Ali Taimur Shabbir recalls why he got a kick out of Muay Thai
As a fresher with no prior experience of any martial arts, I felt nervous when I signed up for UCLU Muay Thai at the Fresher’s Fair. I reasoned that this rigorous discipline would keep me off the couch and teach me a bit of self-defence, especially for the nights out that your overprotective parents warn you about as an international student. I went to classes three, sometimes four, times a week at the Astor College gym for a month and a half, after which I dropped out. Does that sound like I gave up? Good, because I did, but here is why you should definitely give ‘the art of eight limbs’ a go.
The classes are taken by Greg ‘The Prodigy’ Wootton, the UK’s number one super lightweight and WMC MAD World Champion, alternating with Ashraf ‘The Pocket Rocket’ Uddin, who is no slouch and fights professionally also. You know you are in good hands when your trainers have nicknames and credentials like that. These classes are two hours long and run three times a week, with an additional student-led fitness class on Friday. Each class begins with an extensive warm-up; expect a lot of burpees, but Greg and Ash always keep things fresh by implementing routines from their training regimens. Sessions continue into fitness (which may make you question your sanity if you are a couch potato, but in a good way) before the coaches give detailed instructions on fighting techniques and conduct sparring.
The classes are exhausting but the sheer number of things you learn, both mentally and physically, along with the obvious fitness benefits makes them well worth it. You learn to ignore your body’s plea for rest; Greg makes you shadowbox when you should be ‘resting’. You learn how to spin on your toes when you kick for extra raw power. You learn the best strategy for engaging with someone depending on the distance between you two. There are people of all skill levels and backgrounds, from beginners to those who fight regularly, and the trainers accommodate that by separating the class into groups, which I found very comforting.
But here is a discomforting fact. Did you know professional Muay Thai fighters sometimes kick bamboo sticks to kill the nerves in their shins? One of my sparring partners had done Muay Thai for a year prior to joining our class but by no means had gone to professional lengths to train. The practice kicks he threw into the foot-thick pads I held across my forearms didn’t give that impression though. They felt like cannonballs being shot into my body.
That made me think about the devastating power Greg and Ash must hold in their light frames. But don’t let this scare you. They love to joke around and work in an atmosphere of camaraderie. Camaraderie and respect, coincidentally, are two key fundamentals of Muay Thai, as the discipline extends beyond the physical realm. A reverence for the Thai culture pervades the sessions.
If all that hasn’t convinced you, look at it this way. If you join UCLU Muay Thai, you get to visit actual fights that feature Greg and Ash, as well as the world famous Mike’s Gym in Amsterdam, which is the society’s annual trip. They also have a fantastic set of personalised hoodies and t-shirts, and are known to have a notorious Sports Night. I only dropped out because I found the sessions to be too long for me to manage my time effectively. But that’s just me. Go to a session (only £3) and you will be thankful that you did.
Featured image: Wikipedia