The culture within American sports is built on a “win at all costs” mentality. We use anger to fuel our training and often gloat when we’re victorious.
But in Muay Thai, a 2,000-year-old form of martial arts from Thailand, you’re taught from a young age it’s better to lose respectfully than to win with ego.
It’s this balance of the mind in life and in fighting that one local wants to bring to the North Florida community.
Jax Muay Thai was founded and operated by Giles Willey and his wife. As a former fighter, Willey spent most of his life training, learning and teaching traditional Muay Thai across many countries before settling back in his birthplace of England. It was at the gym where Willey would meet his now wife, an American professor from The University of North Florida. The pair eventually moved to Jacksonville along with their 3-year-old daughter.
After his family moved across the Atlantic ocean, Willey struggled to find a suitable martial arts gym for his daughter and himself. He frequently traveled to Tampa to train with one of the best Muay Thai fighters in the country, Kru Ray.
Kru, the Muay Thai word for Master Teacher, is placed before the name of those who have studied and trained in the sport’s traditions. It was after Kru Ray retired that Willey found his calling to become a master teacher himself.
Willey started by privately training his daughter and her friends before more of her classmates wanted to join. Private workouts developed into a growing family, and it became apparent a Muay Thai community could be established in Jacksonville.
THE ART OF 8 LIMBS
Muay Thai is called “The Art of 8 Limbs” because feet, legs, hands and elbows are all used in a match. While some of the sport’s styles can be seen at various levels of MMA, including the UFC, Muay Thai fights focus on flexibility, agility, focus and balance while never going to the ground.
With a special concentration on balance in life and fighting, Willey believes this approach makes his teaching different.
“In Thailand, boys as young as 8 are sent away to train Muay Thai in hopes they can fight and earn a living for their family,” Willey said. “It’s not uncommon for the boys to eat, train and sleep six to one room.”
The family vibe cultivated among future fighters in Thailand is now in three cities across the U.S. Dubbed “Khanomtom,” Jax Muay Thai is one of those locations where traditional training takes place. While they try to stay true to the cultural roots, some Americanized aspects have been added. Reward-based training for children and allowing newcomers to workout for therapeutic benefits are prohibited in Thailand, but they’ve been key additions stateside.
Around Willey’s gym, you’ll commonly hear the phrase, “Sabai-Sabai,” which describes the relaxed Thailand vibe and lifestyle.
“Muay Thai has roots in Buddhism. Thus some of the best fighters in the world are friendly, warm, welcoming and have zero egos,” Willey said. “It’s a tricky balance between wanting to win a fight and keeping a calm ego. But by the time a fighter gets into the ring, they should be zen and trust in their training and subconscious.”
Subconscious training is where a Muay Thai fighter earns their true advantage. Because they can’t recreate a real fight, they conduct sparring lessons in which fellow fighters will pull away at the last second to avoid risking injury on their opponent. Fighters will regularly conduct sparring lessons to better their technique, timing and distance testing.
WHEN PATIENCE PAYS OFF
Three years into opening Jax Muay Thai, Willey has created the traditional vibe he’s been searching for in North Florida. Located near Beach Boulevard and San Pablo Road, his gym has several boxing bags, a regulation size ring and one of the most diverse crowds you’ll see at any gym.
The family vibe is evident with Willey’s dog, Lizzie, as a regular gym guest while his daughter, now 10 years old, trains children as young as 3 on Muay Thai basics.
Though some of the best Muay Thai fighters in the country train at Willey’s facility, you wouldn’t know it unless you asked. Champions such as Nate Campbell and Kit Ruddock are regulars at his facility and proudly display past wins at the gym.
While he has an open-door policy, Willey won’t let anyone come in off the street looking for a fight.
“I firmly believe in it takes a village to raise a fighter and that’s what we’re building here. I don’t want someone with little or a ton of experience to put our guys in a bad spot.”
Any new or experienced Muay Thai fighter must train a minimum of six months within Willey’s group before they’re allowed to spar. This requirement has helped Willey weed out potential bad apples who may be there for the wrong reasons. But this rule has also drawn the attention of a legendary Muay Thai fighter in Kru Lamsongkram, who visited recently to see what Willey has built.
While Jax Muay Thai has established a cultural tradition in a new market, he insists the learning doesn’t stop as his business grows. Every November, the Willey family, along with a select group of fighters, makes an annual trek to Thailand to further their training.
“I’ve been around martial arts for 28 years and I’m still learning new things” he said. “I believe we all get better, together.”
The “never stop learning” attitude and focus on balance in life and fighting is what continues to set Jax Muay Thai apart.
Because fighters who have achieved ultimate greatness will go back to their original training facilities is also the same reason championship belts adorn the walls of Jax Muay Thai. Family matters, and you must have this balance in life to achieve greatness as a Muay Thai fighter.
Find out more information on Willey and Jax Muay Thai by visiting their website, JacksonvilleMuayThai.com.