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Johnny Munden Interview

The Muay Thai Talk

Shelley: Johnny Munden, Muay Thai trainer and lovely, lovely person.

Johnny: Thank you.

S: So just a few questions about your wonderful club, if that’s ok?

J: Absolutely, no worries.

S: Firstly, I can’t believe you have so many girls in your club, is that just your club, or has there been general increase?

J: No, there’s been a definite increase. One of the joys of Sweat Box is that you get to see the Jujitsu, MMA, the Thai boxing and even the Boxing classes, you can see it going across the board, and because everyone is so open to it, you see it on every level, so from the fitness side to people doing every single class, and also the lovely thing is that it’s all equal and that’s the thing I’ve seen change over the years. A few years ago, it would be one woman in a class of thirty blokes…

S: Haha, that’s normally me.

J: Exactly! And it’s so good to see the difference now and how it’s evolved and moved on, and it’ll keep doing that. Definitely.

S: That is quite impressive! But you were just saying about MMA and you’ve got loads of different things at SweatBox, so from a Muay Thai perspective, what’s your feeling in terms of people training in different martial arts? Say if someone did Boxing, Kickboxing and Muay Thai for example?

J: Normally, I would say once someone’s got a core in one thing they’ve got something to evolve from. The worst thing I tend to find is someone who says ‘I do MMA and I’m going to do this, this and this’ and they’ve done nothing, so then they become crap boxers and not the best kickers, so it doesn’t flow together, like tonight we’ve had boxers, Taekwondo etc all working from the same background, but again evolving towards becoming a Thai boxer, so once you’ve got to that level, then I’d say yeah, try other things, or go to the appropriate MMA classes, not just try this here, this there. So, with something like SweatBox it’s all joined up, like if I tried a different gym, and a different and a different gym, the instructors would be different, some would say ‘keep your hands up’, others, ‘put your hands down’, then you get that conflict and you don’t get the full experience.

S: You get that with fighters though, surely?

J: Oh yeah, absolutely! But the thing is that most fighters have been training long enough to have their own style and styles make fights, so at the moment if you’re dropping your hands like Connor Macgregor and knocking people out, who am I to tell you to put your hands up, but if you’ve just started and you’re doing that, most people that start switching stances don’t have a clue what they’re doing, they think they’re faking out the other person, but they generally don’t know what they’re doing, so then they get hit, and they think ‘oh, this is rubbish’ then go off and do something else.

S: So what about you, have you always done Muay Thai?

J: I started off being a very fat…sort of like a drunk man. Haha.

S: Haha, so nothing’s changed then. Just not fat.

J: Haha, yeah, I’ve not come up quite so fat. But Mike Tamsin who runs Barton Hill Muay Thai, we were friends. I never liked martial Arts, hated it, didn’t want to do it, and he tricked me into going to a class. I promptly quit the first session, but then I had to go to the next one, and that’s when Martin heard and sort of took me under his wing and it just evolved from there with a first class up in Whit church with a guy called Fara Melly who came down a couple of times a week from Manchester, training under Master Quin and Master Woody, who were the ones who graded me as an instructor, all those years a go, but yeah, it’s mainly been the Thai Boxing and then it evolved into Boxing, then into Jiujutsu, then into the MMA when it first came on the scene with Kevin O’Hagan, and at that time there’s was only one place to train in JiuJutsu, one place to do stand up, we did our first stand up seminar at Whitchurch years ago, Kev did a mat, we did a mat, and it was at the beginning of UFC and before people knew what MMA was and now you’ve got choices to train every day of the week, some people are seven days a week, it’s just so different to training in church halls, like moving chairs out the way and slipping on slippery floors and having one bag in the corner, if you were lucky, I think the first boxing ring was down L.A. gym and that would’ve been at least ten, twelve years ago, so means that there would’ve been at least thirteen years of not having anything like that. So when you went off to fight clubs that had their rings and were full time gyms and you beat em…that always felt good!

S: I see that Craig Manar, he trains as well, doesn’t he?

J: Yeah, he does!

S: He has quite a lot of respect for you, on facebook. What’s all that love for?

J: Well, Craig was kickboxing, originally.

S: Who with?

J: Dave Clapworthy. And again, it was one of those things; we had a fight coming up, he came to my class and I…beat him up…

S: Haha

J: and we’ve loved each other ever since, but I didn’t think I’d see him again, but he turned round and said ‘that’s it, I wanna do this!’ so then he went off, trained in Thailand as well. I absolutely adore the bloke. He was instrumental in getting us more fights and moving the club forward. And now, the club’s evolved from being a few clubs and now it’s come back as one family whether it’s Barton Hill, Knowle, it never mattered, because you do your thing, but we’re all together.

S: And do you feel part of a family?

J: Oh yeah, totally, it’s always been a family. The thing I love is that everyone’s equal, doesn’t matter if it’s your first session or whether you’ve been training for years and you’re a champion, the bottom line is that everyone’s the same and it should be welcoming with that little edge of ‘I’m gonna test myself tonight’ but there’s no egos, it’s just get in, train, enjoy yourself and leave.

S: What about when people train, what do you see, as an instructor, as the main barriers, do you think it’s more mental or physical?

