In the second part of our series, Muay Thai Champion Whitney Tobin gives us insight into the process and training for a big fight on the King’s Birthday Celebrations in Bangkok
It’s Monday morning and I’m fighting Thursday on the WPMF (World Professional Muay Thai Federation) show on the King’s Birthday. Besides fighting for titles, many foreigner fighters dream to fight on these shows because they are matched with the highest level Thais, and are showcased on TV.
I’m on the home stretch now, I’ll have one more day of training tomorrow and then fly to Bangkok on Wednesday for a press conference with official weigh-ins. This fight is mid-week so while everyone slept in on their Sunday I was training. You have to be self-disciplined as there’s no trainer, no training partners to work with, but this is what I signed up for.
I have the same routine every morning, starting by getting up at 5.30 am. This gives me enough time to quickly look through Facebook messages I have received throughout the night. 5 to 10 minutes pass like seconds while I let my mind wake up. I have a nasty habit of reading friends’ messages and telling myself I will write back once training is done. Nine times out of ten I fail because when training is finished I have a one track mind – shower, eat and get back to sleeping. Less calories and upped training usually means I need a solid 2.5 hour nap in between trainings.
After I’ve caught up on gossip from around the world I go to the bathroom and step on my personal scale to check weight before I run. I need to weigh in at 56 kg for the fight and I’m 58.5 kg at the moment. I find weighing in before the morning run the most consistent as far as tracking my weight. I have a weight range of 3 kg (6.5 lb) within a day, it sounds crazy but it’s the truth. I retain a lot of water but when I train I can create small lakes of sweat around the bags. Often I bring a towel to put under the bag so I don’t slip. The joys of being a woman in a scale-driven sport. After trainings I step on the scale again and on average I usually lose 1-1.5 kg in the morning and 2-2.5 kg in the afternoon, 3 kg if it’s a hot day.
I log my weight in my phone in the application “My Fitness Pal” – if I don’t, I start internal negotiations with my conscience, which always ends up with me eating more than I need. It’s an easy way to track your progress when you need to lose weight for fights. I often go back to previous fight logs and see what I was eating, or to see what my weight was on a certain amount of days from the fight to make sure I’m on track.
It’s still dark out when I put my gear on. I grab some hanging socks, one of 2 quick dry towels I have, hand wraps and my rain jacket hanging on the balcony and put them all in my back pack. We’re mid-rainy season so it’s been overcast and raining everyday. It’s less than ideal when you need to sweat and lose a certain amount of grams per day. I rub my eyes and make big flapping noises with my sandals walking down the steps to the gym.
I take my usual seat on the stool under the pull up bar, set down my bag and take out my mega 500 mL bottle of liniment oil. I’ve had to basically bathe in this strong smelling liquid for every morning and afternoon training to make sure I’m sweating enough. My room reeks of it lately and my skin feels slightly oily 24/7. I start with my legs as I have terrible hamstrings, they’re like old rubber bands ready to break. I pour the orange liquid into my palms and work generous amounts on my arms and back. I slip on my jacket, as there’s no way I would crack a bead of sweat without it, even if I put the whole liniment bottle on me. Socks on, I’ve laced up my shoes and it’s time to go.
There’s a 4, 7, and 10 km route, if you’re fighting you run the 10 km. Regardless I usually do the 10 km for scenic reasons. Leaving earlier than everyone else is my solution to being a terrible runner and sucking at casual talk. I run to the T at the end of the road where there is a small morning market where local Thais buy their produce, and students buy sticky rice with meat skewers before school. My mouth waters smelling the grilled meat (only 3 hours till I get to eat). Turning right starts the 10 km loop that leads you around one of the local temples. Luckily this isn’t like the Bangkok neighbourhoods where the wild Soi dogs are waiting for you. They can be pretty vicious and you have to pretend to throw imaginary rocks to keep them at bay.
I get the feeling something is behind me. Sure enough I look to my right and Kru Lop (Kru means teacher) is smiling on his bicycle making sure I’m running the 10 km. He giggles and says “leau leau” (quick quick) and speeds ahead. He’s got a really silly personality, I’ve caught him talking to the cats before. In training he’ll often tap you on one side of the shoulder and run away giggling like a little girl.
I make the loop around the temple on to the big highway. From here in the distance on the left in a field you can see a giant white Buddha statue. The few times I’ve run with the Thai boys they will sometimes Wai (bow) quickly to the statue while running. I know I’ve hit the halfway mark as I take the second to last big left onto a smaller street that says “Beyond San Kamphaeng”. When you don’t have music blasting in your ears it gives you time to think, so I’ve thought about this funny sign a lot, imagining Buzz Lightyear from the movie Toy Story saying “To infinity and Beyond…. San Kamphaeng”.
My favourite part of the run is coming up, on the right hand side cows with giant floppy ears are grazing in an open field, a few palm trees are scattered further, and a spectacular horizon is full of mountains. Above it all the sun starts to ascend creating an amazing contrast line between the mountains and the sky and pink streaked lines burst through the clouds.
The road turns back into the neighbourhood streets closer to the gym. Here there are a few neighbours that keep cows. Sometimes these bovines are cheeky and escape their paddocks and will casually strut down the street. I say hello to the neighbours, particularly one walking a white fluffy Pomeranian that looks like a perfect snow ball with two black eyes and panting a cute smile with its pink tongue hanging out. I give him a quick pat and get on my way.
The final two corners before the gym leads you by a pair of Chihuahuas that are convinced they are in fact Dobermans. Sometimes if I’m tired and in a foul mood I imagine how far I could boot them, don’t get me wrong I’d never actually do it, but it is really liberating to imagine it. The final turn I slow to a walk in front of the temple Wat Santai by the gym. Outside its entrance is a giant tree and resting against it are chopped branches decorated in ribbons. If there’s no foreigners around I usually stop and say a quick prayer, usually it’s about strength to get through the last part of the camp with the weight cut.
