Martial arts often look pretty tough, but it's not all about the fight: Those graceful kicks and powerful punches can spice up a fitness routine and get you into great shape.
With Muaythai, an ancient Thai martial art and international sport, you'll get a whole-body workout that will keep you strong, balanced and confident, in terms of self-defense.
For those not familiar with the term Muaythai, it is, quite simply, Thai boxing - muay means boxing. But its name can often mean it is overlooked as a harmless fitness activity because it sounds aggressive and violent. Is it?
"Not really," says Francois Mohede, or Frans, co-owner of Baan Muay Thai Club in South Jakarta. "Muaythai also emphasizes physical exercise; it actually incorporates heavy cardio training."
According to Frans, people often confuse Muaythai with kickboxing.
"*Muaythai and kickboxing* have the same basic techniques, but the styles *of the techniques* are certainly different," he says.
Muaythai uses a different fighting position and includes certain moves not allowed in kickboxing such as elbows, knees and low kicks.
In many countries, Frans says, Muaythai has been chosen as an alternative form of exercise, although it was created as a martial art.
"We used to wonder why Muaythai can't attract a lot of enthusiasts in Indonesia like other martial arts, such as capoeira and jujitsu," he says. "Then we realized that it could be because the word *boxing' has scared Indonesian people off."
Hence the emphasis on the original Thai name: "We're popularizing it as *Muaythai' here, not Thai boxing," Frans says. "We want to introduce Muaythai as part of a healthy lifestyle with our call of *come train and get fit with us'."
And get fit you can. An entire Muaythai training session combines a warm-up along with flexibility, balance, coordination, stamina and strength workouts.
A Muaythai workout, therefore, can help increase agility, speed, cardiovascular endurance and concentration. It also has some added benefits that it will help with self-defense and stress relief.
"Muaythai is referred to as *The Art of Eight Limbs', as the two fists, two elbows, two shins and two knees are all used as weapons," Frans says.
The fists and elbows are used to attack, and the shins are used to block and strike. The knees are the defensive weapons.
Almost all techniques in Muaythai use the entire body: Rotating the hip with each punch, kick and block. The rotation of the hips in Muaythai techniques, and its intensive focus on the "core muscles" - the abdominal and surrounding muscles - is what sets Muaythai apart from other martial arts.
With these qualities, "You will definitely get fit, lose weight, build muscle and at the same time you will learn how to defend yourself," says Frans. In addition, "Your concentration skills will also be developed as you train your punches in sequences, like in the pad work training."
Frans, who is also an actor, says he himself has benefited a lot from Muaythai, including losing about 13 kilograms.
"I've already proved it myself, as has my wife," he says, referring to actress and singer Amara of trio Lingua. "Muaythai truly works for us in shaping our bodies."
Just like this celebrity couple, another Muaythai enthusiast, Melly Rais, practices Thai boxing to stay in shape.
"Muaythai doesn't only burn fat, but can also tighten our body and tone our muscles," says the 19-year-old member of the Baan Muay Thai Club.
"It is so much fun to learn how to kick and to punch," Melly laughs. "After all, Muaythai is a self-defense technique, so I can defend myself in the case of an emergency. That's one very important thing for girls these days," she adds.
Siti Andi Mega is another devotee who says Muaythai has helped her to get fit, but in a fun way.
"For me, Muaythai is more fun because it's much more challenging than my old and monotonous fitness routines at the gym," says the 22-year-old. "I can tell from my sweat that I have done really extensive exercise, which means I also burn more fat."
After practicing Muaythai for only a month, Mega feels she has more stamina to support her daily activities, saying "I feel healthier and barely get tired now."
Doesn't she feel Muaythai is too backbreaking?
"Well, only at the beginning," Mega says. "But then, it turned out that it's enjoyable."
"Enjoyable" is just what Frans expects people to experience from Muaythai. With several Muaythai camps already set up in Indonesia, Frans and his colleagues chose a different path, drawing on the concept of a gym or sports club to introduce Muaythai to the public.
"We think the concept of a Muaythai camp is a bit serious because it has tournaments. So we chose to establish a sports club instead where people can come to exercise," he says of Baan Muay Thai Club, which he founded in 2007. This way, he adds, "we want people to feel comfortable first with Muaythai, then they will come to love it."
To bring a pleasant atmosphere to the training area, Frans has created a gym-like ambience, with music playing and no boxing ring.
"It's like an ordinary training place you see in most gyms," he says. "Unlike in any Muaythai camp, we don't have a boxing ring here. Why? Because we thought the ring would scare people away," he laughs.
Friendly training sessions are also part of it. "I always tell our instructors to develop a fun atmosphere within the training sessions," he says. "So even if you feel tired, you're still happy at the end."
According to Frans, people will love Muaythai because it's actually a stylish sport as well. This is evident in the colorful and fancy gear for Muaythai, which is different from that used in other martial arts like karate.
"You can see from the shorts and gloves, as well as the pads and protectors - all of it is so stylish," he says. "And don't forget other accessories like the colorful headdress."
If you're interested in joining the Muaythai fun, Baan Muay Thai Club has several programs you can choose from. The first one is My Muaythai Class, where you can train in all the basic and advanced skills of Muaythai techniques. This 120-minute training session costs Rp 300,000 for four visits or Rp 550,000 for eight visits within 30 days.
The second program is the Cardio Muaythai Class, which suits those who want to focus on calories burning and body-shaping.
"This class is intended for those who want to practice Muaythai only as physical training, not as a martial art," Frans says. "Because it has a strong emphasis on the aspect of Muaythai's physical training, you'll get the basic techniques, not the advanced ones."
The cardio class runs for 90 minutes and costs Rp 50,000 per visit or Rp 350,000 for eight visits.
The other program is Private Muaythai Class, which is intended for those who want an intensive training for a special purpose. This 120-minute class charges Rp 520,000 for four visits and Rp 920,000 for eight visits.
There's also a class for children between six and 11 years old, so you can take your kids to practice Muaythai with you.
"We thought it would be better to introduce Muaythai at an early age," Frans says. "For children, Muaythai is good for training their motor skills, as well as helping them stay focused and in control of their emotions."
This 90-minute class costs Rp 350,000 for four visits, and because it's for children, the trainers surely use special approaches. Here, Muaythai is introduced through storytelling, while light training is carried out while adhering to strict safety regulations.
"Parents do not have to worry. We're not as demanding as, let's say, karate or taekwondo classes," Frans says. "After all, we want to promote Muaythai as a family sport."
So, ready to kick and punch, and give your old fitness routines a second wind?
Baan Muay Thai Club
Offers: My Muaythai Class, Cardio Muaythai, Kids Muaythai and Private Class
Ground floor, Wisma Semeru building
Jl. Taman Kemang No. 18
Kemang, South Jakarta
Phone: (021) 7196502