Muay Thai Gym Insights: an Interview with Emma Thomas

A regular fighter for Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Gym, Emma Thomas is without a doubt one of the key people to talk to for advice before coming to any Muay Thai Gym to train – especially if you are a female fighter, but not only!

As a female British expat who has lived and trained at a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok for over two years, her insights are invaluable. That is why I sat with her at her Muay Thai gym of choice, Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Gym, and picked her brain. These are her Muay Thai Gym Insights:

What is life like for you here in Bangkok, inside and outside of the Muay Thai gym?

As well as training at the Muay Thai gym and fighting, I also work full-time as an English teacher. I do both of those things six days a week and in my free time, I’m writing for my blog, Under the Ropes. It really is fantastic to be able to do the things I love to do every day and I’m very thankful.

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How did you decide to train at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Gym in Bangkok?

It was actually an accident. In fact, I’d never heard of Master Toddy or his Muay Thai gym before because I was only just getting started with Muay Thai at that time. I had been living in Bangkok for around eight months while teaching at a school when I decided to quit my job to focus on Muay Thai and fulfill my dream of fighting for the first time. Originally, I had planned to move to the north of Thailand to train at a different gym, but a friend of mine suggested I train with him at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai gym in Bangkok first. I agreed to do so for two weeks before moving on… however, I never did.

“I have noticed several changes in myself since becoming a fighter. More than anything, it’s helped me to stay focused, disciplined and determined.” – Emma Thomas’s Muay Thai Gym Insights

From the first day at the Muay Thai gym, I clicked with Master Toddy and knew that this was the right place for me. I loved the training so much that I couldn’t leave. I have now been living and training at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai gym for over two years and have no plans to go anywhere else.

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What do you think makes the training at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Gym special?

The training at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai gym is unlike any other training I’ve ever had. He and his trainers make a constant effort to improve your technique, which is something that you don’t find in many other Muay Thai gyms. The other Muay Thai gyms that I’d previously trained at mainly just did a lot of pad-work before putting you on a bag without any real instruction, and that was followed by clinching. It was the same every day, except when we would spar a few times a week. Master Toddy has a specific system by which he teaches, which enables students to learn in a step-by-step process. He will never teach certain techniques too soon. Even bag-work has a system in his Muay Thai gym, so students learn in a way that is both effective and really enjoyable.

“I loved the training so much that I couldn’t leave. I have now been living and training at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai gym for over two years and have no plans to go anywhere else.” – Emma Thomas’s Muay Thai Gym Insights

We also spar almost every day. Not only that, but it’s light, controlled, technical sparring, during which Master Toddy watches every student carefully and gives them individual advice to tweak their technique. It’s never just generalized sparring, there is always a purpose behind it and an individual aspect for each student to focus on. Master Toddy will use his observations of sparring to advise both the students and the trainers of what to work on during pad-work afterwards. So, the main thing for me is that the training is very individually-focused. That, along with Master Toddy’s constant verbal reinforcement and support, keeps me focused, motivated and constantly growing. Almost every day at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai gym, he tells me how proud he is of me, how much I’ve improved and how happy he is with me, and that mental aspect of training is so important to me and my progress. These are just some of the things I get here that I wouldn’t get at any other Muay Thai gym.

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Your blog focuses a lot on being a woman doing Muay Thai in Thailand. What sort of feedback do you get from other women who have read it?

The feedback that I’ve had since setting up Under the Ropes has been fantastic, far more so than I ever expected. I get a lot of messages from women who say that they can relate to my posts and thank me for writing them, which is really lovely. I also hear from women who are having troubles with their current training situations and are looking for some advice, and it’s nice to be able to give some support to women who may feel isolated in their Muay Thai gyms, as I’ve experienced that myself at previous Muay Thai gyms. I also hear from a lot of men who say that my posts have helped them to understand their female training partners more. The majority of people who contact me are looking for advice on how they can do what I’m doing, and I’m always happy to offer that. Since I started writing, I have always said that the purpose of it was to put something out there for other women, and I’m really glad that it’s been so well-received. More than anything, I’d like to inspire other people to follow their own passions as I have done with mine.

