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All you need to know: NUS Muay Thai

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

Not sure which clubs to join in the upcoming semester? In this series, we put together comprehensive masterposts for all you need to know about NUS's martial arts clubs. Stay tuned for more!

Note: NUS Muay Thai will be holding their Fight Trials on Friday (17 Jan)! If interested, please refer to their Facebook page here.

Hey NUS! Welcome to the ninth martial arts CCA: NUS Muay Thai!

Remember, here’s what we have lined up: an introduction to the martial art; the training menu of the day; interviews with club members; and a short Q&A.

We hope this article can help you decide if the art of eight limbs, Muay Thai, is something you’d be interested in.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a martial art / combat sport from … you guessed it -Thailand! Long ago, there were all sorts of martial arts in South-East Asia and these were a very interesting mix of techniques from India, China, Japan and local fighting styles. These were usually techniques used by soldiers in the many conflicts in the turbulent region. Around the early 20th century, as modern sports like Judo and boxing began to be taught in schools, Muay Thai took on its familiar form today as it began to be practised in a boxing ring with Western-type boxing gloves and a referee.

Muay Thai is commonly referred to as the science of eight limbs because practitioners can punch (2 hands), elbow (2 elbows), knee (2 knees) and kick (2 shins) their opponents. Thus, there’s a great variety of the moves that can be used from long-range (kicks) to short-range (knees and elbows). I think Muay Thai is more famous for their short-range fighting since their style of clinching (where you use your hands to grab your opponent’s head/neck to hit or sweep them) is quite special and powerful. The most famous Thai boxers today are probably Saenchai and Buakaw. Lots of pro-MMA fighters also practise Muay Thai like Anderson Silva and Wanderlei Silva (they aren’t related, but they’re both from Brazil, if you were curious). You might also recognise Muay Thai from movies like Ong Bak (starring the iconic Tony Jaa) or Kickboxer (actually Jean Claude Van Damme does karate, but whatever). If you’ve played Street Fighter, you probably know of Sagat - who’s actually based on Sagat Petchyindee, a real Muay Thai legend!

NUS Muay Thai

NUS Muay Thai has 2 groups: recreational group and competitive team. The competitive team is the varsity team so you need to pass a fight trial to join it - basically you need to be reasonably competent at fighting and have an interest to train hard and compete. On the other hand, the recreational group doesn’t operate on a membership-basis - you pay a membership fee for a number of lessons conducted by the coach and student instructors from the Fight Team. Naturally, the training is geared towards beginners and is less intense.

I attended training on 26/12/2019, outside NUS. Normally, trainings are done in school. The recreational trainings are held throughout the week while varsity trainings are on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons. During the holidays varsity team trainings are split into 2 groups: junior (which I attended) and senior (which is a little more intense). Thus, the rest of this article will be talking about the varsity team training. It’s safe to assume that the recreational training is basically a very scaled-back version of this.

We opened training with some skipping (about 10 minutes) to warm up. I can’t skip for nuts so I just stretched at the side. The members were all really good at it. One of them told me that it took a bit of getting used to before they could skip rope so effortlessly.

After wrapping our hands, we did a few minutes of shadowboxing.

It sounds a lot cooler than it is - basically you just practise your movements in the air to get the blood flowing and get ready to perform the movements more vigorously later. It should be done effortlessly since it’s not really part of the workout. You can do anything you like: kicks, knees, punches, evasive footwork, dodging, etc.


(defensive moves)


Now to the fun stuff! We did 5 rounds of 2 minutes on the heavy bags. I think it’s definitely the coolest part of training because it feels really macho *hahaha*. There are a few ways to hit the bags: you could go slower to practise specific techniques sharply; or really hard to train hitting power; or really fast without rest to train your endurance!

(get sharper)

(get stronger)

(get faster)

There were a few types of bags which we use differently.

The one shown below is used for most techniques so we hit it normally.

This one is filled with water so it’s really dense, but it doesn’t hurt to punch. It’s shape makes it better for punching.

