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Muay Thai Fighter Camp 1996
Discipline and Quality: Muay Thai Fighter Camp 1996, By Steve Tarani
Re-printed from the original Black Belt article with permission of the Author
Posing for a photo-op at the Oregon Camp with the Field of Screams in the background. From left: Frank Cucci, Dan Inosanto, Ajarn Chai, Greg Nelson
Eighty warriors gathered together under a single roof. A balmy training-hall resonates with sounds of clashing shins and thumping heavy bags—you can cut the humidity with a sword. Packed like cattle into a dark and musty pen, eighty sweating bodies generated enough kinetic energy to light up New York City. Such were the sights, sounds and scents of the Thai Boxing Association of the USA’s sixth annual Pacific Northwest Muay Thai training camp at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.
Ajarn Chai led daily hikes through the lush lowland rainforests of Silver Falls State Park, Oregon which features waterfalls at almost every turn
Directed by Ajarn Surachai "Chai" Sirisute, President of the Thai Boxing Association of the USA(1), the camp was designed and executed as a professional fighter’s training camp for instructors and senior students. This grueling training regimen was attended by well-known martial artists such as the legendary Guro Dan Inosanto from Los Angeles, Professor Leonard Trigg from Oregon, Greg Nelson from Minnesota, Frank Cucci from Virginia and a host of other fighters from the Muay Thai stables of Spain, Holland, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Belgium and the Canary Islands.
Such hard-core personnel as CIA operatives, FBI and Secret Service agents, US Navy SEALs, Gold Team members, SWAT, DEA, cops and cadets filled the ranks as well as accountants and computer programmers. All ranging in ages from 15 to 60.
When asked what the main goal of the camp, Ajarn Chai crisply responded, "discipline".
And discipline it was. There was to be no talking between rounds. No slacking in form or effort. 200 pushups if you forgot to bow to your training partner. Up and stretched at 6:00 AM followed by at least a three mile run every day—rain or shine. No walking between training stations after the buzzer. You’ve got exactly 60 seconds to change equipment between rounds. The entire week would have brought a tear to the eye of any Marine Drill Sergeant.
"Discipline, however," continues Ajarn Chai, "is not the only reason this amp was designed. It was created to bring all instructors together from around the world, to help each other grow and further develop his/her skills as a fighter and a teacher."
Ajarn further explained how discipline and quality was the central focus of such a gathering. Ninety-nine percent of the time with instructors, (who are not professional fighters), it is usually the case that the teacher does not work out as hard as his student. Thus, there is a diminishing return of discipline and quality. To remedy this domino effect, the annual training camp, (available only to instructors or by invitation from Ajarn Chai), focuses primarily on discipline and quality.
Ajarn Chai’s philosophy emphasizes that whatever starts at the top ends up at the bottom. As an example, if a teacher is soft and lacks good form, then this is transferred to his students. However, should the instructor maintain a high degree of discipline and quality of form, then the integrity of Muay Thai is maintained and is directly transferred to the students.
Regarding the question of overall integrity of the martial art of Muay Thai Boxing, Ajarn Chai responds, "The student always does exactly what the instructor does. So discipline at the top filters down to discipline in the ranks. I want quality. When a students walks out of a Muay Thai Boxing school or when one of our fighters walks into the ring—I want quality—nothing less."
Quality is the word that best describes this year’s training camp.
Aside from the quality instruction from the founder himself, there was the overall teamwork of numerous staff and support personnel. Exquisite Thai food was prepared for both lunch and dinner in heaping quantities by authentic Thai chefs flown in from Los Angeles.
The logistical nightmare of sleeping, feeding and organizing the quality training of eighty participants is a mark of excellence in itself. Including twenty-seven staff members, there were a total of 107 mouths to feed and bodies to shower. Operationally as well as quality training, the camp was a noteworthy success.
On the first evening of the camp Ajarn Chai divided the company of 80 into three smaller groups of approximately 27 each. These were affectionately named: Group A, Group B and Group C.
Ajarn further created a Muay-Thai-camper species called the Fighting Group. Comprised of various members of each of the three sub-groups, this group was designated to endure additional hardships above and beyond the regularly scheduled training regiment (which itself was no walk in the park). Throughout the week, these various hardships (i.e., extra roadwork, additional sparring, etc.,) caused a diminishing effect on the number of Fighting Group members.
A typical day consisted of 5:45 AM wakeup call. Stretching at 6:00 AM followed by the morning run at 6:30. After the run, shadow boxing and whatever drills demanded by Fight Group leaders Greg Nelson, Frank Cucci, Jeff Jones, Doug Pandorf and Bob Carver were executed.
