Muay Thai in Thailand: Training (as it should be) in the Homeland of Muay Thai

I remember the first time I watched two Thai girls fighting Muay Thai in Thailand. I was at a temple festival. I don’t know why but I was nearly in tears, and was wondering what the hell was wrong with me. It was during a time when I was feeling frustrated with my training and discouraged about finally being able to get in the ring myself one day. I could hear myself thinking ‘I want this so bad. If they can do it, why can’t I? Why not me?!’.

Training Muay Thai in Thailand can be complicated for female fighters.

Before moving to Master Toddy’s gym, I’d been training Muay Thai in Thailand for about 6 months on and off at a rural Thai gym. I loved it, and when I first started training, new unexpected dreams and intense passion exploded. In discovering Muay Thai, I discovered myself and fulfillment like nothing else. However, as time went by I started to really doubt the training I was getting. I got no sparring, no clinching, and 3 rounds on the pads (whilst all the guys got 5 rounds). With such a significant hole in my training, I began losing my confidence. I could feel myself becoming brain dead, smashing out the same combo on pads and bags that don’t hit back. My dreams to start fighting Muay Thai in Thailand began to feel out of reach, and my hopes for seeing them fulfilled faded. I knew I needed to move.

muay-thai-in-thailand-4I was uncertain of where to go next, especially since I didn’t want to find myself in the same situation at a different gym. I knew about the legendary Master Toddy, being a fan of Gina Carano and Miriam Nakamoto but didn’t know much about his gym in Bangkok. Thankfully, I found out a lot about Master Toddy’s training thanks to Emma Thomas, writer of the blog Under the Ropes, and an amazing female fighter who has been training Muay Thai in Thailand with Master Toddy for over 2 years. After being in contact with her and hearing about her incredible experiences training Muay Thai in Thailand, I knew that Master Toddy’s is where I wanted to be.

With Emma Thomas, whose blog inspired me to come to Master Toddy's - fishing at Master Toddy's ranch!

With Emma Thomas, whose blog inspired me to come to Master Toddy’s – fishing at Master Toddy’s ranch!

Before coming to train Muay Thai in Thailand I would watch Master Toddy’s show ‘Ring Girls’ featuring Gina Carano’s first fight in Thailand with much excitement, dreaming about what it’d be like to train Muay Thai in Thailand

And now here I am, training Muay Thai in Thailand with the Grand Master himself!

I’ve never met anyone like Master Toddy before, he has such a great energy about him and I was blown away after my first session. I first hand experienced the level of expertise in Master Toddy’s instruction. Just by looking at my shoulders he could tell how my previous trainer had held pads for me and trained me.

I love the way Master Toddy breaks things down and uses creative analogies. It plays in your head, ‘Punch over the bridge and under the tunnel! Like a cobra! March like Charlie Chaplin!’ and is incredibly helpful in engaging your mind whilst training.

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Since coming to Bangkok, I’ve been made aware of several holes in my technique and Master Toddy is constantly making corrections. One example is that he changed my footwork for the left roundhouse kick and showed me why it was ineffective and too slow. His method totally makes more sense and I can feel how it is much better than what I was doing before. It feels really good to know my mistakes aren’t being neglected. He is so upfront with me when I’m all over the place or consistently making the same mistake.

My expectations were so high when I started training Muay Thai in Thailand, where the sport originated. Like any other sport, as a beginner I want to be taught, motivated, mentored and guided to the next level.

Every session I feel like I am learning something new. I feel mentally stimulated which is so key, and I feel like there is a direction I’m moving towards. Even in my bag work Master Toddy guides and corrects my movements. I used to find bag work dull and boring, and now that I think of it is sad that such a basic thing is taught that way in gyms that teach Muay Thai in Thailand… but here I find myself enjoying it and learning from it!

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One time, I was trying to work out a combo on the bag and it just wasn’t flowing, he came over and said, ‘Sarah, you’re thinking too much! Stop it, just let it flow and go with it!’ After that something clicked and things started to flow. It was as if he was reading my mind, as I do have a tendency to over think. How could he even tell?! It’s amazing. He can see everything but he’ll give me just enough to work on to enable me to make progress.

I remember watching Gina Carano going to fight Muay Thai in Thailand for the first time. Gina Carano bowing to Master Toddy after winning the fight was a powerful image to see.

Along with Master Toddy, it’s also the trainers and all the other training partners at the gym that make training here totally awesome. We get to do pad work with different trainers which is great because it keeps you on your toes and gives you a different experience every time. In pad work they will actually stop and correct you to make sure you’re doing things right and are excellent at showing you how to perfect a technique.

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One of the best things ever and that really differs from other gyms doing Muay Thai in Thailand is that I get to spar. EVERYDAY. It’s been forcing me to work on my defense, which has always been one of my weakest points, and making me realize just how much work needs to be done! I feel incredibly lucky to have such skilled, experienced fighters to spar with, such as Emma, who helps me out by pointing out things I’m doing wrong, and will hold back giving me a chance to learn, even though she could easily have me for breakfast (and still beats the hell out of me each time!).

Prejudice and outdated traditions are not uncommon in many gyms that do Muay Thai in Thailand. It’s not easy finding quality training if you’re a foreigner – even more so if you’re a female!

Left to right: Katy Farrell, Jacqui Bogart (European and 2 times UK champion), Emma Thomas and me

Left to right: Katy Farrell, Jacqui Bogart (European and 2 times UK champion), Emma Thomas and me

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Another thing that is special about training with Master Toddy is that he has an invested interest in female fighters, both aspiring and professional, and this isn’t easy to find in gyms doing Muay Thai in Thailand. As a female in a gym, sometimes you can feel the subtle, perhaps unintentional vibes given out, that you are essentially invading a ‘male space’ that you don’t really fit into or
deserve to be in as much as the men. That vibe is completely absent here. It has been incredibly liberating to train in such an environment and with someone who really believes in females being in this sport.

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I have also found Master Toddy to be not just my teacher, but a great supporter and a source of encouragement. He connects with you on a personal level which is a quality I really treasure having in a coach. It had only been a few training sessions with him when he pulled me over and made a very sharp observation. He remarked that I learn things fast but then ‘you let it slip away, you let it go and forget’. His insight amazed me, as this was something I hadn’t always been aware of about myself, took me years to realize, yet he picked up on it right away. But then he said with a confident voice ‘you let it go…..but not anymore’ and that he was proud of me. I feel that he really cares.

Now I really feel like I’m doing Muay Thai in Thailand. I spar every day, I learn something new each session, I practice my technique relentlessly. This is what I came here for.

Thinking back to that first time I saw two female fighters fighting Muay Thai in Thailand… It was like two parts of me struggling against each other, the side filled with self doubt, versus the part that believed I was able, that this was who I was meant to be. ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure’. I never fully got that part of the quote before, but it really spoke to me in that moment and the meaning of it clicked.

For me, it speaks of how deep within us all, a part of us knows that we are capable, that we were meant to be extraordinary, not just ordinary. That potential to be great is inherently inside all of us, yet we’re too afraid to realize this potential. We’ve somehow silenced that desire and not accessed that power out of fear, or a lack of faith in ourselves, to avoid failure. I’m tired of living under this, it helps no one. I came to Master Toddy to find that belief I used to have in myself and my dreams again, and I believe 110% that Master Toddy is the person who will help me on this journey to train, fight, live and breathe Muay Thai in Thailand.

This sign hangs above us during training sessions at Master Toddy's

This sign hangs above us during training sessions at Master Toddy’s

Written by Sarah Chung