Stepping away from viewing the world of Muay Thai through the lens of a novice, we have a guest post from the UK no.2 light heavyweight and veteran of 25 fights (18 victories), including an impressive victory in his first Lumpinee appearance. Juan Cervantes, aside from having a very cool name, is serious about his Muay Thai and in the six weeks I spent with him, I got know a man who trains not only hard, but also smart, as well as having the patience to field questions from rookies (cough, cough) and lend advice/support when needed. On top of all that he’s a thoroughly nice bloke who is well-read and possess and post-graduate degree in sport and exercise. Read on for his view on the Muay Thai camp experience…….
At about 5.45am on a Saturday morning, I stumbled into King’s Park for the morning run. I’d only arrived the night before, and despite the jet-lag I intended to hit my first day hard. Sunday was a day off after all, and I had every intention of getting the most out of my 7 weeks at Sitsongpeenong.
The park was packed despite the early hour, a refreshing sight I doubt I’d ever see back at home. I was lucky to bump into Bovy, one of the trainers, who quickly recognised me as a new Farang in my Thai shorts and introduced himself. I graciously followed him on his route. It wasn’t long before I started to curse my ‘luck’ when I was taken on a gruelling and fast-paced 15km run. Bovy is a beast, and boy can he run. I was tired and jet-lagged, but too proud to fall behind. Just as I thought I might have to swallow my pride and stop, he finally laughed at me and signalled we’d finished, and sent me back to the camp.
The 5-minute walk back was a brief recovery. As I arrived just before 7am, I was informed Saturday morning sessions were sparring sessions. ‘Happy days’, I thought to myself, and put my gear on and jumped in the ring, slightly awe-struck to find names such as Sitthichai and Rolex Sitsongpeenong giving me welcoming smiles. As the bell signalled for the first round, and Sitthichai called me out, I knew this was definitely the gym for me. It was 2 weeks before he won his first Glory 4 man tournament, and I’d never sparred with someone so sharp. He proceeded with an onslaught of perfectly timed left kicks, straight lefts, and basic boxing combinations. As with many top-level Thais, he doesn’t do anything too fancy, but his timing and precision are both beautiful. He seems to almost read your mind. When you’re expecting a left body kick you eat a straight left and visa versa. Despite this I managed to keep some composure and slowly started to have some success of my own, occasionally landing some of my own shots and combinations of my own. At the end of the round he smiled at me, and I must of earned his respect, as I ended up doing about 4 rounds with him that morning, each one getting a little more intense. There was also a big guy from Kazakhstan called Nick (about 95kg), training for the IFMAs, who gave me a good spar. One of the reasons I picked Sitsongpeenong was they have some big Thais at 70kg and over, so I guessed there would be bigger westerners as well closer to my weight, so it was good to have someone like him for the first few weeks. That’s the story of my first session at Sitsongpeenong Gym Bangkok, and it seemed to already be exceeding my high expectations.
The gym has a great structure to its timetable. Morning training starts at 7am after the morning run and usually finishes between 8.30-9. The run is optional, however you want to fight and are not running the trainers will let you know they are unimpressed. The Thais and Western guests train together in the mornings, but the afternoons are segregated. The Western guests start at 2pm, usually finishing around 4.30pm, and damn it’s hot. The Thais start training at 3pm. Depending on your level, you may be invited to train with them in the afternoons. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays consist of pad-work in the mornings and boxing sparring in the afternoons. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays consist of Muay Thai sparring in the morning and pad-work in the afternoons. You may have noticed the afternoon sessions are longer, as this when clinch-work is normally included too after the pads and sparring, normally 20-30 minutes of constant clinching. Every session finishes with what the trainers call ‘homework’. 30-50 kicks each on the bag, 100-200 skip knees, 100-200 push kicks on the bag, shadow boxing drills with hand-weights, checking and footwork drills and then pull-ups, push-ups and sit-up variations. From what I’ve heard this is quite standard in gyms in Thailand. I won’t lie after a few weeks it gets a little tedious, but I’ve learned over time that you never outgrow the need to constantly drill the basics, and despite the boredom I started to notice a few surprising improvements in my sparring and pad-work as a result. One particular one was I never used to check kicks with my back leg, but having this constantly drilled into me on pads and in drills its something I’ve started to do in sparring. Unfortunately I felt this didn’t quite transfer into my fights out here, but hopefully it will in the near future.
