Rawai Muay Thai

For a long time now I’ve wanted to do some form of a martial art camp – the idea of spending days or weeks submerged completely in a particular school and the amount of learning and fluency that could be gained from it appeals to me greatly. So when I had the chance to spend 10 days at a Muay Thai camp in Phuket, I leapt at the chance. In Singapore I’ve taken up MMA, and before that I trained in Hapkido in Auckland at Kingsland Martial Arts, with Taekwondo before that back in high school. All that meant I hoped I wasn’t getting into something over my head, and that I wouldn’t be a complete rookie upon arrival.

Prior to heading off, I wanted to get into as best shape as I could – the fitter you are for fight camps, the less time you spend sucking in air and more time learning. In order to prepare, I took personal training sessions with a friend’s referral – Dilip. I’d highly recommend him if you’re looking for a Muay Thai personal trainer within Singapore – his flexible approach to training meant we were able to concentrate on conditioning and fitness, while still having time for essential technique time.

The camp I elected to go to (there are several in Phuket) was Rawai Muay Thai – again on the recommendation of a friend who had spent a month there the year before. Being in Rawai, at the southern end of Phuket, it’s miles away from the nightclubs and Ping Pong shows of Patong, and away from the rush and the roar of the big resorts scattered around the main beaches of the island.

I arrived on Saturday morning, and started training that afternoon. The training facilities were rather spartan – a steel roof with no walls, concrete floors with carpet on them, and an array of benches and treadmills from various decades. All of it was great. Everything that was required was there, everything that wasn’t needed, wasn’t. The training sessions followed a set routine, with two rounds of warm up shadow boxing, five rounds on the bags, and five rounds of pad work with the trainers. Following that was the particular focus of that class, whether it was clinching, low kicks, or the wai kru. There were 3 group training sessions per day, one in the morning, and two in the afternoon. The days started with a 7am run, and in the 4 hour break between morning and afternoon sessions the trainers were available for private sessions. Essentially – there was the potential for long, physical days.

Here’s how the ten days went, according to my diary:

Day 1:

A single afternoon session, turns out Saturdays are a bit more relaxed than weekdays, and after 5 rounds of bag work, and 5 rounds of pad work, we covered a small amount of muay boran, an interesting predecessor to Muay Thai that seems to also include a fair bit of standup wrestling. I gassed a fair bit on the bags – they are rock solid and must weight as much as a large man. The pad work was good – obvious areas that need improvement, but I proved I wasn’t a beginner – exactly what I set out to do.

Bags at Rawai Muai Thai

Bags at Rawai Muay Thai

Day 2:

Sunday is the day off for the gym. Did a weights session in the morning, and then rented a scooter for the afternoon to check out Phuket Island. Turns out it’s huge. Took about half an hour to get to Phuket Town to meet up with an work colleague, I then headed to Patong, the main party strip, quickly rode through there politely ignoring the cat calls of the massage palours. The one time I hopped off the bike to have a look at a market, I bumped into a couple of friends who we toured Beijing with. I got back to the guesthouse by about 7pm liberally specked with insects and road dust.

Bays of Phuket

Bays of Phuket, looking northwards towards Patong.

Nai Harn Beach, Rawai Phuket

The Big Buddha, Phuket

Day 3:

First full day of training – not the best performance from me for the morning, however my chunder mid-session was quite spectacular. Afternoon went better, however I now need to re-programme my clinch. Setting up for a hip throw by hooking the arm up is not good Muai Thai it turns out, and results in a foul.

Perfecting the elbow

Day 4:

No chunder for the second full day of training, just a lung stretching session of pad work and sparring for the morning. The afternoon was going great guns until clinching began again. It turns out that despite being quite effective in take downs, hooking the leg is illegal in competitive Muai Thai. More reprogramming is required. I have to keep reminding myself that I am here for Muai Thai, not MMA, not Hapkido, and definitely not BJJ.

Perfecting the roundhouse kick

Day 5:

Noticeable improvement on both my technique and stamina this morning – turns out correct technique = less energy required. I’m getting accusomed to the heavy bags, and my sparring is improving as well. In a fit of madness I also included an hour of weights during lunchtime, which had ramifications later that afternoon, when towards the end of the afternoon session I was struggling to raise my arms, let alone throw strong punches.

Punching drills during padwork session.

Day 5:

Today was a breeze. Call it a second wind, call it coasting, I don’t know what it was, but I strolled out of the gym tonight feeling great. Perhaps this is the plateau from which I need to spur myself onwards? My stomach is having a bit of a hard time adjusting to the amount of protein I’m forcing down every day, I suspect it’s due to the low grade beef mince from the numerous burger and mexican restaurants around. Resolving to be more selective about what I’m eating, and concentrate more on good, quality foods.

