It has been quite some time since The Fighting Photographer has been on extended adventures, reporting, training and competing on foreign shores; until now, there have been a number of short trips to places such as Jordan in 2008, competing and reporting at the Capital Challenge International event, as well as competing in the 7th Scandinavian Open in Malmo, Sweden, in 2009.
Fed up of the dreary and cold weather that blights the UK year in year out, hot weather and lots of it would be the top priority when settling for a destination and I was not to be disappointed. As many of you know, my main art is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one would naturally assume that I would be heading south of the equator and calling in at Rio for sun, sand and submissions galore, but it was not to be this time again (however I am glad to say I will FINALLY be jetting to Rio in September this year, more of this in a later report).
On a bitterly cold, wet and miserable day in October 2009, I was surfing the internet and reading a few of my favourite sites, one of them being the Tiger Muay Thai camp website and unexpectedly and for the sheer hell of it, I thought to myself ‘this is the place to be! All that followed was a quick scan of all the cheap flight websites and within a few hours, I was booked to Thailand for six weeks of Far Eastern adventures.
All too soon, the day of departure was upon me and I left a cold and damp Manchester and jetted off to Thailand, with Emirates Airlines, of which I can only say good things about and who I would recommend to all readers, should they decide to travel over to Thailand.
My initial schedule in Thailand was a one-week stay in Bangkok, training with Adam Kayoom at Bangkok BJJ, before jetting down to Phuket and spending the remainder of my stay at Tiger Camp. The week in Bangkok helped me acclimatize to the heat and humidity, as I trained gi and no gi at the club and took in an afternoon Thai session at the legendary Jitti Gym.
I was met at Phuket Airport by a member of staff of Tiger Camp and was driven to the camp in the middle of the night and was taken to my room and was left to my own devices; once settled in, I took a trip round the camp and soaked in the atmosphere and was looking forward to the weeks that lay ahead, before making my way back to my room and try and attempt some sleep, after a long day travelling to the airport and flying in to Phuket.
Tiger Muay Thai came into being in 2004, its first location down by Chalong Circle, before moving to its current location in Ao Chalong. The camp was initially set up by retired US sports journalist, Will McNamara, affectionately known as Big Mac, together with businessman Shaun Getchel; and Lumpini veteran Sean Douglas. After the set up at Ao Chalong, Big Mac ended up running TMT on his own and in 2009, Will Elliot was appointed General Manager after five visits as a camp guest. Will would return to the camp each year as a guest and in these times, more improvements were made to the camp, clearing the forests and adding more rings and an improved cage for the MMA classes. In addition to Will, Ray ‘The Magical’ Elbe came on board as MMA coach and was instrumental in promoting TMT on the internet. Ray is a veteran of over 40 MMA fights and was recently awarded his black belt in Jiu Jitsu from Juliano Prado. Ray is busy preparing for his next MMA fight in July, competing for the Martial Combat Superfight Title in Singapore, which will be screened by Star Sports and ESPN and appears in the latest fighter preview, courtesy of ESPN.
The camp owes a lot of its success from embracing the internet and using it as a powerful advertising tool, promoting the camp through You Tube and Blogs, with all TMT fighters having their MMA and Muay Thai fights added onto You Tube and on websites such as www.tigermuaythai.tv , giving the camp massive worldwide exposure.
Tiger Muay Thai is more than just a Muay Thai camp; there are classes to suit all tastes and TMT offer a wide variety of classes that include:-
Muay Thai / Thai boxing training and technique
MMA / BJJ training program
Weightlifting and Nutrition Instructor
Fully equipped weightlifting gym
Daily Boot Camp Fitness program
Weight-loss and Detox Programs
Daily Yoga and Running program
Restaurant and Nutritious and affordable Meal Plans
Standard, Budget, and Dormitory on-site accommodations
Training Gear and Equipment Shop
Free Internet Kiosk and Wi-Fi @ training camp
Deluxe and VIP Muay Thai training + Private Muay Thai and MMA Training Sessions
Seminars in Muay Thai and MMA by Professional Fighters
Monthly BBQ Beatdown / Full Moon Party with Smoker Fights
Training Muay Thai on the beach
Entertainment and fun: Trainers vs Guest Football games
Professional Photography and Video services for Guests
Due to efforts of Big Mac, Will and Ray and the rest of the team at Tiger, the camp has attracted some of the biggest names in the BJJ and MMA fraternity, with many of them spending months at a time at the camp as they prepare themselves for action in ring and cage and include:-
· Phil Baroni
· Kotetsu Boku
· Elvis Sinosic
· Dave Menne
· Roger Huerta
· Chad Reiner
· Jon Fitch
· Mike Swick
· Hung Pak Wing
· Jon Vargas
· Ryan Diaz
· Alex Reid
· Jess Liaudin
· Lee Johnstone
Tiger Muay Thai camp has some of the best Thai instructors at the camp, on hand seven days a week, teaching classes in the morning and afternoon, as well as private classes via appointment. In addition to teaching duties many of the instructors are active professionals and regularly fight in Patong and Bangkok; during my stay at the camp I had the choice of the following Thai warriors as my instructors in both Muay Thai and Western Boxing:-
