Clinch Wonderland: FA Group Muay Thai Gym Review
Something that is often brought up is the lack of focus on clinch training in the West, and generally just outside of Thailand. A notable example of the Thais’ domination in the clinch is Buakaw in his K-1 days – he was practically throwing his opponents around in the clinch.
The clinch has evolved to become an increasingly important aspect of Muay Thai in its motherland over the years. A mastery of the clinch is a boon to scoring favorably in the sport’s most important arenas like Lumpinee and Rajadamnern.
For many farang fighters who travel to train in Thailand, clinching becomes a skillset that they hope to acquire or improve. And few camps have devoted themselves to the art of clinch as fervently as the famous FA Group Muay Thai Gym.
FA Group Muay Thai gym was founded in 1992 as Bor Pla Boonchu by current manager, Mr Liam Bor Boonchu (top row, extreme left), in the Northeastern Isaan province of Thailand.
With humble beginnings, the camp gradually grew in reputation and Mr Liam relocated along with the trainers and fighters to Bangkok when the fighters began competing in the capital. Mr Liam found a sponsor in Mr Tong Suraphol, owner of the FA Group company and the gym as we know it today, was formally inaugurated in 2006.
The camp’s eventual rise as a top Muay Thai camp can be linked to the unparalleled success of its retired champion fighter, Petchboonchu FA Group. Clinching 14 titles of the highest honor during the span of his career, he is reputedly the most decorated fighter in the history of the sport. (Click here to read the story of Petchboonchu)
Petchboonchu was an adept of the clinch and knee style, for which the gym is now most well-known for, and remains the camp’s poster boy despite his stint now as a trainer in Singapore.
The gym is now widely recognized as the de facto place in Bangkok for studying/training the Muay Thai clinch. FA Group fighters’ signature Muay Khao flair, as well as Petchboonchu’s success in the sport, can both be attributed to head coach, Ajarn Diesel’s (Kru Dee) deliberate instructive style.
The beloved Kru Dee (top row, second from right), chief architect behind FA Group’s knee fighting legacy, has been with the camp since its earliest days.
He is also the recipient of the prestigious Muay Siam Trainer of the Year award in 2014, a testament to his dedication and ability for bringing out the best in his fighters. (Click here to read the story of Kru Diesel)
FA Group’s current roster of fighters include the camp’s rising star, Yothin (top row, second from left), Petchniyom (top row, extreme right), Wangnamyen, and Komawuut as well as younger fighters like Tan (bottom row, extreme left) and Zai (bottom row, second from right).
FA Group Muay Thai Gym Overview
First and foremost, training here is hard and intense. Like most camps in the capital, FA Group strives to produce top level fighters to compete in the elite stadium circuit. It is a fiercely competitive scene and only the cream of the crop makes it to the top.
While the Thais are always a jovial bunch, fighting is a job for them and training is taken very seriously by everyone who wants to be among the best in the game. It is no exception here.
The focus here is on clinch practice, and also on building the endurance and stamina required for the forward-moving FA Group’s signature Muay Khao style to be effective. Expect plenty of clinching as well as long runs. If that is what you are looking for, some ass-whipping to get into the best fighting state, you’ve found the right place.
There is no substitute for hard work here – it is all about the daily grind. For 6 days a week, the training program stays pretty much the same.
The day begins with a long run at the Chatuchak Park at 6am. Everyone heads back by 7 for a round of clinching that lasts around 40-60 minutes. This is followed by pad work, bag work and technical sparring. The morning session finishes off with some strength training and conditioning.
In the afternoons, everyone warms up with skipping or jumping on tires, followed by a round of shadow boxing. Training proper commences with an hour-long clinch orgy in the ring.
You might get assigned a clinch partner if you are new here but there on, you are free to clinch with anyone, even the gym’s top dogs like Yothin or Petchniyom if you prove yourself to be up to the task.
Kru Dee keeps a watchful eye during clinching, and steps in occasionally to lend a hand or offer guidance when he sees fit. Trainers are on hand to help demonstrate and instruct for those unfamiliar with the basics of clinching.
Once the clinching is over, everyone takes turn for a few rounds of pads with one of the trainers. Kru Dee is of course the preferential pad-holder to work with but the other trainers are great too. In padwork, there seems to be a heavier emphasis on the knees and elbows as they feature more prominently in the Muay Khao style.
While waiting for your turn to go on the pads or after your turn is over, it’s usually off to some bag work. I say “usually” since there isn’t a very structured regime here. Basically, no one is really going to tell you what to do and you are expected to take your own initiative.
If you aren’t sure, just take the cue from the Thai fighters. The afternoon session ends with some strengthening exercises, tire sprints and usually a shorter run around the neighborhood.
As a physically small gym, FA Group caps the foreigners at 10 so as not to dilute the training quality. On top of its own stable of Thai fighters, the camp sees about 5-7 foreigners on an average day that includes a mix of longer-term fighters and short-term visitors like myself.
Most of us show up only for the afternoon session but the diligent few do make a point to attend both. Particularly those who have a fight coming up. While the gym sees predominantly male visitors, every now and then, there are female fighters dropping in to train and clinch.
Here are some reviews of the camp from other visitors:
Andy Newall is the head Muay Thai coach at Hertford Combat Academy and Fight Sports UK with more than twenty years experience in Muay Thai. He has fought against Nong Toom, the famous transgender fighter of Beautiful Boxer fame.
