Gen and Joe are twins and were fairly well-known fighters in Bangkok in the early 2000s. Their fight names were Hongthong Noi (Joe) and Hongthong Lek (Gen), hence naming the gym for both of them: Hongthong Muay Thai. The brothers were working at Team Quest Thailand, an MMA/Muay Thai gym in Chiang Mai, when I first moved to Thailand, and before that Joe was at famed 13 Coins in Bangkok. They opened this gym, their own gym, in 2013. Because I started out in Chiang Mai (I was with Lanna Muay Thai for my first 2.5 years) I would see Gen and Joe at fights; we always said hello and were polite, but we never talked much. I got to know one of their students, Melissa Reaume from Canada, and so my familiarity with the training and the gym came mostly from her very positive experience of training there for a year. So, while I know that Joe has seen me fight many times due to our intersecting worlds in Chiang Mai, I was still surprised (and flattered) that he knew who I was and had thoughtfully observed my fights over those years. When I came to do this private session with him he told me he’d spent the night before thinking to himself, “what can I teach Sylvie?” He wanted to develop what he’d seen from my fights, not just run me through a standard program for a private (which would have been fine, really). It is a huge privilege that Joe catered his lesson to me, personally. Ass a fighter this makes this session very special, a chance to move into greater depth and detail beyond introductory basics. It’s one reason why I’ve kept the whole session as one piece for my Patreon supporters. As it happens Joe also was a Muay Khao (knee) fighter and so he thoughtfully worked with me toward developing in that style. His brother, Gen, was the stylistic opposite of a forward fighting knee fighter, Muay Femur, so at the gym you actually get a full spectrum of technical, tactical, theoretical training. Brilliant.
above, 20+ minutes of my session with Joe Hongthong, one of the most enjoyable and instructive sessions I’ve had in Thailand – Joe’s English is excellent and informative, but in recording my commentary I had to make a choice and bring the sound level of the session down. I’ll be adding the non-commentary version later.
My favorite aspect of my time with Joe is what a keen eye he has to notice where to work and what to correct, but also that he immediately puts it into context with sparring. So you learn something, then you have to use it under pressure. But when I asked him a technical question like, “when do I do this?” or which side to do blah-blah, his answer was, “try.” I know that doesn’t sound profound, but it really is. You learn what works by trying it and a teacher who requires you to experiment in order to figure out what works for you is really valuable. Joe ran me through some elbows and explained the timing, distance and effect of each one. I say effect because part of the context of some of those elbows is as an important style point – throwing a fancy spinning elbow in the early rounds is not the same as throwing it when you already have a lead in the scoring rounds. Knowing the difference is style, and its an important to to understanding and winning in Thailand. He also talked a lot about the energy and relentlessness of being a knee fighter. These styles of Muay Khao or Muay Femur aren’t arbitrary; they aren’t just a set of techniques. They’re a personality, an ethic and an identity. You may not necessarily choose which one you are, it’s what you’re compelled toward. In some ways, it’s your nature. Joe can fight Muay Femur, too, but in his heart he’s Muay Khao. He talked about getting cut a lot due to this style (tell me about it) but that as a knee fighter you have a “special energy” when you see your own blood; it drives you where others wilt. That’s why learning from him was so special for me.
The entire session is roughly an hour and a half, all of which is available to my patrons on the Patreon site and the patron-only Facebook page. (You can become a patron here, it’s only $1 a month but many people pledge more because it keeps this site going.) This is the longest training video I’ve put up so far, but even broken apart there’s a lot to learn from the session; these 20+ minutes are awesome because Joe is such a great teacher. But the long-form of the full video is something I find really meaningful because it demonstrates how you really teach something, how you really learn it. There’s a natural evolution to how a teacher reads and assesses each student, as well as watching when the student doesn’t get the thing quite right and then slowly makes the appropriate adjustments to get it right. You learn a lot by watching that progression. And this is real Thailand training. It’s not learning “hacks” or collecting “tricks.” It’s developing the style and ethics of fighting slowly and steadily. That’s what makes Joe such an incredible teacher and that’s what made this session so invaluable to me, personally.
Some key points to look for in the full video:
- 5 elbows and a breakdown of when to use them, how to set them up
- The importance of style in the highest scoring rounds of the fight (3-5)
- How balance demonstrates dominance
- Cutting off the ring with longer range weapons, attacking on the ropes
- Developing the story of a fight through the rounds by playing simple moves in the early rounds and having dramatic moves in the scoring rounds
- Using sparring as a tool to put any technique immediately into context; “try” as an answer to when to use a technique or how to execute a technique
- A sweep off of a caught kick I’ve never been shown before
- The “dog pee” tip over in the clinch as a knee counter (aptly named, Joe)
- A low grab sweep in the clinch
- The importance of guard and offense in staying close as an advancing fighter
- Old School versus modern knees
If you are already my Patreon supporter you can watch the hour and a half here
The Hongthong Gym
Hongthong Muay Thai Gym is located in the northern province of Chiang Mai, about 20 minutes from the base of the Doi Suthep mountain. Despite being on a highway (which is convenient for many reasons), the gym itself feels very rural due to the coverage from huge trees and the house at the back. The trainers, Joe and Gen, live in that house and Joe jokes to me when I comment how beautiful the gym is that he feels like he lives at a temple because he has to sweep the fallen leaves every day (a task that monks carry out on temple grounds). It’s a Thai kind of joke, but I can feel what he’s talking about. I can hear a distant leaf blower at one point, but I don’t hear the highway at all. It feels quite secluded, like a rural Muay Thai gym. The equipment is modern, nice matted floors and a ring, well maintained bags and some state-of-the-art conditioning equipment that I rarely see in gyms. The way the gym straddles the traditional and the contemporary is an expression of Gen and Joe themselves, who come from the rural training grounds of Isaan but have adopted elements of western sport science as well. And Joe speaks incredibly good English, which can be a big benefit for those less familiar with Thailand. (I’ve seen Gen at fights but never talked to him. I’m sure he speaks English also but I’m not sure if it’s as good as Joe’s, who is more of the manager of the pair.) The gym has also had very successful long term female fighters like Melissa (Canada) and Miriam (Italy), so there is a history of taking female fighters seriously, another plus in their column.
above is a video walk through of the gym between sessions
If you’d like to contact Hongthong Gym do so through their Facebook Page
Where is Hongthong Gym in Chiangmai?
Below is a Google Map of where Hongthong Gym is. I like this part of town as it’s away from the bustling center, but it’s not out of reach either. It’s not far from the airport.