· 3 x Lumpini champion
· 1 x Chang champion
· Thai TV champion
· 280 Thai fights
· 30 losses; has the highest winning %age rate
· 3 x Lumpini champion
· 2 x Rajadamnoen champion
· 250+ Thai fights
· Incredible pad holder
· Southern Thailand champion
· Multiple stadium champion
· Most respected fighter in Southern Thailand
· Approaching 400 Thai fights
· 40 boxing fights
· Deadly elbows
· A real showman
· 2 x Rajadamnoen champion
· Fought Manny Pacquiao
· PK1 Champion
· Stadium champion
· Most sought after trainer from visiting MMA fighters
· Fighter of the Year veteran
· 80% winning record
· Renowned for having Buddha’s ‘gift of the front kick’
Classes run seven days a week and start at first light, when the temperatures are at their coolest and one had a choice of blasting their way into the day with Boot Camp class run by Randy Hale, or a more gentle and mentally stimulating Yoga session to ease away the aches and pains, run by Simon Gidman. I left the young guns with the Boot Camp and opted for the Yoga classes instead, as I’m a big fan of Yoga and implement many of the poses and stretches in my classes back home. After the Yoga, there is a choice of Muay Thai or MMA class and after a good stretch from the Yoga class, I decided to choose Muay Thai in the morning and MMA in the afternoon. Dinner time followed the morning classes and after a few hours chill out it was time for MMA or Muay Thai classes. In addition to these classes, Western Boxing was on offer Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as Krabi Krabong in the mornings and the open air weights area and indoor weights room were open from first light.
The Muay Thai classes were separated into beginners, intermediate and advanced and I hesitantly opted for the intermediate class; every session was structured with a thorough warm up and shadow boxing, technique section, bag work on the free standing bags and pad work in the ring with an instructor and a conditioning section that tested everyone’s stamina and heart. Medicine balls were a firm favorite of the instructors and gave each and everyone of us a thorough working over of our abs, plus press ups and sit ups from all angles.
My personal favorite part of the class was the pad work with the Thai instructor; armed with sixteen ounce gloves, the Thais shouted out punching combos, kicks, knees and elbows and made you feel like a seasoned professional. Their skills on the pads are nothing short of unbelievable, especially for someone like me, whose main area is BJJ. I can hit a bag and pad with a decent amount of skill, but with these guys, they take you on another level, ironing out errors in your strikes and kicks and before you know it, you’re throwing combos and heavy kicks and knees like a Lumpini veteran.
The afternoon sessions concentrated on sparring and ringwork and strategies and endless rounds of clinchwork, together with the obligatory warm ups and conditioning exercises that the Thai are famous for.
The MMA classes are run by Ray Elbe and assistant coach Andreas Hesselback, a veteran of the Art of War FC and Taiwan MMA Championships; the morning session focused on warm up and shadow boxing, before pad work with the Thai instructors ensured that everyone was warmed up fully. The main bulk of the morning class covered drilling MMA techniques and ground and pound drilling, before ending up with rolling to finish off the class, as well as conditioning exercises.
Afternoon MMA class was geared towards MMA sparring and broke the MMA fight game into sections, with plenty of shadow boxing, pad and bag work for warm ups, before moving into the cage for rounds of stand up sparring with the big gloves and shin and insteps on and rounding the sessions off with rolling from either stand up or on the ground.
Western boxing classes were also well structured with shadow boxing and stretching warming up the students, before moving onto techniques, pad and bag work and some hardcore conditioning exercises to finish everyone off.
This was no holiday camp whatsoever; privates started as early as six am and my room was slap bang in the middle of the training camp. No alarm was needed to wake up, as I had the booming sound of shin on leather to wake me up as fighters started their day on the bags and pads, a sound that still echoes through my brain to this day.
Come eight am and the camp is alive and humming with activity and exercise, as the morning classes started and the stereos were switched on to full volume as everyone started to warm up and get through the classes.
One of the most important things to consider at the camp is hydration and dehydration; the weather in Thailand rarely drops below 25 degrees C and even asleep, your body continues to sweat, leaving your bed sheets soaked when you wake up. Rehydrating in the morning before a class is a must and drinking throughout each class and after each class a necessity. Electrolyte powder packs are available at the camp and I took along with me sachets of Dioralyte, which are used in the UK to treat dehydration and diaorrhea and had one sachet in the morning and last thing at night and they kept me out of harms way throughout my entire stay.
Training in the afternoon heat takes some getting used to as well as staying hydrated through the day, as I saw many of the younger guys falling by the way side in the heat; it didn’t help that they’d been out then night before, sampling the distractions of the Patong nightlife and drinking into the early hours of the morning. Training with a hangover in Thailand is totally different to training in the UK with one, as we don’t have the added hazard of the heat to deal with, so think on.