“My favourite gym at the moment is definitely FA Group. There is massive emphasis on clinching here which I love, and everyone is very, very friendly to foreigners. Also, I get to train with high quality Thai fighters here. Only negative I can think of is that it is may be a little of a small gym.“
Marilyn Cheng is a full-time educator and Pro Muay Thai fighter from Singapore. She has been competing in Thailand since 2011.
“FA Group is indeed the premium clinch and knee gym they say they are. Recently spent a week training at FA Group and was pushed out of my comfort zone and had substantial improvement even in that short duration. The trainers access your level in a split second and pitch the training at a notch just above. Definitely recommended for the serious practitioner with some background looking to bring his or her muay thai skills to the next level.“
Here’s some information to help in your planning:
Training here costs 500 baht per session and 800 baht for both daily sessions. The average rate goes down with the weekly package where you can opt for either a single-session (i.e. training 1 session per day) or two-session package.
Again, the rate reduces further with the monthly package. Packages including accommodation are also available and are recommended if you intend to focus on your training for stays a week or longer.
How to get there
FA Group gym is located in a quiet spot of the Chatuchak district, most well-know for its massive weekend market where you can shop all-day till your wallet flattens and your stomach bloats.
On Sundays, you can head over to the Channel 7 stadium for some free Muay Thai action just beside the gym. There are convenience stores here, as well as cheap local eateries to fuel up after training.
For those traveling from other parts of the city, it’s easiest to use Uber or Grab but you are at the mercy of the unpredictable Bangkok traffic.
The best (cheapest and often, fastest) way to get to the gym is via BTS (Mo Chit station) or MRT (Chatuchak Park station) if you are staying elsewhere. From there, it’s about a 15-minute stroll to the gym.
Head down the side of the road opposite of Chatuchak park/market in the direction with the huge parking garage to your right. You will hit a side road where you will see the BTS building. Continue down this street until you past Channel 7 studios (you will know it when you see it) on your left and take a left into the alley. At the end of the alley, make a left again and you will soon find the FA Group gym to your right.
Alternatively! Look for a motorbike taxi near along the road after you exit the train stations and ask to be taken to “Kai Muay”.
Where to Stay
G9 hotel is the accommodation option recommended by FA Group Muay Thai gym for those planning to train there for just a few days. I stayed here over the course of my visit to the gym and I can’t say I’m impressed by it.
Given its poor accessibility to downtown, a hot 15-minute walk from the nearest train station, and very dated rooms, it doesn’t quite justify the price of the room. Room was clean, the WIFI worked but the tv didn’t.
No smiles detected from the staff here. Free filtered water, towels provided but not toiletries. There doesn’t seem to be any other options in the area, so it might have conveniently monopolized on this geographical advantage.
The hotel is situated right behind the sky train depot so if you are a light sleeper, you will hear the trains rolling-screeching in past mid-night.
If you are here for just a few days of dedicated training at FA, then you should sleeping like a log after a day’s worth of hard training. And for just a few days, this hotel will do just fine. If you plan to join the morning session with the run at Chatuchak park at 6am, then this is your only option.
I booked my room through Agoda for only 22 usd per night where you can often find such good deals. FA Group offers a daily package that comes with room but doesn’t work out to be cheaper. You are better off booking through Agoda if you are planning to train at FA for just a few days.
Dorm rooms are available here for those pinching pennies. But if you intend to join only for the afternoon session, you shouldn’t even consider staying here in this unexciting part of town (except during weekends). Check out better, more accessible and interesting options that are available in Bangkok.
|FA Group Merchandise
If you do make it to the gym for training, there are actually some official FA Group merchandise like Muay Thai shorts and tees in the gym office. They are practical and make for nice souvenirs to take home. The folks at FA Group are a really reserved bunch so they often don’t go peddling their merchandise. So if you are interested to make some purchase, remember to ask the staff.
Many fight camps in Bangkok have started to open up to foreigners over the years but due to language or cultural barrier, training experiences have often ended up sub-par.
Add to that the tendency for a “Thai-first, Farang-second” policy, with a clear segregation in training between the 2 groups, there are little benefits to be gained training at these Thai camps.
On the other end of the spectrum, you find gyms that are filled exclusively with foreign students – camps that specifically target the tourist money. FA Group differentiates itself by demolishing the barrier and allowing its team of Thai fighters to train and clinch with foreigners.
While the majority of FA Group’s fighters tend towards the lighter weight divisions, it is common to see them taking on foreigners a few stones heavier and completely schooling them. Do not underestimate the Thais here who are experts in the art of the Muay Thai clinch.
Let it be said that FA Group is not a camp for everyone. In terms of suitability, the camp is ideal for the following groups of people:
1) intermediate to advanced-level practitioners who are familiar with the techniques of Muay Thai, and have some experience in clinching and sparring, 2) fighters hoping to improve on their clinching skills, 3) knee fighters who wish to sharpen their techniques and 4) motivated beginners with a lot of heart and willingness to learn.
For a high-level Muay Thai training experience with focus on improving clinching skills, you would be hard-pressed to find a better option than FA Group.
As I have personally experienced first-hand, a lot has improved during the period since the last reviews that you can find on the web. Everyone here from Mr Liam down to the youngest fighters, is warm and welcoming; every trainer and even fighter is always ready to help.
What the gym lacks in size and world-class facilities, is made up for with lots of heart and passion in the sport. Your search for an authentic Muay Thai camp ends here at FA Group Muay Thai Gym. Welcome to the clincher wonderland.