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Difficulties men face when training muay thai?


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There's a female only section on this forum which is very helpful for women training muay thai. But for a long time I've been wondering about issues men face in the gym.

Where I train there are mainly guys. Young boys up to very experienced fighters.

I watch them train and spar and bond. I see escalated aggression. Frustration. Inexperienced boys being pushed around learning to control the temper. I see bromance. I see all this touching (is this a thai or universal thing stroking each other's butts?). I see language confusion. Dominance. I see guys being laughed at for being chubby. I see guys not knowing how to clinch with a girl or whether to go hard when sparring. I see westerners trying to seek approval from thai trainers. 

I would be very interested to hear about common struggles men face in the gym. 

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Like women, men do face a lot of pressure. I don't want to sound old, however back in the day, if you weren't supreme alpha in your attitude and full of testosterone you were really behind the eight ball. This wasn't at every gym/stable but it was pretty prevalent. 

Now days, I feel the pressure is still on men to perform as men, ie. stereotypes. As a man you're expected to be able to fight to some degree. You can see this phenomenon mainly in new comers. Plus they  want to fit in. They will fit in over time, but the bromance thing you speak of, is a bond made from blood, sweat, and spew. 

Men in general aren't that hard to work out. We generally take the piss out of each other as a way of cementing our friendship. We say things to one another that to a woman may seem incongruous with deep seated friendship.  As a rule of thumb the more piss you take out of someone, the more you like them. 

When it comes to training with women, some men do find it hard. Not because of any bias, it's just because you know if you get stuck with a dickhead bloke, (especially in sparring), you can always belt him. Now, if that dickhead is a woman, that presents a conundrum. As well, if you are training with a woman and she gets hurt, automatically the man is looked at as an arsehole. I can only comment on the things I've seen over the years and general observations. 

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6 hours ago, Jeremy Stewart said:

 you know if you get stuck with a dickhead bloke, (especially in sparring), you can always belt him. Now, if that dickhead is a woman, that presents a conundrum. 

🤣🤣🤣

Edited by Oliver
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Interesting post. I'm curious to see what others post. I think the main thing I have seen is the constant competition and pressure to "make the grade" (be good enough to be accepted). Being "tough" is something that is ingrained in a lot of us from a very young age and most of us have no support network. Most women I know have a good support network if they have a bad day or something goes wrong in their life; men are left to struggle through on their own. We don't help each other out or support each other when something goes wrong. Instead the answer is to simply learn to deal with it and do better. That's a lot of pressure, especially if you are having a tough time and already feeling down. 

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On 8/31/2019 at 6:53 PM, Oliver said:

🤣🤣🤣

 

On 8/31/2019 at 12:30 PM, Jeremy Stewart said:

Men in general aren't that hard to work out. We generally take the piss out of each other as a way of cementing our friendship. We say things to one another that to a woman may seem incongruous with deep seated friendship.  As a rule of thumb the more piss you take out of someone, the more you like them. 

When it comes to training with women, some men do find it hard. Not because of any bias, it's just because you know if you get stuck with a dickhead bloke, (especially in sparring), you can always belt him. Now, if that dickhead is a woman, that presents a conundrum. As well, if you are training with a woman and she gets hurt, automatically the man is looked at as an arsehole. I can only comment on the things I've seen over the years and general observations. 

I grew up with a guy as my best friend and hanging out with him and his friends was sometimes just about taking the piss out of one guy until he lost his temper or started crying. It was so insanely brutal and I never wanted to be part of it. In retrospect though I wished I had been hardened like that would've helped me a lot, especially in the gym.

Regarding sparring with girls yeah we know. And we use it to our advantage all the time. 😁 We know the guy can't go too hard without looking bad. However I've sparred with a guy I knew was angry with me and it's pretty uncomfortable knowing he can kill you if he wants. But nothing is worse than the heavy tall dude who has no control. 

Thanks for your post. 

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8 hours ago, Tyler Byers said:

Interesting post. I'm curious to see what others post. I think the main thing I have seen is the constant competition and pressure to "make the grade" (be good enough to be accepted). Being "tough" is something that is ingrained in a lot of us from a very young age and most of us have no support network. Most women I know have a good support network if they have a bad day or something goes wrong in their life; men are left to struggle through on their own. We don't help each other out or support each other when something goes wrong. Instead the answer is to simply learn to deal with it and do better. That's a lot of pressure, especially if you are having a tough time and already feeling down. 

Thanks for sharing this is really interesting.

To be accepted, meaning be accepted by the other guys right? Or if it's a mixed gym, does it matter what the women think at all? Or you want to seem impressive to the girls to be respected by the guys? Because as a woman, most of the time all you want is for the guys to accept you as well. Much more so than other girls accepting you. 

Re the support system, I think most of us simply think it's a chosen thing. That you don't need people. But of course we all need people. I guess this is why they say men are usually worse off after a divorce than women, simply because the woman did all the relationship building and maintenance with their common friends and without her the man suddenly finds himself alone. 

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8 hours ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

Not sure how germane it is to the discussion, but @Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu's article on what she perceived to be one of the fundamental challenges for men from the west:

https://8limbsus.com/blog/fragility-western-masculinity-muay-thai

I have seen fragile masculinity so, so often over the years. I just realised I didn't  know what to call it. I just used to call it weakness.  I've seen it in, muay thai. I've seen it lifting weights. I've seen it in everyday life. 

Blokes piss me off, alot them never want to over extend themselves.  The bloke that looks good on pads, but punch him in the face and he sucks. The bloke who benches 90kg but won't whack on another 10kg because he's scared. I could rant ad infinitum about weakness as I perceive it. 

I don't regard myself as anything special or hyper masculine, but I do know what I am and what I am not. This self belief has made making friends quite hard all my life. I guess I just don't do bullshit.😎😎😎

Oh and I forgot to mention the one who thinks he's tough as nails and knows everything about muay thai. In his mind he's Tong Po, but when it comes to the actual fight he'll pull out with a week to go, or if he actually fights he'll usually throw the towel in.

PS. I'm a big Tom Hardy fan.

Edited by Jeremy Stewart
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Nothing really that bad, probably not enough to qualify as 'issues' or 'struggles'.

First of all, if you're working hard enough you shouldn't even notice things that probably should piss you off, you're too exhausted to realise or care if you do. Second, even if there is something it's thankfully rare, like a psycho weirdo 1%er joining the gym. Then, at least you get a funny story out of it.

And third, for a lot of guys - at training it's a hell of a lot better than anything else you got going on in life, so why complicate it? Hard as the training is, it's definitely better than working bullshit job. It's nowhere near as bad as douchebag co-workers you have to put up with, nowhere near as bad as a moron you share a house with who knocks on your door complaining about loud music when it's only 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. 

At training there's none of that, so it's better just to be grateful. 99% of people are cool and you're lucky to be doing the most fun sport ever. 

Maybe the psycho weirdo 1%er is the only thing that really comes to mind. But it really is a 1% thing. In Thailand it's the westerner who wants to be king of the white people - never shuts up, demands attention, long stories filled mostly with lies, comes to the dinner table where 4 of you are already sat chilling, talking & laughing - and immediately talks over everybody and tries to hold court. This dude also tends to suck the Thai dick as hard as he can to try and ingratiate himself.

Don't really use terminology like toxic masculinity / fragile masculinity to describe this guy, personally not remotely into any of this political / ideological / gender stuff. He's just a worm.

Edited by Oliver
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Hmmm kind of difficult to answer but I'll think about it some more and maybe come back with another answer.

 

As to men training with women: I like to train with some of them if I like them but training with other men, especially of around equal or higher skill level (as long as they're not assholes about it) usually feels more "free". Especially as a tall and heavy guy (I'm not exactly well trained but have a certain natural level of strength from my bodytype) it kind of feels like you always have to low-key take care about your training-partner more. Of course you should always take care about your partners, but it's different here. Then for me there is the added problem that most women are quite substantially smaller than me which distorts some stuff for both of us. And yes, having to be more careful is a thing too of course. I've trained with women who were much more on the tough side and when you find out about that and the right level of intensity has clicked into place that's cool. There is still that bit of risk remaining that you have to be careful not to overdo it anyways. Then of course you sometimes get other women who are or act much less tough which brings it's own set of problems.

Me being naturally introvert and shy doesn't help either of course but that's also the case (though to a slightly lesser extend I think) with other guys. It's not that I don't like interacting with people and of course training needs partners but I sometimes find it more difficult anyways.

Then or course there is this male dominance thing. Comparing yourself to others, not appearing weak, also the thing Sylvie talks about in the text Kevin posted about being more careful about how much you tire yourself out.

I'm not one of the guys who have been doing some form of training all their live. I'm actually pretty damn untrained right now and it pisses me off when I see that I'm holding a partner back because I'm gasping for air all the time and also that it keeps me from concentrating more on the technical aspects of what I'm doing. Also it's a showing of weakness that doesn't feel great of course.

I remember doing a bit of boxing-sparring with someone at the gym (I've never trained much in boxing so far. We did a bit of it in Kali as our trainer was a firm believer in that you should at least know the basics of what you might be up against though) and it kind of felt embarrassing. Objectively I know I had no business looking great against someone much more experienced but I wasn't really used to the contact and feel of punches against my own body and I couldn't even use my legs which I seem to rely on quite a bit so that made it worse. I got a short video of the session taken and I actually look kinda scared from the outside which is what I was feeling, too. It felt somewhat embarrassing because, as someone else mentioned, as a guy you are kind of expected to know how to fight to at least some degree and somehow you end up believing this to some extend as being a natural thing. Then in a situation like this you kind of get this image shattered to a degree. It's not like the guy was going hard or beat me up or anything. It's just that the ego get's kicked down a little when something like this happens.

