There are a few things in life that I love. Photojournalism, fighting, dragon boat. Unfortunately, being a photo journalist in Canada forced me to give up on my other two loves.
Now in Asia, I’m finally reconnecting with one of my other loves: fighting.
Many of my friends have been bitten by the Muay Thai bug and have asked me to join them. I can see why they love this sport. The fitness component is exceptional and the techniques are quite applicable to self-defense.
Stefanie and I stumbled across the Burklerk gym in Chiang Mai by accident, as we happened to living in a room on top of the gym. As we walk by, Stefanie said she always wanted to try Muay Thai, so that became a part of our daily routine. Between zip lining, cabaret shows, cooking classes and heading up to the mountains, we made time for at least two hours of Muay Thai each day – including the day we flew out to Bangkok.
At Burklerk’s, I went from dying on Day 1 to pretty decent by Day 4. They managed to jumpstart my cardio and power system after being innert for over eight months, or more accurately the better part of the past four years.
Stefanie too improved, and you could see her power generation steadily climb. She’s a tough girl with long limbs. Don’t mess with her.
Ah Piao, one of the trainers, had undeniable experience with over 140 professional fights. He also spoke Mandarin which really helped. As we don’t speak a lot of Thai.
The main teacher, Arjan Burklerk was also pretty helpful. He is known as the master tactician and a very sought after teacher globally. He has helped Team Canada Muay Thai and the Toronto Police force. His brother also has a gym in Canada.
I was surprised at how much they managed to get out of me after only four days. If it is any testament to their trainers, the current world champion is from their gym.
Good trainers are hard to find.
After four days of training in Chiang Mai, Stefanie and I moved to Bangkok.
Freshly high from the Muay Thai experience, it was a treat to be ring side at Lumpini stadium, one of the places to be if you’re a Muay Thai fighter. The energy and the atmosphere complete with leaking roofs and people constantly betting was just phenomenal.
After Stefanie headed back to Singapore for work, I found Jitti Gym near the Ratchadaphisek MRT station. Arjan Jitti is equally awesome. He spends a bit more time on instruction, whereas Burklerk was spent largely on our own. Well, unless you happen to be a pretty girl then everyone wants to work with you. (Inside joke.)
At Jitti, I happened to work with this awesome trainer who just loves to fight. I was watching him spar with a more experienced student and he fights with a big smile on his face.
During training, sometimes he says “kick twice”, so I oblige. Then sometimes he just says “again”, so I kick twice again not knowing he meant only once. But he just ducks my second unexpected kick with a smile. No complains. Just confidence in his 18 years of fighting.
It’s too expensive to be there daily and there are other things I want to do, but I’ll be there again tomorrow.
If Burklerk’s connection to Team Canada Muay Thai was purely coincidental, consider this from Jitti gym. Arjan Jitti pointed at a picture immediately after finding out I was Canadian. Stephen Harper visited his gym. One of Harper’s friends trained here, so he came to give Arjan Jitti a Canadian flag.
Two pretty strong connections to Canada from two random Muay Thai gyms I visited in two different cities miles apart in Thailand. I think this is a calling of sorts.
I also loved the camaraderie of the Muay Thai clubs as we went out to watch fights, then sat down to drink and eat after the fights. I think we happened to drop by the week that we had foreign fighters (Ross, Jenn and Carlson) fighting under the Burklerk banner, which just boosted the atmosphere.
You happy, I happy. We fight. Win also happy, lose also happy. I love that concept.
If you’re in Chiang Mai, check out Burklerk’s at the Night Bazaar Place. If in Bangkok, I recommend Jitti’s at Ratchadaphisek MRT.
Of course shooting the pictures above with a point and shoot is no fun. It is making me miss my other love being a photojournalist shooting these pictures with my SLR ringside.