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Muay Thai


Pattaya 2015

พัทยา 2015

By Roberto Pedreira

 If you believe that jiu-jitsu or some other grappling style is all you need, don't learn Muay Thai. But if you don't believe that grappling is all you need, then learn a striking art.  Among the options, Muay Thai is awesome. So is English boxing, but in a different way and for different purposes. Short story, both are excellent,  superb, and well-worth learning. Take your pick based on your needs and preferences and available training resources.

Incidentally, Muay Thai incorporates a very effective grappling component. In fact, upper-body grappling is a major part of Muay Thai and one of the several reasons that it is so devastating.

Muay Thai fighters in Thailand at least know their punching is not up to the standards of boxing. For one reason, it doesn't need to be, since they have numerous other tools to rely on. Moreover, it really can't be, for the same reason. Given a finite amount of training time, you have to make choices.

Muay Thai is the art of sledgehammer kicks, nuclear knees, slash and burn elbows, and a clinch game that must be experienced to be appreciated.

So learn English boxing by all means, but if you have a chance to train Muay Thai, don't avoid to do so. The best place to learn is, no surprise, Thailand. 

If you are already at a high professional level, you don't need GTR to tell you where to train. This brief report is for people who are at the beginning (you know nothing) to intermediate levels (you know the basics but need to dial them in).

GTR has been several times every year traveling to Thailand since  1991 to train Muay Thai, among the usual other reasons. Our overall conclusion is that Muay Thai is not hard to learn, but dialing it in requires time and being in good physical condition. The best way to learn Muay Thai is to train with the Thais and train the same way they do (the Dutch are very competent too for sure, but its no accident that they also train in Thailand when they have the chance).

There are Muay Thai camps all over Thailand. This report focuses on Pattaya for no special reasons other than it is the place GTR knows best and it is an easy and relatively affordable place to spend 3-4 weeks. True, there are go-go bars and transvestites. If you feel you won't be able to resist their attraction, don't go to Pattaya. Stay away from Bangkok too (which has 10 times more go-go bars and transvestites). In fact, probably don't go to Thailand at all. But if you feel that your willpower is up to the challenge, Pattaya is quite a suitable place to learn Muay Thai and train.

There are five main Muay Thai gyms in Pattaya, and some smaller, transient facilities tucked away here and there. GTR has reported on them previously. Refer to the articles links below for details.

The five gyms are (1) Sityodtong, (2) Sitpholek, (3) Nikiema, (4) WKO), and (5) Fairtex.


Sityodtong is the oldest, and located farthest from central Pattaya, in Nong Phrue, across Sukhimvit Highway. Originally, in the 1990's and until the new airport was built, it was essentially in the country. Subsequently, Pattaya has continued to expand and is now right next door. Nevertheless it is still by far the biggest, with the most capacious training area, facilities, and the most trainers. One thing has changed. It is geared to foreigners. There appear to be no Thais training anymore. The kids have grown up (a few are still there as trainers) and moved on, and are not being replaced. This is more or less true of all the gyms in Pattaya. All gyms are geared to foreigners. That is unfortunate because a lot can be learned simply by watching the Thais train. But foreigners have dollars and euros. Thais don't. This is life.

Related to this, some trainers are now spending part of the year in such places as Singapore and even Korea, making vast fortunes, by Thai standards.

Papa from Sityodtong was on his way back to Singapore, where he earned 100,000 baht per month for doing what he had been doing since I first met him 15 or 20 years earlier.  At that time a trainer got whatever the foreigner was willing to pay him, as long as it was not less than 300 baht for 3-5 rounds of training/instruction. 300 baht is still what training costs at Sityodtong in 2015. 

 Sityodtong, March 2015


Sityodtong, March 2015


Sityodtong, March 2015

Sityodtong, March 2015

Sityodtong, March 2015


Kit, trainer (specialist in hand skills), March 2015


Kit, also good at Muay Thai

For more about Sityodtong, see 


and Sityodtong 2013



Changpuk Kiatsongrit was another trainer who was working overseas. His job was in Korea. The money was obviously good. No Thai would go to Korea in winter without being amply compensated. He confirmed that on both points. Money was big, his friend (second picture below) said. How did he like Korea, I asked? He grimaced, "very cold"("หนาวมาก").

Changpuk was too big to be a successful fighter in Thailand. But he made a mark outside of Thailand. He would fight anyone and pretty much did. Most of the fights were modified Muay Thai, or more accurately, K-1 style, i.e., no elbows and no clinch, which meant it wasn't really Muay Thai at all. But that's what the foreigners wanted. He had a take-no-prisoners style and tended to drop his hands, which got him knocked out from time to time. 

Changpuk set off a revolution in 1988 that was less noticed, or less remembered, but as significant as the "Gracie" revolution of 1993. Changpuk introduced low kicks to American kickboxing. Rick Rufus served as the "victim". Changpuk loved talking about it. Mentioning the name of Rick Rufus would set him off. He was 22 at the time (he is 48 now). Basically, with nothing more than low kicks he destroyed Rick Rufus. Rick's brother Jeff comically criticized that "it doesn't take talent to kick low". Jeff missed the point. The question is not how much talent it takes, but how effective it is (which was the selling point of the Gracie revolution as well). It was a novel concept: what matters is not how difficult it is to learn or execute the technique, but how effective it is in doing what it is intended to do. 

