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Raul Moktan: Gymkhana and the Revolution of Fitness in Nepal

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A glass of red wine glints in the solemn yellow lights. There are a variety of cheeses and cold cuts plated on the slightly rough white cotton tablecloth. Soft music lulls the atmosphere into a quiet calm as you take in this ritual of delicate, intense pleasure. Through the years the culture of dining has changed in Nepal. The restaurant industry in Nepal has upgraded from simple eateries to exquisite establishments serving delicious delicacies and first-class service. The same trend of development can be seen in the education sectors, health sectors and hospitality sectors where entire concepts have evolved to completely new levels.  However, the fitness industry has failed to exhibit such developments.

While there have been a few attempts towards changing the way “fitness” is looked at, much of the developments in the industry have been primarily about refining the preexisting notions of cardio and isolation exercises. So, as more and more gyms open up throughout the country, it still remains a replication of the several others that are already established.

Back in 2015, when we first met Raul Moktan (Co Founder and Executive Director of Gymkhana Muay Thai), we talked about how the fitness industry was stuck in a rut and that he was working on a project that would be out of the norm. Having been involved with Muay Thai for 10 years he bagged the gold medal twice at the Indian Kick Boxing Championship and became the WPKA (World Pan Amateur Kick Boxing Association) Champion at the 65 kgs category in Greece. Considering his passion for Muay Thai, we were certain it would involve the sport. He wanted to start something that would change the face of Nepalese fitness; and with Gymkhana now established, it looks like he delivered.

Gymkhana Muay Thai is an institution dedicated to provide world-class facilities and services that can best help achieve and fulfill what they believe is the accurate definition of fitness: the ability to move heavy loads over large distances in a short amount of time. Their infrastructure, which is hands down the best in the industry at the moment, looks to live up to their claim.

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Two years after our first meeting, we met with Raul again at the Gymkhana where we picked up our conversation from where we last left off.

TNM: This has been a long time coming hasn’t it?

Yes, yes it has. This has been in the books for a very long time for me. And at one point I was rushing the whole thing. I was losing patience and I almost ended up renting a mediocre space to get the gym going.

Then the earthquake happened and I got busy with the relief work for almost a year. This gave me time to contemplate things and it helped me to realize that I wouldn’t be able to settle for anything less than what I initially had in mind.

The earthquake led the economy to a slump and no one was investing. It took some time for things to get back to normal but that gave me some time to work towards what I had always planned but more patiently. Things fell into place, and I got this space, which was perfect.

TNM: We take it that the Gymkhana is more inclined towards teaching Muay Thai?

My main focus was always functional fitness and Muay Thai. Those are my passions; but then again we’re running a business. Gymkhana needs to have the range that people can choose from, after all this is for the people and the members that would be interested in joining. Also, it’s not practical to expect everybody to share the same passion. I didn’t want people to feel like they were short of choices. Gymkhana is more than just a gym; this is a one-stop fitness solution

TNM: Now that you’re well into the fitness scene, in your opinion, how has it evolved through the years?

Look back 10 years and you’ll see that Kathmandu has changed quite a bit. The restaurants, the hotels, clubs, pubs, hospitals, schools and basically everything have changed and have become more standardized through the years. However, the fitness industry seems to be lacking behind on this aspect. The gyms that we had 10 years ago are pretty much similar to the gyms we have now.

But the changing perception of fitness amongst people has led to changing fitness goals.10 years ago, people who went to the gym were mostly bodybuilders. But now, going to the gym has become an integral part of people’s lifestyle.

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TNM: The Gymkhana is off the hook, definitely a benchmark. But it looks like a mighty big investment.

I have put in a lot of effort and investment into this. It is a gamble but if you have faith in your product, it doesn’t seem that scary. No one demanded a facility like Gymkhana because no one thought something like this could be done. But now that it’s here, it is getting so much attention. Now, other gyms are trying to replicate what we provide; which is great. If what we are doing helps revolutionize the industry it’s a win for everyone.

TNM: What sets Gymkhana apart?

The best part of Gymkhana is our team. We have carefully selected people to work with us and we will go above and beyond to do just that. For Muay Thai, we have international athletes coming in which I am really excited about. They are professionals who have had years and years of experience in this field; it’s like they’re the Rolling Stones of Muay Thai and they are here in Nepal. They are experts in the field, and are legends to say the least. They will be training us because we want to be able to provide the best service and facilities that there is. That’s what we do.

Not only that, at all times, we have a minimum of three instructors on the floor which is actually very important in functional fitness because injuries can happen very often if not done properly. So, to monitor that and to keep things under control if something happens, three instructors are always on standby.

Our instructors are also high achieving athletes and trainers and the best in Nepal themselves; but we have also flown in international trainers to train them because… why not? We are striving for nothing less than the best.

Even with all the equipment and facilities in the world, Gymkhana would be nothing if it weren’t for the team that we have. We had an extensive hiring process where we made sure that we got the best people. I’m a 100% sure and equally happy that Gymkhana has the best trainers and instructors in the country.