It's this kind of thought that you HAVE to be strong. You can't appear to be weak because being strong is supposedly the standard for a man.

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Whenever I see things to do with fragile masculinity in regards to training, I often get the impression that it's a cultural thing more than it is a gender thing. As a young man training Muay Thai I had a lot of issues that pushed me into training Muay Thai but it for me never came from training it. Challenges sure, but I never felt as if I couldn't get advice from more experienced guys at the gym, and now I'm in the position of a more experienced guy, training teenagers I do the same. 

More so than issues to do with muay thai, I find that guys training have issues more related to body confidence, such as not having visible abs, or lacking confidence due to their age (young or feeling that they are too old). That being said I find that people who train more tend to move past these issues.

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On 9/1/2019 at 10:18 AM, LengLeng said:

It was so insanely brutal and I never wanted to be part of it. In retrospect though I wished I had been hardened like that would've helped me a lot, especially in the gym.

There are definitely plusses and minuses to being a product of this kind of environment. It can make you strong, but can also give you a lot of self-esteem issues. The desired effect is that the guy will fight back (which earns you cool points if you do it right), but if you aren't familiar with that kind of situation or come from an abusive background that can quickly spiral into unintended territory. What may have started out as mild shit talking turns more into confrontation and can escalate from hurt feelings to physical altercations. With most groups of guys, you are either in or out and it can really suck if you don't understand that kind of treatment. Not responding appropriately will basically lock you out of the group. There isn't an in-between area really and that can be hard to deal with if you are someone who wants to be included. As someone mentioned above, I think there is a lot of pressure regarding body issues too (not unlike women). We all have different genetics though and sometimes you just have to re-frame that kind of stuff in your mind. 

I think men often times aren't taught how to communicate at all, we just kind of figure it out as we go. For better or worse. A lot of guys never learn to communicate their feelings, their desires, etc. Women often complain about being taught to communicate or act in certain ways from early ages due to how women "should" be perceived (being "lady-like"). I totally understand that frustration, but I think it at least provides some bearing one way or another. Even if they disagree completely with how society tells them to act or talk, at least there is some kind of structure to observe and makes changes from. Through female social circles they learn to communicate better and with more variety from when they are young and begin to make changes about how they act or want to be perceived.  

 

On 9/1/2019 at 10:57 AM, LengLeng said:

To be accepted, meaning be accepted by the other guys right? Or if it's a mixed gym, does it matter what the women think at all? Or you want to seem impressive to the girls to be respected by the guys?

Accepted by everyone you respect, guys and girls. Usually the people with the most experience, most fights, best techniques, etc. While we compare ourselves against other guys most of the time since that is who we are directly working with for the most part, most of us still want to be accepted by everyone. I don't think (at least for me) impressing the girls has anything to do with it. That's just immaturity in my eyes. I think the gym environment can really affect the desire to be respected though. In a laid back fitness gym its not as much of an issue. If you are training in a gym where everyone fights, it becomes much more of an issue because there are immediately expectations (I think everyone male or female probably feels this kind of pressure). 

Depending on your background though I think there are a lot of guys who have overlapping issues with women in gym settings. For example, I have a friend that started doing Muay Thai and BJJ about two years ago. I really had to push him into it and eventually I realized he was just incredibly nervous about the whole thing. He was nervous about getting hit, nervous about not being accepted, nervous about doing exercises the right way, nervous about embarrassing himself, etc. Lol basically anything you can think of. He's a pretty introverted guy and hadn't really done any kind of exercise most of his life and had certainly never been in a fight. It took him a long time to grow comfortable (hahaha and I pushed him a lot to keep going), but eventually he used that nervous energy for positive things. He did extra workouts at home, extra bag work at home, etc. He got really good in a short amount of time and now isn't afraid to mix it up with anyone in the gym. He is still nervous about competing though. I think most people regardless of sport/performance get nervous about that though. 

Hahaha that all ended up being a bit of rambling and potentially an incoherent mess. Overall I don't think guys have nearly as many fears, difficulties, drama, emotions, etc. coming into a gym compared to women, but I also think we are conditioned for it a little bit more. For me personally, I've never really felt nervous at a new gym or going into a fight. If anything, that's where I am most comfortable. Inversely, I can go to social settings that my gf is completely comfortable/fine in (dinner with new people, parties where we don't know people, basically places I am completely safe lol, etc.) and I'm a complete mess lol.  We've just got strengths in different areas, and I think that's perfectly ok so long as we also keep working on our weaknesses. 

