It's almost 10am on Saturday. The door opens and brothers Syabil-Azam Syamsul-Azam, 8, and Syahmi-Azam, 6, cheerfully run in, barefoot, and playfully head for the centre of the spacious Sparta Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts gym in Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya.
In a while, they'll be joined by their friends, among whom are Izzat Azlan, 8, Aqeel Rayn Shah Saifrullah Shah, 4, Jonathan, 10 and Sufyan Heikal Mazlen, 11.
They'll all be putting on their boxing gloves and for the next hour, sweating it all out, punching and kicking under Muay Thai trainers Moo (Pai Toon Phongchin) and Tanwa (Phonchai Lun Thaisong).
Syabil-Azam, Syami-Azam, Aqeel, Jonathan, Izzat and Sufyan Heikal are among 15 children who spend an hour or more during their weekends doing Muay Thai - as a workout and martial art.
"One, two, one, two," Moo hollers, and the children give a left punch and then a right. All in unison and with gusto.
"Right knee," Moo barks and all of them step forward and give a quick jerk up of their right knee. Tanwa keeps a watchful eye on their moves.
After 10 minutes of quick and "lethal" moves, Moo smiles and says: "Okay, water, water."
Sweaty now, they all run to their dads who are waiting on the sideline of the floor-padded gym, with water bottles in hand. After about five minutes, Moo calls them back to resume their rigorous but fun workout.
So why do parents send their kids for Muay Thai? Predictably, most of their dads are fitness enthusiasts, or sportsmen who are Muay Thai students themselves. They swear by its goodness. As for Jonathan, it is his mother, YL Shim who is a keen practitioner of the martial art at the gym.
Keeping kids in shape
They believe it is a "damn good" total fitness workout. They all agree that their kids are now in good shape. They are more disciplined, and have developed good habits.
Syamsul-Azam Shafei, 35, is convinced that Muay Thai has made his sons, Syabil-Azam and Syahmi-Azam fitter and healthier.
"It has also taught them to respect their elders because they learn to respect their instructor," says the quality manager with an oil and gas company who is also a Sparta member. His wife, secondary school teacher Aidawati Othman, 35, agrees.
The couple, who lives in Shah Alam, has another son, 2-year-old Syahrin-Azam who will, without a doubt, join his brothers as soon as he is old enough.
Little Aqeel maybe the smallest in the group but you'd best not be messing with him. He moves like a pro.
His father, Saifrullah Shah Yacob, 33, who is a department head at Airod in Subang, is a sportsman and used to be a big league competitive swimmer. He joined Sparta in January, a month after it opened in December last year.
For good health
Izzat's father, Azlan Salim, also one of Sparta's earliest members, finds Muay Thai to be effective in getting his son into good health and shape.
"He has lost weight and is more confident," says the 32-year-old commercial advisor of an oil and gas company who took up Muay Thai as supplementary training for his triathlon practices but grew to really enjoy the martial art.
His daughter, 4-year-old Marissa, has not joined the all-male group yet but Azlan believes it'll be "just a matter of time because she already knows the moves", having regularly joined him and Izzat in their playful sparring.
Nurazrina Abdul Samad who works with a financial institution, says her son Sufyan Heikal used to be overweight but since joining the Saturday classes, has become trimmer.
"In fact, he was put on a diet, which was quite tough. But since Muay Thai, he has lost weight and is very active. He has also developed very healthy habits," says the 42-year-old mother of four.
Sparta general manager Dean Koh, 29, says these children are among the gym's more than 100 members of all ages comprising diverse groups of people, from students and working professionals to entrepreneurs. There are some 40 female members in the Muay Thai classes.
Koh, who opened the gym with three others, adds that the gym also offers high intensity cardio workouts and self-defence. Other programmes offered are kettlebells, RIP 60 suspension training, western boxing and cardio kickboxing, and also competitions.
Sparta is an affiliate of Tiger Muay Thai, Thailand's leading Muay Thai and mixed martial arts training camp located in Phuket.
Sazzy Falak and Nazril Idrus are the celebrity spokespersons for Sparta.
The writer, who is trained in classical and contemporary ballet, is a fitness enthusiast and is a student of Muay Thai.
Learn the art
• Sparta offers daily Muay Thai classes for beginners, intermediate and fighters.
