Picture this: a group of women all donning athletic garb with eyes locked on their enthusiastic trainers, placed in a studio setting all while learning a series of movements. Seem like a normal Zumba workout? Think again. These women are learning the ancient art of Muay Thai.
This new craze hitting the DC area combines the cardio that fitness fanatics crave with the interactivity of group workouts. While many different gyms throughout the District provide Muay Thai boxing lessons, the Body Efficient Tactical Arts Academy (BETA) combines world-champion knowledge and ancient technique to make it one of the most prominent names in Muay Thai fighting in the nation.
Muay Thai fighting, which originated in Thailand, combines a set of mental and physical skills that are highly regarded and intertwined in Thai culture. As the people of Thailand wanted to expand their domain, they had to evolve their skill set.
“Muay Thai is ancient combat art style that is very unique and efficient,” aid Daniel Chacon, a BETA fighter. “It requires physical and mental discipline. This art includes combat on foot and we’re known as ‘the eight limb warriors’ because it is characterized by the combination of using fists, elbows, knees, shins, and feet,” he said.
Kru Melanie Metropolit-Phungephorn and husband Khun Kru Nakapan Phungephorn, a world champion in Muay Thai, have been the owners of the academy since its beginnings in 2008. With their combined knowledge of the ancient art of Muay Thai fighting and their intense training schedule, this dynamic duo breeds champions.
BETA trainer and 2013 National Mixed Martial Arts champion, Kru Daniel Chacon, 26, knows what it takes to become a champion.
“To be a Muay Thai fighter requires skill, heart, discipline and focus.,” said Chacon. “Most new competitors are either in school or have a full time job, sometimes both. When deciding to be a Nak Muay “fighter” you’ll have to invest so many hours into training, and it’s not about learning how to fight, but to fight back,” he said.
Kru Chacon, was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and started Muay Thai when he moved to the DC area, hoping to hone his skills.
“There are two reasons why I decided to start to fight,” he said. “One was to test my skills against another skilled opponent…in fighting your goal is hurt, control and impose your will. The other reason is because I wanted to challenge fear.”
With the help of BETA, Kru Chacon quickly rose to ‘Kru” ranking. In Muay Thai, there are no “‘belts” as in Karate. Instead, there are rankings based on both your mental and physical abilities.
“To be certified a Kru by the Thai Boxing Association of America, one has to perform the ancient dance, Wai Kru, along with performing a set of nearly impossible physical challenges,” says a fifth-year Muay Thai student Mikaila Weaver.
The 24-year-old hopes to earn the ‘Kru’ ranking. As a former Division 1 athlete, Weaver is no stranger to hard work and grueling practices. In her quest to become ‘Kru,’ she trains for three hours a day, practices yoga each morning and follows a strict diet. In preparation for her first match, Weaver went to a training camp six weeks before the match.
“I went paleo for the entirety of my camp, cutting out alcohol, sugar, potatoes, corn, peanuts, dairy and grains in absolute. The last week I was even drinking dandelion tea to make sure that I got the excess weight out of my system,” said Weaver.
This dedication isn’t expected from all of BETA’s members, just from those studing to obtain “Kru” status.
BETA’s website showcases the different programs available to all ages. From the Little BETA Fish (ages 5-7) to the full Muay Thai and the mixed martial-art fight team, BETA leaves no one out when teaching the skills not only of Muay Thai but also of “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling, MMA, Strength and Conditioning, Jump Rope and Femme Fatale Fitness, a new all-women’s strength program.”
Both Weaver and Kru Chacon encourage anyone who wants to work out in a positive way to try out BETA.
“The learning curve come around fast, and you might feel overwhelmed with so much information, but being patient and having a positive mindset will help,” said Chacon. “Enjoy every second of training because for that hour or so, you’ll be practicing an ancient art that has been passed down through hundreds of generations.”