Muay Thai has taken on a new guise, and is attracting a new fanbase. No longer are those wanting to train in Thailand resigned to Rocky style gyms in the backstreets of Bangkok and on the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket, and no longer is it just twenty something backpacking males you’ll see at Lumphini Stadium of a Saturday night. Muay Thai is fast becoming a family affair in the middle and upper classes of both Thai and foreign families.
Open any flight magazine, check out any hotel lobby, and no doubt you’ll see courses in Muay Thai on offer for all ages, strenghths and levels of experience. As such, tourists of all ages, shapes and sizes are trying out the sport by taking “designer classes” in luxury hotel gyms.
Expats are getting in on the action, too, with many training in the rings of local gyms with personal trainers. Of course, the emphasis isn’t on fighting for competition, but instead on fitness and self-defence. Moreover, there’s air con, cleaning ladies in abundance, and hairdryers, face cream and cotton buds in the changing rooms. Yes, this is hi-society Muay Thai, a far cry from the training the fighters from the deep south and northeast go through on their way to stardom.
One notable venue taking the lead in designer Muay Thai is The Siam, a luxury riverside retreat hotel in Bangkok, with an amazing gym that accommodates a full size Muay Thai ring. Opened in June by singer/actor Krissada Sukosol Clapp of the Sukhosol family, and designed by renowned architect Bill Bensley, the upmarket venue boasts the best Muay Thai facilities in plush surroundings. Another everyday example is True Fitness gym, bang in the heart of central Bangkok, Asok. The gym has a Muay Thai ring, skipping ropes and a punch bag. On any day of the week, one can see a diverse range of students – from teens to pensioners – aggressively kicking pads and practicing elbows with a personal fitness-cum-Muay Thai trainer.
Gyms all over the capital are cashing in on the trend by making Muay Thai accessible for all. But what’s attracting the masses to Muay Thai?
There are two main reasons. The growth in popularity can be directly attributed to MMA. The global explosion of MMA has thrust Muay Thai into the limelight. A large percentage of MMA fighters train Muay Thai, and as such the sport has become mandatory training for those looking to compete, and of course for fans seeking to get as close to the experience as possible without having to get hurt.
Secondly, the sport is the perfect way to simultaneously drop weight and build stamina. Explosive kicks, persistent punching, fast body movement, and that’s just in the ring. Then there’s the conditioning; the sit ups, pull ups and bag work. It’s a wonderful thing that the national sport is attracting so much attention, and Barry Hearn’s recent announcement regarding the Magnificent Seven of Muay Thai Tournament to be held in London later this year, is testament to just how popular Muay Thai is becoming.