I first started Muay Thai in the early 2000s. I began training with Ryan Rudkin at Singto Muay Thai in my hometown of Cambridge and quickly became addicted. I had spells travelling to Thailand and training at Jittigym in Bangkok. I also had the enormous honour of training with the late Ramon Dekkers at his gym in Breda, Holland. Fast forward a few years to 2009. Dissatisfied with life in England, I decided to move to Asia, teach English and start a new life.
The ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya was my first Asian home and I trained at Sit Palang, a gym known for its traditional methods. When I moved to Hanoi, there wasn’t much Muay Thai, so I ended up teaching local kids on the small park next to my apartment. Old men would switch their attention between cockfights and our training for their afternoon entertainment.
Hong Kong was the antithesis of Southeast Asia. High-rise concrete boxes housed some of the smallest, but best kitted-out gyms you could imagine. Hong Kong had money. This gave me the chance to work with some of the talent that the Chinese had managed to lure from Thailand, like Samkor Kiatmontep at Hayabusa’s Fight Factory.
Thailand is still the capital of our sport, but there are a lot of other major centres out there. Case in point – Evolve Academy in Singapore. Evolve is now a training destination. They advertise “training vacations” and they get some serious footfall through their doors. Why? They have pulled in talent like Petchboonchu and Pakorn, along with a long list of international Muay Thai and MMA champions.
China is starting to take off too. My old Singto teammate Hudson Bowei Han has a huge franchise network there. I was able to train with him and his fighters at his gym in Beijing. His guys are part of Kunlun Fight, the largest promotion in China, which has seen Buakaw and Yodsanklai sign multi-fight deals.
Old habits die hard. Last summer, I toured around southern Europe for a few months. In my bag went gloves, wraps, shorts, a mouthguard and a rope. In Limassol, Cyprus I got a couple of weeks of solid hand-work with the trainers at champion-producing Polis Boxing. In Lisbon, I worked with Portugal’s finest at ZFortes Muay Thai. In between, it was dusty backrooms of spit and sawdust gyms on the heavy bag.
I am on the verge of starting fresh again. As I kick my heels in the UK waiting for for my US visa, I have been all over the country, training with the best. From the guys in Newcastle’s Northern Kings, to Bill Judd’s team at KO in London and even a sneaked invite to train at Repton Boxing Club in Bethnal Green. It has also been great to get consistent training with my Cambridge people.
If you are a competing high-level fighter, then this life isn’t for you. You can’t get the consistency of a trainer who will work with you towards your goals. For a keen amateur, who wants to live a Ronin-like masterless existence on the road, then it is an incredibly rewarding experience. See the sights, eat the food, walk the Earth, get beaten up by the locals and learn a lot.