Upon arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo, I was welcomed by two familiar faces – Mr Imai of Muay Loak Promotions/Shobukai Gym and a kru from Chuwattana Gym, Bangkok.
I was invited to Japan to do a number of things – to help bridge Japanese muay thai to the west, train and lend recommendations regarding hosting foreign fighters in the future. I’ve also been asked to be part of the matchmaking team for Muay Loak Promotions – I, along with my Japanese partner in Bangkok will headhunt Western fighters – provided everything runs smoothly. This is the first time Shobukai Gym has hosted Westerners and there are three of us – myself and two Italian fighters. We live together in an apartment above the gym along with a Japanese fighter and the Thai trainer. I’m the only female.
Shobukai Gym is located in Hachioji, an industrial suburb located in the mountains, 40km west of downtown Tokyo.
The previous seven days have been an adjustment period. It wasn’t culture shock in the sense of being a Westerner in an Asian country – it was more of me feeling like a girl coming from the Wild West and being thrown into domesticity. To state the obvious, Japan is more developed, organized and more Western than the Thailand I know. This, quite simply, freaked me out at times. I found myself missing the randomness, the decay/immediate examples of the natural cycle of life, the silly banter with strangers, the stray, mangy animals wandering around, and the heat. I really, really miss the heat.
To put it mildly, I’ve been climatizing. One night my Japanese roommate was trying to drop weight. We were in the main living area with the Thai trainer. The door and windows were shut. Two pots of water were boiling on the stove and we had a space heater. Both guys were soaked in sweat – the Thai wearing only a light shirt and a pair of jeans. I had three shirts on, a pair of jeans and socks and after an hour and subsequently to everyone’s amusement, I still wasn’t sweating. It’s partially genetic – I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. I’ve taken to wearing my rubber suit at the gym, not to drop weight, but to keep warm. And sometimes, it takes awhile.
In addition, I have yet to train muay thai here – I’ve been resigned to doing light weights and running sporadically. Some background info – in October 2009 I broke my hand for the second time that year and took about five months off to heal and scout other gyms. By the time I was able to train, I began having issues with my stomach, which I’m still dealing with. As a result I’m not currently in the condition I want to be in. I was hoping to fight here…I don’t know if this will become a reality. I’m here for forty-five days total.
That being said, I have been observing the training. Current impressions – despite having a series of trainers rotating in from Chuwattana throughout the years, the style here at Shobukai Gym resembles kickboxing with the addition of elbows and knees more so than muay thai. Speaking with the current kru here, he explained everyone comes from different martial arts backgrounds so he tries to work with people’s strengths. Sometimes he teaches muay thai, sometimes boxing, sometimes kickboxing. It all depends on the fighter. I’m not considering this a negative, just something other than what I’m used to. More on this when I do train…
I’ve been unbelievably welcomed by a number of Thai ex-pats I’ve met here – enough where I’ve been navigating this country mostly in Thai. I’m truly thankful for this as it has provided a sense of home for me. The people I’ve met have been feeding me, helping me navigate an area of Japan where little to nothing is in English (including some ATMs), and have purchased meds for me when I wasn’t able to do so myself. I’m currently writing this piece wearing an amulet lent from the kru to heal my ailments. I can also hear one of the Italians swearing in his native tongue. This has provided a sense of home for me too. His swearing…
Living conditions…A Thai who can speak a bit of Japanese. An Italian who can speak English and a bit of Thai. A Japanese who can speak less Thai than the Italian and can’t speak English. An Italian who can speak more English than the Thai can speak Japanese, but less than the other Italian. And me, the Canadian who can speak adequate Thai, understand some Italian and know how to say ‘Thank-you’ and ‘What is this?’ in Japanese. The five of us under one small roof…this aspect has been pretty fun.
More in a week…
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.