From a deadly combat sport employed by Thai soldiers to the latest trend sweeping gyms worldwide, Muay Thai has undergone quite the public-relations transformation. This is due in no small part to the efforts of one village boy from Surin province, in Thailand’s rural northeast.
Buakaw Banchamek—aka Buakhao, or ‘White Lotus’—is undoubtedly Thailand’s most famous Muay Thai fighter and can surely share some of the glory for the popularity of the sport on the international stage. The two-time K-1 World MAX champion (2004 and 2006) had his first fight at the age of 8 and was fighting in a gym by the time he was 15.
The 34-year-old now runs two gyms—one in his hometown Surin and one in Bangkok—where Muay Thai enthusiasts can learn from the best. Here, he shares a few tips on getting started in one of the most physically challenging sports in the world.
When did you get your first Muay Thai lesson? Do you still remember what it was like?
I remember my first fight in the ring, when I was about 7 or 8. I felt that not only was it exciting but it was also my greatest achievement. I have been in the ring, as I intended, ever since my first fight. That first time, I felt like I was already successful just because of the idea that I could do it. Whether I won or lost, I was already a victor.
What are the benefits of Muay Thai as a form of exercise?
The benefit of Thai boxing is that it exercises all parts of the body. Moves such as the kick, the punch—these get the body moving. And we also [learn to use] our own weapons for self-defense.
I’m not fit! Should I start doing other training before getting into Muay Thai?
Nope, don’t think it’s too hard for you! To start boxing, you will run until your body sweats and then start to kick and punch. There are different levels of training; beginners start with the basic skills.
Muay Thai is predominately a men’s sport; what advice do you have for women who are keen to get into it?
Actually I have to say that Thai boxing is not only a man’s sport. If we carefully study its history, women learn Thai boxing as well. Anyone who is interested can get started.
What can beginners expect? What does the training involve?
At the beginning, just think that you’re coming for exercise. Don’t think too much. Get sweating and refresh your body—that’s enough. Just let your feelings go. And when you keep practicing like this for a while, you will see that your body changes and you will know that it’s good! It’s not a practice where you will see results immediately. Just like me, I started training in Thai boxing when I was a kid but I have to maintain a healthy body all the time.
A video posted by BUAKAW BANCHAMEK (@buakaw1) on
What’s the likelihood of injury?
As with all kinds of sports, if we push so hard that we overload ourselves or use a wrong posture, it happens.
At what point will I move on from punching sandbags to sparring? If I don’t intend to train as a fighter, will I ever spar?
You have to practice boxing with a real trainer from the first class—how to do the footwork along with other techniques.
What are the things I need to be aware of when choosing a gym?
You should go and practice to find your favorite place, because each trainer has different techniques. OK, 80 percent of trainers will teach you to kick, to punch; but for the techniques, each trainer will have their own unique style.
What is the most important thing newbies have to keep in mind when training for Muay Thai?
What’s important for beginners is the equipment that they use, the technique that they learn from their trainer—how they kick, how they gesture. Finally, they must intend to practice!
Buakhao was at W Retreat Koh Samui giving guests their first Muay Thai lesson in July. What was your first experience with Thai boxing? Share with us @momentumtravel.