Bare Bones! – The Realisation of the Thailand Fighter

As MMA shows and certain muay Thai and kickboxing shows appear more and more glamorous with more financial gain to be had, coupled with increased fighter recognition, gym ethos in the west seems to be shifting a little.

It’s not like we’ve ever had anything close to what the Thais have in terms of the fight scene or gyms – but we seem to be straying even further away from that in recent years. Is this shift encouraging a lack of creativity and absence of situational robustness?

Many foreigners making their way to Thailand to train muay Thai seem to have unrealistic expectations of their gym and the staff that work there – they expect to be treated like royalty while they’re training for a fight, and that the trainers are all going to focus their efforts on them as if it were an episode of Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter.

These individuals are a little shocked when they find that their fight preparation is largely down to them and that nobody is holding their hand or giving them the attention they think they are worthy of at their muay Thai camp. It’s even more of a shock for them when they arrive at the stadium for their first fight and realise there is no “walk out” music, no light show, and they find themselves warming up on a surface of mud and dirt in an old tent or the unsanitary floor of a basement… and their opponent is warming up right beside them.

The traditional camps of Thailand breed a group of hungry young fighters training in bare bones gyms with limited equipment. These fighters are part of a large team of fighters where nobody gets special treatment, they all fight on a regular basis, and they are not babied in any way.

They do not receive continuous instruction; they are forced to figure things out for themselves from time to time.

The Thai coaching style in itself encourages increased cognitive function during training by emphasising “live” training like sparring and clinching with little or no instruction.

The truth of the matter is, many western coaches are mollycoddling their fighters.

Far too often, fighters crave special treatment and expect everything to be handed to them on a plate. Worse still, some coaches are perfectly prepared to do that for them.

All this does is create individuals who are incapable of thinking for themselves. Individuals who are unable to train optimally without specialist equipment, fad supplements or their coach patting them on the head and telling them what a good boy or girl they’ve been.

When you’re in a fight, you need to know how to solve problems for yourself. After all, that’s what fighting is all about – finding solutions to lots of different problems. You can’t look to your coach for more instruction every time a new obstacle arises.

Time and time again you hear of MMA fighters being praised for taking a fight on 2 weeks notice. Really?! If you fight regularly in Thailand you’d be delighted with 2 weeks notice. A short-notice fight in Thailand is an hour before the fight when the promoter calls you up and tells you he needs a replacement because somebody didn’t show up.

It irritates me slightly that fighters in the west, some of whom only fight on the local circuit, walk around with carpets under their arms like “Billy Big Spuds” and mouth off on social media about their shitty fight when there are Thais who fight twice a month come rain or shine, beat the crap out of each other in high-skilled bouts and don’t talk rubbish about it.

I think that’s one of the benefits of training in Thailand. All the “babying” is taken away and you are forced to train “bare bones”.

The cut-throat fight scene in Thailand can harden up even the most over-protected fighter.

If you can train injured, travel in the back of a pick-up truck for 6 hours, step into a ring (injured) without knowing anything about your opponent, fight at 2am with no mouth guard… and then fight 2 more times the same week… nothing can surprise you in the fight game.

Most fighters would think it ridiculous to show up to a fight with no cornerman and to just grab a randomer to give you water and a massage during the breaks.

As a foreigner, I really don’t think it matters what level you fight at in Thailand to gain the type of experience I’ve talked about here. It’s the randomness and basic nature of the muay Thai camps, the fight scene, and the Thai way of life that allow you to grow as a practitioner.

Personally, I’m glad I “roughed it” in this way and trained and fought in Thailand for these very reasons. I feel I can take care of my own fight preparation and control every aspect of my training.

If everything I knew came from instruction alone I would probably know about 0.1% of what I currently know. The majority of knowledge I possess was acquired through participation with little instruction, and through watching.

Right now I am my own coach – I have nobody feeding me knowledge so I spend every minute possible watching fights and trying to implement everything I’ve learned when I go to the gym. This is an area I neglected when I first started out and I believe my progression early on suffered as a result.

Lesson: Watch more, think more, do more, take responsibility, harden the fuck up.

About Aaron Jahn

Aaron is an active muay Thai fighter and coach from the UK. He holds a BSc (hons) degree in Strength & Conditioning and is currently studying a Sports Therapy Master's degree in Leeds, UK. Aaron has fought over 20 times in Thailand and has spent years training at different muay Thai camps all over the country.
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