My foray into muay thai

My foray into muay thai
The author's son Cayo delivers a kick. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

My muay thai trainer Verden says I am the oldest person “boxing” in the gym. There I am, at 68, throwing jabs and punches, knees and elbows (I haven’t worked myself up to kicking yet)—strictly no sparring—among a motley crowd of much younger people, a considerable number of them women.

I have always engaged in some form of martial art—judo in college, karate and kendo as a working person—but muay thai in my senior years is something else.  In addition to arnis, muay thai makes me feel, among other things, like a Southeast Asian, and not an East Asian (as my previous disciplines were all originally Japanese) in combative spirit.

How I ended up doing this was not clear at the start. I don’t even like watching mixed martial arts, which sees a lot of muay thai practitioners, on television or YouTube. The sheer brutality of MMA does not sit well with me. I can’t stand seeing a person getting elbowed or punched even as he or she is pinned down, or the full-contact high kicks that send a person to slumberland and the hospital.

As it is, classical boxing is considered brutal and even unwatchable by many people. How much more MMA, in which, except for the most patently dangerous moves like eye-gouging or trachea-grabbing, it’s a no-holds-barred contest where bruises are aplenty, blood flows freely, and the sole objective is to put your opponent down or pin him or her to submission? 

Boxing deaths and long-term and life-changing injury are common. The husband of a sister-in-law lost his eyesight after sparring, which no doubt resulted from absorbing blows to the head (he did have poor eyesight to begin with).

Total sport

And yet there is something visceral and total about boxing that clicks even with completely uncompetitive people like me. I don’t really do it for self-defense. I am old and know enough to stay out of trouble and avoid dangerous places and situations. Neither do I do it for self-confidence, as I know who I am and what I can do or not do.

But I feel a qualitative change in my feeling of wellbeing. I feel more flexible and I feel greater cardiovascular fitness that keeps my pulmonary asthma at bay. (The ailment has of late plagued me and brought me to an irritable, hypersensitive and painfully inflamed state.) I realized the quality of the high-intensity interval training that boxing provides is unparalleled. It is, in short, addictive. 

If at my very beginner level I feel this way, I can understand how the greatest of all time, Manny Pacquiao, can want to keep on fighting as long as he can put on a boxing glove. There is no quit, no off button in boxing.

I think that’s the word. The totality of the discipline. This realization was buttressed when I looked up an ESPN report that polled sports experts who rated 60 sports according to 10 criteria: endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, nerve or “the ability to overcome fear,” durability, hand-eye coordination, and analytic aptitude or “the ability to evaluate and react appropriately to strategic situations.” Boxing was ranked No. 1, closely followed by ice hockey, which is as close as one can get to a team blood sport. Golf, which people my age normally engage in, was a far 51, close to the bottom of the list.

Being with my son at the boxing gym is also among the biggest benefits I get. I have always counseled him, drilling into him what I call the ABC of self-defense (avoid, block, counter), and this mantra is brought to life most clearly in muay thai training.


I guess my greatest motivation is physical fitness and endurance. It’s as if I should stop trying to be fit, I can only decline and die sooner than I want to. Funny, but I recall that cynical comment about a person “dying healthy.” Well, that will be me, I hope. I guess it amounts to wanting to do all that I can still do in the time I still have. 

And so, recently, I ventured to say, “Now I can go skydiving.” To which my wife snapped, “We’re not taking care of you just so you can get into an accident.” 

Well, that’s the end of that. For now, anyway.

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