Also, we have got the top 5 equipment for Cardio in 2017. We even flew in equipment from the US because we couldn’t get it anywhere else. Our principle is to get a smart and effective workout, where you’re in the gym for 45 minutes that is more effective than the 2 hours you normally spend at the gym. We put in a lot of research to make sure we had the right products that matched our principles.

For instance, if you run on a regular treadmill for 45 minutes and you run on our curved treadmill for 5 minutes, it has the same effect; even better because it reduces your chance of injury or any long term health issues. We also realize the importance of time in today’s day and age so with highly technical equipment we can cut back a significant amount of time with significantly better results. That’s why we have effective equipment like the Jacob’s Ladder, curved treadmills, and assault air bikes.

TNM: Back to Muay Thai, now. It’s been in Nepal for a long time, but it hasn’t really taken off.

The reason why Muay Thai is not gaining the popularity it deserves is because there is no Muay Thai in Nepal, not a proper one at least. It is not a commercial or a particularly glamorous sport. It is painful and it is brutal and it is not for everybody. You might feel like you’re made for Muay Thai, but until you get punched in the face you can’t really tell. It is not a mainstream sport nor is it as glamourized as other commercial sports. Still it requires more training and dedication than almost every other sport.

Although social media and television have brought MMA, and with that Muay Thai, into the limelight it is generally hard to make a career out of being an athlete in Nepal. There is no place to train properly nor is there proper support. The situation would have been different if there was someone that put Nepal on the map in the field of Muay Thai, but I’m confident that within the next few years this will change.

To make that happen, we have our paying clients that train at Gymkhana but we are also building a team of deserving athletes. I want Nepal and Gymkhana to be on international platforms in this field and at least receive some acknowledgement. That’s why we’re working to assemble Gymkhana’s Fight Team. Deserving people will be selected to be in the Fight Team and will not have to pay for the membership fees. The selection process will be grueling and stringent but for the selected few, we’ll take care of everything there after.

TNM: What do you look for in the fighters during selection?

Heart. You can teach anyone to throw kicks and punches, but you need to have heart if you’re going to make it in this sport. We want the best fighters and we want to create a sustainable future for those who deserve it.

TNM: That would be of great help for prospective athletes in the sport.

Definitely. As athletes, we never had the support that we needed; and I’m talking from personal experience. When I was fighting, I made sure I never entered the ring without the Nepalese flag on me and left with one around my shoulders. But I struggled to get any help in return from our national associations.

Forget about earning any money, I had to pay to get into fights. I loved representing Nepal in the sport but as a college student it wasn’t always easy, especially when you’re making a trip to the hospital after every fight.

I am in a good place but there are people who are not so fortunate; I know the struggle all too well. So through Gymkhana we try and help people achieve their goals and hopefully get attention from the government and the country as well. And not only in Muay Thai, we will help athletes in any field we can.

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TNM: What obstacles have you come across in the process of establishing Gymkhana?

It’s been a long journey for me. Many people have been with me in the beginning of this journey, many in the middle, but very few people have stuck through. Some thought I was crazy for doing what I was doing, some people still do. In terms of other obstacles, one was the earthquake, which hit us big. Then there was the blockade.

Now the obstacles I see are different. People say “it’s so expensive, five star hotels don’t charge this much”. But they don’t  realize that’s a five star hotel not a five star gym. The gyms in five star hotels are basic, it’s meant for travellers who are staying for the night and want to get a quick workout at the hotel. I’m sorry, but in most cases it’s not even a complete gym.

People say the rates are very expensive, but we are giving you the best facilities and we are the only ones who guarantee results. You pay Rs.80, 000 a month and you get access to the gym, cardio, sauna, steam, Jacuzzi and you can use the crossfit and Muay Thai section when it’s not in use. We’ve got more trainers than any other gym and we’re giving everyone their money’s worth and more.

TNM: Who is Gymkhana for?

For everyone, as long as they are committed to fitness. There are people who get intimidated into thinking that they need to be fit to workout at Gymkhana. You don’t. But you need to be focused and have the determination to change their lifestyle. This is not the kind of a gym that you come in to and do whatever you want.

TNM: What is your opinion on the perception of people toward fitness?

People have really grown into the fitness industry now. There are people who are jumping onto the bandwagon because of the trend, but there are also people who are seriously into fitness.

Don’t get me wrong; fitness has different meanings for different people. But the closest definition we have is the one purported by Greg Glassman, the founder of Cross Fit.  He defines fitness as “the ability to move heavy loads over large distance in a short period of time.” And it is as simple as that. This encompasses lifting, endurance, power and speed into the definition of fitness.

But most people don’t know the actual meaning of fitness. If you have bulging biceps and a massive back but you can’t run up a flight of stairs without breathing your lungs out, what’s the point?

That’s why gyms need to step up their game. The people are willing to adopt new concepts and ideologies, they just need the right facilities and services which is worth their money.

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