In Search of a Kru

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When I first began training muay thai, I had a romanticized view of what studying this art meant. I hoped that if you gave 100 percent, you would in return receive the same or somewhere in the neighbourhood of.  It took awhile, but I’ve come to realize, this is not always the case.

From my experience, aspects of training in Thailand are no different than anywhere else.  Gym politics, personal politics, power issues, high expectations, apathy, scumbag maneuvers and whatever life can throw at you (note, I’m not only discussing locals here, this applies to us as well)…add cultural differences and gender politics to the mix, and yeah, it can get interesting out here.

Currently I have approximately a year and a half of experience navigating gyms in Thailand, having spent the last ten months here consecutively.  What have I learned about trying to find great training?  That it’s in constant flux.  What constituted amazing training for me ten months ago isn’t how I define it now.  My needs have changed.  I have changed.  Also, depending on where one chooses to train and for what length of time, the dynamics of the gym may change as well.  New trainers, new fighters, new Foreigners….constant flux.  One day you can think you are in the best spot available and for the next three months you’re wondering what went wrong and if you’ve just wasted a lot of time and money waiting for things to change.

My own current needs are being challenged.  Training in a ring is mandatory now (a number of good gyms won’t allow women in the ring).  I also require people to clinch with daily.  In this respect, being female can be difficult. Oftentimes, there aren’t women my size, if there are women at all.  Most of the females I’ve encountered are Foreigners and are here temporarily.  Trying to clinch with Thai male nak muays can be complicated – often for the simple reason that many are too shy to do so.  Some I suspect simply don’t want to clinch with a girl (or perhaps me, I have no idea).  Then there are the other variables, which include price, living conditions, a sense of community and my resistance to train at a gym that specifically caters to Falang and/or has a large number training within.  I also have to consider whether or not I can trust the promoter.  Will he throw me in the ring with someone who is far more experienced than me, then bet against me?  Will he lie to me about my payouts?  Essentially, will he stitch me up.

I aim to be a technical and strategic fighter, not one that relies primarily on power and speed.  Oftentimes, it’s difficult to be Falang and find a gym that will teach you solid technique beyond a certain level.  Speaking to a number of other Falang out here long-term, the sentiment isn’t only my own.  (Also note: women make less money on their fights.  As a result, gyms don’t receive as high of a payout as they do investing in men, so precedence is often geared towards males, no matter how long you’re at a gym and no matter how much everyone likes you).  In addition, you often learn technique from the nak mauys you clinch with more so than the kru holding your pads……

……I also came to the realization that my enthusiasm to learn can often be misconstrued as having little faith in my trainer.  It took many months for me to understand that a number of krus believe that if you ask questions, you’re actually doubting their abilities, hence displaying a lack of respect.  Oftentimes they write you off for this.  This aspect of my personality has created some temporary, but unfortunate situations for me- assuming they were temporary.  In reality, I’ll never know.  There are others variables too – again, constant flux.

How can you ensure to receive the training you desire at a gym?  How can you find the right fit?  I have no idea.  Gym reviews serve as a great reference, but it doesn’t mean your experience will be the same or even close to the experience of the person who wrote it.  I propose using them as a suggestion, not as a standard.  Currently, I’m relying on instinct.  If it feels right, I’ll train.  Should that feeling change, I’ll think about it, possibly invest more time or move on.   No clue if this is the best way to go about it.  From my experience, a lot of gyms won’t invest in nak muays they think are there temporarily and in contrast, often become apathetic if they expect someone to be there long-term.  Make sense?  Yeah, I’m still trying to figure this out too, but it’s a consistent complaint among a number of people I know out here.   I suggest staying on point, but again, this is a process of continual education and I certainly don’t have all the answers.  I’m also in a different position than a number of you, I’m female.  What does this mean?  When I show up at a gym, I have to consider…Will I be taken seriously? Will I have to deal with my kru trying to hit it with me?   Will I have to deal with drama when I say no?  Sometimes saying no to someone’s advances in this country, within this context, isn’t as simple as merely voicing your lack of sentiment.  This piece is neither the time nor place to delve into this subject; just be aware that this adds another component to an already challenging task.

