On being Long

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By: Claire Morton

I started training Muay Thai because the gym opened up right around the corner, not because of a specific draw to train martial arts, not because I knew anything about the sport, but because I wanted something convenient and easy. I started fighting because it made sense, because I wanted to test myself, see if I could hack it, and because everything I had learned on the mats made me feel more like myself than anything I’d done before. I was smitten. 

When I started training Muay Thai, I had to start learning to take up space, something that I’d been trying to avoid my whole adult life. It was painfully obvious how this mind set affected my technique. My punches were short. My teeps and knees weren’t in range. My kicks were awkward and cramped. I couldn’t figure out how to create power from where I stood because I had always practiced being smaller, shorter, littler, than I actually was.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t tall. I was taller than pretty much everyone in my class at school, my feet were too big to fit into shoes at the store, I had longer legs than most jeans could cover. I also don’t remember a time where I didn’t feel like I was taking up too much space. Like I was encroaching upon others. I would stand with my legs wide at concerts so that people could see over me and I made sure that I shrunk into the smallest space possible when seated in a car or at a restaurant. I wanted to be petite, to be average, to fit into an acceptable amount of space. This meant I tried different tactics; dieting, wearing flats, exercise, hunching over, talking quietly, anything. I just wanted to go unnoticed.  

I didn’t understand how this mindset impacted my training at first. It took me years to really pinpoint why I felt like nothing landed right, why I was always too close. It was because I was still trying to take up as little space as possible. I couldn’t find my range because I couldn’t see how much space I actually needed. Muay Thai helped me come to terms with my size, my height, my space, the way my body is built and how I can use it to get stronger and navigate not only the mats, but the world at large. It’s still something I have to constantly negotiate, mostly with myself, but at least I can throw a decent jab now. 

From Bboy to Nak Muay

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By: Derick Lachino Lai

Moving your body in a specific manner that is out of your comfort zone is an experience that we can all relate to when starting with a new martial art, let alone Muay Thai. You want me to do what with my elbow? Flex my knee here, butt in, and point my toes at the same time? Lift my leg up and angle shin akin to a sharp corner edge of a wall? Sure thing coach! I am no stranger to pursuing athletic movement as I grew up swimming, competing throughout High School. When I wasn’t swimming I ran track, hoping to keep in shape for the next season. I was also a gym rat pursuing powerlifting PRs (barbells and compound lifts only FTW) which kept me occupied until the end of college. The day I discovered breaking however, really changed my appreciation of how beautiful and abstract our bodies could move. 

I was always a Hip Hop head, having grown up where it all started in NYC. Eric B and Rakim’s Paid in Full and Nas’ Illmatic were game changers when I first listened to them. Wu-Tang Clan originating from Staten Island even had me marginally proud to be from there (just barely though). However, I didn’t really understand how all the elements of Hip Hop (Breaking, DJing, Emceeing, Graffiti) related with each other until I saw my good friend Kenny perform for our Freshman year orientation. I was hooked and wanted to learn breaking right away.

I joined the Villanova Breakdance Club Kenny founded soon after and was relentless in training. Everyday, I was obsessed with learning new techniques and sharpening the moves I knew already. There were so many moments that were painful and took multiple tries to even have a semblance of what the technique should look like. I was so enamored with getting better at dancing that it was all I thought about. Breakfast? Breaking. Studying for Class? Breaking. What did I dream about? Breaking. After classes were done for the day, I went straight to our practice spot. I found whatever footage of breaking legends and up and comers to learn from. When there was a workshop of someone teaching, I made sure to be there. Whatever content I could feast my eyes on to obtain more knowledge, I was into it. Sound familiar?

Obsession with getting better isn’t the only thing I found relatable between breaking and Muay Thai training. The intensity of competition is there as well. Events are always taking place whether locally or out of state that attract breakers from all walks of life looking to test their skills against others for prize money, bragging rights or both. There are usually 3 judges, and people are eliminated based on decisions not unlike Muay Thai Tournaments. Usually the cream of the crop rise to the top which culminate in a final battle of the night. If you have any chance to go to a breaking event (or “jams” as most community members refer to them to as) you will notice eerily similar circumstances if you’ve ever been to a fight.There’s noticeable tension in the air between rival crews and individuals. An outsider watching dance exchanges for the first time might liken breaking as “dance fighting”; it might as well be. 

Throughout the event, multitude of circles form, called “cyphers” where there is an exciting exchange of ideas: one person steps in the circle, throws down their moves and gets back up, with another one fighting to get in the center. You don’t like someone, have outstanding beef and/or just want to challenge somebody? You call someone out and everyone stands back to see it go down. The cypher exposes everyone. If you are wack and if you mess up, there’s no hiding it. If your technique reigns supreme and you lay dominance on your opponent, the cypher will feel it. You can’t fake the funk in the cypher as it exposes all. What about a fight then? What if you are tired in the ring, if you didn’t run, if you didn’t train as hard as you should have before the fight? The judges will see it, the opposing corner will see it, the opponent will see it, and worst of all, you will know it in your heart. I’d like to think a cypher and the ring are synonymous in life. You can’t hide what you didn’t prepare yourself for.