J: Generally, the hardest thing is coming through the door. I try to get people to at least step into the ring really early, not to fight but just to feel it, otherwise people put things on a pedestal, and they go I cant do this I cant do that or they look at someone and don’t realise that that person’s been through the exact same walk as they have, and that they were the smallest person. I remember the first year of my training, I just became very good at running backwards, really good at running backwards, and then people say ‘you hurt me with that’, and you’re like, ‘oh, did i?’ and it evolves from there. And everyone’s had that, and because I never knew anything, I’ve always preferred people with no confidence coming in, then getting the confidence and seeing that progression, that’s my pleasure, but I do find that once you get over that then there’s these triggers in their own heads saying ‘ ok I do want to move it up’ then they go from training once a week, twice a week then to five times a week to seeking out people to test you, instead of going through the easy route. That’s the thing. Kevin O’Hagen’s just done a brilliant blog, and again it’s not always about winning; you lose to people who are better than you, and you learn from it to move yourself forwards, not to be a horrible person, it’s about testing yourself, and the thing is it’s only when you’ve been beaten up loads of times, but in a nice way, that you have the confidence to turn around and start trying what YOU want to do. So it’s always mental, but once you get past that, then it goes in tandem. Even now the training regimes are different to when we used to just batter our bodies, the point was until you broke things, you didn’t know what didn’t work, however now, people are much more aware of recovery and to train smarter instead.

S: What do you think about those wooden things that cut across the shins?

J: Ah, that’s old-school crap. Haha. You should condition yourself by kicking heavy bags, kicking each other, kicking shin against shin to a degree, but there are people who substitute that and think ‘oh, I’ve got hard shins, so that’s ok’ I went through the stage of kicking lampposts…the day a car door slammed on my shin, I went ‘Ah…oh it don’t hurt’ and I was really pleased, but the bottom line is, it aint good for you kids, it’s not good for you. But you’ve got to have that conditioning, if you only focus on giving a punch, or a knee or elbow or whatever, when you’re scared of it, you react like that (flinches) and what happens is you get hurt with the second or third part of the combination, whereas when you know you can take it, and you’ve got that confidence, confidence builds and the only way to do it is repetitively over the time.

S: So what do you reckon then, practice makes perfect or practice makes habit, or bad habit?

J: Practice makes permanent is the way it tends to be worded. But you can’t get perfect without practicing, but the thing is if you have has a bad technique and drill it thousand times… it’s what you do under pressure, and what you drill all the time is what happens under pressure, and we’ve got to work with that because your mind gets into fight or flight, I’ve seen people shadow-box the best beautifully and then they get in the ring and all they do is jab, jab, kick because their heads not right or they haven’t conditioned their breathing properly, again that’s another thing; the breathing, when people are training, they don’t think about it, they think about the muscles, but the breathing makes such a difference to being relaxed enough to be able to what you need to do at the time. Practice makes permanent, but it also makes perfect because if you haven’t got that targeting, that speed… it all come from practice and if you haven’t got, then you aint got nothing.

S: You trained in Thailand, didn’t you?

J: A few times I trained in Thailand, generally around Koh Samui, Phuket over the years. Not massively, because I do like Thai food and I do like drinking and those beaches are really lovely, so I’ve got to be honest with you, I could’ve done a lot more, but I’ve got some bloody good photographs from there.

S: You’ve got a Thai tattoo on your back, right?

J: Yeah.

S: Where did you get that done?

J: I had it done in Koh Samui just next to WMC gym, there’s a place called Tattoo metal, I think. It’s a Thai pray for protection and for health, and family. But the thing you find is that people who think the fighting is where you are, it’s not, the bottom line is that you get a calmness from it, you don’t need to go looking for fights because you get your face busted up all the time anyway, so the reality I find is that it does calm you down. I’ve done a lot of stuff in the past, where I’ve had guys who have who have had troubled pasts; dug rehabs, violence etc, and it calms them down. I’ve lost track of the number of people that come up to me and say thank you, over the years.

S: So it gave them some sort of purpose?

J: Totally. Again, it’s because they feel like part of a family. They don’t feel that aggression, which people who are backed into a corner tend to have and lash out with. And then again, there’s always someone who can turn around and do you on the day. There’s nothing like so grand as not being able to move your leg, because it’s been kicked to shit.

S: So, last question then.

J: Go for it.

S: Best moment or memory of Muay Thai.

J: I got the English title back in my early thirties, so that was great, as I worked for it and beat the current champion. And that was luck, having the people come up from Bristol to support you and that was superb. It sounds stupid, but most of the time, the guys who have done nothing, that gets out again. But the standard of these guys and commitment the guys are putting in now, it sounds stupid but we all look back at the old days, and I remember going up to Manchester to train with Chuck Adele in Birmingham and things like that. But the thing is I love it! And all these things make you who you are. And I don’t think I would have the life I have if it weren’t for Thai boxing and not in an horrible way, it’s just been infused into my family life, my work life, it’s infused into the person I am today, most of it’s because of the confidence that came and the people through that as well. And I think that’s more for me than anything else. It’s the people around you that evolve off of it and see how they move on a progress is a beautiful thing. Like one of my students, you don’t wanna know what he was like when he walked through the door and now he’s turned round the last fight he did was absolutely superb, but again, as I said, he’s evolved and now he’s a great instructor, had fights in Thailand, when in with K.O.s to the face, where as before he couldn’t

Thanks Johnny for a wonderful session and a great chat, see you again soon! You Can train with Johnny at SB Fitness in Bedminster.