Week 6: Muay Thai
Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport. It’s a fighting technique that uses eight parts of your body to smack your opponent: fists, elbows, knees and legs. Remember Sagat from Street Fighter II? That’s what Sagat was up to.
Oz Body Fit is a dedicated Muay Thai gym. It used to be on Kangding Lu next to Kaiba and The Shed, but it recently moved to a larger space near the Creek. The gym was set up by Tomer Oz, an Israeli who has 15 years experience coaching Muay Thai. He does this full time, except when he’s working as a bodyguard for visiting celebrities or acting -- he was an extra in the Jackie Chan / Jet Li movie, Forbidden Kingdom, and appeared in John Rabe with Steve Buscemi.
What you need
Comfortable clothes. Baggy clothes that let you stick your feet up someone’s nose. The gloves and pads are supplied by the gym. You also need to wrap your hands up. They have wraps at the gym but if you’re going to do this regularly, you’ll want to buy your own. Hand wraps get funky if too many people use them and they’re not washed. You train barefoot, so you don’t have to carry around your running shoes. For me, that was a big plus.
Many people. Word is out, and these classes are popular. We went to a Monday early-evening session and there were about 30 people training, which looked near capacity. It was about 80 percent laowai. Some ABCs. A bunch of Russians. About 50-50 girls and guys and a broad range of abilities.
The owners said the Monday class is especially busy. It seems we just stumbled into the most popular class. If you want more space, come in the daytime. There are classes four times a week from 12:30-1:30pm, and afternoon classes on the weekend, plus evening classes every night.
Class starts sharp at 6:30pm with a 30-minute warm up. Stretching, jumping jacks, pushups, squats, crunches -- over and over again until you’re on the point of spewing. OK, you don’t have to keep up with the instructor, you can stand at the back and slack off a bit, but if you keep up, this is a savage workout. On the SmartShanghai-exercise-till-you-puke index, this scores a nine.
The instructors vary, but our class was tought by a Filipino guy called Dennis who has won a bunch of Muay Thai competitions. He is small, quick and extremely fit. He also has a voice quite like the Count from Sesame Street. Every time he counted off our pushups I expected him to cackle and lightning to flash. One, one push up… Two, that’s two pushups… Three, three lovely pushups, ah-ah-ah-ahhhhh.*
This was the only amusing thing about the warm up. Apart from this, it was all just sweat and pain.
*Disclaimer: We’d like to point out that Dennis at Oz Body Fit is extremely hard and we in no way mean any offence by comparing him to the Count from Sesame Street, who in any case we respect and admire a great deal. Dennis, if you read this, please, please, do not come round and beat us to goop.
After the warm up, we paired off, put on pads and practiced sequences of punches and kicks. These were pretty tech, like punch, punch, elbow, knee, block, kick, kick, punch. There wasn’t that much emphasis on delivering the perfect strike or perfecting technique, this was all about physical exertion. Do it, sweat, get fit, punish your body, then work on the technique later – that’s the impression we got.
We went through about four of these set ups, including some that involved crunches and taking some gentle punishment from your partner – being thumped in the belly while we did our crunches -- then it there was just time for some more pushups and jumping jacks, and we were done.
These beginners’ classes last 90 minutes. There are also mixed classes four evenings a week and advanced classes, which include some sparring.
How much of your life will this take up
If you did three classes a week you’d soon be very fit. Do two and you’ll lose weight and get in shape. A 90 minute class is considerably more taxing than any session you could devise in a gym, so if you’re currently going to the gym three times a week and not feeling the effects, this is a better use of your time.
How much does it cost
The first class is 100rmb. The second is 120rmb. After that you have to buy a 10-class bundle (for 1000rmb) or sign up for a package – unlimited classes for a month are 1000rmb, for a year it’s 7800rmb. That works out more expensive than boxing but a bit cheaper than yoga. A year here of unlimited classes is a bit more than a year at a pricey gym. But the effects are going to be more dramatic.
There’s another Muay Thai Club in Shanghai which teaches in English and Chinese called the Tiger Muay Thai Kung Fu Club. They offer one-off classes for 150rmb, monthly memberships for 880rmb and annual deals for 4980rmb.
Come what may, if you stick to this you will shed pounds and get in shape. The people involved seemed friendly. The crowd was a true mix of guys and girls and none of the beginners seemed to be taking it too seriously in that irritating, meathead way. There are two or three classes every day and the timetable is broad enough to suit different schedules.
If you’re eager to learn the technical side of the sport, the classes here might be a bit crowded. The emphasis was on physical training, rather than technique, though Tomer told me the technique would come later after your body got used to throwing these kicks and punches.
Without technical tuition, there might be a possibility of giving yourself an injury if your joints aren’t great and don’t like being strained – no one’s telling you exactly how to punch and kick and so if you do it wrong, you could irritate an injury or strain your joints. That didn’t happen to us, but we’re just saying it might because no one’s supervising you 100 percent of the time.
If you’re looking for more focused training, the coaches offer one-on-one tuition, or go to a daytime classes, when there’s less people. One-on-one tuition are 500rmb per session or 4500rmb for 10 classes.
For a full class schedule and more background about the gym, go here. Or see this for a map of where it is and a taxi printout.