious reason to come to Thailand. Because I can fight once a month or more if I want here.
There’s more to that than just the ring experience gained. When you fight that often it changes the entire experience of being a fighter. Training camps as they are done in the west are not really an option. You can’t game plan for specific opponents because you don’t know who you’re fighting, and any habits you create would need to be changed for the next opponent every two weeks. At first, it might seem more intense to fight so often but for me, I think it takes a lot of the pressure off. There are no details to stress, no game plan to stick to, no weight to cut. This lowers my anxiety towards the fight personally, and I think that’s because we have anxiety when we feel things are out of our control. To me, game planning is a factor that can never be under our control because it completely ignores the fact that there is another person in the ring with us. There’s also no need to stress winning and losing because you will have another fight next month. You might have noticed that the best Thai boxers in the world have hundreds of fights. Seanchai was on a longer winning streak than Floyd Mayweather’s entire career. Maybe you didn’t notice, however, that most of them have dozens, sometimes up to a hundred losses as well. You don’t get to be undefeated when you fight with such frequency, and when you don’t choose your opponents. It’s this beautiful ethic of a Nak Muay that you fight anybody, anywhere, any weight. It doesn’t matter because the experience will help you grow.
What I believe the Thai’s realize here that perhaps we don’t in the west is something that makes intuitive sense when we think about it in any other context. The only way to get good at something is to do it a lot. We hit pads, bags, we drill, spar, run, and skip rope because we can’t fight all day long for training. All these training methods are completely necessary of course, but only because of the physical toll it would take on our bodies to perform our skills in a real context daily. A painter doesn’t pretend to paint the air and call it shadow painting. They paint the canvass constantly, as often as they can. Some paintings turned out great, and others not so much, but their skills improve with each. Fighting with frequency is one of the most valuable things you can do for your growth as a fighter, and it seems that taking the pressure off the individual fights leads to a more relaxed state of mind in when fighting. Without the 6 weeks of build up to fights you have in the west, fighting doesn’t come with the same amount of anxiety and adrenaline, and the ability to remain calm and poised in competitions is something the Thai’s have mastered.
In Thailand, the only focus is giving yourself to your training 100%, because that is the only factor that completely under your control and yours alone. There is nothing else for you to focus on. Almost any gym you will train at in Thailand will be phenomenal compared to the west so as long as you apply yourself you will have the confidence that you have been getting your roadwork, bag work, hitting pads with a trainer who has hundreds of fights, sparing, shadowboxing, clinching, and working technique every day twice a day and that there is literally nothing else you could have done to prepare. You will know that when you step into the ring, and every time you step into the ring, you are the best fighter you can possibly be. That’s the kind of confidence you need to fight at your best.
And that’s what I want out of this experience, but also just out of Muay Thai in General.
I’m not sure that I have aspirations of fighting in any specific stadiums, or promotions. I don’t dream about being a world champion. What I want is a little abstract I guess, and comes off as a bit of a cop out maybe, but it’s not. I want to be good. I want to fight gracefully, with poise, control, intelligence, and style. If you’re like me you’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time watching fights and highlight videos of the all-time greats. And if you’re like me you envy them and want to emulate them. It wasn’t their trophies that you wanted. You wanted to move as they did. To be as calm and calculated as Samart Payakaroon, as powerful as Buakauw, as untouchable as Somrak. It’s an aesthetic that drew you in, it was their style. That’s why we call it martial arts. If you only saw a silhouette of one of my fights, I want you to be able to tell that it was me in the ring. That’s the kind of poise, and style that only comes through experience.
As I’m writing I’m painfully aware of a couple of things. One, it’s really freaking hot in Thailand, and two my grammar is horrible. I’m going to have to spend a lot of time editing this before anybody can read it. That’s a good metaphor for why I’m here. Even if this was the best article you’ve ever read it wouldn’t matter if the grammar was so bad that you couldn’t read it. Even if my ideas about Muay Thai were amazing it doesn’t matter if I can’t communicate it to you. Right now, my poor technique and lack of experience inhibit that style and grace, and poise that I want to show in the ring. I’m here to work on my grammar so that I can express myself effectively. The best way to do that is to learn from those who created the pen and paper. To live as they do and embrace the culture of Muay Thai and the life of a fighter.