An injury slowed my breaking training down and to be honest my interest was waning. Nothing really touched my fancy until I started Muay Thai with 8 Limbs Academy when they opened back in 2015. I felt the same rush of learning something from scratch again. I soon noticed though that there were a lot of movements that I picked up from breaking that helped me with transitioning to Muay Thai. Footwork was easier to hold of and I had a good sense of balance and dexterity. The importance of staying light on my feet and keeping my rhythm was easily translatable from dancing to Muay Thai. Greasing the groove has also been important in my practice. Focusing on one technique over time is better than spreading yourself too thin. 10,000 kicks and all that. 

I haven’t danced in awhile but the culture and lessons I’ve gained from my experience will always be with me. If I was to pass on anything to anyone, my advice would be to never underestimate how you can link two seemingly unrelated aspects of your life together. Breaking brought me confidence and balance to my body movement. Muay Thai allowed me to structure that desire to get better and channel it with power and my heart. Both equally hardened my discipline and brought me closer to a community of individuals I would not have not met before. 

Benefits of training Home and Abroad

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By: Shawn Gorman

When I started training Muay Thai, my training instantly went from 0 to 100, being as obsessive as I am. I have traveled to Thailand a few times now, but originally went to see what it was like to be around the best in the sport. I believe that training at home and in Thailand both have their ups and downs, but they compliment each other very well. First of all, experiencing Thailand, the training, going to fights, and the culture is important to help you understand and respect Muay Thai and the culture surrounding it. It is also important to develop yourself at your home gym, creating bonds with your peers and coaches. This is where you develop your style, work on your basics, find your rhythm with your favorite training partner. 

Anyone can go to Thailand and train. There is no achievement you need to obtain, no validation from others, no acceptance letter to go there. Most gyms in Thailand have varying levels of experience and people from all walks of life. Some people go to fight, some go because they feel like they have plateaued in skill, some go because they just love Muay Thai. 

When I first went to Thailand, I drove myself into the ground with my training, I gave it my all. I got better, of course you get better, my schedule was eat, sleep, train Muay Thai 7 days a week. Some gyms are better suited for learning than others and the amount of instruction given by trainers will vary, especially considering the communication barrier. Larger gyms that are friendly to foreigners will give you top quality instruction, but it’s harder to develop a relationship with a pad holder because of the amount of people training there every day. Smaller, fighter based gyms will give you the opportunity to work with the same trainer, but possibly less instruction, and are based more in learning by repetition, learning by watching.

Training at 8 Limbs has gotten me to where I am today. Having a coach that constantly pushes me to be better, and is always tweaking my technique. My foundation has been built here, I have developed strong relationships with so many people, always pushing my teammates and vice versa. Having main training partners really helps me focus on what I am working on and always keeps me on the grind to get better. My teammates take care of me with solid, challenging and controlled sparring, and we look out for each other mentally and physically, preventing as many injuries as possible. My home gym at 8 Limbs has provided me with a strong foundation of strength, conditioning, Muay Tae/Muay Femur style, and a family like support through the thick and thin of my Muay Thai journey. 

I think everyone should go to Thailand to train at least once, get your grind in, and watch the top muay thai fighters in the world train, fight, and goof off. Just don’t be one of those “I only fight in Thailand” folks, because they have a tendency of underestimating competition back at home. My goal is to travel back and forth between Thailand and 8 Limbs. Ideally I would be able to spend a few months in Thailand and come back and do the same exact thing. Don’t stop learning through your Muay Thai Journey, Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Love. 

Muay Thai is Community

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By: Greg Thomposn

What really got me hooked on my MuayThai wasn’t the awesome fighting techniques or the excellent exercise, but the community that’s built around the art. I got my start in Muay Thai at a small gym in Oregon where, overtime, my coaches and training partners became like family to me. I stayed with that gym for 5 years before moving to Philadelphia, PA. Leaving that gym  was very hard for me and not only was I worried about finding a new gym, but also a new community.  

Moving to Philly was rough. It was late August and brutally hot and humid and I was living in my car while looking for an apartment and working for a seedy masonry company. I didn’t know anyone, or really anything, about the city and was wondering if I had made the right choice. I wanted to get right back into training but I knew it was going to take me a while to establish myself in a new city. In the meantime, I had researched every gym in the area. There are many great Muay Thai gyms in Philly, but 8 Limbs was first on my list. I had heard of 8 Limbs Academy through a mutual friend and former training partner of the gym owners Kate and Charlie Allen-Cattone who went to support Kate in Washington state when she won the WBC belt in 2017. He highly recommended 8 Limbs because he knew I valued a community based training style. 

I saw on the 8 Limbs website they would not be accepting new members for a month because Charlie and Kate were about to have a baby. I knew I had to go in ASAP to secure a spot. I went in for my first class the next day. The energy in 8 Limbs was palpable, the class was packed with people smashing dutch drills with music blasting. I talked to the receptionist who told me I could watch the class. I pleaded with her to let me train and told her I had a mutual friend with Kate and Charlie. Charlie walked over, laughed at me, and told me to get my gear. 

A couple months later, my original Muay Thai coach in Oregon passed away and shortly after, their gym was robbed. When I told Charlie and Kate about this they donated TONS of gear to my old gym which allowed them to continue having classes. To me, this represents what Muay Thai is all about. People coming together over a shared passion. My experience of moving to Philly has been completely shaped by my training at 8 Limbs. Going on two years later, I am well established and totally comfortable in both Philly and 8 Limbs Academy. People get into Muay Thai either for fitness, fighting or self defense, but they stay in Muay Thai for the community.