Even though I never really left San Luis Obispo, I’m now back and settled in my new home that is too bitter to be called bittersweet.
The important part is that I am now a member of the Budo Ryu. Instead of spending several hours watching students throw combos and leg checks for my journalism class, I am now there with them.
The time I spent at Sityodtong was no where near in vain. Kru Eric Sandalh invited me into Muay Thai Level 2 class upon asking me how my training at Sityodtong went. I can only image what my face must have looked like when he asked me that.
On my first day back under Eric’s instruction, he asked Geri Ooi, a well decorated fighter and instructor to be my partner for the day. Sure I was intimidated, but Geri’s vibe and personality completely smashed my anxiety. I don’t know how old she is, but she could definitely pass for a college age student with her zesty attitude and straight-forward diction.
Having Geri as a partner was a privilege and an honor. (As is anything with Muay Thai.) Her instruction was extremely helpful and blunt, which I always appreciate. When I did something wrong, she corrected me with a witty comment and smile. She didn’t hold back when I was holding the pad for her; something I should expect if I aspire to attended the Level 3 classes. Her knees had so much power, I felt like my spleen, (or some internal organ of mine), had ruptured. My abdomen was is in so much pain that when I got home, I couldn’t finish my bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats. And who am I to turn down a bowl of cereal.
I do admit, switching from a northern Thai boxing stance, to a traditional boxing stance, and now back to a northern stance is hard to adjust to. And it’s not just the stances that take sometime to getting used to.
Training at the Budo Ryu during the school year is much more different from training at Sityodtong during the summer. At the summer months at Sityodtong, things felt more relaxed, but extremely disciplined. My Fall quarter here at the Budo Ryu is swift, but on target.
As soon as school began, I was only able to come into the gym about three times that week due to WOW Week and start of the quarter celebrations. Nathan Zimmerman, threw me a comment that made me feel guilty about how long it was taking for me to get into a routine. I then remembered something I read on Sityodtong’s website. It basically said that if you can’t come into their gym at least twice a week, they don’t want you coming at all.
Muay Thai is a commitment. If you treat it as a workout, come in for five hours a week. If it’s a sport to you, eight hours a week. If it’s your life, you should be in the gym twice a day, two hours each time, five to seven days a week.
I can’t remember what was going on in my head when I decided to pick Sityodtong L.A. Muay Thai Camp. I was probably too lazy to continue looking for other gyms to train at (This is probably those few times indolent behavior will actually benefit you). Sityodtong L.A. was the best decision I made this summer. It was a stand off decision between continuing my training in Muay Thai or starting something new with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I think it was my ambition to become a better kickboxer than my peers back at Cal Poly and my goal to be a total bad ass had something to do with my decision.
My first day was on a Wednesday, a sparring day. Not really the best day for any new person to start a boxing class, but because this is Sityodtong L.A., they are prepared when things like this happen. Of course I was nervous and naturally I was highly intimidated. After doing the warm up with only one hand wrapped, (I was fairly embarrassed to be honest), Kru Walter “Sleeper” Michalowski wrapped my second hand. I wish I took this moment more seriously because at the time, I wasn’t aware of how knowledgeable, experienced, and illustrious Kru Walter is. Spend one class under his instruction and you’ll know that this guy knows his shit.
With each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning class I took under Kru Walter, I had an amazing experience. Any part of the exhausting warm up wasn’t a punishment because I felt that Kru almost treated us as equals. When we’re running laps around the ring, he’s doing his own laps on the treadmill or doing his own round of sit-ups with us as well. The days he doesn’t, he tells us stories; stories from Thailand that leave the same impression as the story of a war hero from overseas. They describe a time before he spoke Thai and how he was forced to learn the language because his coaches didn’t speak English. As the stories progress, you begin to think of him as a war hero who fought overseas and brought home medals. But he’s a different type of war hero because he didn’t come home with the weight of death on his shoulders, just the weight of title belts.
Training at Sityodtong L.A., your peers are also there to coach you. If you’re not popping your heel enough, the Professor will tell you until you will. If you can’t bring your foot back far enough after throwing him in a clinch, David’s going to remind you about it. Ramon won’t hesitate to hit you in the head with the Muay Thai pads if you don’t keep your hands up. If Anthony is padding you, don’t worry if you mess up, he wants you to get the technique down the first round then he’ll burn you out in the second. Kiara is patient and experienced enough to work with any Muay Thai newbie who doesn’t understand how to hold pads for an elbow. Alex and Steve are down to let you take a free swing at them, but do it correctly. Meanwhile, Ako and Tracy are there to cheer you on when you’re ready to quit because they know you still got it in you. And finally Ozzy is there to offer an answer to all your Muay Thai concerns; whether it be about what the hell duck jumps do or if ankle braces are just a placebo or really do help.
