RAUL MOKTAN: BRINGING MUAY THAI TO NEPAL
Muay Thai is called the art of eight limbs and that in itself emphasizes the effectiveness of it in combat. The hard hitting sport utilizes the shins, elbows, fists and knees while in contest. It is considered as one of the most brutal sports in the world, and for good reason too. If the grueling training regimen doesn’t faze you, watching the full contact sport in action will make you think twice about stepping into the ring. It’s not a sport for the faint of heart. Raul Moktan fell in love with the sport and it changed his life by establishing a discipline and giving a firm direction to his future. He has been involved in the sport for eight years bagging the gold medal twice at the Indian Kick Boxing
Championship and becoming the WPKA (World Pan Amateur Kick Boxing Association) Champion at the 65 kgs category in Greece. With an excellent track record in competition, Raul is now more focused on training others in the discipline of Muay Thai. In fact, he is all set to start a “no thrills no frills” gymnasium in the Capital. We caught up with Raul to talk about the sport, his love for it and his new venture.
How did you first get into Muay Thai?
I remember I was watching TV with my dad when I was a kid and something related to Muay Thai came up. Then my dad told me that these guys could kick down trees with their kicks, but he conveniently left out the part about the trees being banana trees. At that age, when you hear about someone kicking down trees with kicks, you’re going to be interested. I think that is what initially pushed me towards the sport.
But things fell into place much later in my life. I started late when I was around 21 or 22, and that’s the age when most Muay Thai boxers start retiring from the sport. Nevertheless, I was hooked to it from day one. When I saw how real it was, I knew this was what I wanted to do. In a real life scenario, I think this would be more practical than other forms of martial arts. It is the most brutal sport, but I don’t see it as fighting but more as a sport. Some people play foot ball, some play basketball… I fight.
How has the sport helped you as a person?
It has changed the way I lived my life. Martial art is a beautiful thing because it instills a sense of discipline in you. I was a slacker my whole life. I rarely woke up before 10 and had all the wrong habits. I was always told I was a good for nothing bum. I wanted to do something no one thought I could do. The criticism was the shove I needed.
Martial arts made a disciplined man out of me, and that comes out of hardship. My father always tells me that to be stronger; you have to be broken down. I was broken down. I was full of pride when I walked into the gym for the first time. I was going to walk in there and make an impression with a mean right cross. But when a little kid wipes the floor with you, it humbles you, which is what happened. Then you start working and get more disciplined. That’s how you get better.
It must have been difficult to change your lifestyle so drastically.
Yes, but the thing is, I fell in love with it in a crazy way. The first day I was at the gym, I was hooked. I picked up a pair of gloves and went back home, sat on YouTube for hours and checked out techniques, combinations and how to go about it. The next day I bought a bag, unhooked the ceiling fan and hooked the bag into place. Remember, this in Delhi where it reaches 44 degrees Celsius which makes it even crazier. But I’d be on it the entire day then go to the gym and train even more. You need to love the sport if you want to really excel, that’s something I learned.
How did you decide on making a career out of it?
I always knew I wasn’t cut out for a 9 to 5. I didn’t want to and I was honest with myself about it. Right from the start I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but everyone said Icouldn’t do it. And you don’t tell me I can’t do something. I told everyone that I’d be world champion in three years and I managed to do it in two.
Is the training as brutal as it seems on television?
The method of training can differ from gym to gym. People think that getting hurt will make you stronger but that’s not necessarily true. That being said, when you walk into a Thai boxing class, you should expect to get hit once in a while. But are you using the right methods and protection? Are you wearing head guards, shin guards, the proper gloves? All of this comes into the equation. I’ve been injured countless times, but that’s just part of the game.
Any injuries worth mentioning?
A broken foot, broken toe, torn hamstring, countless bruised lips and cuts inside my mouth.
Now that doesn’t sound pleasant?
I always knew I wanted to get into the sport competitively, so my training and fighting led to a few injuries. But there are people who want to fight to just get the feel of being in the ring. They don’t necessarily have to give in their all to the point of getting injured. I went into the rural villages of Thailand and lived in the camps and trained there. So naturally, when you’re training on that level, you’re going to get a few bumps and bruises. If you want to make it a career, the possibilities of getting hurt don’t seem so daunting. The same might not be the case for other people. It’s all relative.
I take it that your training was pretty raw and brutal?
I was introduced to the real Thai style of training because I was -not really cocky- but definitely confident when I started out. In fact, I got into my first real fight 1 month after my training started. And the second fight followed 10 minutes after the first. I won the first fight, called my parents, went back to the changing room and was taking my hand wraps off when my trainer came in told me I had another fight coming up. So I rewrapped my hands and went out to my second fight of the night. When I won both fights, that’s when my trainer started thinking I might not be completely full of shit.
But.. we can’t quite get to terms with the idea of going through so much hurt and pain.
When you’re not in it and you watch someone getting hurt, it’s scary. But when you’re fighting and you get hurt you just learn that it’s part of the process.