Breakfast and then came the work stations. There were three work areas: a shadow boxing station, focus pad/Muay Thai pad work station, and the heavy bags station (a total of twenty seven heavy punching bags thundered simultaneously in one room). There was one group of 27 fighters training at each station simultaneously. It was almost a mystical experience where you could actually feel the intensity of a combined force of focused energy.
At the buzzer, 160 hands came together and bowed to each other, plenty of heaving breathing, struggling to strap gear on and within sixty seconds groups A, B and C had quickly rotated to their next work station. With, of course, no talking.
On average, there was approximately 10 to 15 two or three-minute rounds, with 60 seconds break in between. This is what Ajarn Chai referred to as our "warm-up".
Immediately following "warm-up", all three groups were directed to an open, lumpy, moonscape field of dried grass and dust at the bottom of a nearby hill. Where, in the very hot late-morning sun, we began one-minute rounds of sparring in the dry, parched meadow, which was appropriately nicknamed "the field of screams".
Dan Inosanto with Suyoshi Abe in the "field of screams" working on plum sparring.
Guru Inosanto, Vice President of MTA, (who recently celebrated his 60th birthday), could be found shirt-less and sweltering in the blistering "field of screams" pounding out full-contact sparring drills with the rest of the fighters. He remained a beacon of inspiration to all of us during the entire week of pain and fun.
About 10 to 12 rounds later (on average) all three groups hit the road again for the post-warm-up/ after-sparring/ pre-lunch run.
Following the run would be more shadowboxing. The Fighting Group would splinter from the main group of 80 and return to the field of screams and execute 3-on-1 Prummb(2) exchanges for several 3 to 5 minute rounds followed by at least 20 reps of 8-count push-ups.
After lunch, training was the same as in the morning schedule: 10 to 15 rounds of "warm-up" followed by field of scream sparring and again, about 10 to 12 rounds later all three groups hit the road for the post-sparring afternoon run. Again, after the run, shadow-boxing and the Fighting Group would return to the field of screams and execute 3-on-1 Prummb exchanges for several 3 to 6 minute rounds followed by at least 30 push-ups, 30 squat jumps and flutter-kicks.
Ajarn Chai stressed throughout the camp through group leaders Greg Nelson and Frank Cucci reminding the Fight Group repeatedly that practice makes habit. You will do in the ring what you do in practice. Thus if you practice bad habits, you will fight with bad habits. What you do in training you will do in the street. Yet another crystal clear example of quality versus quantity-—"Better to go slow and steady with good form rather than fast and sloppy."
At night, a stream of slow moving bodies formed into a chow line that reeked of Tigerbalm, the unmistakable scent of Ben Gay and a host of other muscle-relaxing elixirs. The delicate olfactory blend of sweat-soaked leather from the punching bags, the pungent odor of various liniments and multi-coarse feast of fresh Thai cuisine made for an interesting dining experience.
The sweat pours after 30 rounds. Ajarn Chai supervises an afternoon session of circuit training at the Oregon Camp. Little Chai (at left) didn't expect, nor did he get any, slack from his dad.
The instructor’s class, mandatory meeting where Ajarn Chai would discuss various MTA training/teaching issues both international and domestic, followed dinner. He stressed heavily the need for less politics in the training community. Quotes Ajarn: "There are more politics going on in the martial arts than in the White House."
Mid-week, during one of the instructor’s classes, a written test of 100 questions (45 of which were memorization of Muay Thai terminology) was given. The following morning, if you missed more than 15 questions, you would be on the ground churning out 100 push-ups and 50 sit-ups. More than 75% of the class was trying to hold down their pancakes by push-number 87.
Sitting at dinner during the sunset, a video camera would span across the training camp. Its inquisitive lens would pick up a beautiful Salem Oregon sunset complete with the silhouettes of Ajarn Chai and Guro Inosanto tossing a competitive match of knife-throwing and the moaning of groaning of several campers clutching their sore lower backs while rubbing their aching shins.
As the week came to a close—sore muscles, blisters, limping, stretching and the continual decrease in the number of Fighter Group members was commonplace. Neoprene braces and cotton wraps began growing on a multitude of kneecaps and the usage of athletic tape had developed to epidemic proportions.
By Friday afternoon tired and sore, but smiling, the entire fighter Corp was splintering off into groups yet again. This time it was for rides back to the airport. Although aching, all were sad to leave the echoes of pounding bags and clashing shins at the Oregon camp until 1997. After all was said and done, a little banged up and worn out was a small price to pay for taking home a one year supply of discipline and quality.
At the Oregon Camp Ajarn Chai demonstrates his like-a-down-elbow knife throwing technique to Frank Cucci at the Oregon Camp.