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On 9/1/2019 at 5:18 AM, LengLeng said:

Regarding sparring with girls yeah we know. And we use it to our advantage all the time. 😁 We know the guy can't go too hard without looking bad.

Haha
But a lot of girls go (too) hard also in my experience (non intentionally I guess, but by lack of control?).
Giving front kicks to woman is also a bit hard for me, I don't want to kick them too high or too low... 😉

But mostly I got no problems training with other males or females, unless they go too hard because they can't control themselves (or when you hold back because you would hit them hard on a good spot and they do counter super hard because you hold back 😕 ) or people that don't want to "loose" in training haha or if they are lazy/skip warm up/being late on purpose.

If you don't bring too much ego to the gym all is fine, I think.

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On 10/12/2019 at 6:24 AM, 515 said:

Haha
But a lot of girls go (too) hard also in my experience (non intentionally I guess, but by lack of control?).
Giving front kicks to woman is also a bit hard for me, I don't want to kick them too high or too low... 😉

But mostly I got no problems training with other males or females, unless they go too hard because they can't control themselves (or when you hold back because you would hit them hard on a good spot and they do counter super hard because you hold back 😕 ) or people that don't want to "loose" in training haha or if they are lazy/skip warm up/being late on purpose.

If you don't bring too much ego to the gym all is fine, I think.

I am not sure this is because lack of control. Where I have trained in Thailand there is always this belief that regardless of her size, a woman is always weaker (and somewhat fragile) that you tend to believe it yourself so you think you are not strong as a guy and your strikes won't be painful. I also feel that whenever I am smaller than the person I am sparring with, that I have to go harder because they can take more pain or whatever. 

So I am not sure this is about having a lack of control but rather not understanding your own strength. 

In my experience, women spar harder than men. I sparred with this woman fighter some months ago and I felt she went hard so I went hard too. She usually trains with guys and she told me afterwards no one had hit her as hard as I had. While I felt she went super hard. Eh haha. 

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6 hours ago, LengLeng said:

there is always this belief that regardless of her size, a woman is always weaker (and somewhat fragile)

It's true. Same same opening jam jars, parking cars correctly. Ya know.

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9 hours ago, LengLeng said:

I am not sure this is because lack of control. Where I have trained in Thailand there is always this belief that regardless of her size, a woman is always weaker (and somewhat fragile) that you tend to believe it yourself so you think you are not strong as a guy and your strikes won't be painful. I also feel that whenever I am smaller than the person I am sparring with, that I have to go harder because they can take more pain or whatever. 

So I am not sure this is about having a lack of control but rather not understanding your own strength. 

In my experience, women spar harder than men. I sparred with this woman fighter some months ago and I felt she went hard so I went hard too. She usually trains with guys and she told me afterwards no one had hit her as hard as I had. While I felt she went super hard. Eh haha. 

True, that's also more what I meant (but didn't wrote 😛 ).
The lack of control is more a problem with guys that don't want to look bad so go a bit harder and harder to make up for their lack of technique. Ego things because they don't want to loose 🤨🤨 (their is no winning in training only learning? 😄 ).

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    • I see that this thread is from three years ago, and I hope your journey with Muay Thai and mental health has evolved positively during this time. It's fascinating to revisit these discussions and reflect on how our understanding of such topics can grow. The connection between training and mental health is intricate, as you've pointed out. Finding the right balance between pushing yourself and self-care is a continuous learning process. If you've been exploring various avenues for managing mood-related issues over these years, you might want to revisit the topic of mental health resources. One such resource is The UK Medical Cannabis Card, which can provide insights into alternative treatments.
    • Phetjeeja fought Anissa Meksen for a ONE FC interim atomweight kickboxing title 12/22/2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu92S6-V5y0&ab_channel=ONEChampionship Fight starts at 45:08 Phetjeeja won on points. Not being able to clinch really handicapped her. I was afraid the ref was going to start deducting points for clinch fouls.   
    • Earlier this year I wrote a couple of sociology essays that dealt directly with Muay Thai, drawing on Sylvie's journalism and discussions on the podcast to do so. I thought I'd put them up here in case they were of any interest, rather than locking them away with the intention to perfectly rewrite them 'some day'. There's not really many novel insights of my own, rather it's more just pulling together existing literature with some of the von Duuglus-Ittu's work, which I think is criminally underutilised in academic discussions of MT. The first, 'Some meanings of muay' was written for an ideology/sosciology of knowledge paper, and is an overly long, somewhat grindy attempt to give a combined historical, institutional, and situated study of major cultural meanings of Muay Thai as a form of strength. The second paper, 'the fighter's heart' was written for a qualitative analysis course, and makes extensive use of interviews and podcast discussions to talk about some ways in which the gendered/sexed body is described/deployed within Muay Thai. There's plenty of issues with both, and they're not what I'd write today, and I'm learning to realise that's fine! some meanings of muay.docx The fighter's heart.docx
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