It’s hard to describe all the influences that went into the idea of bringing together the greatest collection of Muay Khao (knee fighting) legends to one seminar-type event. But surely the seeds were buried in my own frustrations from the early part of my career of training in Thailand, when it was seemingly impossible to even find decent clinch training. Here I was in Thailand, and I couldn’t learn clinch. My size, my gender, my age, my relative inexperience, and aspects of conservative Thai culture all made developing as a clinch fighter very difficult for me. I’ve told the story a few times of one particular Thai boy who (probably purposely) broke my nose in training, not once, but twice because he did not want to clinch with me; he was trying to intimidate me into not training. I remember asking, in fact begging, for even a few instructions on what positions I should take, to be met only with shrugs from my trainers. This isn’t dismissal of me, and I’ve come to learn that direct technical instruction isn’t really how clinch is taught in Thailand; clinch is learned by just clinching, and clinching a lot. You learn to swim by being thrown in the water, not by step-by-step instructions on how to kick your feet and move your arms just so. Like in swimming, where you’re a victim to the water until you learn to swim, in Muay Thai clinch you fall victim to your training partners until you simply adapt. Woefully, at my first home camp in Thailand I couldn’t even really do that, as everyone clinched in the “male-only” ring, from which I was forbidden to enter. The male western fighters would simply have clinch on some days of the week, never asking, never questioning why I wasn’t in the ring with everyone else. When you are included, you never have to confront anything; when you’re excluded, your nose is pressed against a closed door. Long story short, Thai clinch is not something that is easily passed onto female western fighters – the “swim for the neck and double plum” techniques that are commonly found in non-Thai gyms, taught fairly universally in the west, do not really cut it.
Interestingly enough, Thai female fighters, our sisters of Thailand, also are largely undeveloped in clinch fighting techniques. Much of this is because clinch fighting is somewhat coded as masculine (and distance kicking seen as more feminine), and some of this is due to the very complicated social relations involved in clinch, as a female fighter is coming up. If they are not exposed to it, and lots of training, when they are very young, training in clinch in your early teens can be problematic. A man placing his face near a female’s neck is an erotic act, and close proximity between men and women is often sexually charged. The very best female clinch fighters like Loma and Phetjee Jaa were raised in the clinch since children, by their family, and trained for years against Thai boys at ages before children are differentiated much by gender. Most other Thai female fighters have a more circuitous route to clinch and knee fighting technique and the arduous training it requires.
All this is to say: female fighters the world over have a very difficult time accessing the deepest knowledge of clinch and knee fighting (an art form to itself). As it happened, I got very lucky and found Petchrungruang Gym, and for more than 4 years I’ve been able to train in clinch very heavily, gifted by the opportunity to train opposite Thai boys as they rose up to become Bangkok stadium fighters. And, as it happened through the support of my patrons, I’ve also come to get to know and learn from the best clinch and knee fighters who have ever lived. It suddenly seemed obvious. I need to put together an opportunity for women. I want to bring together the top Thai minds of Muay Khao (knee, clinch and often elbow fighting), and serious women.
Dec 8-20 – Pattaya, Thailand
So that’s just what I’m doing this December, in Pattaya. The 5 legends have so far confirmed that they will attend, teach and direct training as part of the Muay Khao Summit and Clinch Bootcamp. There’s never been such a collection of Muay Khao-related technique and masters, and I’m bringing it together for women, so serious women can soak it all up. The Summit will be much more than this – read below – but this part is important. One of the things you’ll discover is that there is a great variety of technique in Thailand, and if you want to learn about a fighting style – in this case Muay Khao fighting – it’s worth while to be exposed to many different energies and approaches. The hope is that after this summit each woman will be not only gifted with a set of techniques that feel good for her individually (taken from a variety of styles), but they will also come home with a clear sense of how Muay Khao was transitionally trained in the Golden Age of Thailand. This is a completely immersive experience, anchored by the legends themselves.
Breaking Down Cultural Barriers
The Summit is also inspired by something that honestly bothered me quite a bit when I first moved to Thailand, and that was the huge divide between Thai female fighters and western female fighters. It’s true, our ages were different, and our motivations were often different, and most gyms that have western women do not have Thai women (this is changing a bit), but it felt like the language barrier and the example set by our male western counterparts really created two worlds. Too often a westerner simply referred to their opponent as “a Thai.” I get it, the names are hard, but often it seemed to be that many times no effort was made at all to acknowledge the other person in the ring. Even to this day, even though things have changed to some degree, I still read fighter updates that have no mention of the name of their opponent. Too much it’s just “a Thai”. This feels wrong to me.
So another aspect of this Summit had to be a chance for western women to train with and beside Thai female fighters, some of the best Muay Khao fighters in Thailand. I wanted the female Thai fighters to have the acknowledgement (and the pay) of being an authority in how they trained and fought, for many years. Each of these women has faced obstacles in being a female fighter. Each of them has become proficient and prolific through serious commitment. I wanted them to help lead and share what it is they have dedicated years of their life to, so inviting Thais to come and train with us was a cornerstone idea for the Summit. The Thai female fighter attendees are not 100% confirmed, but these three elite knee fighting women have said they will come:
The plan is for us to go through our bootcamp for 3 of the Summit’s days with these top Thai female fighters training along side us, influencing our regime, clinching and sparring with them, learning from their own examples, and drawing from what they know. It’s also to share the training space with our Thai sister, and to genuinely work on the art together. This is be somewhat improvisational, but it’s definitely going to be special.