This one has a good angle that simulates the shape of a human torso so it’s good for practising knees and push-kicks.

We went on to do some partner pad drills.

Usually, coach handles this but he was preparing another teammate for an upcoming tournament so this week’s was led by another student. He demonstrated a drill, which we would practise for a few minutes.

After all the drills, the hitter switches with the holder.

This combination is used against someone trying to charge you - you kick the person back then jump in with a series of punches before finishing him with knee kicks!

This is good against someone swinging wildly at you - you block then return fire with your own punches before finishing him with leg kicks.

After some drills, we did freestyle padwork. The pad holder runs through any combination he wants the hitter to react to. It’s exhausting, but great fun.

The padholder has to be reasonably competent or you won’t hold the pad for a combination that makes sense!

The last part of the training, and my favourite, was free sparring.

We did “flow sparring” i.e. “go light so we can run through our techniques comfortably and safely”.

Here are some highlights:

It’s a nightmare fighting tall opponents because you have to close the distance or you’ll never touch them.

Ring awareness is important - I got caught against the ropes (literally) so I couldn’t evade the punches!

Q & A

What’s the timing like?

The varsity team usually trains on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons.

The recreational group conducts afternoon trainings on every weekday during the school term (a member attends one specific session per week).

Is there a steep learning curve?

Muay Thai is fairly intuitive: punch, kick, elbow, knee your opponent until you win. It’s difficult to master, but easy to learn.

How much money am I going to spend on it?

The recreational club costs $80 for 8 1.5hr lessons during the semester.

Is Muay Thai very tough?

It’s very anaerobic and very strenuous since you don’t have time to catch your breath. It’s a great workout!

You might have read about Thai boxers hitting their shins with glass bottles or kicking trees or kicking each other. I didn’t see any body-hardening training, so I wouldn’t worry about that.

I’m reasonably informed that the recreational classes are more manageable, even if your fitness is so-so.

How much of my training is conditioning? How much time do I actually get to “play”?

We only spent about 30 minutes on skipping and hitting the bag and the rest of the time on learning techniques. There isn’t much “dead time” where you’re doing boring exercises.

Is Muay Thai useful for self-defence?

Sure! Muay Thai has a wide variety of easy-to-use techniques. For example, some styles teach you to use a snapping kick - it’s difficult to kick fast or hard enough for the kick to be powerful. However, Muay Thai techniques use your whole body so even if you’re a small person, you’ll be able to get a lot of power! They’re also simple and direct so you can use them even when you’re tired.

Is Muay Thai safe?

I think so. There’s always a risk of injury since Muay Thai is a full-contact sport. However, training is pretty safe since the only real danger comes from sparring, which isn’t done at full-power anyway. You might strain a muscle if you do something wrong while you’re tired, but that’s no different from other sports.

During competitions, you’re wearing headgear, shin pads, body protector and gloves. Also, elbows aren’t allowed in most rulesets.

At the very least, the recreational classes are very safe since you’re just learning.

Are my Muay Thai days going to over once I leave NUS Muay Thai?

Not at all! Muay Thai is very popular and new gyms are opening all the time.

You could even try out other full-contact sports like MMA or Sambo since Muay Thai is a good foundation.

Can I take part in tournaments? Will I be able to get any fortune and glory even if I’m a newbie?

Sure! The whole point of varsity team training is to get you competition-ready. NUS Muay Thai takes part in the IVP and also other tournaments (although not under the NUS name) so there’ll be plenty of chances for you to test your skills in a real match.

What’s the social life of the club like?

Since the varsity team has a selection process and training is pretty tough, the members are all in it for real so you can be sure you’ll be among like-minded peers. I always think that hard training and sparring is a good way to make good friends :D

Other than that cliched stuff, NUS Muay Thai also conducts training camps, which are usually pretty fun!

On a side note, I was quite impressed how everybody stayed behind to clean the training equipment and area after the training. I’m normally accustomed to throwing all my gear into a big box and leaving it to develop its own ecosystem until we next use it, so this is a big plus point for NUS Muay Thai!


with Wei Xuan

How long have you been doing Muay Thai?

