I arrived at 301 Muay Thai/MMA camp on October 6, 2014 feeling nervous as hell but also full of excitement and ambition. My goal was to learn as much Muay Thai as I could in 4 months and hopefully lose about 10 pounds as part of the process.
Upon my arrival I was greeted by the camp mascots: a black and white American Pitbull named Tito and a gray and white puppy mutt named Tuko. Close in toe was one of the two Muay Thai trainers, Kang, smiling from ear to ear exposing a chipped front tooth that gave him a boyish and endearing quality. Kang was a stocky Thai man with a golden tan and a squarish bull-like build. He took my bags and showed me to my room.
After dumping my bags in my room Kang gave me a tour of the grounds. I was quite impressed with the camp. It’s situated on a well kept piece of land about 700 meters from the beach and main road. Scattered around the grounds were mature Leelawadee trees sprouting beautiful white flowers and smaller potted trees bearing pink flowers. I didn’t know what type of flower they were and I wondered if they’d be transferred to the ground once they were mature enough. I also noticed recently planted saplings and various other potted plants around the camp. The flora, potted plants, the fields just on the other side of the fence where you could spot cows grazing daily and the dogs playfully chasing them, and the mountains in the background which the camp was named after (Sam Roi Yot means 300 peaks and refers to the mountains in the area) made for the perfect peaceful, natural location to focus on nothing but training.
After the tour Kang brought me to the kitchen area and offered me some food and drink. I uncovered the first metal serving dish on the counter and scooped up a big spoonful of chicken breast pieces. Under the lid of the other metal serving dish were veggies which I also helped myself to. I recognized the big pot on the corner of the counter as a rice maker and took a smaller portion of the white rice. As I ate Kang grilled me with the typical questions one gets while travelling; Where was I from? How long was I staying? His English was difficult to understand at times. He tried to help the situation by supplementing with hand and body gestures. Although it did little to aid my comprehension I did my best to catch the gist. Sometimes, he told what I guess was a joke because he’d just break out into a laugh and I’d just laugh right along with him even though I didn’t understand what he was trying to say. I know it’s awful, but sometimes it’s just easier than saying “what?” 10 times and STILL not understanding.
Shortly after my arrival, Dustin, part owner and head MMA trainer of the camp showed up with his lovely Thai wife Daly. I instantly felt a comforting connection with Dustin simply because he was a fellow Canadian. He’s the stereotypical down to earth type Canadian too which made him all the more likeable. He explained the schedule to me and how life at the camp was in general. He said that he liked to keep a low number of students to preserve the “family” atmosphere. I liked that.
Training took place under a tin roof in an open air space. The camp was equipped with a pro size ring and MMA cage. Bag work, stretching, chins and pulls were done on jigsaw matts around the ring. Just beside the MMA cage was a stationary bike, treadmill and a very old school, limited collection of weights. A few of the weights were just cement blocks adhered to the end of metal bars, so you didn’t even know how much you were lifting. The rest of the weights were old and rusty and you had to retighten the spin locks after every couple of sets if you didn’t want a plate to fall off and possibly land on your toe. It’s no frills and you may not be able to lift your heaviest if you’re a hardcore lifter due to the lack of plates, but I think for the average Joe you can still get an adequate weight training session with what was there.
The 20 m lap pool was just as well maintained as the rest of the grounds situated right outside a block of private rooms. Which brings me to the rooms; the private rooms all had fans (unfortunately no A/C), and looked like they’d been either redone or built relatively recently. No filthy walls or permanent grime in between the bathroom tiles is what I’m getting at. A scene all too familiar in several rooms I’d stayed in in Thailand that were in the 600-1000baht range.
The shared rooms were much less cozy with exposed concrete floors and walls, single beds and no desk. The shared rooms were something more akin to an army barracks in my opinion.
The ‘chillin’ area’ is between the ring and cage and consisted of a couple of couches and hammocks, a small flat screen tv and a decent sized library of movies.
And, if you weren’t too exhausted from all the training, there was also a full size basketball court on the opposite side of the ring.
I went to bed early that first night so that I’d be bright eyed and bushy tailed for my first training session the next morning.
