Before I left Toronto in early 2009, I trained under Kru James Hines for a number of months. Having heard of James and Old School Muay Thai for awhile, I was admittedly hesitant to drop in due to a number of factors. He was operating out of a fitness gym and classes were once a day/less than seven days a week. I also wasn’t aware of anyone fighting out of Old School MT, so I was skeptical that training may have been more fitness oriented. In retrospect, what drove me to Old School MT was the need to find an alternative to where I was training and James was in my neighbourhood. He’s also a past student of Ajahn Suchart of Siam No. 1, so I knew his foundations would be solid.
Shortly after dropping into a class with James, I made the switch. Classes were mixed between all levels and the club was tight on time allowances (we couldn’t hit the bags before or after class). However, James provided something that I had been searching for – a positive, tough environment sans personal politics. He’s direct, passionate about muay thai and facilitated growth in this students. His primary concern wasn’t about cash, although he needed it. Operating out of a fitness centre wasn’t his vision complete. At the time, his vision for Old School MT included creating an environment of change for underprivileged youths in the downtown core. When I skipped for Thailand, he was busy searching for his own location to make this happen. I’m pleased to know that his vision has become a reality.
I’ve been away from Toronto for a while now….so what’s going on with
Old School Muay Thai?
We have our own gym space now at 225 Richmond St West. In addition to
our usual students, we now have a not-for-profit at-risk youth program
and we’re working with a variety of kids from local neighbourhoods
through our affiliations with WoodGreen Community Services and
Harbourfront Community Centre.
Was this difficult to facilitate?
Yes. It would have been impossible without the help of my loyal
students and supporters. The connections that have been fostered
through the first five years of OSMT are the base upon which all of
this has been built.
100% favourable. We’ve had buy-in from private sector support. On an
individual level, some of my personal training clients sponsor
individual youth. And on an organizational level, Wayne Jacobs from
Allied Properties helped us locate an affordable space and then very
generously renovated what was once a nightclub into our gym, complete
with change rooms and showers.
Why underprivileged youths?
I wanted to give back to the community, and training the youth is a
perfect fit. Through the discipline and self-knowledge engendered
through the study of Muay Thai, they gain the self-awareness and
leadership skills required to then, in turn, support their community.
Through self-growth comes more opportunity to continue to build on
growth, and to give good out, mentor and lead in turn.
How do the kids find you/how does the gym operate?
Community-based youth agencies like WoodGreen partner with our
program, we build on connections in Muay Thai community, some of my
personal training clients identify and sponsor youth. We are to the
point now where some youth are finding us through word of mouth.
Most of the youth are around 17 with the overall age range of 14 to 20
for our youth program.
What has been the best thing about this?
Realizing a life-long dream of running my own gym, program and being
able to give back to the community and to the sport which has given me
so much in my own life.
Anything you weren’t prepared for/didn’t forsee?
Absolutely not. I knew that an undertaking of this nature would
require an incredible amount of perseverance, dedication and optimism
to succeed. These are all things I’ve learned during my twenty years
of practicing the sport of Muay Thai. All of these qualities must be
developed in order to succeed in the ring, progress in the sport,
complete the daily challenges associated with the rigour of training
at a competitive level.
My understanding is that there are currently no sanctioned fights in
Ontario and hasn’t been for most of this year – any thoughts on that?
It is not the sport that is dangerous; the potential threat comes from
the people who are running the sport. When we were sanctioned,
liberties may have been taken which were not in the best interest of
established tradition of the true sport of Muay Thai. Continued
discussions with the government could lead to an understanding that
sanctions will move Muay Thai from the basements and backrooms of the
province to safer environments where the athlete’s safety is first and
Any fighters we should look out for in the future?
Justin Damphouse. At a recent fight in Calgary, he was relentless yet
patient in the ring, and ultimately TKO’ed his opponent with his
knees. Prior to training at Old School Muay Thai, Justin trained at
Por Pramuk in Thailand.
More about Laura
I’m a Canadian who decided to quit my job, sell most of what I own, pack a suitcase, and skip continents to pursue a martial art I’m not particularly efficient in. A minimalist. A modern nomad. A kid who just likes having a good time.
My attraction to muay thai is that it’s an art with no wasted motion. It has been the greatest vehicle for my continual education. It’s incredibly challenging to me – both the physical and the mental game. The latter probably more so than the former.
Currently I’m in Bangkok training muay thai fulltime. The plan is to be here for a few years, but realistically, I have no idea where this path is leading, or what the timeline is. I like change and pushing my comfort zone. A lot. Nevertheless, muay thai will be the constant among the variables.
Be prepared for updates, rambling, video content and anything I’ve learned that I think may of use to you.
This hasn’t been easy, but so far, its been a pretty sick ride.