Thailand. Home to Muay thai, Chang beer, Hangover 2 and numerous memes, jokes and inappropriate anecdotes. It is also a beautiful island with so much to explore, culture to experience and adventures to be had. It has so much tradition and they have bred some amazing fighters in the stand-up art of Muay Thai and now, over the last few years, it has been home for many MMA fight camps for some of the biggest names in the UFC like New Zealand’s own Dan Hooker and Mark Hunt, Georges Saint Pierre, Roger Huerta and the list goes on.
This was one some of the reasons back in 2011 that persuaded my wife and I to take a well deserved holiday in Phuket, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. I was a mere 2 stripe blue belt but I was ready to take on the world!
I had read about Tiger Muay Thai camp as it was a famous retreat style training camp for professional fighters, this originally appealed to me but then I read about Phuket Top Team. The head jiu jitsu coach then was 3rd degree black belt (now 4th degree) Olavo Abreu. This guy is very top level and I was super excited about learning from him.
I checked on the website, got the timetable sorted and we found a time that worked in well with our trip that suited us and we were off to Thailand!
Once in Phuket, we got our tourist on and did amazing things, saw elephants in their own habitat, rafted down the river, ran away from snakes, experienced a storm – just the usual Thai experiences! We got this all done before our free day, the day I had planned to train! So, we hired a scooter, got my gi, about 72 litres of water and took off. Being usual Phuket, it was hotter than a hot day in Hot Town so it was shorts and singlets. I also have the eyesight of Mr Magoo so my lovely wife drove the scooter and I sat comfortably on the back. This made all the tourists laugh at me but we quickly noticed that all of the Thai locals had their females driving and they all gave me a big thumbs up in approval. Now, on to my lesson learnt. I have the sense of direction similar to a drunk 3 legged turtle. I basically had no idea where to go and for all those people who have been to Thailand, I knew the “Soi” it was located on but had no idea that a Soi was actually a side street off the main street. I honestly couldn’t find a beer in a brewery.
After about 3 hours of driving around (we had left early to explore the surrounding area once we located the gym) we finally found it and it was actually perfectly on time for the class! I went inside and quickly found out the timetable I had read was an old one and they also had no idea I was coming along. They said I was fine to train but the class was not for another 6 hours! Well, that was not going to happen as my wife was set to kill me after leading us around on the wild goose chase in the heat, she had sunburnt legs from the drive (she had shielded me the whole time) and we had basically wasted the 3 hours we had set aside to explore and I could not even train!
Now, in hindsight, I learnt a big lesson here. When you are travelling overseas to train, you really need to make contact with the gym, let them know who you are and when you are in that area and then ask if they are fine for you to train there. You may even get an invite to be picked up! Once you have their blessing to join in, ask about class times AND GET DIRECTIONS TO THE GYM!
Once back at our accommodation, we discussed how bad my planning had been and agreed that I would try again in Bangkok. I had to make a better effort here so I was quickly online and found Bangkok BJJ (BKKBJJ). It was a Ralph Gracie gym that was run by American black belt Ben Weinstein. This time I was on the ball! I made contact, they sent me the address and now I was ready!
Once in Bangkok, the day arrived! I talked to our reception at the hotel and they called me a taxi. The driver said he knew where to go and we were off! we soon found out that he had no idea and his plan was to drive as far as he knew and then offload us onto a tuk tuk driver. We “negotiated” a fee for the tuk tuk and back on the road. We eventually found the gym and for the first time, I actually tipped the tuk tuk driver as he also did not know where it was and went well above and beyond to get us there!
Once inside I found I had missed the start of class (never a good look) but they understood after I told him about the mission to get there and to be fair, just breathing in Thailand is enough to get a sweat-up!
I jumped onto the mats and we were straight into 1/2 guard techniques. I can still remember these quite vividly as we had just finished a block section back at Groundworx in Christchurch so it was good to get a refresher and some new ideas from a different coach! After the drilling, we were into the rolling. My first roll was up against a very large, solidly built South African man. He was a white belt but he was crazy strong! I was lucky enough to get underneath him and play an X guard game with him. Next up, I was partnered with a young Thai female and I think she was very new to the sport so it was 5 minutes of going through techniques and drills with her but to be honest, any break in this heat is welcomed, especially seeing as this gym did not have air conditioning, just an old fan that blew the hot air and B.O around!
Now, this was what I was waiting for. I got to roll the instructor Ben! At the time, it was only the third black belt that I had rolled with so I was super excited! The fact that he is also about 6 foot tall and probably 95kg of athletic/muscular build, I knew I was in for a tough time!
I was a typical blue belt, ready and willing to take on the world in a rolling situation, wanting to “tap out the whole world” if you will. What happened next though, nobody was ready for!
I wanted to try and play a guard game with him as it had been working on the students but he sat up so I thought I would try and pass. Now, being as coordinated as a dizzy giaffe, I tried to do my “bestest” standing pass. I got so excited that I managed to trip myself up and ended up falling and “passing” the guard in the process. I still to this day do not know how such a catastrophic accident like tripping over my own feet could result in a guard pass but it happened! The next 10 minutes was a dose of reality where I must have tapped out about 20 times from so many positions! My trip-pass was the best thing I managed to do and it was a accident! Ben ran a clinic on me and then went through all of the things I was doing incorrect against him and that took a while! All in all, it was a great class and fantastic learning experience for me both on and off the mats!
I basically sweated out non stop for the next week after that class, well, actually more like an hour but I felt like I lost all my body weight in fluids!
This was my first real experience in training overseas. It was an adventure and a learning curve for me but it ignited a spark which has kept me training wherever we travel. Now I really make an effort to make contact with the gym and also find out how to get to the gym from wherever we are staying.
I strongly recommend training and travelling, especially in a new country! Take photos, make conversations and have as much fun as possible. You just never know that these people you are meeting and training with could end up World champions and friends of yours for a long time!
We are all on the same journey but take different paths, it is always a pleasure when my path crosses another and we can have a jiu jitsu conversation.
“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them”. Bruce Lee.