Learning the Art of Muay Thai

By: Zena Rebello

I moved back to Toronto four years ago after finishing graduate school in Waterloo and was looking for new and challenging activities to participate in. A friend of mine mentioned that he started practicing Muay Thai and that he absolutely loved it. Muay Thai, also known as Thai boxing is one of the oldest martial arts in the world that originated in Thailand. It is called the ‘Science of Eight Limbs’ because fists, feet, knees and elbows are all used in the art.

As someone who never shies away from new challenges, I decided to try it out, unaware of how much it would change my life for the better. I decided to go for a trial class at a school called York Muay Thai. When I got there, I was greeted by the owner and head instructor Kru Jenypher Lanthier (Kru means instructor in Thai). Right away the traditional male dominated, testosterone filled stereotype of martial arts gyms was dispelled because the head honcho here was a female. 

Going into class, I was very excited. However, as the class progressed, I wanted to cry. I was surprised by the physical demands and level of conditioning required to properly practice Muay Thai. Additionally, it also took a large amount of mental strength to not give up in the middle of a ‘warm up’, which is really a euphemism for a super challenging workout. After 40 push-ups in a row followed by squats, sit-ups and anything else the instructor throws at you, one’s body tends to scream 'UNCLE!'. The class was almost unbearable, but when it was finished I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment and I was hooked!

Whether one is advanced or a newbie, Muay Thai is a tough martial art to practice. At every class, I look around and see people of all genders, shapes, sizes and athletic abilities pushing themselves to new limits and finding their inner strength. Every month, we focus on a new skill to develop, be it crosses, jabs, hooks or swing kicks. We learn how to use the body as a weapon in both offensive and defensive situations. This month is ‘teep’ month. A teep, also called a push-kick, is when you strike your opponent (usually in the solar plexus) with the ball of your foot. Some other useful techniques I have learned are: 

Crosses: A commanding weapon that involves hitting your opponent with your rear fist while rotating your entire body to extend your reach and increase power.  
Elbows: This is one of the most powerful close-range weapons in Muay Thai. If done correctly, it can knock out your opponent. There are many types of elbow moves: upper-cut, rear, lead and downward elbow.
Swing Kicks: The most well-known weapons in Muay Thai are swing kicks, which involve kicking your opponent with your shins. Swing kicks are tough to learn because they involve the integration of core strength, balance and technique in order to execute correctly. For me, they are a work in progress.
Learning these skills have helped me to increase both my endurance and stamina.

There is also an innate sense of community that has developed among the participants at school. Whether we are encouraging each other in class, sharing tips online or socializing over a traditional Thai dinner at our annual Christmas party, all participants, new and seasoned, are a part of a centuries old cultural tradition. 

After having practiced for the last four years, I look back and compare my current self to my old self and I am amazed at how resilient I have become physically and more so, mentally. I know that at 5’1’’ and 110 pounds if I can spar against men twice my height and weight, I have the moxie to handle any challenge that life presents. I always prided myself on my overall toughness, but with Muay Thai I have found a new dimension in myself that can be translated to everyday life. I am more disciplined, agile and stronger than ever.

York Muay Thai offers a free trial for one week. Visit yorkmuaythai.com for more information. 
Twitter: @YorkMuayThai 
Facebook: facebook.com/yorkmuaythai
Photos courtesy of York Muay Thai.

Zena Rebello is an environmental and atmospheric chemist by day and an ardent Muay Thai practitioner by night.