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Reviewer: Armadillo

Category: Life

Subject: Muay Thai

I turn my car stereo off. The gangsta gumbo on the tape I have specifically prepared for this ritual has conditioned my state of mind for the next two hours ahead.

I looked down at my bandaged hands gripping the steering wheel and sing in the style of a person with learning difficulties suffering with constipation...

'bandages on my legs and my arms for you, bandages, bandages banda ges is is.'

I laugh and my inner voice congratulates me on the likeness to 'Hot Hot Heat' as quiet realisation creeps across me that I am now adequately delirious to deal with what lies ahead.

I pull-up outside the old scout hut, Uncle Terry is standing on the gravel (he isn't really my uncle). Uncle Terry's eyes point in different directions. He has got metal plates in his legs because he got run over. Uncle Terry is pushing sixty, but he is the one of the most hardcore among us. He greets me in the traditional style, placing his hands together and bowing, I return the gesture. Terry checks fire extinguishers for a living and hates his family. He looks like Jim Brannan from Eastenders.

I'm relieved when Troy turns up. Troy is the tour manager of a band. I like him, he says 'hello stranger' and gives me a hug. Troy is a punk; I've put the fashion anomaly down to the fact he has probably travelled forward in time as a migrant worker in search of a better future and to escape the unemployment of the 1970's. There may be many of his kind... I wonder if someone should tip-off Michael Howard so he can incorporate this into his zero tolerance immigration manifesto?

A load of pubescent little shits generally turn up each week but never come again, the regulars are there most weeks and are all cool people.

Will (our trainer) unlocks the door and we go in. The club smells of sweat and 'deep heat' and the association of this with what is to come gets my adrenalin pumping.

The same Drum 'n Bass tape is put on. I take this as my cue, open up my kit bag, pull out my mitts, my pads, and my shin pads and find my skipping rope. I take off my trainers and find a space.

Apart from helping me warm up, skipping is useful for creating a literal invisible forcefield around myself as I whirl the rope around, it's part of my strategy in avoiding talking to Uncle Terry. My mind wanders and I'm only interrupted by the occasional wince when the plastic rope hits my bare feet. After ten minutes Will shouts, "pick it up!" We all double our speed and lift our knees to our chests for what seems an eternity,- "easy..." Will shouts 30 seconds later. I try to appreciate the breather before this is repeated again. 10 minutes later, we hang up our ropes.

"Stretches- hurry up- get into position"
We go through the usual routine. From experience I try to stay at the front of the class for this, because there is nothing worst than looking up from your 'box splits' to see an array of bollocks hanging out of your classmates shorts.

"Shadow Boxing- fists and elbows, come on- keep it moving"
If you constantly train with a punch bag, your muscle movement becomes restricted- the trick to getting the most out of this exercise is to really lash out. I try to keep moving and imagine the range that I'm working to, coming in close and ducking back. It helps to imagine my ex-boyfriends face splattering sweat and blood in slow motion at the end of each upper-cut.

"OK, I wanna see some mid-section, T's, long knees and head kicks"
After a while I lose interest in 'shadow boxing' and start to listen to the noises made by my class mates. There are two categories of noise, 'sound effect', which myself and Troy fall into (my sound it 'Tsh', Troy's sound is 'Bam') or 'grunt', which has an equally vast audio array.

"Bam Bam"
"Tsh Tsh"
"do do"
"grunt grunt
" - shadowboxing is over...

"Get your mitts and get into pairs"
I don't want to be with one of the pubescent little shits so I look to Simon. He's free.
Troy and Will demonstrate the combo which consists of a knee to the inter-thigh, head and then a throw.

After 40 minutes or so of sparring - the worst is yet to come. Sweat is dripping from the ceiling, my hair is a mess, my feet are blistered, I crouch down as though I'm waiting to find out what is next trying to hide how deeply I'm sucking in the oxygen. I know what is next, but I'm pretending that I'm not resting.

"Get a mat, between two- come on, the sooner you start the soon it's over"
Simon and I shuffle along the queue who are pretending to be eager to get their mat.
We drag it to a space and start to jog on the spot.

"Ten sit-ups - go!"
All thirty of us jump down to the floor and a manic frenzy of stomach crunches begins. One by one we stand up, and look around to see who we beat.

"Wide arm press-ups-go!"
OK- my press-ups aren't technically press-ups, I do five and then rest my knees down for the remainder, that's good enough...

"Tuck jumps- knees to chest - go!"
This makes me want to wet myself- let's get it over with as quickly as possible...

"Narrow press-ups- 20 -go! Come on you f*ckin' p*ssys, you think you’re thai boxers"
13, 14, 15... yeah that'll do...

"OK, on your backs, legs 6 inches above the floor,"
As my class mates cry and moan, I'm not finding this one too bad, at least you get to lie down. I try to focus on what is going on around me rather than the pain...
"Alright mate, your girlfriend might tell you that’s six inches but it's more like three... Sort it out"

The abuse and pain continues for at least another 20 minutes. Afterwards we all ease ourselves up from the mats like old men. 30 or so wet body prints are shining on the mats as if there has been a massacre and they are all murder victim silhouettes. I do some half hearted bag work, stretch, thank Will, and wonder back to my car in a daze.

The thud of the music is shut out as I close my door. My lungs feel empty and new as though I've just unwrapped them from cellophane. I drive off in a euphoric state- only two more days until the next session.

Why waste your time down the gym running on a treadmill like a hamster on a wheel when you could find a sport you enjoy and learn something new?

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