In Thailand, Muay Thai is more than just a sport, it’s a cornerstone of the country’s culture: kids start training as early as six years old and compete in hundreds of fights. The martial arts discipline calls both physical fitness and mental tenacity and is also known as the art of eight limbs since it incorporates punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes, thus using eight points of contact. This is different from boxing, which has two points (fists) and other combat sports such as kickboxing, which have four points (hands and feet). If you’re headed to Bangkok, plan a visit to Lumpinee or Rajadamnern, the two most popular Muay Thai stadiums. Matches take place daily and each venue holds thousands of spectators.
Here, Muay Thai pro Chonlaetee Husanee based in Yao Noi, Thailand, discusses the training, mindset, and nutrition needed to excel at the sport.
Muay Thai requires coordination, agility, and stamina, says Husanee. To develop the prerequisite endurance needed to spar for long periods of time, athletes spend hours each day running, jump-roping, circuit training, or weight training. Lack of conditioning can lead to a beating in the ring, so fighters make it the foundation of their workouts, notes Husanee.
There are different training methods depending on the technique that needs to be mastered. During Thai pad training, for example, the coach wears thick pads on their hands and arms, as well as a belly pad to absorb the impact from strikes, straight kicks, or knees. Focus mitts helps improve a fighter’s punching speed, power, and combinations, while heavy bags can further develop and strengthen techniques practiced on the pads. Finally, sparring serves to practice strategies that will be employed in the ring; full-contact is generally avoided during practice to prevent injuries prior to the real deal.
“Muay Thai uses every single part of the body; even your chin and shin,” says Husanee. “This is why it's extra challenging to pick up the sport because you need to be constantly thinking on your feet.” Being able to process quickly and channel thoughts into motion is crucial for success in the ring. Many athletes use visualization and meditation as part of training. "Fighters sustain injuries on a regular basis and without mental toughness it would be hard to step into a ring day after day," explains Husanee.
Surprisingly, nutrition is not as strictly regimented among Muay Thai fighters as one might expect. “Muay Thai fighters don't have a typical diet to follow,” says Husanee. “They eat what all Thais do. However, everything has to be in moderation.”
Perhaps food intake does not need to be as restrictive since Thai cuisine is inherently nutritious and light. Many popular Thai dishes contain lean protein such as chicken, shrimp and fish, as well as fresh vegetables, rice, and rice noodles. The cuisine is largely devoid of dairy and isn’t overly processed. Since Muay Thai fighters start training early in the morning, they typically eat something light like a Thai omelette made with green onions and fish sauce or a smoothie featuring tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, or dragon fruit, which are high in vitamin C and optimize digestion with their high fiber content. Lunch and dinner consist of meat- and rice-based dishes such as Gra Pao (a chicken and basil stir-fry) or noodle dishes like Rat Na made with beef, chicken, or seafood.
Where to Try Muay Thai in Thailand
Several properties teach classes on-site with experienced instructors, sometimes former champions. Six Senses Yao Noi located on an island off the coast of Phuket has a beachside boxing ring (where Husanee currently teaches) where anyone—even beginners—can try it. Tone your body and sharpen your coordination by trying a few sessions. You’ll travel home with more agility, endurance, and greater mental acuity.