How does one prepare to get hurt?
Iron sharpens iron. If you’re in a good gym, you’ve got good training partners who are going to introduce you to pain but prevent an injury and that’s the best way to know you’re ready. Then getting hurt doesn’t matter so much.
How has starting out late affected your career?
In Thailand kids have their first fight when they’re seven. That gives them enough time to get in near to 150 fights under their belt by the time they’re 25. Retiring is a matter of wear and tear that your body takes and the miles that you put in rather than the age. But if you’ve been training smart, been careful with your body and not fighting 3 fights a week you can carry on for a long time. UFC shows you that more seasoned fighters fight very successfully well into their mid 30s. And it also seems that you reach your physical athletic peak at 28 and if you train well you can carry on for years.
Do you plan on continuing to fight?
Yes, but not for the same reasons. To a certain degree, I think I’ve achieved the goals I had set out for myself when I started fighting. Now I want to fight to keep our country’s name in the sport. We don’t have a great track record in sports, especially in this one. I want to pave way for future boxers who want to get into Muay Thai from Nepal.
That falls in line with your new venture. Tell us more.
I’m going to start a no thrills no frills hardcore training center which will be focused around Muay Thai and functional fitness. We will also be introducing Muay Thai, in the purest form that has come to the country. I want to give the kids the same experience I got in Thailand without having to sleep on thin mats and huts. We won’t be focusing on regular isolated movements you do at traditional gyms. I want to focus more on functional training which will be incorporated into fighting.
What is functional fitness?
Functional fitness applies through all spheres of life. It doesn’t matter if you’re 6 years old or 60. You can do it. When I say functional training I without breathing your lung right out of your body is the result I want to see in people. That is when people will realize that looking good in a tight t-shirt isn’t all that it’s cut out to be unless you are truly fit.
Sounds solid. When can we join?
I was looking to get started in 6 months, but I’m trying to do it earlier.Maybe 3 months.
What can member expect when they join the gym?
We’re all about improvement. You are competing with yourself and no one else and everyone will encourage you to achieve more. There’s a saying in fighting; “You either learn or you win. There is no losing”. And it’s the same case with training. Everyone I have in the gym is there to support you. There is no shame in coming in last as long as you keep trying to improve. You’re there and that alone is a big step.
IRON SHARPENS IRON. IF YOU’RE IN A GOOD GYM, YOU’VE GOT GOOD TRAINING PARTNERS WHO ARE GOING TO INTRODUCE YOU TO PAIN BUT PREVENT AN INJURY AND THAT’S THE BEST WAY TO KNOW YOU’RE READY
What is your favorite move or combo while fighting?
My first trainer calls me Circus because I tend to throw a lot of fancy kicks. But they’re only fancy up until they come swinging at your head, land and knock you out. So, my kicking game has always been strong, but I couldn’t box to save my life. I had won 6 fights by depending on my kicks but I knew I could only get so far. So I asked a Mexican guy to train me with my boxing. Ever since, I focused a lot on my boxing. So my favorite move would have to be a combination of a right cross, left hook to the body that opens up the head and a right head kick to finish it off. It’s more of a counter move.
When was the first time you got knocked out?
I’ve never been knocked out or knocked down. Thai boxing is a brutal sport where fighters might go swinging in until one of them gets knocked out. Maybe it’s because I started late but I had a sense of maturity to learn that there is no sense in getting hurt and there is no pride in seeing who’s tougher.
What would you say is your greatest achievement?
The title that I won, at that moment I hadn’t even realized what I had done. That was until when someone from the crowd gave me Nepal’s flag. He had come just because he saw that a Nepali guy was fighting, and the Nepali guy won. I put that flag on me and that was a huge huge moment for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it. Also, since I started teaching, watching my students fight, is a great feeling. I am talking about day to day functions. I’m talking about changing a light bulb, moving a bag from one place to another, shifting your furniture around. If you’re not in shape a simple task like moving a heavy chair can potentially injure you. Functional fitness lets you achieve functionality. It doesn’t matter if you want to fight, lose weight, get fit or maintain your fitness. All of these things can be achieved with the programs I will be introducing soon.
Are your trainings going to be as brutal as the ones you went through in the villages of Thailand?
It depends. If the person in context is trying to get into competitive fighting we will focus on 6 hour trainings daily, 5 days a week with adequate time for recovery. But if you have other targets in mind, you can tone it down a bit. There will be different regimes for different people. Functional training is for everyone.
The traditional view of fitness in Nepal is different; it’s not going to be easy to change people’s mindsets.
I don’t think I can change people’s mindset. What I can do is put the best version of me and when people come and train with me I can give them all the knowledge and training I have and hope that the results change their mind. Aesthetic appeal has its own importance, but being able to run a flight of stairs.
LOCATION: RAGE FITNESS
PHOTOS: BIBHAS M. SUWAL
WORDS: TNM TEAM