Jessica Frias isn’t new to physical exercise and combat sports, she a long-time practitioner of submission wrestling and current fitness trainer for Gold’s Gym (Greenhills branch). But, right before sweating it out in the martial art of Muay Thai — for the first time — at SPRAWL-MMA gym in Cubao, the 22-year-old iron lady admits that she got in an unfamiliar territory.
“I’m so excited! Though, I still expect to experience some difficulty as I am used to different movements in my core sports of grappling and weightlifting. May konting training din naman ako sa striking, pero casual lang with my close friends in martial arts, and never like this na formal training in Muay Thai.”
The art of Muay Thai, which (as the name suggests) originated from Thailand, is also known as “The Art of Eight Limbs,” as it comprehensively employs strikes with fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet in fighting an opponent. It also uses various clinching and some takedown techniques.
Muay Thai continues to gain popularity in the country. The amateur movement of the sport is governed by the Muay Association of the Philippines (MAP), and SPRAWL MMA gym where Jessica trains is an accredited member.
Jessica, clad in her tank top and Muay Thai shorts, puts on hand wraps under the trained and watchful eye of Kru (Coach) Ferlin “Bobot” Mercurio – a duly-certified instructor and Muay Thai. Next, she warms up with jogging, stretching and various other movements including a three-minute jump rope exercise. “I remember doing this as a kid,” Jessica shares with a giggle and more pronounced depth and speed in breathing afterwards.
Upon climbing the ring, Kru Bobot teaches Jessica some basic footwork, followed by “shadow fighting” with basic strikes in Muay Thai. (Shadow fighting is practicing fight moves without an opponent or equipment; it’s like fighting against air.)
Let’s start hitting!
Now it’s time for Jessica to get rough and start using her eight limbs to inflict damage…on the pads worn by Kru Bobot.
Jessica, now wearing gloves, assumes an orthodox striking stance with her arms cocked at her sides and with left foot and shoulder forward. She jabs repeatedly by extending her left arm to land her fist on the pad. Then, with her other arm, she hits for straight punches with her right fist.
Kru Bobot then instructs his game and determined client to execute an uppercut. Starting with one fist at waist level, Jessica strikes upward at the pad. (This punch often targets the chin.)
Next in line is striking with that sharp and hard pair of elbows – thrown from different angles. With all those fundamental strikes using the arms, Jessica does combinations of them on the pads in three sets of three minutes each, with a minute rest in between.
Now it’s time to use the legs as weapons. Kru Bobot teaches Jessica how to fire vicious roundhouse kicks, and the latter obliges by powerfully crashing her shins on the pads. Her coach also instructs her on hitting with the soles of her feet via front push kicks on his belly pad.
Finally, it’s time for the notorious knee strikes, with and without clinching the opponent’s head.
With her new arsenal of strikes using her eight limbs, our enthusiastic trainee finishes another three rounds of three minutes each in beating the pads.
Now the hard part is over, and it’s time to soften and cool down before ending the session. Kru Bobot assists in cooling down Jessica properly by gently stretching and massaging her limbs.
The cool down session after a rigorous training or exercise, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), helps “reduce heart and breathing rates, gradually cool body temperature, and return muscles to their optimal length-tension relationships, prevent venous pooling of blood in the lower extremities, which may cause dizziness or possible fainting, and restore physiologic systems close to baseline.”
A visibly satisfied Jessica enthusiastically shares at the end of her Muay Thai training, “It was fun! It was a great total body workout. Also, maganda ring matuto ng mga self-defense moves from Muay Thai, which could come in handy in case certain dangerous circumstances arise against me or my loved ones. Pero huwag naman sana, knock on wood! I commit to train here in Muay Thai at least two times a week.”
In photos: Jessica Frias and Kru Ferlin “Bobot” Mercurio; taken by Jonathan Malabed.
Karlo Sevilla’s poems have been published in Philippines Graphic, Philippines Free Press and Pacifiqa, and have appeared or are forthcoming in international literary magazines I am not a silent poet, Spank the Carp and Pilgrim. A wrestling coach and still an active grappling competitor, he holds a blue belt in both Brazilian Luta Livre and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.