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Hello dear readers,

Sometimes I really don’t understand people. What do you think of when you hear the word “kickboxing”? Do you think of a safe, gentle workout that will magically tone and reshape your body? Or do you think of a brutal martial art?

When I started learning muay thai, I certainly didn’t expect it to be comfortable. I expected it to be damn uncomfortable, actually, and I was scared stiff before my first, second, third, and fifteenth class. (And as well I should have been scared, because my kru (instructor) believed in pairing students of all levels for sparring matches. Can you say ouch?)

I’ve noticed a disappointing trend at my current gym. Whenever I’m paired with someone relatively new, whether they’ve been training for six months or two years, they invariably have not learned knee strikes. Knee strikes are a hugely important part of muay thai fighting. Being able to use knee and elbow strikes is what separates muay thai from plain ol’ kickboxing. And yet, there’s quite a few people going around (at least at my club), calling themselves muay thai kickboxers who don’t have a clue about either. What gives?

The other day, my kru happened to be passing by just when another student told me she hadn’t learned to throw a knee. In jest, I asked Kelly why the Level 1 students couldn’t throw knees. His response? “We don’t teach Level 1 students knees anymore, because the women complained that receiving hits to a belly pad was uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable? I’m sorry, but wtf? Why would anyone sign up for MUAY THAI KICKBOXING expecting everything to feel good? Do they not expect to get kicked, punched, or kneed? That is what learning this art is all about. Plus, traditional muay thai aside, the knee strike is so important for self defense. Most attackers wouldn’t see it coming, and executed well, it can be deadly. The students who are most “uncomfortable” about learning knee strikes are probably the ones who need them most.

I know I’ve ranted about this subject before, but when exactly did muay thai get so wishy-washy? When did it become an accessible, “safe” sport like bowling or golf? I can understand not liking all aspects of this martial art, but I can’t imagine refusing to learn necessary elements of it because of discomfort. It truly boggles the mind.

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  1. Elspeth Cross

    I think your gym is simply the most recent victim of the instant-gratification mentality. I want, therefore I am. I want to be a kickboxer, therefore I can sign up for a class and call myself one because I’m taking said class but I don’t actually want to expend any energy at learning it or do any of the work to be seen as competent among other kickboxers. I only want to impress strangers who don’t know anything about the sport. (It seems to work the same way for any other given activity – writing, golf, community service.) But if they ever get called on it by someone in the know, watch them back-pedal and get defensive.

    Wow, that’s a hot button for me as well.

    If it’s any consolation, your pick-gloved opponents probably won’t last that long. (Except why has that one person who has been training for two years not learned the basics yet? Personally, I’d be really upset that I’d wasted all my time.)

  2. Kim

    Kinda like anything, as it gets more popular we have to “dumb it down” to make it more acceptable to the regular Joe. Its only about marketing and money making. Lower the standard as to prevent discouragement and abandonment. Kinda like the current education system as well…. but that is a whole other story.

  3. Kim

    Oh and the advent of reality TV.

    And how low quality writing sells.

    And how American Idol became more popular.

    I could go on???

  4. Story Teller

    Yay, people are still reading this thing! I was beginning to think everyone was on vacation. 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

    I do understand the position my kru is in. Most of his students are women, and if he loses them, he’s out of business. But there are a lot of tough chicks out there! What I *don’t* get is why someone who is adverse to discomfort (let alone pain) would be drawn to muay thai in the first place. I could understand if someone signed up for ballet not realizing that it’s painful, but KICKBOXING? C’mon!

  5. Elspeth Cross

    Yes, you’d think the name would be a clue. But some people *are* clueless. 🙂

    Do NOT get me started on Reality TV. (Especially since my crack show “Big Brother” just started last week. I maintain that the only reason I watch it is to learn how to avoid cliche soap-opera storylines in my writing and dialogue.)(You know they are scripted, right? Reality, my aunt Fanny.)

  6. Story Teller

    The only reality show I watch (actually, the *only* show I watch, period) is The Biggest Loser, because it inspires me.

    But what’s wrong with soap operas? Long live 90210, original version! 😀

  7. kara

    Hi Holly,

    This “issue” is why the gym is structured as it is.

    Level 1 is a venue for many people to use MuayThai as a way to work out, get in shape, relieve stress, try something new, learn something about themselves, meet new people and explore something they may have always had an interest in but felt intimidated to try. I don’t think most Level 1 students go around telling people that they are fighters, or even “kickboxers.”

    Level 2 and Level 3 are for those who want to take things a step further and explore MuayThai as the traditional martial art with all of its many nuances – brutal and otherwise. This is where contact drills, sparring and serious body conditioning become a mandatory part of your training. There is plenty of opportunity for this type of training if a student wants it – no one is prevented from challenging the Level 2 test if that is something they want to do and there are Fight Camps, Open Gyms, Concept Classes, etc where you can come to get this type of experience.

    In the end, everyone gets from their workout what they put in. If someone just wants a good sweat with a minimal amount of physical contact, that’s fine with me, as long as they are in a Level 1 class. When a student enters the Level 2 class they need to be prepared to take a hit and not complain when they do.

    I think it’s easy to want to be elitist and exclusive with something that you love; as a Level 2 student I would like to think that I have earned a certain something with my blood and my sweat and my pain. However, I also like to remind myself that the best things in life are best shared; that everyone has the right to take from the beautiful art what they can and that not everyone has to go the whole “nine yards” to get what they need from MuayThai. As long as I see true effort, true enjoyment, and true commitment, I can respect that student as a Level 1 student – whether they like taking knees to the stomach or not.