At 6:30am the following morning the trainer that I hadn’t yet met walked around outside the rooms ringing a loud and invasive bell signaling to us that it was time to wake our punk asses up and get ready for training.
I was a real keener my first day. Already up and dressed by 6:30am because I thought that’s what time training started. I was at the matted area doing some dynamic warm ups waiting for everyone else to join. No one even showed up until almost 7:30ish. Turns out you were meant to go running in the morning which is totally self managed. As long as you were back with hands wrapped and were in the ring for the 7:45-8:00 am start of shadow boxing. Needless to say many people simply slept in and showed up at 7:30am and didn’t actually go and run.
The other trainer’s name was Sak, a dark skinned man from Issan (the largest region in North East of Thailand). He’s also stocky but more round compared to the squarely built Kang. He was very friendly and his English was a little better than Kang’s. He introduced himself and asked the same questions as Kang with a big smile on his face the whole time.
Training started with three 5 minute rounds of shadow boxing in the ring. I felt awkward. Everyone else seemed to have flow to their shadow boxing. Not wanting to risk looking foolish by attempting kicks or knees I just walked around the ring doing poorly executed jabs and crosses. Sak noticed this and took me aside to show me some basics like stance, jab, cross, blocks, knees and kicks.
After shadow it was on to technique training. Sak would demonstrate a striking combo and we students paired up and practiced what he showed us. Neither power nor speed was the name of the game, we were simply to practice slowly and with control and proper form. After technique training we went through several rounds of pads each. I wondered why Sak was the only one holding pads for us students. Kang seemed to just be overseeing the whole morning session and didn’t really do much.
While waiting for your turn on pads with Sak you did work on the heavy bag. Sak told us to just go “freestyle” on the heavy bag. So I punched and kicked as hard as I could, but felt a little self conscious because I knew I wasn’t do it right, and wasn’t sure what I should be practicing.
Once everyone had a turn on the pads, Kang asserted himself by telling everyone to finish up with a couple of hundred knees to the bag and a couple of hundred of sit ups. Although he didn’t really enforce his demands when many people slacked off with the amount of reps they did.
By the end of it all I was both exhausted and hungry. I decided to go and eat right away before going for a shower. I would call the meals we received Westernized Thai. We ate a lot of chicken in some sort of sweet sauce never too spicy to accommodate the sensitive palates of us Westerners (although I like and can take it spicier than many people that were at the camp). The side dishes were veggies (also often in a sauce) and white rice.
I was usually unable to nap after the morning session but not for lack of trying. When that bell would ring again at 4:00pm for the second session I still felt pretty beat from the morning session. At 4:00pm you were expected to go for another run and be back and ready to start shadow boxing by 4:45-5:00pm.
In the afternoon technique training was replaced with sparring. We were expected to try and incorporate what we’d learned in technique into the sparring session. After sparring we did a few rounds of pads each with Sak, and did work on the heavy bag while we waited our turn. We finished up with knees and sit ups again before calling it quits between 6:15 – 6:30 pm.
After about a month my excitement began to wane. I began to feel unhappy because I was not getting adequate sleep due to being able to feel every spring through my paper thin mattress, not being a midday napper type and the dogs barking at night. I also didn’t like the food. I could handle eating chicken 99% of the time but found the sauces used to be quite heavy and sugary, there was also often fried items on the menu and the white rice was not agreeing with me and let’s face it is not exactly healthy.
I also found the training to be very unstructured. We’d sometimes be left to hit the bag for lengthy periods without any focus or direction. We’d work the pads and the bags with little to no correction of our technique and form. The trainers often seemed unmotivated themselves. It doesn’t make for a very appealing training atmosphere when a trainer is staring off into the horizon or arguing with the other trainer on how he just demonstrated a technique or worse watching TV or looking at his smartphone during training. There was also no strength and conditioning besides our sit ups to speak of although the 301 website said it was part of the programme.