Roundhouse kick during padwork session

Day 6:

Just a morning session today, as I fly out for Penang this afternoon to meet up with Yean while she has dental surgery done. Knowing that I only had 2 hours of exercise, I went all out, and ended up hobbling away after the session thinking that was a stupid thing to do. My feet are starting to swell around the ankles, and my left knee is hurting when it is flexed. I’m glad I have the weekend off.

An instagram of my feet after the first few days of training.

Day 7:

In Penang, and to celebrate having a weekend off, I find myself going for a morning run in the Botanical Gardens with Yean and her sister, Ivy. My feet are killing me today, and my knee has stiffened up a lot. My gut is also complaining, and it seems like my body is struggling in general. I’m not sure if it’s because of yesterday’s hard training, or the heaving smog that’s lying around Penang.

Day 8:

My feet are so swollen today that I cannot run. The veins that are usually visible on the surface of my feet have disappeared altogether, and my ankles have lost all form. My knee also hurts when I walk. Fortunately I’m able to rest it, and have my feet up for a lot of the day. I return to Phuket tonight, and unless my ankles heal overnight, I’m not sure how I’m going to train tomorrow. Upon returning to my room in Rawai, I get a few cans of ice cold coca-cola and roll them over my feet and knees. Using some compression straps I brought with me to Phuket, I go to sleep with my feet raised and bandaged, hoping for the best.

Day 9:

My feet were pretty much healed by the morning. It turns out a weekend off does wonders for a body – today’s training was full of explosive kicks and punches, and while I’m sure the trainer falling over from my kicks was a bit of hollywood he reserves for over-eager students, it sure felt great. I went a bit easy on the bags, as I’m fairly sure they were the leading reason of my swollen feet on the weekend – that and the daily barefoot training.

Kick block

Day 10:

A good long day today – with only two days left of training, I’m turning up the heat, and went for a private session during the lunch break as well as the group sessions morning and afternoon. Learnt a whole heap of new techniques in the one on one session, which I’m going to have to put into use as quickly as possible before I forget them. All round a good feeling after todays training, except in the cool down there was a rather sharper-than-normal pain in my left knee – I’m hoping it can be fixed with some ice and compression tonight.

Sparring Session

Day 11:

My last day of training – as I was walking to the gym I had numerous theme songs going around in my head. However the tune that ended up stuck in my head all day was ‘Nobody’ by the wonder girls. The morning’s sparring featured a short guy who made up for his height by landing some pretty full on shots – this showed up a few holes in my technique, however it was with some relish that I noticed how much my sparring had improved. My second sparring partner must be the tallest person I’ve fought with in my life – a decent half-head taller than me (I’m 188cm tall) and a significant reach advantage. That showed up many areas for improvement, especially on my distancing and timing. Word of advise: never tell your trainer it’s your last day. The afternoon was a session from hell. With an intense pad session that was relentless and fast paced, I ended up spewing again – poetic one could call it – I started at the camp with a chunder, and concluded with a chunder.

Roundhouse Kick – Improved

All in all, a great experience. It is a rare event to be able to spend a couple of weeks fully immersed in a pursuit of any kind. The amount that I learnt and developed over the 11 days was huge, and I can’t wait to see how I stack up against people back at my gym in Singapore, Impact MMA.

A few tips and hints I learnt during the camp:

· Always keep plenty of drinking water in your room – I was going through anything between 9 litres to 12 litres every day.

· Tape your feet – training barefoot everyday means the balls of your feet get worn down. Eventually callouses come along, but these can easily tear off, which cause all sorts of pain and interferrence.

· Break in your gloves and gear before you get there – there were plenty of beginners at the camp, and they all were suffering from new gloves for the first few days. Make sure your gloves fit and are well worn in before starting, to avoid sore hands and blisters. I use Hayabusa Sparring Gloves (16oz).

· Bring all your gym gear – I had 4 sets of gym gear, and after each session I’d handwash the used gear and hang it up in the bathroom to dry. It would generally be dry by the time the same session came around again the next day.

· Hire a scooter – Rawai is fairly sparsely laid out, so to get anywhere it’s either half an hour of walking, or 2 minutes via scooter. Just make sure you wear a helmet.

If you ever have the chance to do a camp like this, I’d say leap for it. For beginners, it’s a great start to the world of Muay Thai – learning from professional fighters and trainers ensures your foundations will be taught throughly and properly. For more experienced people, it’s an opportunity to take your sport to the next level – training every day all day is a luxury that isn’t really an option in day to day life. For people who practice other martial arts, it’s a great way to expand your understanding of general martial arts, and condition your body to help with your elected art.

Should you want any more information on anything I’ve mentioned, feel free to message me or leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to give you any information I’ve got, what I did, and what I’d recommend for next time.

Sam and Shine, Rawai Muai Thai Camp

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