And lastly, the third component of this summit had to be a TON of work. Legends have told me that Muay Khao fighters train like no other. Their killing weapon is their endurance and pressure. I train harder than any person in any gym I’ve been at in Thailand, and I don’t really come close to what Golden Age Muay Khao fighters trained like, at their peak. In a way, it’s a mode of training that has somewhat been lost, I suspect. In the Summit we are not going to be training as hard as they once did – you can’t go from 0-80 and not just die, but we are going to be training in the Muay Khao technique and heart harder than you’ve ever trained. Ever. You don’t have to do everything that everyone does, that is up to you, but the opportunity is going to be there to evolve and push yourself, and leave knowing the benchmarks you want to set for yourself. And…there is going to be a lot of clinching. One of the keys to clinch and knee fighting is hours and hours of clinch. We’re going to make sure the matchups are instructive, we may mix in the Thai boys from my gym so you can feel an escalation of technique, the Thai female fighters will be in the mix, but it’s going to be a lot of clinch. This is how you learn. You learn to surf by standing on the board, you learn to clinch by clinching in Thailand. There’s going to be a lot of technique and helpful instruction too – something that notoriously is hard to come by in Thailand – counters, and counters to counters, turns, pressures, finishes – but mostly it will be just doing.
above is a look at the hotel rooms and the pool, about a 10 minute run from the gym
A lot of people come to Thailand expecting a bootcamp experience. They want to be thrown into some kind of organized relentless challenge to which they can commit themselves. In almost all gym circumstances this isn’t really how it is. You usually have to spend a lot of the time on your own, training on the bag, in shadow, etc. You may have to overcome shyness and ask for correction. I’m going to try and make this Summit as close to an immersive, but also bootcamp-like experience. You are going to be beat. And you will be exposed to the richest Muay Khao inspirations on the planet.
The shape of what we are going to do is still evolving, but to give everyone a sense of what the Summit will probably look like, here is an itinerary as of this writing:
You can see an up to date version of the itinerary here.
The expected cost for the 12 days of lodging, training and full experience will be between $900 – $1,200 USD. I make no profit on the cost at all. These prices are calculated to go directly to the legends, Thai fighters, pad holders, gyms, and logistics (like lodging) that are coming together. If legends or fighters step out of the Summit, the cost will come down for everyone. I want this not only to be affordable, but also to make sure that these men and these women fighters are more than fairly compensated.
If you plan to attend there will be an opportunity to place a non-refundable deposit soon to secure your place. Currently the Summit is reserved for 12 spots only. I’ve already paid a deposit on 12 rooms for attendees. If there is an initial strong demand for the Summit I could see us expanding the cap, but the places need to be locked in quickly so all the details can be managed. UPDATE: Sign up for the Muay Khao Summit now – deposit or full payment (here)
If you are planning to attend I suggest that you start building up your stamina well before you join us, as training in Thailand is extremely difficult to acclimate to in the short term, and this will be hard work. Building up to the #Langsuan1000 would be a good place to start. Also important, no matter how tough you are or committed, if you come you should be 100% focused on your rest and recovery. Sleep is vital, so plan on getting lots of it. Nutrition, also vital. To get the most out of it you not only will have to push yourself, but you will also have to take care of yourself. This is not “traincation.”
If you are interested, mark yourself as interested on this Facebook Event page. Men can follow this event too. There will be a video version of all the events at some point. If you are very interested and would like to go, mark yourself as “Going” (this only tells me: This person wants to go, and maybe can.)
A Story That Explains the Passion of the Summit
In 2010, I came to Thailand for the first time. It was a little over 2 months and I trained at Lanna Muay Thai in Chiang Mai and Sasiprapa Gym in Bangkok. When I contacted Sasiprapa, I asked specifically if I could learn/train clinch, because I knew opportunities could be a difficulty at Thai gyms. I wanted to learn! “No problem,” they’d said, “we have a 14-year-old boy you can train with.” That quickly revealed itself to be very much a problem, as the boy didn’t want to work with me at all and nobody in a place of authority made him. So, he’d throw me around for a minute and then just say we were done. I learned nothing and I didn’t even get enough time being thrown around to learn by accident. I was so frustrated; and this is not at all uncommon, at least when I started training in Thailand. One day, maybe a few days before my scheduled fight, the owner of the gym, Thakoon (who was very sweet to me) introduced me to an Australian woman who had trained there many times. “She can teach you clinch,” he said to me. She looked confused when he said it, and she might have said something to me like, “oh, I don’t really know much, nobody has ever taught me anything.” She showed me how she’d basically taught herself clinch on the bag, grabbing it, kneeing it, swinging and turning. She looked amazing to me. I felt like a door had just been opened to me. If you watch female fights now – there are these all-female cards that have international matchups – you will see what a huge difference some clinch versus no clinch makes. With some clinch you can make an opponent with no clinch look bad. This woman, Karen, had what was probably some clinch at the time and she helped me in the ring a little bit, because women are fucking awesome and generous at times. It was probably a small thing for her, something that made her feel a little uncomfortable, but it was a big thing for me. I was so hungry for any kind of instruction or help. These experiences mean a lot – so be generous; be awesome. I remember thinking she knew everything, because I knew nothing. And it was beautiful to know that she’d had the same door slammed in her face that I’d had in mine, shut out of learning the clinch the way boys do, but she’d learned to dance with the wood. She’d just made do and like a Punk Rockstar, she learned anyway, using what options she did have: a bag, her eyes to watch, and a will to train herself. I am forever grateful to her, even for this one experience. So, ladies… let’s carve this fucking door into something we can dance with. A Muay Khao Summit!
[edit: so I went looking for it to see if I had video of that lady helping me with clinch so long ago, and I found it. A moment of generosity, helping baby Sylvie out 8 years ago]
and this I think is Karen Coutts today, if Google tells we right:
Ladies, let’s always be generous with our time and our technique. I look forward to training with you in December!