The structure of the classes are simple, you warm up, stretch, shadow box, learn a new technique, practice that same technique on the Muay Thai pads, about two to three rounds of kicking conditioning and finally a round of sit-ups, duck jumps, and bam, your done. All within one hour. But once you’re done with the warm up, bust out your towels because you’re bound to be dripping with sweat and it won’t stop there. The conditioning done on the pads is meant to be done hard, quick, and importantly, correctly. That’s where the difference between a kickboxing and a Muay Thai class is: kickboxing is about how many, Muay Thai is about how many, how well, and how powerful. When it comes to mastering these, you loose track of time because your focusing really hard, but mostly because you see Kru watching you. If Kru sees you not doing it right, he will come over and show you how to do it correctly. Beware, he doesn’t hold back.
A gym’s personality and family environment gives credibility to any gym. Sityodtong L.A. welcomed me to their gym and into their family for the swift summer months. Every member has their own character and individual personality that really contributes to distinguish Sityodtong L.A. from other Muay Thai gyms in the area. Go to any 24 Hour Fitness, L.A. Workout, Bally’s, etc. and you wouldn’t feet that same feeling you get from here. Sityodtong L.A. is there to support each other when it’s needed most: doing heavy pad work before a fight, during a fight, or probably even when someone’s getting married. Regardless of the number of members or the fans on Facebook, each Nak Muay, (Thai Boxer) is humble enough to welcome you to the family by greeting you with a “Sa wa dee kop!”
I’m not done with MMA, let alone Muay Thai.
I’m just done with the mandatory 400 word count blogs and the deadlines that come with it.
I started this blog out for my Journalism class. It was multimedia based journalism and prior to that, I thought blogging was ridiculous. But I learned so much out of this blog, that this summer, I decided to continue my Muay Thai training.
Although I am not residing in San Luis Obispo this summer, I was able to find a gym in my hometown of Pasadena.
Sityontong L.A. is one of those few gyms found in the United States that actually has a branch in Thailand. One of the reasons why this gym is legit is because the gym is associated with Kru Yodtong Senanan. He’s a big name in Muay Thai. According to one of the instructors of Sityontong, Kru Yodtong will get recognized on the streets on the occasion. That’s how big he is.
Intimidation was an understatement for what I was feeling when I walked into the gym. However, the vibe given off by those residing inside was the absolute opposite. The instructors approach you before you approach them and make sure that you’re all set before a class.
The best part I get out of this gym is that the way you are taught here in L.A. is similar to the way you would be taught in Thailand. Granted, this was another plus for me because I aspire someday to study abroad in Thailand and hopefully train there as well.
The training here is hard. It makes me proud to be a part of such a hard sport and I feel I get bragging rights that come with the sport. If I were to tell someone that I practice Muay Thai, and they know what it is, that person is automatically impressed and thinks of me as a bad ass.
Uniform requirements are established and I finally have my own pair of Muay Thai shorts. I look forward to showing them off in the Fall in addition to what I learn from Sityontong.
If you’ve come here to get a workout, you’re in the wrong place. The Budo Ryu’s Muay Thai class is not a place to get a workout. It’s for those who want to learn about Thailand’s culture, how Muay Thai is a big part of the nation and learn Muay Thai. Be wary: Muay Thai is not a sport for everyone. It’s for those who are willing to get beaten and battered.
Known as the “Art of Eight Limbs”, Thai boxers have been known, unlike western boxers and kickboxers, to be able to utilize their knees and elbows in addition to hands and feet. “They developed most of their technique to use their elbows which would cut very similar to a sword or create the same kind of traumatic damage.” Sandahl says about the historic Thai soldiers who used Thai boxing on the battlefield.
Muay Thai in Thailand is very different from the Thai boxing done here in the states. The fighters in Thailand start as young as 8 years and compete once they’re 12, but once they hit 25 years of age, they’ve hit the retirement age. “It’s a hard and demanding lifestyle,” Sandahl’s tone in his voice that suggests that he knows how demanding boxing in Thailand alone can become. Boxers from Thailand, and probably from any third world country use boxing as an escape from the poverty that they live in. Boxers in the United States, me included, Thai box because it’s cool.
My original reason to do Muay Thai was to get started in MMA. The only knowledge I had prior about Muay Thai was that it was used by some UFC fighters. I knew I would be learning some pretty awesome techniques that wouldn’t be able to compare to Tae Kwan Do. Once I actually took the course, my reason changed. I now wanted to become an all around bad ass and eventually have to register myself as a weapon because of my knowledge in martial arts.