Despite what I considered a sloppy training regime my interest in Muay Thai deepened. I started googling information about Muay Thai, reading blogs and watching tutorials in my spare time. The down side to this was that it made me even more painfully aware of how lacking the training at 301 was. There was no consistency, no commitment to make sure we really understood the basics. No matter how we kicked or punched the trainers would yell an enthusiastic “OOOOOOOWAYYY” (the cheer that most Thai’s yell when someone gets off a good move or combo on their opponent) or they’d sometimes have the nerve to yell “PERFECT!” even when what was executed could barely pass for good let alone “perfect.”
I contacted Dustin to let him know of my concerns about the training, the food, the lack of sleep. I actually tried requesting a refund so that I could attend a different camp. I know the website clearly states “no refund” but I really felt that 301 was not the camp for me.
Well I didn’t get a refund but Dustin seemed to really care about the feedback judging by his thoughtful response to my email. Within a week things really turned around. He bought new mattresses in the block of private rooms, Daly his wife started supervising the cooks and helping in the kitchen. The meals were considerably better after that. I’d even go so far as to say some of the meals were delicious. We also started regularly doing sprints and did bodyweight strength and conditioning once or twice a week with a circuit thrown in once in awhile. It was a shame that the circuits were so sporadic because I loved them, we used battle ropes, the sledgehammer on the tires, and actually did some weighted squats during the circuits.
It was great to see that Dustin was not just paying lip service when he said he’d look into everything, he really followed through. He said I just happened to arrive at the camp while he was on vacation and had family visiting so he wasn’t around to supervise. He said normally he and his wife were there to oversee things daily. Overtime I really noticed that everything from food to the demeanor of the trainers changed when Dustin and Daly weren’t around would worsen with every day that they were gone.
Once Dustin’s parents left he and his wife were at the gym most of the time. Still, with him being head of MMA training he was not able to supervise the Muay Thai training sessions, so the trainers still got lazy at times.
I felt better for awhile after the changes but then another issue started to creep in which had nothing to do with 301 itself. Loneliness. Dustin may have said he likes a family atmosphere at the camp but that’s something you can’t really guarantee when you have a constantly changing cast of characters coming through the gym. You never know what type of personalities you are going to get and how they will mesh with others.
I had the added challenge of being a woman…an older woman…in a mainly male group of 20 somethings. And besides one person who seemed to purposefully ignore me or leave me out of conversations and who made the atmosphere less enjoyable for me I had no issues with anyone on a personal level. We all worked well together during training and could have a few small talk laughs during meals but for the most part I had nothing in common with anyone and didn’t really makes any close friends. I understand that these were young guys in an environment that promoted machismo so I didn’t begrudge them their immaturity, raging libidos and lack of stimulating conversation but it did start to get to me after awhile.
In some ways it was like family though. Like when one of the trainers asked to borrow 11,000baht from me with promises to repay it the following week after only two weeks of me being there. If being asked to borrow money isn’t like family then what is. I almost got sucked into doing it too because I can be such a softie at times. He told me a sob story about his family which may have been true, but it didn’t take away from how unprofessional it was for him to even ask. I actually asked Dustin if he thought Sak was reliable as I contemplated lending him the money. The fact that the trainers don’t get paid very much also played a role in my considerations. His response was he wouldn’t do it but it was ultimately my decision.
After asking a Thai girl friend what she thought, and whose answer was 100% NO, DON’T DO IT, she started making some valid points like: Why doesn’t he ask his boss to front him the money? Why would he ask a student and make them feel uncomfortable? Then she said why does the owner even allow that type of behaviour? He should have told me flat out not to lend him the money and then spoke to the trainer to tell him that it would not be acceptable for him to ask students for money while he is employed with him. She made good sense. A fellow student said that being asked to borrow money by Muay Thai trainers was normal at Muay Thai camps. I had nothing to compare to as this was my first time at a Muay Thai camp so what did I know.
I soon began to resent the remoteness of the camp which was once one of the biggest selling points for me. I wished the nearest city was closer, so that I could easily get away from the camp atmosphere quickly. Of course I could have rented a scooter but 60 km (one way) is still a ways to go on a whim. What I ended up doing was taking time off for week long blocks to take breaks totalling about 3 weeks by the time I’d finished at the camp.
