Thursday, January 5, 2012

11 of 30: Muay Thai - Because Boxing Isn't Aggressive Enough

I have been boxing on and off for almost 10 years. I was first introduced to it by my Personal Trainer back in College. After I started, there was no turning back. Boxing is like a drug! It’s aggressive, extremely satisfying, and so much fun!
A few years after I moved to LA, I scouted for boxing places around my area. All of them were really expensive, and the trainers ask for too much money. 35 -50 dollars per hour is way too much, compared to paying 200 pesos (5 USD) for a whole day in Elorde Boxing Gym at Katipunan.

Luckily, I found out about Wild Card- Freddie Roach’s Boxing gym. I’ve heard about it for a while, but never considered going because I assumed that since Freddie Roach, the greatest boxing coach in the world, Manny Pacquiao’s trainer, owned it, I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

But I was getting desperate, so I went in to inquire. I drove there after work, and climbed up the famous stairs I always see on TV when HBO covers Pacquiao’s fights. And at the mini reception desk, lo and behold, I was greeted by non-other than Freddie Roach himself.

Coach Freddie took an immediate liking to me upon learning my ethnicity. He patiently explained the rates, walked me around his gym, and asked me to fill out a form. I have to say I was more than a little intimidated in that tiny little gym. It’s not because of what it looked like – as a matter of fact, it’s one of the grimiest gym’s I’ve ever seen in my life! Completely raw and manly. Nothing first-class about it at all!
It was the people that intimidated me! The guys working out – they all looked like Mister T! Big and sweaty brute men! And being the only woman in the testosterone infested room, I felt like I was going to be eaten alive.
But with Coach Freddie and his spiky hair and little boy glasses by my side, I knew I was in good hands! He talked to me about the Philippines and how he loves it… and he asked me about the boxing gym’s I’ve been to. He lit up when I told him I went to Ala Boxing Gym whenever I was in Cebu… he said it was his favorite boxing gym ever!

At the end of my 10 minute tour and conversation, Coach and I were best friends. J He recommended his training assistant, Paul, to be my trainer. He must have really liked me!

I came in the next day right when they opened at 7am. Coach said it was better to come before work, because there were less people. I was just sitting there, all nervous as heck because Paul was nowhere to be seen, and there were about 3 big men staring at me.

Luckily, a really jovial man approached me and said – “Can I help you today?”
I explained I was waiting for a certain, “Paul” because Coach Freddie said I should train with him. He said, Paul wasn’t going to be in for another half hour, but if I wanted to, I could start training with him. I said okay!
Then the one-eyed receptionist/trainer, Shane, came up to me and said – “Do you know who dat is? Dat’s Freddie Roach’s brutha, Pepper!” (All of them had Bostonian accents)

“Yep, he’s my brutha!” Pepper chimed in.
I wouldn’t have guessed! I was embarrassed to confess I didn’t even know Freddie had a brother! I just said, “Cool!” and went to grab my wraps and gloves.
It was probably fate that brought me and Pepper together, because I have never had so much fun boxing! Pepper is a riot! I met Paul eventually, but he trains his students in groups. Pepper gives me one on one action! And he is HILARIOUS! Everyone at the gym loves him – he is the easy favorite in that place!

For some reason, no one at the gym could ever remember or pronounce my name. So they just gave up, and started calling me “Manila” or “Thrilla from Manila”
Pepper sometimes calls me, “Hey, Filipino!” or his “Filipina Wife”
I don’t mind. I love that he gave me nicknames!

OK. So I realize that I’m supposed to be talking about Muay Thai and not boxing. I’ll get there – I promise. I am merely giving you a long introduction of my boxing history, because I wouldn’t have gotten into Muay Thai without it.

Anyway, so when I’m in LA, I box at the Wild Card Gym. And when I’m in the Philippines, I box at Elorde in Katipunan, and Ala Boxing Gym when I’m in Cebu. I box at Punch Out in Makati too, every now and then.

I spend more time in Manila than I do Cebu, so I can call myself a regular at Elorde’s gym in Katipunan. I’ve been training with the same guy, Edward, since January of 09! I’d recommend sticking to one trainer as much as possible, because when you do, you establish a kind of rhythm when you spar. It’s like finding a good dance partner… you learn to move gracefully with each other, and its fun! But there’s also a benefit to different trainers. I should know – I have one trainer for each location! LA, Cebu and Manila! You learn different techniques from each teacher too, and that could be advantageous as well!
Anyway, Elorde evolved from being just a boxing gym, to a more diverse fitness center that offers not only boxing, but Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu as well! (There, see? I got to Muay Thai eventually!)

Edward noticed me staring at the guys training in Muay Thai. I have to admit, I was fascinated – but scared at the same time. I have a really huge and annoying knee problem that I’ve been battling with for years. I try not to do anything that impacts my legs too much for fear of aggravating my knees. I have a torn meniscus, and a condition called chondramalacia patella. I can’t do anything too strenuous on my legs or else I end up in crutches. This is why I’ve avoided Muay Thai for so long, because Muay Thai in Eartha terms is boxing, with LEGS. Not that you box using your legs, but you box with your hands, and you use your legs in the fight as well.

Edward suggested that we try it, as he reckons I’d be pretty good at it with my boxing background. I explained my concerns with my knees, but he said he’ll go easy on me. He’s a Muay Thai trainer too, so the thought of training with him was a little more comforting. We’re used to each other, so that would make it a lot easier, I thought.
And so the next day, we went ahead and Muay Thai’d!

Edward kept true to his word, and took it easy on my legs. We were careful with the kicks, and stopped whenever I felt my knees hurt. But overall, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Training was easy because we skipped all the boxing parts, and concentrated on the leg work. There were different hand movements too that required attacks using the forearm. And because he couldn't torture me with leg exercises, he trained me full force on the arm movements!

Sparring was really instinctual for both of us. We did about six 3 minute rounds, and we both did pretty well. It was oddly satisfying to hurt in different areas of my body, using muscles I’m not used to using. I really liked it!

The art of Muay Thai involves your whole body. There’s a lot of low kicks and high kicks, knee attacks (or as I’d like to call em – groining!), elbow strikes, and hand to hand combat action! You train barefoot, but with boxing gloves on. It’s really sort of like an amplified boxing session.
After about 2 hours of intense training, I found big bruises on my arm. Battle scars!!! I loved it!

I will continue to train both Boxing and Muay Thai with Edward as long as I’m in Manila. And when I get back to LA, I'm definitely going to find a Mixed Martial Arts gym so I could continue.

I have a tendency to gravitate towards exercises that feature strength rather than agility. Maybe because I’m big and am more comfortable using my size to my advantage.  I also love the feeling and satisfaction it gives. I’m hardly a violent person, and I don’t go out looking for fights… But boxing (and now, I guess Muay Thai as well) allows me to release a controlled aggression that I never get to experience in real life.

Bottomline? I LOVE doing this stuff, and I'll keep training for as long as my body permits!