The Nooks of Nook – Muay Thai Trainers and Sparring
No two trainers are alike. Nook is an exceptional and individual character in innumerate ways, some of the most notable being that he manages to communicate 90% of the time without uttering actual words. His grunts and giggles and squeals are a language to themselves and I’ve certainly become proficient in interpreting their meanings. This is easy enough, however, as most of the time the message being sent out is one of delight and amusement. His name, after all is short for Sanook, which means “enjoyment” or “fun”. It’s his silence you have to watch out for.
Nook is a big man. He stands maybe 5’6″ and weighs about 180 lbs, but he’s built like a caveman with big, solid bones and hands that curl into clubs. His knuckles have knuckles and he likes to point to the more salient of them and repeat his old fighting name, “Iron Dynamite!” It’s hard to go against Nook and not come out of it with bumps and bruises simply from making contact with him – he blocks and you get hurt.
Most of the time before and after holding pads he’s perched on the edge of the ring, outside the ropes, rubbing the tendons behind his left knee where he has dark scars from an old motorbike accident. He probably lives with significant pain on a daily basis, but other than this slow, meditative massaging that is his default action, you’d never know it. He’s still strong and – though he holds pads pretty slowly, pulling them away after calling for a strike to cause the attacker to tumble forward off balance or, failing that, a bop on the head or teep or kick to the front leg for having not fallen off balance – he’s still able to turn on his fighter energy at a moment’s notice. There is always a round or two every few weeks in which someone has done something during padwork and “it gets real” so to speak. The entire gym stops and watches until the issue is resolved – usually by Nook overwhelming the transgressor – and then it all settles back to normal. Nook’s eyes get their smiling corners again and his fighter eyes recede behind the laughter he emits at nearly every moment.
One of my favorite versions of Nook is when he’s “out”, which I only really ever see at fight nights. He puts on his jeans and a button-down shirt and just beams as he walks around any space he so chooses. I love the moments between rounds or between bouts when he takes a little lap out of the gambler’s crowd to make faces or saunter around with a look of delight or feigned exasperation. He is strongly in his element without fitting in at all.
The Sunday after my 26th fight I came back to the gym for some light training. There were two trainers there, Neung and Nook. Neung was holding pads for a guy I’d never seen before, probably a single-session day tripper, while the guy’s girlfriend took pictures from outside the ring. Nook was in just his trunks and sandals, doing some yard work for a few rounds before jumping in the ring to correct something that Neung was having a hard time communicating, This was funny, since neither Nook nor Neung speaks very much English, so it was Nook’s grunting and approving sounds that were taking over as the main language. Once in the ring Nook started eyeing me as I shadowed on the floor and within a few minutes he called me over. “Jep mai?” he asked. I told him nothing hurt and he nodded, pointing toward nothing on the side of the ring which I instinctively knew meant “gear up.”
So I put on some shinpads and gloves and got in the ring. We started sparring, just moving around in the way that Nook likes to provoke and counter, spoiling attacks and leaning all his weight into me on the ropes so that I have to fight my way to a better position where I can at least knee since there’s no chance of me throwing him off. It was fun. Nook isn’t known for keeping diligent time during rounds and since nobody else was calling time our first round lasted 25 minutes. The first video below is the last 7 minutes of that round, when my husband arrived at the gym. I was lightheaded, which I’ve never really experienced in training before. Then it was time to get back up and go back at it for another almost 20 minute round. Sanook indeed.