I’ve been doing Muay Thai for about 7 years but i took a break in between for about 1 and a half years when i went to army I started when i was in Sec 3 near the end of the year just before the exam period as a way to relieve stress. I’ve always been interested in martial arts and I really enjoyed the combat element of Muay Thai.

What do you like about NUS Muay Thai?

NUS Muay Thai is like 1 big family where everyone is quite close to one another. We’re all in a similar phase of life so it’s a lot easier for us to connect with each other. The training culture’s great where everyone’s constantly trying to improve and help each other improve and we have an extremely dedicated coach who is always willing to go the extra mile for the team.

Would you recommend Muay Thai to an incoming freshman / other student?

Anyone can do Muaythai but having an interest is vital or you’ll be struggling but not knowing what you’re struggling for. You don’t have to be physically tough to do Muaythai because strength can be built. You just need to have a positive mindset.

What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS Muay Thai or is thinking about joining?

I would say focus on the basics. Having a strong foundation takes you a long way and when introduced more complicated moves, it will be alot easier to pick up.

with Wen Xuan

How long have you been doing Muay Thai?

I took up Muay Thai in Year 1 through the Recreational Classes that were offered by the NUS Muay Thai Club with a couple of friends as we thought it’d be a cool and fun experience, and I just wanted to stay active since I figured that I’ll probably be spending a lot of time in school either studying or eating and didn’t want to get that dreaded freshman 15 (though I still got it – I ate a lot). Besides, I took up Taekwondo when I was 17 and I thought that maybe some of the kicks would be transferrable and that it would be an enjoyable sport for me since it would integrate kicking with punches.

I really loved the intensity of the sport and the need to be technical as well – it forces you to think while you’re striking and not just brute force your way through the entire training. I also loved that the more I kept training and practicing the techniques, the better I got (with good guidance). Despite the intensity, I also really appreciated that I could still go at my own pace during the classes – that was important to me as there would be days where I just felt out of it and couldn’t go at 100% - though this would be very different after I had joined the Fight Team, where we are pushed during training in order to build up not only our own resilience, but our cardio as well.

Ultimately, I stuck with the sport because I felt like this was something that I really wanted to commit myself to, and that I really enjoyed practicing the sport. I took up classes till the end of Semester 1 in Year 2, and that’s when I tried out for the Fight Team as I wanted to push myself even further in the sport and also contribute back to the classes that allowed me to build myself up in Muay Thai (Fight Team members help out for the recreational classes). I’m grateful that I was given a slot on the team and given a chance to improve not only in the sport, but as a person as well.

What do you like about NUS Muay Thai?

I feel that the people really make up the heart of the team – so I really love the camaraderie that we share as part of the team and going through tough and easy trainings together, cheering on each other during competitions and training each other up during the competitions as well. I believe that training “culture” is something that is better experienced than described, but if I were to give it a shot, I would say that our trainings are tough and a lot more intense as compared to our recreational classes, but we still love having a lot of fun in-between our training sets teasing each other or just playing around with each other. It’s really interesting seeing how the vibe shifts from a light-hearted one to an intense, focused one when our training sets start and I think that it’s really healthy that we have that switch. We also love seeing each other improve, so we’re all open to feedback from each other and constantly look out for each other during training so that we can all do better.

When it comes round to the competition season, we also spend more time and effort training up our competition fighters. but we don’t neglect the training for the rest of the team – this is where it is clear that our coach and our captains effectively communicate and divide responsibilities in order to build up the team together.

Off-season, we have our internal fight team camp and cohesion sessions where we just get together and have fun, and any chance that we have to go down to support our fighters for their competition is also an opportunity to have fun and celebrate together after! 😊

Would you recommend Muay Thai to an incoming freshman / other student?

