Priorities for your year (or more) in Thailand – do you know them? If you want to train amid banana trees in humid jungles, you’ll need to know these four uber-important priorities to set before you touch down on Thai ground. . .
4 PRIORITIES FOR YOUR THAI NAK MUAY ADVENTURE
Have you considered the wild idea of selling all your worldly possessions, cancel your Netflix subscription and shipping off to Thailand to be a full-time nak muay for a year? Awesome! (You might want to keep Netflix though, along with a VPN to watch it; it’s your best friend between training sessions.) This is a solid plan, but you’ve got to remember to prioritize certain aspects over others when you’re on Thai soil as opposed to your comfy gym mats back home. The experience is entirely unique to anything you’ve done before.
I found myself in the same predicament some time ago. I’ve always been deeply passionate about martial arts, whether it was taekwondo as a child or kung fu as an adult. When I found Muay Thai, though, it sunk its hooks into my soul and I haven’t been without it in my life since. In 2014, I decided I’d be leaving the annual snow-maggeddon that is Minnesota and move to Thailand for all of 2015. I’d had about eight months of training at the time, just long enough for someone as extreme as me to find a gym abroad to hole up in while I abandoned school and work for a year.
I found Phuket Top Team through some friends and locked in my loyalty right off. I just connected with the vibe I got from PTT. I went from doing one-hour classes a few days per week in the states to training in two-hour sessions twice per day, as is the Thai way of doing business. It was, in short, an adjustment, from which I learned so much.
I’d like to share what I consider to be a few helpful tips with you, my fellow Muay Thai maniacs. They will make your stay in Thailand more enjoyable, keep you healthy enough to conserve precious training time and hopefully make you a better Nak Muay for it. Let’s get into it.
PRIORITY #1: FEET
Odds are you’ve been training in a Western gym, which afford you the luxury of padding for your tender farang feet. Oh, sweet summer child, how spoiled you have been.
I had no idea this would be an issue, but the floors in Thai gyms are all business and rough edges. My feet were hamburger for the first few weeks. There will be a lot of skipping, bouncing on tires, pivoting on rough surfaces, and road work. Unless you’re prepared, as in you’ve been there before, it’s likely you’ll need to toughen the soles of your feet up a bit beforehand.
Training in Thailand is tough, no two ways about it, and anything you can do to minimize the unnecessary “suck” will lend to a more enjoyable training experience.
I’d suggest getting a piece of cheap high-traffic carpet, or something comparable, and do some light drilling on it every day, several weeks or more before you intend to leave. It shouldn’t be intense bag work – just kick placement, technique and agility/balance work. Think “drilling your round kicks for while standing on a rough mat.”
PRIORITY #2: CONDITIONING
“Sucking wind and perfecting technique are difficult to do at the same time.”
This should go without saying, but you will want to have your cardio in decent order before you go. Even if you think you smash the pads here, consider it will be way hotter and more intense than you’re used to. The better conditioned you are when you show up, the less catching up you’ll have to do and the more you can focus on getting better at technique. Sucking wind and perfecting technique are difficult to do at the same time.
I’d recommend getting a good aerobic base by slow jogs and rope skipping. When you can run 1.5-2 miles without it being much of an issue, you’re in good standing to show up at a Thai gym. As for skipping, I recommend 30/30, meaning thirty seconds on, thirty seconds off till you’re comfortable skipping for 10-15 minutes. This will also help condition your legs for the upcoming training.
PRIORITY #3: HYDRATION
You absolutely will not believe how much you sweat in a two-hour session in the heat nor how badly you will want to suck down water between rounds. I suspect dehydration is one of the precursors to many people’s downfall when training in Thailand.
Many people, myself included, have suffered terrible infections and illnesses on their trip to Thailand. Through experience, I’ve developed several theories as to why, of which hydration is a big one. It isn’t just the water we need to replenish, but the minerals and electrolytes that serve vital functions in the body’s recovery process.
You need several liters of water every day of training – not only during training, but first thing in the morning and before bed. You can purchase electrolyte packets at every pharmacy and convenience store there. They’ll do the job, but I wouldn’t bet they were the healthiest for you. Personally, I roll with a blend of pure water, fresh fruit juice and Himalayan salt to taste. About ¼ juice to ¾ water is a good balance, but your body will tell you what ratio best suits you that day by what tastes the best. Start with the 75/25 and adjust as necessary.
When your body needs more glucose, it may taste too watered down and need more juice. Fresh juice is best, but store-bought is still a step-up from the packets. I’d bring one liter of mix and one liter of water to training. Sip half the mix or so before and during the early part of training, saving the other half for after.
PRIORITY #4: NUTRITION
There’s always dispute about what to eat in Thailand. Some people swear off rice, some people eat all their meals at the corner restaurant, others still eat whatever’s close and edible.
People from the West always say that Thai food is unhealthy. Thai food is actually very healthy, but restaurant food of any kind is less than optimal. Thai market and restaurant foods are mostly cooked with little mind for nutrients. It’s fine if you’re on holiday, but all that MSG and lack of nutrients will only leave chinks in your precious armor needed to keep steady training.
I know folks don’t want to hear it, but you must cook your own food if you want it to be as nutritious as possible. Depending on where you live and train, the accommodations will dictate your plan of action. If you have access to a kitchen, then you’re ahead of the game. If you live in a tiny one room like I did, there are still plenty of options. I recommend a trip to Tesco Lotus or a Big C (the American equivalent of Walmart or Target) to purchase a small electric cooktop, a decent knife, and one large pan. These are the bricks of the homecooking foundation.
Your meals will probably average out to be a little more expensive, and yes, time-consuming as well, but you have hours of downtime during the day between sessions. Time spent cooking is an investment in your martial arts journey. You spend a lot of resources, time and energy training to be your best, so there’s no point in sinking all of it down the drain with poor nutrition. This subject alone could be volumes of articles, but the takeaway is this: take your nutrition seriously and cook your own food the majority of the time.
These are some basic elements of living a good, rewarding nak muay lifestyle in Thailand. While it isn’t an exhaustive list, it is the distillation of many of the trials and tribulations I experienced in Thailand. So many things can derail your training in Thailand, and the devil is in the details. I believe taking your health and wellness as seriously as your training, even more so, will exponentially improve your experience and your Muay Thai skills.
- Joseph Yunker is a lifelong martial artist, having trained in taekwondo, northern and southern styles of kung fu, BJJ, wrestling and boxing. He spent two years living and training in Thailand. He can be found at the thecomebackkid.net, as well as his podcast on ITunes, The Comeback Kid.