The art of the eight limbs

Harry Tattersall Smith learns to toughen up with boxing’s latest phenomenon, Muay Thai

I’ve probably never been more macho. I’m off fighting. Generally speaking I’m probably not the most intimidating person. But that’s all about to change, I’ve  spent the day working on my fighting face which I hope will give me any psychological edge in battle, stun my opponent, and thus give me time to heroically flee from danger.

I guess I always thought fighting and university was a bit of a paradox. Our nations future bashing the living daylights out of each other. My ignorance, however, is about to be knocked out of me, literally, as I head off to train with one of the university’s fastest growing clubs: Muay Thai.
I’m also coming along to meet one of the club’s stars and captain, Alastair Rankin, who is fast establishing himself as one of the country’s top up-and-coming fighters.

Fresh from the success of his debut professional bout against Ewan Irvine, Rankin cuts an imposing figure. The media skirmishes that seem to surround modern day boxing bouts had me half expecting Rankin to be brash and ballsy, with a love of the ‘Ali-esque’ one liner and an even greater love of speaking in third person; but he talks with such genuine enthusiasm and warmth that I really can’t imagine him in a fight.

His fighting regime involved intense training that pushed him to a level of fitness he never thought possible. In order to reach  his ideal weight, Rankin was forced to shed 7 kilos in a gruelling regime which saw him in the gym or in the ring for 3 hours a day, 6 days a week for 5 weeks: “The training was tough  but I absolutely loved it,” he says.

The  hours of tough graft certainly paid off as he triumphed with an unanimous points victory  in his first appearance at the prestigious Glasgow Muay Thai extravaganza Where Eagles Dare competition.

In the same manner ‘waxing on and off’ saw karate explode kicking and screaming into our consciousness  in the 80’s, the Muay Thai led dominance of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) – which I’m reliably informed is the most extreme fighting on the planet, and Youtube inspection does nothing to dissuade me from this belief – has led to a surge in the sports popularity as people look for more exotic ways to stay in shape.

The training is relentless, two hours of breathless kicking and punching, which at the end have me staggering around  like I’ve just seen fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson. It’s exhausting stuff but I guess the maxim ‘no pain no gain’ is probably at its most profound here.

In the course of the evening I’m left with two war wounds. A kick to the stomach – allegedly accidental, which leaves me gasping on the ground, and rather instantaneously dispels  the growing notion that I had been developing that I was in fact an untapped fighting machine. That and a cut knuckle, which I hope to surreptitiously brandish as often as possible as a means of fooling people into thinking I’m mysterious and dangerous.

The session ends with a series of ridiculously soul destroying sit ups. Of course I’m wedged in between two Adonises, and as they nonchalantly make a mockery of the fitness regime, I’m left looking like an up-ended turtle, kicking, flapping and generally looking pathetic whilst I curse my body’s refusal to co-operate.

I speak to Alastair which proves to be quite depressing really as while I fight with my growing sense of nausea, I can’t spy even the faintest sign of perspiration on him. As he enthusiastically chats about the growing investment and influence of Muay Thai in Scotland, I’m bent double with aching muscles which have seen eighteen years of neglect.

Alastair talks of the clubs exponential growth since its formation eight years ago, and finally after years of organisational chaos how the club is really starting to move forward: “We’ve finally got ourselves sorted with GUSA funding, which will allow us to get loads of new pads and gloves.”
He also makes clear how important this funding will be for the club: “You saw today how much of our current gear is in tatters.” He isn’t lying. As I spar away, I’m rather conscious that every time I throw a punch, my partner is gradually being enveloped in mask of whitish foam which he seems far too polite to wipe away.

Rankin speaks jovially and with the resources and enthusiasm I’ve seen tonight, I certainly wouldn’t argue with him. And if you want to? He’ll totally kick your ass.


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