Gymbox member Genevieve Teevan was brave enough to take on Muay Thai at Gymbox Bank. "This sport will get you mad fit!" she says.
Tip: do not look at Muay Thai fights on YouTube before you try a class. There is a brutal intensity to Thai boxing matches that suggests death is a distinct likelihood, yet the boxers I meet are universally kind and friendly. I’m working on a theory that the scarier people look in terms of battered faces, aggressively bulging muscles and tattoos depicting violence, the nicer they actually are. All Gymbox Muay Thai classes are taught by Team Tieu trainers, a crew so remarkably gentle that there must be some inverse relationship between the aggression required by their sport and their demeanour.
Because I made the mistake of doing research, I know Muay Thai involves lots of jabbing knees and elbows so I wear a long sleeved top and full leggings for protection. Everyone else is in shorts and t-shirts. You definitely need your own gloves and hand wraps; shin guards and belly pads are optional. Bare feet are the norm.
The warm-up begins with freestyle shadow boxing (AKA showing off). My instructor, UK champion Matthew Tieu, may sense that I cannot shadow box without feeling like a nerdy teen boy practising Rocky poses in his bedroom mirror so he shows me a sequence of punches that I repeat until we move on to jacks, high knees, kicks and stretching. The pace is brisk. I’m too warm and ready to ditch the long-sleeved top when Matt barks, ‘20 burpees!’ This is received as good news by those who consider a class without burpees akin to a day without sunshine.
We pair up and move into the ring. This isn’t a beginners’ class – those do exist, check the schedule – so I’m paired with an experienced fighter who coaches me through a progressively difficult series of pad rounds. The ring is crowded so I bump into other pairs, but the regulars are relaxed and good-natured about it. When the hotshots are freestyling, Matty gives me simple combinations so I don’t have to think too much. I’m told that it takes about six months of regular classes to get the hang of the technique and then you can really enjoy sparring.
The hardest thing about this class is holding pads for my partner. Not because he lays into me like a tortured soul battling unseen demons. Far from it. He very politely tempers his power, but even so my arms are aching. I’m used to holding palm pads/focus mitts for boxing, but the arm shields used for Muay Thai feel like they weigh a ton in comparison. Either they’re made of a material with a greater molecular density than lead or my arms are just working hella hard to catch punches at chest and face height as well as blocking kicks at hip and knee height.
Muay Thai is ideal to increase the cardio intensity of your workouts. We finished with what felt like 500 kicks on each leg. (It was probably only 20.) This sport will get you mad fit. You will derr-rrip with sweat. You cannot just dab your hairline with a towel, spritz a little organic, zen-rose deodorant and sally back to your desk after this class.
If you have ambitions beyond mere fitness, look to Matty’s pupil and Gymbox regular Nina Zhu for inspiration. A complete beginner just two years ago, earlier this month Nina won the 2016 Muay Thai Grand Prix Contender Cup 55kg category: three fights in one day at the O2. Nina has the words ‘no hope’ tattooed on her forearm to remind her how bad she was when she started and how far she’s come. Respect.