Most of the fighters will head into the gym to get ready for their padwork or technique but because I have a fight coming up my trainer Kru Ten has me do 10 sprints up and down the street in front of the gym. He’ll watch me like a hawk from the weights area so I can’t cheat.
For morning sessions Ten will have me either do sparring, clinching or pad work. If it’s sparring he’ll have the person I’m working with act like my opponent by running and left kicking, or if it’s clinching its 30 minutes with no break, and if it’s Thai pads then it will be more game plan specific. Rarely though, if I’m completely exhausted from the day before he’ll give me a Thai massage by stepping on my back, stretching my legs and pulling my arms and then getting me to shadow. Ten is the pad man for all of Kru Thailand’s stadium Thai fighters as well, so I’m very lucky to have him be so attentive to me.
Ten says “Handwrap” which means it’s padwork today. Off goes the sweaty jacket and I wrap my hands. The buzzer for the 5 minutes goes and Ten starts to mimic the movement of my opponent Plyfa by moving backwards, training my body to move forward. He doesn’t want me rushing because he knows if I’m too quick she’ll front kick me. While moving backwards he throws left kicks at me, she’s a southpaw so everything strong will come from her left side. To counter her kicking backwards style, we’ve been working on my strong body punch and entries into the clinch.
Ten is one of the best clinch teachers. When he fought he was a pure Muay Khao (knee & elbow) fighter. I think that’s why we work so well together. We’re both short for our weight classes which means the style that suits us is to pressure and take the advantage of distance away from people. In between rounds I fill the aluminium cups with ice and water, stir it for 10 seconds until the water gets cold and dump it over my head. I try not to drink too much water during training, since it’s the last few days and every gram counts at this point.
I love the way Ten holds pads, a lot of the time he’ll let me freestyle. We’ve worked together so long that he knows the same things I like to put together in my combos. He doesn’t like me to be too serious otherwise I tense up so he’ll joke around with me like running behind bags and I’ll shout “Bai nai?!” (where are you going). Every pad man has a sound he makes while holding pads for his fighters, Ten’s reminds me of a revving engine. He is very patient with me when I ask questions about techniques, or scenarios I think might play out in the fight. If he sees my hands getting low he yells “boxing”, which means get your guard up. We’re almost the same height so we do a lot of clinching with the pads and he makes me pull and push his weight around. This is my strong suit, I’m not a massively technical fighter, but my style has me locking on to opponents. A lot of people want punches or kicks but my style is made for 5 rounds, it grinds the opponent down by making them wear my weight so by round 3 I turn it up and start to really work.
When my 5×5 minute pad work is done I wai to Ten and say thank you, half the time I don’t realise I’m doing it anymore because it’s habit. But I’m not done unfortunately he says “100”, which means 100 kicks each leg. I let out a huffing noise , and suck in some air , I start doing a lil’ bounce to give me energy/courage, and then I go straight into kicking the pads. You have to be fast and strong, but not burn out before you reach 100. I count the kicks in my head but each 10 mark I say out loud, more often than not Ten won’t count the kicks so I make sure I do the exact amount. My calves are on fire as I reach 75 on my right leg, and I start grunting to try and push through. I finish with the last kick being the hardest. I walk in a small circle catching my breath, breathing out short bursts. I get about 15 seconds until I have to do my left leg. This is my strong leg and it’s much easier than the right. When I finish I put my hands above my head taking massive deep breaths into my noise and pushing the air out of my mouth in making the sound “hah”.
I don’t get much of a break as he then sends me straight to the bags. Here is where I work on specific techniques getting in reps, upon reps within 5 minutes. I’m given 2 different styles of knees to work on today. One has me pulling the bag left or right, stepping back and stabbing my knee in twice. The other has me focused on me hugging the bag like when I lock my arms around someone’s head in clinch, turning the bag and lifting my leg so I practice hooking my knee into the side of someone. Kru Nan will assist Ten in coaching me on my bag knees. Kru Nan was a also knee fighter, his knees are more long as he is tall and skinny, when he fought his name was Policenoi. When Ten holds pads for the other foreigners I always see him watching me making sure I’m working. During breaks between rounds he’ll come over and fix things I’m doing wrong. Fight or no, Ten is always keeping an eye on his fighters.
After technical knee rounds are done, It’s on to 5 minutes of teeps and 500 jump knees to finish before I get into my sit ups and pull ups. By this time teeps are a blessing, and I can get into a steady rhythm pushing the bag away with each foot. So that it’s not so daunting, I break the 500 knees by counting to 25’s in my head.
Kru Nan makes an X by crossing his arms which means finished. I lay out my towel by the pull-up bar. I lay down and look up to the ceiling. I contemplate why I put my body through this time and time again, I think about how I haven’t seen my fiancé in 2 months, and won’t for another 2 months after this fight. I finish my sets of conditioning and start stretching. I try and count how many hours until weigh in – it’s around 53 at this point.
I hate sitting in my sweat for too long, I’ve gotten pneumonia before when I trained in NZ from not showering quick and changing into dry clothes. I finish by picking up the cups the other foreigners have left around the gym, giving them a wash in the kitchen, and making sure all the pads are by the side of the ring ready for afternoon training.
I pick up my soaked towel from the ground, backpack and wet jacket. I walk back up to my room, I leave my towel and jacket hanging off the side of the balcony to dry for tomorrow’s final morning training. When I get into my room take off the wet clothes and step on the scale, 57 kg…1 last kg to go.