Friday, May 3, 2013

My Muay Thai Journey

For those unaware, I decided within the last week that I wanted to take up a martial art while in Korea. The first things I saw were Muay Thai, MMA, Judo, and a lot of ground work grappling stuff. I had about zero interest in ground-based stuff. I have no doubt the skill it takes, but even aesthetically, it's not all that exciting. Then I looked into Taekwondo (which is the national sport, actually) and Hapkido (which is a Korean martial art--I also believe it's what Steven Seagal does). But, as luck would have it, the closest (English-speaking) gym for either TKD or Hapkido was about 90 minutes away. So... that brought me back to the first one that really caught my eye--Muay Thai (if you don't know, Muay Thai is Thai Kickboxing). So I said sure, why not. I found a gym with a solid reputation (and spoke English) that's only about an hour away, in Seoul. In fact, it's right near Itaewon, which is like foreigner mecca.

As a pure beginner, I had to start with Muay Thai I (Fundamentals), and fortunately there was a Saturday early afternoon class. I registered for it online and waited for the day.

As the day arrived, I was understandably nervous. I started leaning back on the whole "I'm gonna be way out of my league, they're gonna look at me like I'm crazy, and why am I doing this again?" But I continued on with it and left my place at about 10:30 (the class started at 12:10, but I wanted to give myself some leeway in case I got lost or something).

And that brings me to the next part of the story. Anyone who knows me knows how incredibly directionally challenged I am. And here I was venturing into Seoul on my own, having to make no less than 2 transfers on the trains. And then I'd have to follow the directions from the website to even find the gym itself. Now, I'd been to Seoul a few times by now, and I'd been to Itaewon once... but all of those times I pretty much relied heavily on the directional skills of Tim to get places.

So the first leg of the journey was easy, as it was just one stop over to Geumjeong before taking 5 steps off the train and waiting for the next train. But then came the long stretch, which would take me from Geumjeong to Samgakji (the bulk of the trip--14 stops and about 50 or so minutes long). I was worried at first because the train was packed. Like, uncomfortably so. However, after about half the trip, it cleared off enough, and I even managed to get a seat for a little while.

Now comes Samgakji, where I have to transfer over from Line 4 to Line 6... and I had a bit of a screw-up. I ended up hopping on the wrong train and going the opposite direction. But I just got off at the next stop and found the right train that took me back the way I needed to go. Unfortunately, this took some of my leeway time away, and I was running short on that. I was starting to worry that I was gonna be late (I had to be there early to do some paperwork and make payments and whatnot before the class started).

I wasn't going all the way to Itaewon, though. I had to get off at the stop right before, at Noksapyeong, which I guess puts you at the outskirts of Itaewon. This was a pretty cool little station. There weren't a lot of people, but the whole look of the place was pretty nice. Though it took me a while to get out, as it involved like 2-3 escalators and another flight of stairs, so I have to keep that in mind when timing things later.

I finally ended up on the street, and it's a very pretty little area. I had to walk a ways before going down an underpass and coming up on the other side. I got a bit turned around at this point, as I couldn't find the gym. I knew it was above this bistro and right before a bank--I found the bank and the bistro, but couldn't find the way to the gym. I had to walk around a while before I found it (it was basically right in front of me the whole time).

At this point there's like 10 minutes until the class starts (so it's noon by now). I get up the stairs and the door is closed with a sign saying there's a yoga class going on, don't enter until it finishes. So I'm standing around waiting when a young woman shows up--and I was happy to see someone else just as out of shape as I was. But then this way-too-in-shape dude shows up right after just to make us feel bad.

Anyway, we eventually get in once the yoga class ends. It's a tiny little studio, but it's nice. I fill out my paperwork and pay my fees. Though the class actually starts as I'm doing this, and they go right into jump ropes. By the time I finish the paperwork and change clothes, they wrap up the jump rope warm-up and start the real stuff.

Now, I wasn't sure what to expect going into this. I didn't know if, as beginners, we were gonna be taught some little moves and take it slow or what. Taught some moves? Yes. Take it slow? No. (And out of the 12 or so of us there, only 4 of us were true beginners.) The first thing we do is stretching followed by basic feet movement. Basic bouncing back and forth from foot to foot, keeping light. "OK. This is easy enough," I thought. That was nothing.

Next came the part where we stand in a fighting pose and kick our dominant knee into the air while bringing our dominant arm down to create almost a right angle, basically. Do that like 20-30 times. Now lets add another step to it. You don't just bring up your knee, no. Now you stand with your dominant leg forward so that you do a jump and switch (jump and bring the dominant leg to the back) so that when you land, you can bring that knee back up into the air. Do that another 30 times. It's at this point I can start to feel my right leg getting a bit too weak to move properly, so I switch it up and do some work with my left. But we're not done there. Now, instead of a jump and switch, we just step forward and bring the knee up. (And remember, every time you bring the knee up, you bring the arm of the same side down while guarding your face with the other arm.) Another 30 or so times.

Thai Pads
Then it was time for the Thai Pads (not to be confused with
Pad Thai
delicious Pad Thai). You partnered up (me and the other new and out of shape girl partnered for everything) and one of you had these pads strapped to your arms. You held them low, near the waist, and tight. Then the other person proceeded to bring their knee up into them while holding onto the shoulders of the pad-holder. So we did that for a while (switching pads after a few dozen reps) before upping the ante and incorporating the different knee kicks we'd just learned, but against the pads. And we did that kinda thing for a while.

From there it was time for gloves on. We practiced some one-two punches basically (slide your foot forward, left punch, right punch). Then we got the pads again and worked on that before we added the final step, which I basically called the "Boom, boom, shift, kick." You slid forward a bit, left punch, right punch, jump/switch, knee. And it was almost as much of a workout hold the pads, as it got your arms moving quite a bit, too, to keep up with the hits and knees.

And that was about it. The whole class was about an hour long, and I don't think I covered everything. But it was honestly so much, it was hard to remember everything. There were things that were like 20-30 reps. And there were a few things that were actually 100 reps. And we did get a handful of very short water breaks. I sweat like crazy and was pretty exhausted halfway through. But I guess I caught a second wind, because I was fine for most of the second half.

Though then I went back to change into my regular clothes and found I could barely lift my leg to get into them. So I'll be pretty sore over the next couple days, but it was a lot of fun, and I actually can't wait to go back. I also had them order me some equipment that I'll need (shin guards, gloves, mouth piece, etc.). The guy teaching the class said I could probably switch to the Muay Thai II after a couple weeks when I have the basics down. My biggest problem will be coordination and remembering all the different things I have to do all at the same time. But I'll get the hang of it.

How I'll look in a year.

(Oh, and the trip home was easy, and seemed to go by pretty fast. No issues there.)

1 comment:

  1. First let me say that i think someone kidnapped my son. you know the one that knew his way to one or two places and beyond that couldn't find his way out of a paper bag? Geez Louise! i can't believe you are able to find your way around a city of 10 million people. I'm very impressed! I won't be able to call you directionally challenged anymore! Secondly, i think i need a nap (and i just woke up) after reading what all you did your first day. I'd be needing CPR. sounded like a great workout! (although i do worry about your knees.) Was your partner another american? So glad you are doing this. Continue to have fun!