In addition to staying well watered, the camp has a stringent hygiene policy; for most people the hygiene issue is really a no brainer and involves using antibacterial soap, cleaning your equipment after every session in disinfectant and wearing a rash guard/t shirt in the MMA classes, as well as maintaining good personal hygiene. At the first sign of any rash DO NOT TRAIN! Go and see a member of staff at the camp and get it checked out, remember that you are in a tropical part of the world, where sweat , staph, ringworm, athletes foot and much more can run rampage if left untreated. Anyone training knowing they’re infected and caught in the act are dismissed in an instant at the camp; in addition, after every class, the mats are cleaned by the cleaning staff and every weekend are taken apart and cleaned and hosed down ready for the week ahead.
So you’ve been training hard at the camp, keeping well hydrated and looking after your body and equipment and are now ready to refuel; the Tiger Grill offers a wide range of food all designed to help you get the most out of your workouts and help you if you’re cutting weight for competitions.
If you have any specific dietary requests, just ask one of the cooks in the back and if asked nicely, they’ll help you out as best they can; Debbie King was in charge of the Grill when I was there and she helped introduce some very healthy and tasty dishes to the existing menu, including grilled chicken breasts and cooked vegetables, as well as more traditional Thai dishes. Meal plans were available at the Camp and other restaurants were within easy walking distance, all offering well cooked healthy meals.
Accommodation at the camp comes in many guises; depending on your budget and how long you’re going be at the camp, there are a wide range of rooms available at the camp and within easy walking distance. At the camp, you can stay in shared dorms for as little as £50 per month, or stay in the fighter’s budget rooms from just over £100 per month; there are also standard gym bungalows, tropical garden and family bungalows, as well as recommended resort bungalows. I stayed in the fighter’s budget room, which comes without air con, but has a three speed fan instead; after a few days in the room, I was handling the heat fine and I found myself less prone to sickness than those in air con rooms, where you go from warmth to chilled every day, a breeding ground for URTI’s (Upper Respiratory Tract Infections)
The camp trains hard and parties harder and this is evident at the Beatdown BBQ held every month; this is an eat-and-drink-as-much-as-you-can affair and also offers smoker fights in Muay Thai, MMA and Boxing and I enjoyed two BBQ’s at the camp and witnessed the Keg Drinking Extravaganza and some red hot smoker fights, before everyone heads off to Patong to carry on the night’s shenanigans.
As well as all the training on offer, there is ample time to immerse yourself fully into the Thai culture and way of life; training seven to eight hours a day takes it toll and rest days are needed and this is a great excuse to visit the breathtaking beaches around the area. One is spoiled for choice with the beaches and most are within easy reach on a scooter and include Surin Beach, Nai Harn, Kata Karon, Kamalla, Rawai, Patong, Chalong and many many more, offering sun kissed beaches and killer waves to enjoy in your downtime.
Thailand is a Buddhist country and statues and places of worship are all over Thailand and when in Phuket, one has to visit the Big Buddha on top of Mount Nakkerd, off the Chaofa West Rd, A Muang, Phuket. It is the largest free standing monument in Thailand and is well worth the journey up the tortuous winding roads; Buddhist monks are at hand to offer you blessing and good luck charms, together with jaw dropping views of Phuket and surrounding beaches.
For many people, myself included, the whole Thailand experience is a life-changing affair in many ways; from the first class training on offer and the friends that you meet along the way at the camp, sampling the night life and living on the edge with the lady boys, there are many magical moments to be had. Grappling competitions are regularly held at the camp, as well as the weekly Thai fights in the local stadiums, either for you to participate in or cheer along your favourite instructor.
I was fortunate enough to be in Thailand for their New Year (Songkran) in April, where celebrations last for three days in Phuket and up to six days in Chang Mia, where the whole of the country go water mad, drenching one and all in water and throwing flour bombs and one has to see Bangla Rd in Patong taken over by thousands of water crazed individuals for themselves.
Tiger Camp continues to draw in the big names from the MMA world, with Phil Baroni still at the camp preparing for his UFC appearance, himself hosting a wrestling for MMA seminar when I was there, together with Ryan Gracie black belt Marcello Giudici hosting a BJJ/MMA seminar at the camp in recent weeks. Ryan Diaz and Jon Vargas have called TMT their home for the last few months as they train and prepare themselves for MMA action and during my stay, I shared meals and chat with these MMA superstars on a daily basis, now that’s what I call living the dream!
I made many friends during my stay at TMT (you all know who you are) and undertook some of the hardest training sessions ever and found I could take a pretty hard punch and knee to head and hold my own both in Muay Thai and MMA fighters class, as well as dishing some kick ass of my own in the Never Tap 2 No Gi Grappling event.
Take a leaf out of my book and get on over to Thailand and, in the words of Roy Dean, discover who you are.