By Matt Bloss
I think Coach Wes said it best: “It’s a long trip to paradise.” I didn’t know how treacherous a 12-hour flight to Tokyo sandwiched in a middle seat could be, but it is quite the endurance test. Thanks goodness for modern in-flight entertainment. After another six hours to Thailand, I stepped off the plane into Bangkok’s 85-degree heat and 80% humidity, and it finally set in. I had hit the Mecca of Muay Thai, and I felt how Beatrix Kiddo must have felt in the Kill Bill franchise when she is dropped off to train with Pai Mei in the Chinese mountains, but I digress…
After a night in Bangkok, which felt like morning on my internal clock due to the 13-hour time difference, it was time to to start what I had traveled all this way for: TRAINING. Because of the incredible heat and humidity, and the intensity and frequency of training, the first week was quite an adjustment. The Thai approach is not one of cutting-edge strength and conditioning regimens, but rather a tried and true, consistent formula. One that has produced the world’s best Muay Thai fighters time and time again for over a century.
In recent years, many gyms are adapting to more westernized strength programs, and Khongsittha Muay Thai, where I trained, was among these. While I was there, the gym housed an absolute stable of beasts including Yokkao Muay Thai professional Leslie Wong, IFMA Team USA member Asa Tenpow, Max Muay Thai veteran Richy Huerta, and many more rising amateurs. We were also fortunate enough to have our camp hosted by American Nak Muay Paul “The Reaper” Banasiak. Banasiak is one of America’s rising Muay Thai starts, and has made a name for himself with his Muay Thai Athlete brand. He recently challenged for the Lion Fight Cruiserweight championship, and attending his private seminars was a truly special experience.
We trained twice a day, six days a week, and the sessions were intense. From running, to bag work, to pad rounds, to sparring, we spent hours conditioning and practicing. For a detailed look at our daily schedule, click here.
After morning sessions, we ate an absurd spread at the beautiful Cafe Reverie, which was also owned by our gym owner, the wonderful Matthew Deane, who we affectionately referred to as the Justin Bieber of Bangkok (go ahead and give him a Google).
Although it was one of the more “expensive” spots to eat, totaling about 150-200 Thai Baht per meal, with our glorious conversion rate of 32 baht to $1.00 US, meals were more than affordable and came out to around $4.50 – $6.00. Needless to say, faces were stuffed and food comas were had before gearing up for the night sessions. The food in Bangkok was a highlight of the trip, with street vendors and specialty restaurants dotting nearly every available space on the city streets. Food options are nearly endless in the BKK, and would cost as little as 40 baht for some of the most incredible meals I’ve had in my life. I could hardly make it 24 hours without my favorite khaw pad ki with thai chili fish sauce and soup.
We had our fair share of leisure as well. Days off and evenings were full of insane amounts of fun with the Nak Muay Nation crew. I was fortunate enough to have had the most gracious of hosts who would escort us to fights at legendary Lumpinee Stadium, Rangsit Stadium, MX Muay Extreme, Asiatique Riverfront Stadium and All-Star Fight ran by the legendary Buakaw Banchamek. Muay Thai is such a popular television sport, so besides the the big stadium events, most fights were held in TV studios with not more than 500 seats. It felt pretty special sitting front row for all of these incredible events. They loved putting “farang” (foreigners) on their broadcasts, and we were featured more than a few times on live Thai television. ONe cameo included yours truly completely losing his mind during Asa “The American Ninja” Tenpow’s 2nd RD KO during All-Star fight, which also featured bouts from modern Muay Thai superstars Manachai, Pakorn, and Mathias Cassarino.
Mondays, our days off, were enjoyed differently by many. Trips to temples, night markets, giant Thai malls, Muay Thai gear stores and more were the norm, but I was also able to participate in of the most sacred and beautiful Thai rituals, receiving a Sak Yant tattooo done with a single, hand-poked needle. Yants come in many different forms, but are essentially offer a blessing, protection, rules to live by and other meanings put on permanently with a beautiful ceremony.
After my offering, I chose to receive the “Hah Taew” or “Five Lines” Sak Yant, reminding myself to live a clean life, honor my fallen friends and family, not to be adulterous, and to protect myself in life’s many arduous challenges and journeys. I was also gifted two Prajioud (Muay Thai arm bands) by the legendary Ajarn Neng who has tattooed the likes of Steven Segal & Brooke Shields (random, I know) just to name a few. It was spiritual, emotional, and enlightening all rolled up into one, and will forever serve as a reminder of my first trip to Thailand, and so much more.
Other nightly highlights included some of the raucous Bangkok nightlife at sky bars, nightclubs, and barbecues with our incredibly talented Krus, Trainers, and Ajarns. One especially exciting night was a heated battle of laser tag with some incredibly competitive fighters. Sadly, I finished 11th out of 15, but you try playing war games with some of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world, and see how it goes for you!
And last but not least, our gracious gym owner at Khongsittha Matthew Deane, who is something of a celebrity, is also quite good friends with perhaps the single greatest Nak Muay of our era, Saenchai. We had the most glorious opportunity to spend time with him not once, but twice! If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Wow, I really want to see an ultimate Coach Matt fan girl moment,” brace yourself for what you’re about to see…
There are so many beautiful things about this country and Muay Thai, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. If you’ve ever entertained the idea of visiting Thailand to train or just vacation, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I could keep writing thousands of words, but I will impart one last piece of my journey. Training in Thailand completely changed my life. It brought my out of my tiny bubble and comfort zone halfway across the world in ways I never expected. I met new people and turned them into lifelong friends in just a month. I experienced a different culture, in such contrast to the seemingly endless insanity that is the US media. To fall in love with an entire country all at once was so much more than I was ready for. I was enlightened, joyful, scared, utterly happy, embarrassed, pushed to my limits physically and emotionally, and I would never trade my experience for all the monetary success in the world. Go… go now.
ETC-Arvada’s goofiest Coach, Matthew Bloss
Some ammo for you to laugh at me some more:
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