Sandahl, who has no experience in the ring with MMA, but can hold his ground, stands by the option as Muay Thai good for a stand up fighting style. “I think it needs to have a good blend of western boxing incorporated in it. I really think that’s the one thing Muay Thai itself is lacking It’s just the hand speed and power and unpredictability of western boxers. If you get a really good Muay Thai striker that really understands how to throw their hands, that is one dangerous person on their feet.”
For those who are interested in taking a Muay Thai course, ASI offers Muay Thai as part of their instructional classes. It will return to the course listing in Fall Quarter. If you enroll during the school year, and are interested in continuing, Sandahl, (and me as well), recommends that you enroll at his gym to become a better boxer.
I still remember the day we started Krav Maga during Winter Quarter Muay Thai. It was the day my usual partners both Aaron and Brandon were absent. When Eric told us to find a partner and get a kick shield I scanned the area looking for a potential partner.
This guy was in front of me, and he was also in a dispute about partners with some of his friends. I don’t remember the exact situation, but one of their friends was missing for the day and this guy in front of me didn’t have a partner.
I decided to be a confident young woman and offer to be this guy’s partner and I am damn glad I did cause this guy was very attractive. It was the best Krav Maga lesson I have had yet because not only was my partner pleasing to the eye and the nicest guy, but Kru Eric was pleased with how I was well I was learning the defensive techniques.
Krav Maga is a fighting style that I like to think of Israeli counter-terrorist stuff. Not only is this statement true, but it makes you look like a bad ass. It gives you a good sense of protection by knowing how to defend yourself through practical situations with practical methods. Krav Maga was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, an Israeli, but roots of the style can be traced back to Muay Thai therefore making it a hybrid martial art.
Although Krav is not a good idea for something to use in the ring, it’s a great tool to use when you’re on the street. It’s a defensive method used by police forces, Israeli Defense Forces, and even Liam Neeson for his role in the film, Taken.
Nathan Zimmerman of The Budo Ryu and Sleeping Tiger Fitness believes that if any demographic should be learning Krav Maga, it should be females. His reasons are as practical: Krav Maga is a street art and it’s designed to help people survive an attack on the street.
Although I don’t know much Krav, what I do know is how to get out of a choke from four different angles and counterattack. As Kru Eric states, “It’s a dirty art.” Dirty as in the sense that you’re allowed to go below the belt. During drills, Kru Eric instructed us to aim for the chin when we kick because the groin will get in the way first.
Currently, not just in San Luis Obispo, but in all of the central coast, the only school offering Krav Maga is The Budo Ryu. If you would like more information, you can check out The Budo Ryu‘s website and the official Krav Maga Wordwide website.
KT Streder and Nathan Zimmerman are the only two people present at the Budo Ryu on a Friday afternoon. Streder and Zimmerman are both instructors for a new body conditioning program that requires special equipment that you usually wouldn’t use for a workout.
The thing is, other people at the gym have discovered the uniqueness of their equipment and decided to use them without Zimmerman’s or Streder’s permission. Naturally, those who used their equipment didn’t return it to its proper places. Zimmerman and Streder decided to take action after this offense and buy locks and chains to secure their equipment so wandering hands don’t come across them.
The Sleeping Tiger Fitness program, (named after Zimmerman’s fight name) is geared to fighters and non-fighters alike. “So depending on who you are it’s going to be different,” Zimmerman says, going down to his knees after standing for about four minutes. “Obviously we expect more out of the people on [a] fight team than the person who’s coming in to get in shape. We do a lot of stuff that’s gonna be easy to apply to real life and in the ring.”
The structure of Streder’s and Zimmerman’s of program is hybrid of things they have learned from their education as kinesiology students and internships. This is why their program is something they developed on their own, but components are borrowed from what they have learned together.
“The difference is that we’ve been able to manipulate the exercises for specific needs or just to make it better. We have fun with the exercises. They’re not just exercises to us. We’ll just come to the gym and mess around with the stuff and make up new stuff,” Streder says comparing the difference between their program and what she and Zimmerman have learned over the years.
“We’re trying to teach them how use their body correctly at the same time,” Zimmerman adds.
It’s important to know the difference I mentioned earlier between lifting weights for cosmetic reasons and for a fighters reasons. Cosmetic lifting is the type of lifting that can be found at any gym, a body building style of lifting weights intended to get a maximum growth. Fighters need the same amount of muscle strength without the big muscles. They can get that from high intensity resistance muscle training. “You’re lifting heavy weights, but you’re not doing it slowly necessarily,” Zimmerman has now moved to the even more comfortable position of sitting with one leg bent and hugging the other.
