One-time couch potato Jen Offord is now a fully fledged sportsaholic. In the spirit of #thisgirlcan, she’s trying out different activities for Standard Issue. This week, she’s totally kick-ass.
Of the many sports I’ve tried over the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed a lot of them immensely. Sometimes though, I like to sit at home eating Nutella out of a jar; to allow time for this I’ve had to limit the sports I’ve taken up as a regular hobby. Oddly (at least I think so), boxing is one of the sports that stuck.
Though prone to the odd rant about people/things that have “ruined it for everyone” (famous footballers who end their careers in the US rather than a small South-East London-based club; the internet; and mums who told their daughters they’d catch a disease if they sat on the toilet seat), I’m not physically aggressive. I think the most violent thing I’ve ever done in rage is throw a pen. It’s a false economy, throwing things in a rage: you have to clean it up, then you look like a twat as well as pathological. So it’s surprising to me that I seem to have found my physical calling in the world of combat sports.
I like boxing a lot and try to train weekly with the most excellent Girls in Gloves. I’ve never tried kickboxing though, so this seemed a good way to ease myself back into the murky world of physical recreation. And let’s face it, almost every woman my age has fantasised about layering on some weird brown lipstick, a single-breasted leather jacket and busting out a couple of high kicks in the style of a 90s vampire slayer or indeed, Mel C in her Spicy heyday.
Muay Thai is like normal boxing in some ways – but you get to kick things, too. So, if you’re a fan of beating inanimate objects (yes!), it’s very much double the limb-related fun. Quadruple, actually, since Muay Thai, or the “Art of Eight Limbs” as it’s sometimes called, uses fists, elbows, shins and knees. It’s a combat sport originating, as the name suggests, in Thailand, but gained popularity in the 21st century as middle-class parents in East London realised university places are harder to come by and their children needed to be able to list hobbies on their UCAS applications. According to Bill Judd at KO Muay Thai in Bethnal Green, where I try the sport, it’s also very popular with university students (and the singer Pink, apparently; photos of her posing in the gym adorn the noticeboard).
We warm up with the usual mixed bag of horror that is burpees and squats etc, before moving on to shadowboxing. This is where Kru (coach) Richmond Annan teaches us the basic stance, a bit of rhythm in the ol’ pins and some punches and kicks. After we’re acquainted with these, we’ll be KICKING EACH OTHER! It’s always a bit awkward, punching a total stranger (even if you are only punching their massively padded hands), so imagine how awkward it feels kicking a total stranger just north of their genitals. Still, I’m pleased to report I do not miss the padded belt and Richmond comes away physically if not mentally unscathed. As for me, I experience a quite literally euphoric release of endorphins after giving Richmond a kicking.
The venue itself is a bit rough and ready, but very friendly and welcoming. In any case, Judd tells me, a pristine, well-lit gym is not conducive with the business of beating things. Fair enough: it wasn’t pretty. I must in part credit the alarming production of bogeys (as well as sweat) to the bike ride there in the cold, but this was hard work and by the next morning my right shin was so bruised it looked positively corpse-like. I’m told this improves with “conditioning”, or you can wear shin pads, but I quite like the odd battle scar.
I also like beating inanimate objects and this discipline proved no exception. As the years of living in London take their toll, I now think this might be the reason I’m not a physically aggressive person – I get to let all the rage out on a weekly basis, something I think most people would benefit from. Yet it’s not just abject brutishness; there’s technique and skill involved. Done properly, it’s almost as if the fighters are dancing. And all those high kicks must be great for the arse if my later aches and pains are anything to go by.
Jen tried Muay Thai at the KO Muay Thai gym in Bethnal Green where classes for all levels are available daily.
Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen