Most days, I'm a relatively easy, even-tempered kind of girl: the sort of person who (annoyingly) holds a constant blood pressure while letting strings of ill-mannered drivers squeeze in front of me on the N1; someone who just dismisses the neighbours' untimely midnight romping as well-deserved fun; and who has as much energy for conflict resolution as a tree-dwelling sloth.
In most circumstances, I'm patient and caring, and everything but aggressive.
Or so I thought.
The moment I walked into my first Muaythai (pronounced "mooi-taai") class I was converted into a kicking, punching, bouncing lunatic. As a result of six months' training, I can now honestly say that I do have an aggressive side. What's more, I learnt that transferring pent-up frustration onto a punching bag (or a fellow Muaythai trainee) is much more fun than I ever imagined possible.
What is Muaythai?
Muaythai is a thousand-year-old, aggressive form of martial arts. It originated in Thailand from a form of warfare called Chupasart, and was developed by Thai warriors. But while Chupasart employed weapons such as knives, swords, pikes, axes and spears, Muaythai grew as a way for warriors to practise – and eventually fight in combat – without using weapons.
Instead, each body part became a weapon: the shinbone became the staff of the pike to block and strike, the arms became the raised twin swords of defence and the fist the jabbing tip of the spear. The elbow, the battle axe to smash and crush; and the knee too axed its way through the defences. The flashing foot became a pike, arrow and knife.
Muaythai is now practised around the world, and remains the national sport in Thailand.
What to expect
Quinton Chong and the rest of the team at Dragon Power in Cape Town are a serious lot: they don't allow you into the school if you're not really keen to give the art of Muaythai, or at least improving your fitness levels, your very best shot. They also don't want training in other disciplines to interfere with you mastering the technique, as the poor karate kid who tried to join the same day as I found out.
During your "screening" interview, Quinton explains what a typical 1-hour training session involves: 10 minutes of warming up, preferably by skipping rope (or cycling if your coordination is as bad as mine); 20 minutes of stretching and more hardcore warm-ups (think lunges, squats, star jumps, situps and pushups); and then 30 minutes of mastering some or other aspect of the fighting technique.
A colleague, who has been doing Muaythai for a few months, warned me that these training sessions are not for the faint-hearted. And she was right: that first session was absolute hell. I was tired just from the 10-minute warm-up; even though the stretching routine was a blissful rest for my racing heart, I struggled to get all the moves right; the squats annihilated my quads; and the first "fighting" session felt more like boot camp than anything else.
I quickly learned that Muaythai was way more than a kata boxing class at the gym. Sure, you're also punching and kicking, but the technique is highly specialised. When you punch forward, your arm must move quickly and forcefully, your fist must be as tight as possible, your wrist must be straight, you should twist your arm at exactly the right moment, and your other hand must always protect your face.
At first, this was mere theory though. While I practised hard over the next few weeks to get my punches and kicks right, I still mostly punched and kicked in the air.
But the moment we started practising against the punch bags and each other, what I’d learnt suddenly made sense. If you don't keep your wrist straight, you'll hurt (and possibly fracture) this part of your hand; if you don't keep your hand in front of your face, you'll get punched in the eye (which incidentally happened all too often to me); if you don't do your round-house kicks in such a way that you strike your mate's padding with your shin, your foot will pay the price.
Gradually, however, I got the hang of things. I enjoyed the fact that my fitness jumped up to the highest level it's probably been since I was 13 years old. My arms felt leaner, my bum felt smaller, my tummy had shrunk and I felt really, really proud of myself. The best part was that I actually looked forward to my training sessions.
Muaythai is quite honestly the best form of exercise I've ever tried. It's a whole-body workout and a form of training that makes you strong, better balanced and more self-assured in terms of self-defence.
But it's not for sissies. Be prepared to get punched in the face, hit in the stomach and kicked in the shins. And if you're unfit, you're going to struggle through the first few weeks. But believe me, it's well worth the effort: once you've started, you can't stop.
Find out more at Dragon Power in Cape Town on 021 461 8088 or Warrior Sports in Centurion on 083 555 8018.
(Carine Visagie, Health24, December 2008)
- The official website of Dragonpower Martial Arts and Fitness Centre (www.dragonpower.co.za)
- Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org)