Su Lin Leong was working as a journalist for Cleo magazine when she interviewed a Muay Thai fighter as part of a feature on 50 of the most eligible bachelors. Leong talks to Juliette Sivertsen about how she became so hooked on the sport that she swapped the pen for the gloves to start her own Muay Thai studio in New Zealand.
If Muay Thai was embodied by an animal, it would be a big cat. Graceful and elegant, but at the same time untamed and lethal. Watch a skilled Muay Thai fighter work the pads and you'll witness blows that are both beautiful and devastating. There's a rhythm to the movement of Muay Thai and on a good training day, I feel like I'm dancing, and kicking arse at the same time.
Getting hit can sting, but controlled sparring isn't really violent and your body gets conditioned and can actually crave a little impact. After training for a while, I started to notice physical and mental changes. I was more alert and energetic - I'd race up instead of walking up stairs. I got a heck of a lot stronger. My friends noticed the change too – during nights out, they'd joke that I was their bodyguard and many asked to join me at training. I was working in media in Singapore at the time, and my colleagues in the beauty, fashion and entertainment industries swapped their ballet and yoga lessons for a go at Muay Thai.
While kicking and punching things makes you strong, the reason I got such good results was because I found it so fun and exciting. Finding something you enjoy is the key to getting continued results in any fitness regime. I'd found something that made exercise a social activity more than a chore. Training with friends was a bonus, and I'd joke that burning 800 calories an hour gave us more leeway to eat more afterwards. If Muay Thai was a drug, I was definitely addicted.
Not everyone can - or wants - to be a fighter. But almost anyone can do Muay Thai. The beauty is that you can get the full physical and mental benefits of it without having to actually hit someone, or get hit. Had a bad day at work? Argued with your partner? Kicking, elbowing and punching a bag for an hour can make your tensions melt your worries.
Before opening a gym, I felt it was essential to live the fighter's life - in the home of Muay Thai - Thailand. I quit my job, packed my belongings and moved to a camp in Chiang Mai. I arrived on my own, only to find I was the only female at the camp. I lived opposite the camp in a room with a mattress on the floor, a squat toilet and a hose for a shower. It was luxurious compared to the other 12 Thai fighters and trainers who shared one room and bathroom upstairs and at the time made as little as 7,000 Thai Baht ($345) a month. Food and lodging was provided.
Six days a week, I'd go running at 6am and then train at the camp until 9am. Training consisted of a mixture of shadow boxing, bag-work, about five rounds on the pads with a trainer, sparring and clinch work (grappling) with other students and trainers and end with conditioning. After training, I'd drag myself across the road, wash my gear while showering, gulp down a packet of chocolate milk, then pass out. Then I'd repeat the process at 3pm in the sweltering afternoon heat. It sounds repetitive, but it was a programme designed for full-time fighters.
When I was training for a fight and cutting weight, it was easy to over-train and under-eat. Muay Thai burns 800 calories an hour, and although it doesn't give you an excuse to pig out, it does mean that you can and must eat enough to ensure your body is fuelled and can recover. Not having enough recovery time is also another way to increase your chance of injury. A lot of fighters are proud of training hard for seven days. Training smart is the only way to have a long and enjoyable athletic journey.
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I'm a foodie and I could eat rice and noodles at every meal. At the camps in Thailand we'd have rice breakfast, lunch and dinner, either served at the gym or made one of the nearby food stalls. Basil pork, som tum salad, seafood curries, it didn't matter what you ate really, because you burned so many calories during training.
Any long-term relationship experiences its highs and lows and my relationship with Muay Thai is no different. What started out as an obsession is now a long-term healthy passion and my vocation.
I've shed tears in the privacy of the changing room after losing fights, being yelled at by my trainer, or having a bad training session. I've now learned not to be too hard on myself.
At the end of the day, you have to make your own fun and set your own goals, otherwise it's easy to get disappointed with regular training. You can lose a fight but the only real losers are those who chose to give up, rather than learn from the experience. You learn so much from training with people better than you.
For more info visit jaithaiboxing.com