Against the recent backdrop of plunging temperatures, snowfall and torrential rain, a fair few of us have probably ditched our hopes of running a marathon. But Muay Thai kickboxing classes – taught by the well-known KO Bloodline team in Hackney – combine art, discipline and self-defence to give both a unique and fulfilling workout.Upon arrival, there’s no time for small talk. Everyone launches their bags to the back with haste and we immediately start skipping broken up by brief but intense spurts of bodyweight exercises.Men built like tanks start doing push-ups, burpees, lunges, crunches and jumping jacks with the intensity of raging bulls. By the time 10 minutes have passed, I am sweating profusely and my lungs are threatening to quit as I stifle my wheezes. But as the instructor Paul Marut weaves in and out à la army general and encourages me to keep going, my mind is refreshingly calm.
Like everybody else, I’m focused and I join in with the rhythmic exhaling as though I know what I’m doing.
“Stop!” says a barely audible Paul. “Grab your gloves.” Everybody rushes to the equipment box and I soon see why as I meander across the room. I fish out the last, sweat-soaked pair of gloves and reluctantly pull them on.We partner up and get straight into the parlous striking exercises. It is at this point that I realise why this enfeebling sport is referred to as the “science of eight limbs”. The uncompromising and unforgiving combination of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet to cripple one’s opponent renders it more violent and physically demanding than kickboxing.
“Punch, punch, clinch, knee, knee” the orders ring out as I swing my arms at my opponent. Big mistake. Paul’s eyes seek me out from across the room and with one fell swoop, he is reminding me about keeping my guard up.
The unforgiving and relentless pace makes me realise what a complete workout this session is. Along with the bodyweight, pad and
cardiovascular exercises, an average-sized person can expect to burn up to 690 calories in a typical one-hour training session. To put this into perspective, running, lifting weights and ballroom dancing don’t even come close to the efficacy of Muay Thai.
As we start working on our clinches, knees, and kicks, I feel energised and can’t help but want more, even if my knees are getting chafed by the leather punch bag. My mind has long forgotten that I’m tired and I focus solely on my movement and agility to react to my opponent’s powerful blows.
The truth is, there is not one iota of intimidation. Students leave their attitude at the door and in the class everyone is a family, helping and willing each other to succeed.
“The sport is not about hurting each other, beating each other up or knocking each other out. It’s about spirit, dedication, teamwork and friendship,” says Arnold Oborotov, a KO instructor and professional Muay Thai fighter at the KO Bloodline Gym on Lower Clapton Road.
“We have a lot of youngsters coming and spending their time here instead of hanging around in the streets. We have a lot of good characters in this gym and youngsters see them and they follow their path and that keeps them away from trouble.
“People stay healthy and they get rid of bad emotions by using their energy up on a bag.”
At the end of the session, Paul takes us through some stretches and we cool down – but not before some more gruelling bodyweight exercises.
At the end of the class, I am completely exhausted and dreading the commute ahead of me. But luckily, even the stench of man-odour that pervades my nostrils isn’t enough to dampen my spirits. I head to the bus stop feeling slightly less guilty about the broken new year’s resolution amid the downpour.
Check out Romil’s interview with Paul for more.