If you have serious competitive aspirations in Muay Thai I cannot recommend Sitsongpeenong Bangkok enough. My experience enabled me to spar and clinch with the likes of Sitthichai and Thongchai almost on a daily basis, partly due to my size and also because I had fights coming up. After a couple of weeks I was told to come up at 3pm in afternoons with the Thais, which was a great privilege. With Sitthichai now fighting in Glory the trainers want him sparring with bigger guys, and encourage you to try and go forward on him. Thongchai is an absolute beast of a Thai, walking around at about 78-80kg, and also needs big training partners. He has some serious power when he turns it on, and is also phenomenal in the clinch. The first time I got to clinch with him was perhaps the most humbling experience of my life. I was picking myself off the floor every 20-30 seconds, often getting some serious air-time as I was being thrown. Even when I occasionally got into positions that I almost always have success with at home, he would still usually toss me to the floor. I was privileged to continue to clinch with him almost everyday, and started to notice small improvements. I was getting thrown less and less and started to understand a lot of what he was doing in, and learned some cool stuff I’m looking forward to taking back home.
As well as the sparring, the pad-work you’ll get is also amazing. Not only is it the level of pads, but the regularity of it. My coach at home is also a phenomenal pad-man, but unfortunately I can’t get pads off him every single day, as he’s too busy running a gym with a number of active fighters. The ratio of trainers to pupils at Sitsongpeenong is great (and that’s in the busy summer season), and you get several 4 minute rounds with 30 seconds rest once or twice a day. When you first arrive you normally get 3-4 rounds, but if you want to fight and are fit you might get 5-6. This gets you seriously fit fast, especially in the scorching heat of the afternoon sessions. It’s also a luxury I can’t imagine many gyms in Western countries have, as there aren’t many that have 6-7 full-time quality pad holders.
If you want to fight they will find you a fight. In fact I was surprised at just encouraging the trainers are for people to fight. I was asked if I wanted to fight on my second day of training, and I was fighting 2 weeks later. They have serious connections too and you will be looked after well, ensuring you won’t get a complete mismatch. My first fight was in Asiatique, a really nice venue in Bangkok. Most people had there first fight there as a warm-up, as it is only 3 rounds. My opponent technically wasn’t the same level as me, but was tough and I couldn’t stop him, so I actually got a good run out. I was back training in a few days looking for another fight. Tim, the owner, and the trainers were incredibly helpful and supportive of trying to get me on a good show. Tim tried to get me a fight in China, as I expressed I could do with as much cash as possible. Unfortunately this didn’t work out, so they got me a fight in Lumpinee instead, poor me. It wasn’t a particularly big Lumpinee show, but nonetheless it was still an amazing experience and one to tick off the bucket list. This was a closer fight than the first against a young but talented 19 year old (also from England, he could go far if he keeps it up). He gave me a few problems but I felt I edged the early rounds, dropped him for an 8 count in the 3rd and coasted the 4th and 5th. Getting a victory in Lumpinee went far beyond any realistic expectations I had when I first came to Thailand.
Aside from the top level training and fighting opportunities, there are also a few small comforts that make the stay even better. Firstly, the food is great. 2 meals a day that are buffet style; healthy, nutritious and usually delicious. It’s a luxury most of the time, but torture when you’re cutting weight. The bedrooms are nice and tidied daily by the staff. There are two communal areas, one in the kitchen where there is a TV and computer, and another with pool table and PlayStation. These make the evenings, as there isn’t much to do in the surrounding area (the gym is on the outskirts of Bangkok). There is a big supermarket with everything you need and lots of places to get some great street food within 5 minute walk, but that’s it really. Probably a good thing, as most nights I was in bed early wanting to hit every training session. Plus, once you have paid for the room, you can get by on very little money. You can get great street food for 30-50 baht.
I also had a great deal with the social side. Some of the staff mentioned they’d never seen the Western guests get along so well in the gym. I was very lucky with my roommate for most of the stay, Stork Body Movement’s very own Stephen Stork, who is an all-round cool guy. There were also 4 Irish guys who were great fun and good training partners, a couple of Australians, some Canadians and Americans too. My coach Craig Jose and training partner Gary Laws, both from Northern Kings Gym in England, came out for a couple of weeks in the middle of my stay. Needless to say, there were a couple of so-called ‘adventures’, usually culminating in a crazy night out. There was often a brilliant atmosphere and buzz at the end of the Saturday afternoon training session, as most people had trained their butts off all week. I often felt in the second half of the week I was living for Saturday night and Sunday. Additionally the staff would sometimes organise days out on Sundays to the beach, which was always a fun.
It will be a bittersweet feeling when its time to leave next week. Of course a part of me will be looking forward to my 2-week holiday, with my girlfriend, on the beach at the end, however a big part of me wishes I had one more month to really see how far I could have taken it. There are is a general consensus among the trainers that a 3 month period is the perfect time to train really hard and peak before you go home, and now I can see why. 7 weeks has been great for me, but 10-12 would have been perfect.
So there you have it. My experience at Sitsongpeenong, as someone who wanted to get the most out of their training and truly experience the Thai way of training and fighting. I had the amazing opportunity to spar and clinch with some of Thailand’s best, got fantastic pad-work once or twice a day, got looked after well with fights and got to fight at Lumpinee, and also generally had an awesome time! If you’re serious about Muay Thai and want a truly authentic experience in Bangkok, Sitsongpeenong is the place for you!!