• It also has Muay Thai cardio classes for fitness and conditioning training.
• Kids Muay Thai classes are on weekends, for children from 5 to 13 years old.
• For more information, log on to www.spartamuaythai.com or call 03-78321106 or 03-78321108.
The Art of Eight Limbs
MUAY Thai is a combat sport from Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. It is similar to other Indo-Chinese kickboxing systems. Here, it is known as Tomoi.
Muay Thai is Thailand's national sport and dubbed the sport of kings.
The word muay derives from the Sanskrit "mavya" which means "to bind together".
Muay Thai is referred to as the "Art of Eight Limbs" or the "Science of Eight Limbs" because it makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight "points of contact", as opposed to "two points" (fists) in boxing and
"four points" (hands and feet) used in other more regulated combat sports, such as kickboxing or boxing.
The history of Muay Thai is also the history of the Thai people and has been an essential part of Thai culture right from its dawn.
Muay Thai has always been a sport for the people as well as a military fighting skill. In all its golden ages, the people have trained and practised the sport - king and commoner.
It was a part of the Thai school curriculum right up to the 1920s when it was withdrawn because it was felt that the injury rate was too high. The people however, continued to study it in gyms and clubs, just as they do today.
For centuries, the army fostered Muay Thai and soldiers have trained and used the techniques for as long as there has been an army in Thailand. For the military it has always been the close combat fighting skill, the martial art of the battlefield. When a Thai soldier fights hand to hand, he uses Muay Thai. But then, so does every Thai person, male or female. Watching it, learning it, copying it, is a part of Thai childhood. It always has been.
From battlefield to ring
The people have always followed the sport and have been instrumental in moving it from the battlefield to the ring. They have been as much a part of making it a sport as have the kings.
The sport has undergone changes. Still, Muay Thai has lost none of its exotic appeal or even its mystique.
The television fight broadcasts rate among the kingdom's most popular programmes.
In the provinces, villagers cluster around any available TV to watch. In the city, people disappear from the streets while Thailand is watching Muay Thai.
Source: World Muay Thai Council
Women in Muay Thai
IF you go into Aisyah Abidin's Facebook, you'll see that Muay Thai and fitness make up most of her status updates. One of her latest is a video of her in a fierce but friendly sparring match in a "Sparta Beatdown" at Sparta Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts gym in Ara Damansara on March 31.
She sparred with her "best buddy", Annie Wong. It ended in a draw.
Singapore-born Aisyah who is tall and lean with a well-toned body, has been doing Muay Thai seriously for a year before joining Sparta in December last year. She regularly works out at the gym, where you can see her lifting weights, doing intense cardio plus honing her Muay Thai skills.
The Muay Thai trainers consider her in great form and good to go into the ring.
When Life & Times meets her at the gym, Aisyah is seen sparring with fellow spartan, Azrin Izmee, 39.
Also there are women members Khairena Kamil and YL Shim.
This soft-spoken 31-year-old marathon runner says that she takes up Muay Thai as a challenge to her own level of fitness. "I wanted to see if, as a runner, I could survive the toughness and intensity of Muay Thai. And I could."
Aisyah believes that there can be another reason for her attraction to this ancient Thai martial art - her mother is Thai and her great grandmother in her younger days was a Muay Thai fighter in Southern Thailand.
Also for her, Muay Thai offers a total workout. Besides, the trainers at the gym are themselves Muay Thai champions who have trained champions.
The eldest of seven siblings, Aisyah stays in USJ, Subang Jaya and works at Safmarine Malaysia in Glenmarie in customer service.
She works out whenever she can because "working out is the cheapest way to maintain weight, stay healthy and well, stay young". So this early-riser begins a 30-minute morning workout of stretching and abs exercises at 5.30am.
Although her office is only eight kilometres from home, the morning jam makes it an hour-long drive .
So, the only "unhealthy" thing for her is having a breakfast of coffee and bread in the car as she drives to work.
She does not diet but watches her rice intake and enjoys fish or chicken, and lots of vegetables and fruits.
When she is not working out she spends time with her family or goes diving, travelling, camping or hiking with her friends.
She hasn't mentioned it in her Facebook but her short-term goal is "to get that six-pack". So far, it's a four pack that she has.
"But, I'll get there," she smiles as she pats her to-die-for ab.