Once I’d regrouped and remembered that my goal was not to make friends and socialize but to learn Muay Thai it helped me to get over the whole loneliness thing and even though I wasn’t that connected to the group at the camp I was in good groove by the third month. I tried my best to make up what I felt were gaps in the training by learning what I could on Youtbe and blogs from sources like Muay Thai Guy (his Heavy Bag Blueprint program was especially useful) then tried to implement it during my training sessions.
I was feeling so confident that to the content of Sak I finally decided to take a fight. Something they’d been asking me if I was interested in doing since my third week at the camp.
From the point that I agreed to fight I was in “fight camp” which meant the training was to become more intense for the 3 weeks leading up to the fight. I rarely did technique training after that as they wanted me to focus on power and endurance. So I was prescribed lots and lots of kicks and knees and boxing on the bag at full force and as many rounds of pads as I could handle with minimal rest. I ended every session with more sit ups than the regular group and weight training.
The weight training was what really bewildered me, I had no idea of the reasoning for this particular programming. Sak told me to do 150 weighted neck lifts, 100 bicep curls, 20 back squats and 20 military presses and 200 sit ups. He’d sit on the side of the ring looking at Facebook on his smartphone as I did the reps, until he’d get bored that is and then he’d go and eat as I finished up the sets. I did that EVERY DAY leading up to the fight. Despite not understanding the method to his madness I did as I was told.
It was difficult for me to really go as hard as I would have liked because at the same time that I agreed to take the fight a full on cold erupted. I had a persistent phlegmy cough that would get worse anytime I really pushed my cardio limits, so sprints were out as they resulted in bad coughing fits. I also felt really hot the minute I started being active. Uncomfortably hot. Abnormally hot. I wondered if I had fever. The cough was actually going around the camp, and one German student, Tim, who also felt ill said he did have fever and stopped his training for awhile. So who knows what I had. I felt exhausted (more than usual), had a runny nose, and felt powerless. But I kept on the best I could.
After about a week and a half the sickness started to subside and I was told to start running. The first week and a half I had gotten away with just extra skipping rather than running. I’d avoided running like the plague the whole time I was at the camp simply because I hate running. For “fight camp’s” sake I ran everyday as I was told. Morning and afternoon. I went from 0km the past couple of months to 42 km in a week. Not exactly intelligent progression. This lack of progression with the running caused a couple of overuse injuries. A sore right knee that would hurt if I bent or unbent it. It would especially hurt if I stayed in any position for a prolonged period and then tried to start moving again, and a sharp pain on the top of my left foot.
My injuries combined with the fact that a couple of students at the camp as well as a fighter I emailed to explain to what the trainers currently had me doing said my “fight training” didn’t really make sense had me doubting myself about the fight.
In the end I took the fight because I’d never have been able to live it down with my myself if I hadn’t. It’s one thing to decide not to fight if you don’t feel ready BEFORE accepting, but because I’d already said yes I could not back out. I also won my fight. Despite winning I still didn’t think I was trained properly and I also had several pounds on the girl I fought (although she had a little more experience). Would I fight again? Yes, but I’d like better training first. It was also still a great experience regardless of the sub par training and I got to take another thing off my bucket list so definitely no regrets.
Even though I learned that 301 is not the camp for me, I still appreciate my time there and didn’t come away without learning a few things:
First lesson is don’t pay for shit up front. I was told that I was coming at a busy time so paying in advance would secure my room. Next time I’ll my chances.
I’ve definitely learned that running is an integral part of Muay Thai training that I shouldn’t have put off until the 11th hour, trying to do in a week what I should have worked up to during my 3 months is not smart training.
I’ve learned that Muay Thai training really is MY responsibility. As much as I was not happy with the trainers not giving me a proper progression for running, I now see it was expecting too much of them. I let their “push through the pain” mentality and my pride get me injured. I knew better but did it anyway. There is a fine line between pushing through and being dumb. Next time I will train around pain not through it.
In the end I learned a lot about myself during my 4 months at 301.
In my next post I will rate 301 using Muay Thai Scholars 5 star rating system.
You can also read about my first fight here.
Do you have a favourite Muay Thai gym? If so where and why?