So where does this leave me?  Writing you from Buriram, in the North East region of Isaan.  I decided to take a break from Bangkok for a little while and research training options.  Unfortunately, two of the gyms I was referred to are no longer operating and the third doesn’t have a ring.  However, I have contacts here that I’m more than grateful for.  They’re taking care of me in ways I would never expect or quite honestly, even conjure in my head (Thank you. Thank you. Thank you).  What’s next?  I’m investigating personal training options; independent of a gym ….let’s see where this leads, if anywhere.  I’ll keep you up to date.

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.

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About Author

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. 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. I spent four years in Thailand training muay thai fulltime. I still live a nomadic life and muay thai continues to be the constant among the variables. I document much of it all on my site Milk.Blitz.Street.Bomb. 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.

12 Comments

  1. Great post. Resonates very well with my experience living and training in Thailand. It really is a quest to find that special teacher — the one that inspires you to push past your limits and makes you want to show up every day and do the best you can even when you feel like shit. It often means moving around like you say (what’s a good fit one day might not be for long) and following your intuition and lots of adventures along the way. Good luck Laura — I hope you find that kru in Isaan or wherever it may be.

  2. Interesting read. I think its only understandable that the Thais have that sort of attitude about falang that are only there to train a week or so, are for all intents and purposes complete beginners compared to the pros that make their living from fighting.

    Laura, are you there to fight, to train, or both? Do you t rain because you love it, or are you training because you want fights? I enjoy training even more than fighting personally. But I think those intentions are picked up on by the Thai trainers.

    Since you are out in Essan, maybe you could check out Legacy Gym and do a report for us and maybe catch up with Ole Laursen? I’m guessing they’d let you in the ring there.

  3. sucks about the lack of training for women. it honestly seems you would get ten times better training at a holland gym[or something of the like] that will fully train you.

  4. that questioning the kru thing really struck a nerve with me. i can sort of tell that my kru wasnt happy with some of my actions, as it seems like he would really try with me in the beginning bu t that died a bit. im wondering if questions such as what you mentioned might be a factor

  5. hey robzepeda – i’m here to train and fight and i’m doing this because i love it. i agree that those intentions are picked up by thai trainers, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything unfortunately – ie. i have a friend who has been here for years and fights every month. she’s taken fights last minute – sometimes a few in a month, she trains through injury, she’s incredibly passionate, has won a few belts and struggles with the same issues. a lot of change has been going on for me in the past few weeks – i’ll write more about it in some posts – however, i’m starting to question if women will benefit more from gyms with female thai champions? don’t know, but depending on where this all leads, it may be something i’ll need to check out…although i know men with the same issues who fight as well….?

    legacy gym is out of my price range unfortunately.

    se – when i heard that about myself (re: asking questions) it killed me. i never thought my enthusiasm would be misconstrued as arrogance. i tend to be that overly polite canadian stereotype, so i know it wasn’t my tone, etc. i find that people really read facial expressions out here – often when i’ve become frustrated, it has been seen in my eyes and has been misconstrued. a number of kru have freaked out on me for it. with one specifically, he hit me super hard by slamming my knee with the pads while i was kicking (he moved in on me and slammed it down – perpendicular – at a right angle – i was kicking horizontally and he slammed my knee cap vertically). he actually injured me and although i stayed silent, he could see that i wasn’t happy , freaked out on me, and refused to train me…that being said, he tried to sleep with me the previous night and i said no….sooo….what is it? is it the look on my face like he said it was? like other people have said? was slamming my knee intentional? i could still smell the alchohol on him….this is part of what i mean about never really knowing. i’ve got a ton of stories like this – not always dealing with people who are trying to get with me – but it’s like, will we ever really know? can we even sum this up for our own cultures? and where’s the line between using your intuition and being hyper sensitive / paranoid?

    i’ve actually wondered that about holland myself.

    thanks everyone!

  6. i wish you good luck Laura, i know how hard it is to fit into thai culture as a foreigner.

    if you ever come across europe, and want no cultural diffusion/difficulties, make sure you visit holland, and i will personally guide you to the gym that fits you best! ;)

  7. Hey Laura, great stuff, keep it up. I’d be interested to know of your training experiences in Buriram. I’m thinking of heading to Isaan to train too.

    Being female as well, you’re spot on about the various dynamics that we encounter when training in Thailand (or any combat sport I suppose). I don’t think that it’s disempowering, but empowering in the sense that it gives us other perspectives on training and the fight game. In other words, it broadens our worldview ;)

    You are right, rely on your instincts and you won’t go wrong :)

    Enjoy the journey.

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