So what if you want to get into MMA? Should one hire a professional martial arts trainer?
“If they’re really serious about going into MMA, they need to hire a trainer. They can read books and get an idea of what they should be doing, but the trainer, specially if it’s a college educated trainer, so they should be going for CSCS certified trainer, not just regular personal trainers. [CSCS Trainers] have such a bigger knowledge base and understanding of what it takes to get prepared like that.”
For the college students that can’t afford a specialized personal trainer, (like myself), Zimmerman recommends metabolic exercises. A super high intensity work out that doesn’t involve heavy weights.
Streder gets the gear locked up in time for the 5:30 p.m. Krav Maga class. The two of them move onto another project that involved a wheel, a hammer and hole. From inside the gym, a banging noise is heard until it gets drowned out by the workout music played by both the jiu-jitsu class and Krav Maga lesson.
A hour goes by, and it’s now time for the Muay Thai camp class to begin. Zimmerman has his hands wrapped up in distinguishable colored green wraps. Zimmerman then jogs to across the gym floor to the locker to get to the gear Streder had locked up earlier. He sits there fumbling, with the lock trying to get it open.
After numerous failed attempts, Zimmerman calls out to Streder saying something along the lines if she remembers the combination to the lock. Streder comes over commenting on Zimmerman’s short term memory and only takes two tries to get the lock to open.
For those interesting in trying out Sleeping Tiger Fitness program, the first class is free. For more information, you can check out The Budo Ryu‘s website and look under the programs they offer.
It’s the start of many lovely Friday afternoons that become a precursor to the coming summer months. Winter has retreated and the weather is getting significantly warmer compared to the average 60 degrees San Luis Obispo has been braving for what seemed long enough. This amazing April weather is a reason why the main floor of a martial arts gym on South Higuera is next to empty.
There’s a Krav Maga class scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., but it’s already well past the start time and the instructor is running late. However, it appears that what few students that decided to sacrifice their beautiful Friday, are used to a delayed instructor.
Andrew Sullivan, 26, and Seth Hutchinson, 33, both live in San Luis Obispo, seem indifferent about their choice of coming to class today as they grab jump ropes and begin with their warm up. Joseph Barnash, a third-year civil engineer, also joins in with Sullivan and Hutchinson in the warmup after taking a couple punches at a nearby punching bag.
A door in the back opens and in walks Eric Sandahl and a white curly haired dog at his heels. He’s wearing an olive Krav Maga shirt and a pair of surfing shorts that match his shirt. The students continue warming up, but watch their instructor in anticipation, waiting for instructions for the rest of the warmup. After speaking with a friend, Instructor Eric, or Kru Eric as he is formally called, tells his students to begin choking drills.
In the room where Kru Eric walked through, there is another class going on, but the instructor also appears to be missing.
Everyone who is present is warming up for a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu class. A man in red and black shorts is doing deadlifts with what appears to be 200 pounds. He finishes and moves to a smaller but still loaded, weight to do bicep curls. He carefully watches his stance in the mirror, all while making faces as his muscles feel the burn. Besides him is another man in white shorts, also doing bicep curls and making faces in the mirror with each repetition. A young woman moves towards the punching bags near by the man in red and black shorts. Behind them are two young men doing sit ups with a medicine ball. Another man doing a cardio exercise consisting of dropping into a squat, throwing you legs back to perform a push-up, then returning back into the squat to proceed into jumping in the air.
This continues for another five to seven minutes, and the instructor has still not made themselves present. Or have they?
Andrew Kader is a second year business major and is late for his Krav Maga lesson. Kru Eric is lenient and doesn’t pressure him as he casually wraps his hands. Kru Eric’s dog, Miles wanders around the gym floor, doing his best not to be trampled on as the Krav students spar with each other. The dog senses the hostility on the floor and gravitates to the relaxed environment radiating from Kader. Miles sniffs Kader, pauses to watch him wrap his hands and lays down next to him.
Once the warm up is finished for the jiu-jitsu students they all work together to return the warm up equipment. The man in the black and red shorts proceeds to take off his damp shirt and continues to put the gear away with the others. Once all the gear is cleared from the floor the students partner up and begin wrestling with each other. However, the man in the black shorts doesn’t find a partner. With a clean shirt on his back, he watches the others wrestle with each other.
Caleb Lopez, 29, is today’s Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructor.
This is just another Friday at Kru Eric’s gym, the Budo Ryu. What began as friends training in Kru Eric’s garage with beaten kick shields and a punching bag, became a 20,000 square feet business offering classes in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and proudly has the title of the only gym on the central coast that offers Krav Maga.