I would recommend our Muay Thai Recreational Classes to all NUS students regardless of their year and faculty, or even level of fitness, as long as they are interested in picking up Muay Thai or any martial arts in general. Those who are inexperience can join our Beginner classes, and those who are experienced and know the basic strikes and blocks can join us for our Intermediate classes. For those in the classes, don’t worry too much about fitness level as you can go at your own pace and take breaks when you need to! Also, don’t worry about having to be extra strong as we prefer going technical first before focusing on power in the strikes. Currently, we don’t offer sparring during the Muay Thai classes (except for the last lesson). There is a certain level of contact that is expected during the classes, especially during the lessons on blocks and clinching, and the kicking pads are not exactly the softest thing in the world so participants would have to prepare themselves for that! For students who find it tougher to warm up to strangers, I highly recommend joining the classes with friends so that you have a partner that you’re comfortable around during the classes – we do a lot of pair work during the classes!

For those who are interested in going beyond the classes, and are interested in competing and are confident in their skills can try out for the NUS Muay Thai Fight Team – we usually hold try-outs at the start and at the end of the Semester (coinciding with the end of the Recreational Classes)!

What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS Muay Thai or is thinking about joining?

For those who want to join – focus on your form and technique first! Get them right before you throw in some strength into the strikes! One thing we like to focus on in the team is putting aside our egos and learning to block and counter the strikes properly without rushing and overwhelming our partner.

But most importantly, come relaxed and grateful – relaxed between strikes and during training, and grateful for your training partners and coaches.

with Hui Yi

How long have you been doing Muay Thai?

I joined in year 2 but I've wanted to try MT since sec school. I waited till uni cos’ gym memberships cost too much for my student budget hahaha. Joining the fight team is honestly one of the best decisions I’ve made in uni.

What do you like about NUS Muay Thai?

I like the structure and the people! I think there is this sense of responsibility when we train as a team even though MT is an individual sport. Culture in MT is to assist and learn from one another. Almost everybody is willing to help you as long as you show up and want to improve.

Would you recommend Muay Thai to an incoming freshman / other student?

Yes! MT is very fun!!! But if you’re looking for a sport just to keep fit then maybe not because it’s not all about cardio, we also focus a lot on techniques.

What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS Muay Thai or is thinking about joining?

Err I think train mindfully!! I think it helped when I started thinking about how to apply everything in sparring. And there is always something new to learn so try to focus on one or a few things everything training, can be as specific as blocking low kicks or trying out a counter during sparring.

with Yu Ping

How long have you been doing Muay Thai?

I started when I was in Year 1, sem 1 last year. I joined the beginner recreational classes and was accepted into the team at the end of the sem. Learning a martial art has always been a childhood dream of mine and I wanted to try something different from the sports that I did previously.

What do you like about NUS Muay Thai?

I like that in NUS Muay Thai, although it is an individual sport, the team spirit is definitely there too. Everyone is so helpful and nice! The team is made of a bunch of driven and disciplined people, yet there is the playful side too. We do have bonding sessions like the games day when we will play other sports like Frisbee, basketball or soccer. We also have fight camps which involves more games and sometimes a beach day too.

Would you recommend Muay Thai to an incoming freshman / other student?

Yes definitely! Muay Thai is fun, challenging and rewarding. For university level, Muay Thai is pretty safe. Of course there will be risk of injuries but I guess this applies to a lot of other sports too. We don’t do hard sparring normally, instead we do a lighter version called flow spar which focuses more on the techniques.

What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS Muay Thai or is thinking about joining?

Maybe can focus on getting the basics right first and also train some cardio? Muay Thai can easily get you out of breath! *haha*

Final Thoughts

I had a lot of fun training with NUS Muay Thai today. It’s rough, tough and lots of fun so if full-contact (done safely) is your thing, maybe give them a try! If the varsity team training seems a bit much, the recreational club might be more suited for you.

Recreational or competitive, if this article got you excited for this sport, do check out NUS Muay Thai's upcoming recruitment trials by referring to signup details here. The trials are on 17 January so hurry if you are interested.

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