As well as editing the Society section of The Gryphon, Mary Lumley acts as the President of the Leeds University Union Muay Thai Society. Here she discusses exactly what makes the society and the sport “better than boxing”, and what it can do for you.
For those less well-versed in the martial arts scene, Muay Thai (or Thai Boxing) is a combat sport from South-East Asia. It originated in Thailand in the 18th Century as a practical fighting technique used in warfare before developing into a sport. It differs from Western kickboxing (which is derived from Muay Thai) as practitioners can use knee and elbow strikes as well as kicks and punches; this has led to the sport’s nickname ‘The Art of Eight Limbs.’ There is a heavy focus on body conditioning as fighters must be extremely fit and tough to compete in the ring. Thus, training regimens will typically include running, shadowboxing, skipping, abdominal exercises and shin conditioning. The sport’s popularity has grown rapidly over the last ten years and it has now gained recognition from the IOC (International Olympic Committee) meaning you’ll likely be seeing it at a future Olympics.
It’s precisely this popularity that the Muay Thai society has capitalised upon in recent years, but it’s difficult to single out any single factor as to why membership keeps rising. Although the ability to learn, practice, and eventually master a new form of self-defence is obviously enticing, it must be said that all the Thai food consumed is a real bonus. It’s all a part of the communal spirit we encourage as soon as you set foot in the gym. Although we fight individually, everyone trains together, sharing knowledge and techniques as well as helping each other work on individual weaknesses. Whilst you have to be extremely disciplined, it’s an incredibly caring, fun and rewarding environment. There are also some incredible opportunities. For the last two years, members have trained in Thailand for three weeks. This year, we’re going to watch Yokkao in March – so it’s never too late to get involved and get yourself ring-side.
The society has been growing in strength for some time now. Last semester we doubled our membership figures, and we have since succeeded in getting our first sponsor: Zaap Thai. If kicking your friends isn’t your cup of tea, just come
along for the delicious, authentic Thai street food.
While we strive to make the society as fun as possible,it’s undeniable that sacrifices have to be made in order to succeed. I’ve seen more teammates producing a ‘sickie in the binnie’ during Strength and Conditioning than I care to remember. Missing out on social occasions can be really hard, and it can also be incredibly mentally and physically draining trying to stay on top of university work whilst dieting and training for a fight. The society understands that, and that’s why we encourage a balanced commitment that works for you. We want you to be able to perform as well as you can, but not at the cost of your studies.
As mentioned, the ability to strike your opponent with eight points of contact distinguishes Muay Thai from other martial arts. It sounds pretty brutal, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. Although training can be frustrating and tiring, it’s incredibly rewarding when you finally get the hang of a certain technique or notice general improvements over time. A friend of mine once said she didn’t mind starting at the bottom of the class because it’s amazing when you realise you’ve reached the top. It’s the perfect way to let off steam after a stressful day and nothing compares to that winning feeling when all the hard work pays off.
If you’re somebody that wants to improve your discipline, then this is the society for you. That word is at the heart of everything the society believes in; when you get knocked down in a fight you get straight back up to show the judges you’re not tired. It sounds cheesy, but this is a great principle to carry over into everyday life. Having the discipline to persevere when struggling is an incredibly valuable attribute.
You don’t even have to competitively fight. Muay Thai burns an incredible number of calories so it’s great for just keeping fit or losing weight. If you do want to compete, we regularly take our fighters to interclub competitions across the country. Leeds also boasts two of the best Muay Thai gyms in the country (Kiatphontip and Bad Company) where multiple world champions train and coach. It’s definitely worth making the most of their expertise whilst living in the city.
The sport is only going to keep growing. A few years ago, no one could even pronounce ‘Muay Thai’; now there’s a film coming out this year called ‘A Prayer Before Dawn.’ It stars Peaky Blinder’s Joe Cole and was filmed on location at Nakhon Pathom Prison in Thailand. Check out the trailer.