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.