“It really is fantastic to be able to do the things I love to do every day and I’m very thankful.” – Emma Thomas’s Muay Thai Gym Insights

How do Thai people – men and women – respond to your being a white, female fighter?

The response that I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. My students and co-workers always ask about my training and fights with curiosity and are very supportive. The local people in my area also take an interest. When I go running after training, I always receive cheers and thumbs-ups from people along the way. Taxi drivers and food vendors always ask me when my next fight is. There’s one particular vendor who always gives me free pad-thai and sometimes visits the Muay Thai gym to watch me training. He’s my favourite! The reaction from my family was a quiet one when I first started, as they were not entirely comfortable with the idea of me fighting, especially in another country. However, that has now changed and they are very supportive of what I do.

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Have your Muay Thai skills ever helped you in real life?

I have noticed several changes in myself since becoming a fighter. More than anything, it’s helped me to stay focused, disciplined and determined. It pushes me out of my comfort zone, providing me with a constant challenge and helps me to grow and improve. I wrote more about this in my blog in a post called “Does Fighting Change You?”

What keeps you motivated?

Motivation isn’t a huge factor in my training because it’s something that I love to do, so I usually don’t need to persuade myself to train. However, I do also look at it as a job, which means that I have no choice but to keep training. I sometimes would much rather stay in bed than go to work, but of course, I go. The same applies to training. That being said, I think that Master Toddy’s training methods play a huge part in my mindset. He is constantly providing new challenges for me, which make me want to come back to training the next day and work on them. As I said earlier, he is also providing constant feedback and encouragement, which makes all the difference. It also helps to always be working towards a fight, so there is no choice but to keep training and improving.

“Master Toddy is as much of a life coach as he is a teacher.” – Emma Thomas’s Muay Thai Gym Insights

How do you get prepared for a fight during the week leading up to it, and on the day before?

In the week leading up to a fight, my training doesn’t differ much as I usually like to train to be fight-ready, regardless of whether or not I have one booked, so that I can always take one at short notice. I will only make slight changes to my training, such as not lifting weights and focusing more on short and intense exercises like sprints and plyometrics, although these are always part of my routine. The day before a fight, I will do a light session of shadow-boxing and bag-work, after which I’ll get a Thai massage and then try to rest as much as possible.

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What does it feel like going into a fight? And immediately after?

Before I go into a fight, my mind is usually totally clear. I hear a lot of fighters talk about getting nervous or ‘pumped-up’, but I am usually quite relaxed. That is not to say that I don’t get nervous, but I try to push everything to the back of my mind. I remind myself that I have been training everything I need to do for the fight and that it will all come together in the ring. Afterwards, there is always a buzz. I feel like I grow every time I get into the ring and emerge from it as an improved individual, and it is always nice to see the rewards of my training and have that reference point to show how far I’ve come.

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What do you miss most from your life before you came here to Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Gym to train?

I love my life in Thailand and can’t imagine moving back home at the moment, but I definitely do miss my friends and family. It is difficult to live as an expat in a foreign country and can often feel lonely, but everyone at the Muay Thai gym is like a family, which helps a lot. Bangkok is now my home.

“We spar almost every day… controlled, technical sparring… Master Toddy watches every student carefully and gives them individual advice… It’s never just generalized sparring, there is always a purpose behind it.” – Emma Thomas’s Muay Thai Gym Insights

Did you pick up any philosophy from your time spent with Master Toddy?

Master Toddy is as much of a life coach as he is a teacher, and I have certainly learned a lot from him during my time here so far. He always reminds me to stay positive, be thankful and enjoy life. He is also constantly striving for improvement, whether it’s with his Muay Thai gym or other aspects of his life. He is always coming up with new ideas and taking steps to make them happen, which is really inspirational. When he wants something, he goes out and gets it and accepts no excuses. I really admire that about him.

With Master Toddy

With Master Toddy

Ron Anshel