  8. Story Teller

    Hi Kara,

    You raise some good points, and of course I didn’t mean to sound elitist. My frustration comes from the fact that some students join a muay thai class expecting no discomfort – which just seems strange to me, no matter what the level. For instance, tonight’s Level 1 class was very uncomfortable with absolutely no contact! What will happen when people complain about the workouts being too difficult?

    I guess my frustration also comes from the fact that we *used* to do knee strikes in Level 1, but stopped because of some complaints (I realize this may change, pending on the results of the recent survey). If people were absorbing knee strikes into their unprotected stomachs, I could understand, but with a belly pad, we’re not talking about major discomfort – unless a pairing is very unevenly matched, and Kelly takes care to avoid that.

    I still think it’s important that every student learns the basics, even if they’re executed on pads and not against a fellow student. Not every student can come to the later classes, and not every student will be brave enough to challenge the test. The girl I held for that day was very interested in learning, so I showed her. I just think it’s sad that those who join Level 1 to get in shape and learn all about muay thai have to suffer a bit because of a few complainers. But that’s just my opinion, of course! I still respect yours and thank you for your comment. 🙂

  9. Kara

    Hi Holly,

    I actually don’t even disagree with you. I just think it’s important to consider both points of view. It may be because I have had the opportunity to have many conversations with moms who have gained self confidence and a renewed sense of their body, or a cancer survivor who feels strong for the first time since chemo, or a man who has struggled to control his weight for years and finally found something he enjoys. It’s stories like that that make me glad those people can have something like MuayThai without having to do contact they are unable or afraid to do.

    And yes – it is true that often a few “complainers” can ruin things for others! 😉

  10. Story Teller

    Hi again,

    I completely agree that it’s worthwhile to examine both points of view. I often ask my readers why something is a certain way, or to chime in if they disagree, but up until now, no one has. So bravo! I’m really glad you did.

    I hope you know that my frustration always lies with the people who try to change something long-standing to suit themselves, not with the club. Kelly is trying his best to make everyone happy, and I get that. Maybe the best solution is that when/if we do a drill in Level 1 that involves a little contact, those who aren’t comfortable can be provided with an alternative. That way, we’re not sacrificing the tradition of muay thai for a couple of people…just a thought. (I’m actually not sure how many people complained.)

    I wish I’d heard the stories you relate! I’d love to invite any one of those people to do a guest spot on this blog. It’s always fantastic to hear from someone whose life has been changed by muay thai. 🙂

  11. Story Teller

    PS…and as for me, I prefer to hold thai pads for knees, not use a belly pad. Maybe people would like that better? The stomach usually doesn’t feel the pressure, as the pads absorb the impact.

  12. Kim

    Any version that takes away from the original training plan should not have a level 1 that is less than the INTENDED level 1. They should call it….. hmmmm… something like… muay thai introductory level (like they do with YOGA) or muay thai average joe, or better yet muay thai light… yeah… that’s it… perfect. 😉

  13. Story Teller

    The thing that makes me a little sad about it all is that, once these women got over their fear and discomfort, most of them would probably enjoy being able to throw a strong knee. It’s such an important self-defense move, and to learn a new skill and execute it well is a thrill. When I first started learning, there was a lot that scared me or made me feel silly, but that changed once I got more comfortable. Comfort takes time to build, and it saddens me that a lot of people aren’t willing to suffer a little pain for a lot of gain anymore.

  14. Amie

    When I first started training, it was with a slightly scary instructor and you bet I was working my ass off in between classes to make sure I’d improved, otherwise I would have been yelled at. When I first joined Kwest I remember reading the text on the website and still being scared. There was a definite demand for respect. If you got caught yawning you’d have to do 50 push ups in front the of the class. Same thing if you were late for class. I think it’s important to have your members respect the tradition and the club. I’ve seen a few people be late lately, and no push ups! 😉 I want to see push ups!!! (I’m kind of joking… but not really because I would love to see that.. as long as it’s not me. I’m never late!)

  15. Story Teller

    Hi Amie! Welcome to the blog! Yeah, I was nervous about those rules, too. I’m never late, but when I’m low on oxygen during a particularly tough workout, I yawn like crazy! I try not to be disrespectful with it, though. 🙂

  16. Story Teller

    Reposted from Facebook with permission: a brilliant comment from Domingo Zuniga, who I used to train with at my first dojo.

    We’ve all encountered this on one level or another…. in an instant-gratification society where we want to reap all the rewards with minimal effort (and it’s not about being efficient, either). Where you have people trying to call themselves one thing without putting in the time, or experience, or even have the talent – yet want the appreciation and recognition.

    It’s like those that call themselves muay thai fighters without having been in the ring fighting with knees or elbows…. people who call themselves Ajarn or Kru without putting time in the ring…. People who call themselves “cage fighters” and train “MMA” without having a solid foundation in any ONE martial art…. it’s about those who go to lift weight at the gym and pump themselves full of hormones/steriods for the shortcut…..

    In my field – it’s about those who cheat on tests…. it’s about those who’s daddy pays off the faculty with large donations to accept them into the program…. it’s about the mommy who makes the phonecall to the association to allow her daughter – who couldn’t get into the program on her own – access to the program…. The people who sacrifice quality of work for the paycheck….

    But heaven forbid we offend anyone by saying that they’re not working hard enough, putting in enough effort to get ahead, or tell them that maybe they’re not cut out for this!


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