Most people get it now. Rick and Jeff eventually got it. What they didn't get at the time was that low kicks are easy to execute, but so are defenses for low kicks. Changpuk's low kicks were easy because Rick didn't know the defenses. Thais and foreigners trained by Thais seldom get caught with low kicks because they know the defenses. What is (or should be) difficult about low kicks is the timing, catching the opponent off balance or out of rhythm so that he can't apply the defense. The primary ingredient to that is keeping weight equally balanced on both feet so that either leg can be lifted to "shield" and block the incoming kick. The necessity to do that is also one reason Thais don't invest so much training in punching. It is hard to generate boxing levels of leverage with the weight squarely in the middle. They compensate with knees, which generate more force than any punch ever could.

For a mere 270 baht, you can take personal lessons from Changpuk at Sitpholek, if you catch him when he is in Thailand. The beauty of his secret lies in its simplicity. Kick low, kick hard, kick often, punch when you can. As a strategy, it had a hole. People who had the conditions to get in and get out fast enough to avoid those kicks, and to throw lots of hard head shots, tended to do well against Changpuk. But no strategy always works and one that works most of the time is pretty good. Changpuk's game worked most of the time. Learn his most elemental lesson (see above) and augment it with your own special skills, if you have any. Everyone who wants to be successful in MMA or K-1 type matches today does not dare to neglect training their low kicks. Contrary to what Jeff Rufus initially thought, low kicking is not something that anyone can do without training  (hence, it does require talent, but a different kind from "traditional" martial arts like "taekwondo"). The reason everyone now appreciates the art and beauty of low kicking is in large measure the result of Changpuk's ground-breaking demolition of Rick Rufus in 1988.

In fairness to Rick Rufus, he started well, dominating Changpuk, putting him on the canvas twice in the first round with left hands (both Changpuk and Rick fight southpaw style).  That is additional testimony to the efficiency of the low kick strategy. Changpuk was baffled by Rick's angles and hand combinations at first and barely survived the first round. Once Changpuk got untracked he put his simple game plan into action. Rufus' advantage was his footwork but that advantage diminished quickly when the leg kicks started taking effect. Rick retained some effectiveness in the second round. By the third round he was in desperate trouble.  (Changpuk executed a beautiful Muay Thai throw in this round).  All due respect to Rufus, he was game and looked good, for a while. He simply had no answer for Changpuk's kicks. The same is, or would be, true of anyone who does not train to defend them. Thanks to Changpuk (and Rick), most people today do.

Changpuk's classic fight with Rick Rufus can be seen below:

Here's a highlight video, Changpuk looking good against Rob Kaman, Dale Cook, Stephan Nikiema (see below), Ernesto Hoost, Andy Hug, and many more:


Changpuk at age 48, in 2015


Sitpholek Muay Thai Boxing School 

For more about Sitpholek, see Sitpholek 2013.


Things were going well, Nikiema told me. He didn't have a woman managing the gym, which was the reason his first gym failed. He was also recovered from the sciatica that plagued him in 2013 and also a more recent shoulder injury. Nikiema has been retired for a while but a lengthy ring career left him with chronic injuries. Arthritis goes with the territory for a striker. 

Most Thais are Buddhists and profess to believe that all life is precious. Doing anything about the suffering that tends to abound in overcrowded tropical places (parasites and infectious diseases flourish in hot humid conditions) requires money. Thais are inclined to take things as they come, lacking the wherewithal to do much about it anyway. But Nikiema was not impoverished. Pattaya actually has veterinarians (for the foreigners' pet dogs and cats). Nikiema arrived every afternoon just after 3:30. The first thing he did was pet his cat and give it a bowl of water. The cat had developed an infection on his/her right leg. Nikiema sent a young foreign fighter off on a motorbike to fetch a cat-box. He put the cat into the box and climbed on the back of the motorbike and went off to see the vet. He came back at about 4:30. The cat's leg was nicely bandaged up. The next day he returned to the vet for a check-up. The cat seemed to be on the mend. That's the kind of person Nikiema is. 

Nikiema's cat.


 Nikiema Academy, March 2015


Nikiema Academy, March 2015


Trainer at Nikiema Academy, March 2015


For more information about Nikiema see:

Nikiema 2000

Nikiema 2013


 Rain (ฝนตกมาก)

When it rains in Pattaya, it rains hard. Soi 4, March 2015.



"Fon tok mak mak"


Rainy Day in Pattaya



Korean Taekwondo versus Muay Thai

Sometime late at night around March 11, a Korea taekwondo representative decided to test the efficiency of his national art against Muay Thai. The incident took place at Ann Bar (below) on Soi 5 and Beach 2 Road. The Muay Thai stylist was a motorcycle taxi driver. The Korean initiated the encounter with a kick. The Thai retaliated with a kick and a "swing punch," which knocked the Korean out cold, provoking laughter from the bar girls and drunk foreign patrons. The Korean was extremely inebriated at the time, which may have contributed to his poor showing (reported in Pattaya Mail Friday March 20, 2015, p. 4).

Ann Bar, scene of the Taekwondo versus Muay Thai street fight, March 2015.

Ann Bar, scene of the Taekwondo versus Muay Thai street fight, March 2015.

WKO is still in operation. See WKO for details.

Fairtex is still there. See Fairtex for details.

Also of interest:

Khao-Ti (knees)

Muay Thai Clinch



(c) 2015, Roberto Pedreira, all rights reserved.

Revised April 18, 2015




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