I’ve only ever trained at a handful of gyms in my life. At first, I trained at one gym on an island in the south of Thailand while backpacking, before moving up to Chiang Mai and spending a couple of months at a gym there. After that, I moved to Bangkok and found the gym that was right for me, began my fighting career there, and haven’t been anywhere else since. However, In recent times, I’m noticing more and more people who flutter from gym to gym, training here and there, and fighting for whichever gym they happen to be at during that particular time. I’ll refer to these people as ‘gym hoppers’.
Anyone who’s been at a gym for long enough will have met a gym hopper. You might have that one friend whose Facebook pictures always feature shots of them in different gyms, or that one who trains at a different gym every time they go to Thailand. Many people might not have a problem with gym hoppers at all, but I sometimes find myself feeling a little disappointed when I see this happening. Personally, I wouldn’t even feel comfortable wearing shorts carrying the name of any brand or gym other than my own. Perhaps that’s a little over-the-top to some people, but to me, it would feel disrespectful to do so. My gym supports me, so I do the same for them by buying and wearing their gear. That’s the way I’ve been taught.
I’ve ranted about this to a few people, with mixed reactions. Some have agreed, and some have said that it shouldn’t be a problem, as fighters just want to build their names on their own and should be allowed to take whatever they can from the different people that they train with. To each their own, I guess. I know that it shouldn’t really bother me, since I’m a fighter and not a trainer or gym owner, and how others train doesn’t affect me at all. The reason for my admittedly irrational annoyance at this issue seems to be rooted in the fact that I believe that many gym hoppers are overlooking an important value of Muay Thai: loyalty.
We use the names of our gyms in lieu of our surnames when we fight (at least in Thailand), to proudly acknowledge and represent who made us and where we come from (or who sponsors us). While Muay Thai isn’t a team sport, and you’re on your own in the ring, it takes a village to make a fighter. So, why do so many fighters insist that they’re independent? From many, the impression I seem to get is that it’s an ego thing. The idea of ‘belonging’ to a gym or trainer seems to be offensive to their pride. Although I realise that this is not the case for all gym hoppers, it’s something I’m beginning to notice in a specific type of fighter.
Sometimes, these fighters consistently turn up late to training, refusing to fall in line with the gym’s schedule. When they do show up, they expect padwork or a certain type of treatment, and complain when they don’t get it. “I’m a paying customer, I should get padwork”, I’ve heard some say. But it doesn’t always work like that, especially in Thailand.
Gym hopping isn’t inherently bad. Of course, people have a right to take their business anywhere they choose. But when you’re a fighter, you’re not just a customer. It’s much more complicated than that. The lines become blurred even further if you’re sponsored by your gym.
If your gym is providing subsidised training, accomodation, or food, you have an obligation stay at that gym and to follow their rules (and may be tied to a contract). Even if you’re not sponsored, the relationship between a fighter and a trainer can be an emotional one. Trainers make huge investments of work, time and emotion to build their fighters, and for them walk away from that can often feel heartbreaking.
I’ve noticed a cycle. This usually begins with a fighter being genuinely and whole-heartedly loyal to their gym, as any devoted student would. This period may last a few months, a few years, or perhaps a lifetime. However, I often see cases where the fighter then becomes less active in training for one reason or another, and is then distracted by opportunities elsewhere. They’ll be tempted by aspects of other gyms, and then compare those with that of their own. They’ll look for holes in the training offered by their own gym. Perhaps they’re not getting enough clinching, or there aren’t enough sparring partners for them, or they’re simply bored with the routine. Once they’ve found those holes, they’ll then convince themselves that they’d be better off elsewhere, and make their move. Many of them go on to brag about how superior the training is at their new gyms, as a back-handed insult to the previous one, before often moving on to another one shortly after.
I’m speaking about a specific type of person here, not just anyone who likes to train at different gyms. This type of fighter feels entitled to a certain type of treatment everywhere they go, and never seems to be satisfied. Sometimes, after moving around and trying out different options, they later want to return to their original gym. The chances are that if you are one of these people, your gym may not welcome you with open arms. That’s not to say that there would be any animosity, but a trainer will be much more willing to invest their time into building you if they know that you’re fully dedicated to learning from them. Otherwise, they may feel that it’s not quite worth it.
If the gym at which you’re training isn’t right for you, by all means, seek training elsewhere. However, I’d urge you to give it a good amount of consideration before you do so. There may be genuine reasons for which you need to move on to another gym, or you might just be suffering from a slightly inflated ego, which leads you to believe that you somehow don’t need your gym anymore.
There have been various occasions on which people have tried to convince me to train at gyms other than my own, telling me that their gym is much better. But different gyms are good for different people, at different times. There have also been times where I’ve felt less than optimistic about my own training, which is almost unavoidable when you do it every day. Despite that feeling, I can’t imagine wanting to train anywhere other than where I am right now, and where I’ve been from the start. To me, it’s simply about loyalty. I’m not talking about blind loyalty here. Of course, it has to go both ways, and if a fighter is not getting adequate training or is being treated unjustly, they ought to look elsewhere. However, if they do, it’s important to try and maintain a positive relationship with their original gym where possible. Otherwise, issues can arise, which can start to affect their fighting career.
One of the great things about Muay Thai is the family atmosphere that surrounds you when you’re in the gym, and even more so when you’re at a fight. It’s nice to feel part of something, and the bonds that form between the people in and around the gym are hard to forget. This is a huge part of my fighting experience. As well as the fact that it would feel wrong for me to train with anyone else, I simply don’t know if I would want to. For me, fighting is a hugely emotional process, and it’s not something I would want to go through without a trainer who understood me or to whom I was close to.
As a fighter, you can’t build success on your own, and it’s important to acnowledge those who’ve helped you to get to where you are. It’s not about who seems to be offering the best deal at a certain time, it’s about who has built you, trained you and supported you, and will continue to do so. I find that most experiences are always what you make of them. If you put yourself into something with your whole heart, others will, too.