Our capital city has a well-deserved reputation as a global city: one open to the world and a leader in finance and commerce, in the tech sector and in culture.
If you were looking for a night at the theatre, you would have your pick of them. If you wanted a unique dining experience, you are spoilt for choice. For pomp, you can witness the changing of the guard or tour any number of historic sites.
You might take in a court case or a debate at Parliament, for that matter.
At the risk of sounding like a travel brochure, London does indeed have it all.
What about sports? Need you ask?
London is the only city to have hosted the Summer Olympics three times – granted, that is a statistic that doesn’t necessarily speak to Londoners’ love of sports but it is remarkable.
Like the rest of the country, we are mad for football; five of our clubs are in the Premier League. Those are not the only football clubs that call London home, either. And we also have two rugby teams and two Test cricket teams.
People come from all over the world to run the London Marathon and to watch history being made at Wimbledon.
Perhaps it is precisely because London is so very sporty that combat sports hardly get a mention.
Boxing – from bare-knuckle fighting to Savate, the French style of boxing named after old shoes; Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu all get their turn to shine in London arenas, though perhaps not as brightly as the more popular sports.
Maybe it’s because they are not as well-known. Or perhaps it could be because of the rigorous training involved; indeed, being a martial artist is a lifestyle, not something athletes do when called upon.
With a new year about to dawn, maybe you would investigate a centuries-old fighting style that is rapidly gaining traction in combat sports circles.
Perhaps you would like to become a Muay Thai fighter.
To get you started, we toured Muay Thai clubs in and around London; now we bring you the best ones.
A Brief Explanation of Muay Thai
If you are new to combat sports or have never heard of Muay Thai, or know only vaguely that it is some sort of martial arts fighting, you may need a bit more information about it before deciding it is something you may want to engage in.
Today, Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand but, for centuries, it was how the Thai military fought wars.
Muay Boran, an umbrella term that encompasses Muay Thai fighting, was a fighting tactic used in warfare but it was also a form of entertainment. Fighters would face off in temples, generally for festivals and other celebrations.
The Thai word ‘muay’ literally means boxer, making the translation of Muay Thai Thai boxing. As a Briton interested in becoming a Muay Thai fighter, you would be designated ‘nac muay farang’, literally ‘foreign boxer’.
You cannot be ‘nac muay’ unless you are ethnically Thai.
Muay Thai is called the Art of Eight Limbs because, as opposed to western styles of boxing that only employ fists as strike points, it permits fists and feet, elbows and knees; eight strike points.
Besides kicking, Muay Thai differs from other styles of boxing in other ways. Clinching, prohibited in other combat sports is a ‘legal’ tactic in Muay Thai bouts, as is grappling.
Furthermore, the shin is generally used for kicking while the feet are used more as a defensive measure, to push your opponent away. Elbow and knee strikes are particularly dangerous moves both because they are made with hardier body parts and because they can be especially forceful when delivered with the body’s full momentum.
A spinning elbow strike is an excellent case in point.
To deliver such a blow, the fighter steps into his opponent, pivoting so that his side faces the other fighter. He then finishes the pivot, driving his elbow into the opponent’s ribcage, abdomen or nose.
If you can imagine a roundhouse kick with a pointed elbow connecting rather than a foot or a shin, you have the right idea.
Other strikes include:
- Mid-air elbow strike: the fighter leaps up, landing his elbow on the crown of his opponent’s head.
- Axe heel kick: the fighter kicks his leg up high; on the down-swing, his heel hits his opponent’s head or shoulder.
- Curving knee kick: same as a roundhouse kick but the knee connects with the ribs rather than the foot
- Flying knee: imagine kneeing someone with force added by a leap upwards.
- This move can be intensified by holding your opponent in a bent-over position.
- Knee slap: a good move if your opponent is grappling you; hit him with the inside of your knee.
- Swan neck: one arm is draped over your opponent’s neck in preparation for a knee strike
You might think, by these descriptions, that Muay Thai is a particularly brutal combat sport. To an extent, you are right; the discipline started as a series of hand to hand combat techniques.
The trick is to avoid these strikes while landing blows yourself. That calls for a fair measure of strategy as well as being in peak physical form.
Getting in shape is why most Thai boxers in Birmingham practise this martial art; something you too will do once you start your training.
Now we will take you on a tour of London's best gyms and clubs for learning Muay Thai.
The London Fight Factory
Close to the Old Street roundabout is one of the city’s most popular mixed martial arts gym.
There, you will find a wide array of martial arts disciplines to choose from besides Muay Thai: MMA, wrestling, sambo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu among them.
The trainers here are experienced martial artists; Muay Thai coach Nick Forrer is himself an experienced fighter.
What we really like about this facility is that they expect you to be totally committed to your art, whether you are learning for self-defense or to compete.
Of course, there is plenty more to like, such as their facility with its matted floors, its full array of heavy bags to work on your kicks and punches; the Thai pads and focus mitts to work on your aim and their strength training area, complete with frames and weights.
Finally, we love that they offer a free trial session; we couldn’t find a Muay Thai club in Cardiff that offered the same.
If you have the impression that Muay Thai is a males-only discipline; this club should disabuse you of that notion: not only does Diesel Gym eagerly welcome female fighters, one of their Muay Thai coaches is two-time world champion Amanda Kelly.
Diesel Gym recently relocated to a brand new venue in East London, on Dockside Road, in Royal Albert Docks; that means that everything is brand new and squeaky clean – or, at least, in good condition.
There, you will find everything you need to train as a Muay Thai fighter, from pads and Muay Thai gloves to heavy bags and skipping ropes to get your heart rate up.
You may join your coach or fellow martial artists in the ring for a vigorous bout of sparring or simply watch as others as they engage in fights.
We really like that there are Ladies Only Muay Thai classes, as well as classes for every level from beginner through professional fighters.
Belfast Muay Thai clubs also have some pretty advanced fighters…
Cliff Bura joins Amanda Kelly in coaching, adding his more-than 25 years of experience as an international fighter to her championship record, making them one of the most experienced coaching duos in the country.
Add that to their exceedingly reasonable rate of £10 per lesson, and… I wish there were a Muay Thai club near me what had that combination!
If you want more than guts and glory out of your time at the gym, this is the club for you. They have a sauna and a juice bar, a massage suite and nutritional coaching on demand.
Still, this is no glitzy franchise gym that wants your membership but delivers little in return. Urban Kings has much to offer once you get past that juice bar.
Naturally, we are most interested in Muay Thai but here, you may touch of a variety of disciplines, from kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to yoga and strength training.
The coaches at Urban Kings are all experienced Thai boxers – at least, those who train in Thai boxing, and they welcome every age and level of fighter.
They offer a variety of membership packages including an unlimited joint membership for £126 per month, per person. If that seems a bit steep, you might consider their individual membership plan; £85 per month buys you unlimited access during off-peak hours.
Try as we might, we couldn’t find such a generous membership plan at Muay Thai clubs in Manchester!
Naturally, these are not the only gyms in London where you might practise Muay Thai but they are highly rated among fighters and trainees.
If you know of a Muay Thai club that deserves mention, why not let us know in the comments below?
Now discover Muay Thai clubs in Glasgow that could give London clubs a run for their money…