Last week my husband started taking private boxing lessons from one of the trainers at the gym who gets very little attention from westerners. A little background about Neung:
When we have gotten to the gym at 3:00 for my extra ringwork before afternoon training Neung is often in the other ring with his private students, teaching boxing. From his movements and padwork in morning and afternoon Muay Thai training it’s very easy to see that Neung is an adroit boxer – you can also tell from his propensity for leg kicks that he knows exactly how to foil a boxer as well.
I’ve been meaning to ask Neung to help me with head movement and head defense for a number of months. I’ve gotten a little bit of help from him – he’s very willing to show technique and correct mistakes – but my training is astonishingly packed despite each session being a few hours long. Often I’m called into the ring for padwork early on and when I’m on the bag most of the trainers are still in the rings working through the rest of the students doing padwork. There has been very little time to actually interact with Neung, despite my sincerely wanting to.
Last week I was working with Kevin on the floor during our usual pre-afternoon work when the gym is nearly empty, just doing boxing because my shins were out of commission, and Neung stood near us to watch what we were doing. He was very amused to see me hitting Kevin’s face (we’re working on getting used to distance targeting the head itself instead of pads and that requires (light) contact). He went over and got a heavier pair of gloves for me (16 oz instead of my 8 oz) and a few minutes later put on a pair himself and cut in, turning it into a sparring session between him and me that lasted a good 25 minutes. It was a great deal of fun and there was a lot of contact to both the face and body.
We’d been thinking about Kevin taking lessons from Neung prior to this, but it was a great moment to actually schedule the privates. So Kevin set it up with Den (who is the manager of the camp and also speaks very good English, whereas Neung nearly doesn’t speak a word of it) and Kevin started a few days later. Within the first session, Kevin learned an incredible amount. Neung teaches offense and defense together with each technique flowing to the next as two sides of the same movement. Strike and come right back to a block; block and come out of it with a strike. He’s an amazing teacher.
I come and meet Kevin at the ring just as his lessons are ending and then we start our work together at 3. Often Neung will verbally communicate with me about what they were working on, usually clarifying something that was difficult not because of language but because Kevin has nerve damage in his leg which makes a lot of front-leg pivoting or weight-bearing impossible. The other day Kevin wanted me to ask Neung about his boxing experience (we recently heard he has two WBC belts) and as I spoke back and forth, translating Kevin’s questions and Neung’s answers, I was amazed at how accomplished Nueng is. Not because I thought any less of him, but because he is so skilled and accomplished and yet you could easily come and train for a year at Lanna and never know that he has 47 boxing fights with only 2 losses, fought in Japan, the Philippines and the USA and held two major titles (you can see his record here; pretty much you should knock him out or you will be knocked out). He’s a champion and he humbly laughs about how he was an “ordinary” (tamma-daa) Muay Thai fighter but “just kept winning” in boxing to become champion.
This is the astonishing thing about Thai trainers, perhaps very different from Western trainers You can have a champion – or an ex-fighter of extraordinary knowledge – right under your nose and not even know it. I mean, you could train at a place for multiple years and not know your trainer’s accomplishments or, even worse, not have a clue how much technique they have to offer from their experience by not finding your way into accessing that knowledge It can come from language barrier or by not seeking to know. You can miss out on incredible training opportunities simply by not asking. And this is one of the ironic – or at least hidden – benefits of being a woman at my gym: many times I’ve been utterly frustrated and furious for having to ask for things (repeatedly) that are taken for granted by male falang students at the gym who do not train seriously but receive certain training or attention simply because they are male. But by having to ask, it means that I get to ask and discover the gems that lie beneath unspoken assumptions – by having to ask I open a channel of communication that can run deeper than what is freely offered.
Some of Neung’s fights – his body punches are just… scary: