Guide: How to choose the ideal Muay Thai training camp
What does a camp need to have/be in order to be an ‘ideal’ one?
Of course, the cleaning standards of the camp is a topic known to most. Traditional Thai camps where it’s easy to catch things like fungus, are lately avoided by everyone.
Commercial camps in Phuket, Samui and Pattaya, thanks to great marketing work, still attract maybe who comes to Thailand for the first time.
Bangkok camps which are home to the best Thai fighters, have to be taken as an example for what concerns organization, while the modern ones for what concerns cleanliness and welcoming of the structure. Later we will discuss how a “real” Muay Thai camp that makes champions is organized.
The question is: which Bangkok camp trains and follows a “farang” the same way as a Thai fighter?
None, unless the Farang is a “super star”, lives in Thailand and fights for the camp.
In fact, the “Farang”, in other words YOU, serve to help cover the expenses of the camp and pay the trainer’s salary, who hold pads for you for 3 rounds, saying “good, good” …”vely good my fliend” and then move on to work hard with their Thai fighters and send you to the bag or to do technique work all together like you could do in any gym back home.
How does, in fact, a “serious” Muay Thai camp work when it has fighters to train for Lumpinee, Rajadamnern, Omnoi etc.? How do Thai nak muays who are part of the family of the camp, and income source, train?
Firstly, a good camp has a well-organized and harmonious team made by:
The Ajarn (master), who is the first to arrive at the gym and the last to leave! He knows who has a fight lined up, when and against who and he works side by side with the manager of the camp. The Ajarn organizes the training cycle with his staff of trainers and checks that the fighters are disciplined and takes care of their preparation, telling the trainers what to do and what to work on for the fight coming up, or to improve some technical gaps. Often, the work is done by 3 people, in fact, the trainer holds the pads, works and makes the fighter work, while the Ajarn stays in the center of the ring, follows closely, talks, shouts, explains and (when needed) hits the fighter, and why not, the trainer (if needed).
The Ajarn has to have a global vision of what happens at the gym and has to follow everyone: who is doing pad just as well as who is doing bag work or other things. Furthermore, a ‘serious’ camp has to have a clear training program, set by the Ajarn. Usually, the program is clear in the Thai’s head or sometimes written on a board in Thai language. High level and modern camps like “7 Muay Thai”, for example, have an illustrated program that explains all the training phases in an impeccable way. Of course, the trainers are always present and they follow each training phase, explaining techniques when necessary, as many times as needed, with patience and devotion; and if they feel the need they ask the Ajarn’s help.
Trainers have to be professionals and not a group of alcoholics at night and trainers in the daytime. In serious camps, at 9 pm, all cell phones have to be turned off, trainers sleep and in some camps like, for example, ‘7 muay thai’ alcoholic drinks are prohibited, penalty: expulsion from the camp.
To each trainer, it’s entrusted the care of one or more fighters, and between the two, a relation can arise, which sometimes can help and some other not. This is why the Ajarn and the Manager figures are fundamental. Because if the chemistry between the trainer and the fighter doesn’t work, than its time to change. Some fighters need to change trainer sometimes, because with one they work on rhythm and with the other more on technique, for example. Where needed, it is useful to have an expert western boxing trainer, if he/she knows Muay Thai as well, while, it’s counterproductive to have a boxing trainer that doesn’t know Muay Thai’s dynamics and timings, because he might teach some things that are not suitable for Muay Thai, being this two sports completely different.
Finally, the psychological aspect: the Ajarn and the Manager have to relate daily and in an open and sincere way, and put their fighter at ease so they can comprehend difficulties, feelings, and everything about the human being that, after all, the fighters are, so they can give their best on the ring. A trainer alone is not enough to do all this, therefore, it is important to find a camp where the fighter can relate with the manager, the ajarn and the trainer, who will be his training mate in the way to success, win or lose, but certainly a good performance.
Another important aspect in a camp is the Nak Muay and beginners ratio. It is fundamental to be able to train with who, since many years, fights in Thailand with success. Many camps separate training sessions between professionals and amateurs, for example when doing clinch or sparring, fundamental parts of MT training, amateurs are often isolated. This takes away from them an important part of the training, because without clinching with strong fighters, you will never become one of them. The same goes for sparring, which is proper to do with your trainer and with all fighters of the gym, even if World or Lumpinee champions. What’s worth flying 12 hours to end up sparring and clinching only with people of your level? Obviously everything has to be done in maximum safety, with the Ajarn that checks that no one goes to hard and that everyone is focusing on improvement and not on “beating up”, taking advantage of the experience gap. Also, it is proper to choose a camp where it’s common the use of groin guard and mouth guard, because in many camps clinching is done without them and accidents, even if kept secret, are numerous: teeth falling and sore testicles are common in old style camps that don’t care about safety. At ‘7 Muay Thai’ camp, it is mandatory to put groin guard and mouth guard on and it’s suggested to use knee pads. Another frequent accident happens to the knees during clinch and sparring. If the main athletes of them gym use knee pads, it’s more likely that everyone else will too, without maybe being laughed at like it happens in old school camps, which I would define “ignorant”, as they ignore the safety of the fighters during training. Avoid than, all camps where athletes use drips during and after training to re-gain strength. Getting a drip outside of a sterile room is more dangerous for your health than any other thing. In those drips there is restorative solution, but the problem is not really what is inside it but the environment where it is injected.
In sum, the advice that comes from most Nak Muays who live in Thailand since many years is the one to find a camp where there is team work, well organized and in a modern and safe structure; and this has to be for all, not just for the fighters. Often the ‘name’ of the camp creates great expectations, but it is important to remember that camps are made by people, and often are teams of people who helped building a big name for a camp. The “name” of a known camp can sometimes mislead, therefore, make sure that the main people are there and that the team is complete of: manager, ajarn, young and healthy trainers and strong fighters who fight in the big Bangkok stadiums.
Often good trainers leave their gym in Thailand for 3-6 months, to go teach overseas. When you plan to go to a particular camp you might think you will find that particular trainer but when you get there he is not there, and maybe neither is an Ajarn to help you choose another good trainer. When you book, make sure that upon your arrival there will be a manager who can guarantee you good training and to be well taken care of, all in a comfortable environment, meticulously clean and maybe immersed in the amazing Thai nature. Look, as well, for someone who offers a healthy and proper nutrition program, a camp that cares about what people eat, avoiding what are the venoms for fighters in Thai food: sugar (big component of Thai cuisine), salt and MSG. Furthermore, if you are a fighter and you would like to develop a career, make sure the Manager has the right contacts to make you fight in the places you dream of.
On the other hand, if you just want to train and improve yourself, make sure you are treated just like (or maybe better) the Thai Nak Muays. So remember the old saying “As you spend, so you eat”, then if you want to spend “less” you will get “little” but, if you want the best, choose a camp that assures you to go back home better and happy of the experience!