With Thai boxing becoming such a prevalent sport in Hong Kong, Julian Hwang talks to Institute members to find out why it has quickly become their go-to workout
Photography by Anthony Tung
Kato Chu earned her Muay Thai trainer license this year and now teaches at The Corner
In a room lain with clean floor mats, polished mirrors and an unobstructed view of Kwun Tong’s commercial district, Kato Chu stands proudly among the hefty punching bags of The Corner – Muay Thai and fitness gym.
“I’ve always loved sports since I was young,” says Chu, the Director and Assistant Trainer at The Corner. Basketball was among her favourite sports, but finding enough players at a short notice became increasingly difficult. “I found myself losing interest in team sports because of this, so I wanted to find a sport that can be done alone.” That’s when she discovered Muay Thai.
For members of the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs like Chu, Thai boxing isn’t just a fighting technique popularized by mainstream media. Rather, it’s a disciplined recreational sport that combines an excellent full-body workout.
While attending university in the United States, Chu and her brother became members at a gym. It just so happened that the gym had a partnership with another gym in Hong Kong, so when Chu returned during summer break, she went to workout at the gym thanks to her membership privileges. One day, Chu noticed the staff setting up a boxing ring in the centre of the gym and she felt a sudden spike of inspiration. “I pictured myself in the ring fighting,” recalls Chu, “It was a really cool idea, so I went online to see if there were any boxing classes that were suitable for women.”
Chu discovered a Thai boxing gym in Causeway Bay that offered beginner lessons and became hooked on the sport. “It was there that I met the people and friends who would eventually become business partners here at The Corner,” says Chu. “I’ve known them for about seven years now.”
In 2016, Chu and her friend found that many women around them were interested in Thai boxing, but were hesitant about taking it up. “There were concerns that boxing was a guy only sport, that boxing gyms were mostly unsanitary and filled with rude people, or out of fear of embarrassment because they were new,” explains Chu.
They began renting studios to teach classes, and although it started out small through word-of-mouth, they were eventually overwhelmed by the amount of interested participants. “I didn’t think there would be so many people, so we decided that opening our own gym would be a good idea.”
Chu received her official certificate to teach Muay Thai this year, and with a name inspired by the corners of a boxing ring, The Corner first opened its doors in May. Chu currently takes on a part-time trainer role while also doing accounting work for a U.S.-listed information technology company.
When asked about her training routine, Chu insists that adequate stretching is essential to avoiding injury. “Then I shadowbox to warm up and to make sure that my stance is correct,” says Chu. Afterwards, it’s a rotation between punching bags and a one-on-one session with the Muay Thai trainers. “If you decide to spar as part of your training, make sure you respect your sparring partner – especially if you are stronger than them,” advises Chu. “You are there to train yourself, not to try and beat someone until they can’t get back up.”
During the summer of 2015, Quin Tang, Audit Manager at Grant Thornton Hong Kong, craved exercise. “Being an accountant, we spend a lot of our time sitting down,” explains Tang, who is also an Institute member. “I wanted a full body workout that could be completed relatively quickly, so I started researching what kind of options I had.”
However, after several visits, she noticed that the gym wasn’t quite to her liking. The gym held the name of a famous Hong Kong Muay Thai master, who had multiple pupils running gyms under his name. As a result, the gym was often packed with eager students. “With so many people there and not enough trainers, we didn’t have a very in-depth training experience and spent most of the time with punching bags,” recalls Tang. The lack of one-on-one sessions also meant that Tang and her friends weren’t too certain if their postures and stances were correct.
“You feel better about yourself after working out and become more motivated to work.”
Towards May of this year, Tang and her friends moved to their current gym, Fantasy Muay Thai. They became much happier with their lessons in their new environment. Tang’s normal routine involves 15 minute rotations from sandbags to one-on-one sessions with the trainers, repeated several times. “It can get a little tiring at times because there’s no breaks, but I feel that the experience is much more rewarding compared to the previous gym,” explains Tang.
On top of an extensive workout, Tang also finds Thai boxing to be ideal for building confidence and beating back work-related stress. “You feel better about yourself after working out and become more motivated to work,” describes Tang. Additionally, because of the close proximity of the gym to her office, Tang and her colleagues can often enjoy a workout during lunch or after-hours. “This gym’s primary clientele is for office workers like us, and because training only takes about an hour, we can workout during lunch break and still make it back in time for work,” says Tang.
For members interested in picking up the sport, Tang recommends following the examples set by the trainers carefully. “You’ll learn the proper way to hit and kick, such as keeping your limbs slightly curved and not fully stretched out to prevent self-injury,” explains Tang.
Thai boxing is also a sport that requires perseverance. As a result, Tang enjoys tagging along with her friends or colleagues when working out, not just because they enjoy the sport too, but because friends can also be a great source of support and motivation.
Tayyeb Mohamed, Senior Consultant at EY for International Tax Services and Transfer Pricing, wanted a good workout, but dislikes exercising at regular gyms. “Working out at gyms became repetitive and boring after a while,” explains Mohamed, who is also an Institute member.
So in 2016, Mohamed tagged along with a friend to Fantasy Muay Thai for a trial session. Mohamed will always remember the thuds of a punching bag being stricken echoing through the hallway. “At the time, there were some really professional-looking people training there, and I was a bit nervous about embarrassing myself in front of them,” says Mohamed.
“Boxing after work lets you punch away the stress that you accumulate from work.”
Much to his relief, the trainers and other participants were non-judgmental, and on the contrary, very welcoming. “The first thing the trainer did was to ask me if I had done Thai boxing before,” recalls Mohamed. “They were very professional and friendly, and did a great job of showing me the ropes.”
Despite a shaky start, Mohamed grew fond of the sport and found himself improving quickly after several more sessions. “I never thought I would get into boxing, and I started off going only once a week because I wanted to test my limits,” he explains. Soon, that became twice a week, and eventually three times a week – including both the weekends and after work. “Boxing after work lets you punch away the stress that you accumulate from work,” jokes Mohamed, “and it also helps you feel refreshed and recharged for work the next day.”
Muay Thai is known as the Art of Eight Limbs because practitioners have eight different methods to strike, including punches, elbows, kicks and knees.
Thai boxing became Mohamed’s motivation to workout, with his routine consisting of a five minute warm-up, followed by alternating punching and kicking drills with a punching bag, then a one-on-one session with the trainer and more drills filled with sit-ups and push-ups. “It’s a really intense workout, I think it burns about 1,000 calories an hour,” says Mohamed.
When training, it’s important to always wear the wrist wraps under the boxing gloves and to also wear ankle guards. Equipping the gear correctly is imperative to avoiding injury, says Mohamed, and recalls the time that he tried punching without wearing wrist wraps which resulted in a sprained wrist. Additionally, he points out that relying on force alone without the proper stance will also lead to injury.
Although Mohamed’s friend has since moved away to Australia, he enjoys introducing the sport to his colleagues and friends. There was even a time when half of his team from EY worked out alongside him, but Mohamed finds exercising alone equally enjoyable. “It’s not a sport for everyone, but it’s a sport definitely worth trying at least once,” recommends Mohamed. “Not everyone has hours to spend at the gym to get a full workout, so Thai boxing is a really good alternative that can be completed in an hour.” ◆