Packing up your home, your business and your family and heading overseas with a bag full of unanswered questions can be tough regardless of who you are but for Tokai’s Barrett family, heading off on a martial arts journey that saw them touching down in Thailand at the end of last year, it was a decision that has bore healthy fruits.
Dad Gary, mom Kristen and seven-year-old Brandon have spent the last few months exploring the martial art of muay thai up close and personal as they went from town to town immersing themselves in this staple of Thai culture. All three have been slugging it out in the gyms as they hone their talents.
For Brandon, it has already resulted in him tackling his first full-on muay thai fight and although he came up against a much more experienced thai fighter, he grit through the experience, learned as much as he could and now relishes the opportunity to climb in the ring again as soon as he can.
Next up, Gary will be lacing up his gloves as he steps in the ring under the watchful eye of his trainer, Kru Sak, of Phuket’s Allstar Muay Thai Gym. He will fight this Sunday April 2 at Phuket’s infamous Bangla Stadium. It will be a chance for him to take the skills he has learnt over there, as well as the teachings he would have laid out for students over the years at his Diep-River based gym, Takedown Martial Arts.
“As a family we felt like it was time for a change. Being a gym owner, a trainer, a teacher for the last eight years, we sacrificed quite a lot, to the point where at one stage we were even staying in the gym and we felt we could do with an environment change and Thailand has been calling me ever since I was here five years ago.
“We decided if we could sell the gym we would follow that dream. In November last year we sold the gym to Gideon Drotschie and by mid-December we were on a plane to Phuket.
“I also felt that as a coach I was devoted to the people that I trained and didn’t get as much time to myself and for my family so this has definitely been one of the best and most worthwhile decision we have made. Leading up to it, saying goodbye to the things that we loved, was emotional but we are onto the next chapter and phase in our lives.
“We first had a nice chill and holiday for three weeks which was a chance to just spoil ourselves and see some of the smaller islands and the mainland of Thailand. We did a few training sessions at different gyms and met up with some friends we have over here and from there we decided it was time to get into the training a little more seriously. I came over here for a bit of a time-out from teaching and to get back to being a student for a change.
“I’m picking up the different nuances and techniques and am also getting a certification in pad holding. Allstar is an awesome little gym, not overly packed and it’s real muay thai. You find a gym that works for you and when I came over before, Kru Sak was one of the trainers at Patong Boxing Gym. We bumped into each other by chance when I drove past his gym and went in to check it out. I was wearing a Patong shirt and that got us chatting and realising we actually knew each other. He is a very patient trainer and in a way our gym sort of chose us, which I think is the best way, really.
“I decided to take a fight because I’m here and want to test myself and test those limits, that’s what I’m about. This is something I’m doing for myself and I’m looking forward to give it horns and give it all that I’ve got. My son has just fought, my wife is in training so yes, we are a muay thai family,” he said.
Brandon is getting a chance to see a world not many children his age get to see and to see it from the inside out as he trains on the mats and fights in the stadiums, his coach even fighting on the same night that he did. He hopes to take the skills he has learnt both in training and in his fight and push on to the next fight night.
“I love a lot of things in Thailand. The food, snorkeling and seeing parrot fish and starfish and the cats on Koh Yao Noi but my fight was one of my favourite things, even though I lost. It was tough but I know that the things we train and what my dad has shown me do work.
“Kru Sak is a good teacher and my dad is very tough on me in training and he pushes me hard. When the bell started the fight it was like I was in a dream but it was all real. My opponent’s kicks were fast and he was really good. The fight was fun but sore but it’s actually the training that is the real hard part. I am going to train more and hopefully next time I will win,” he said.
Mom Kristen now doubles up as teacher as she tackles Brandon’s academics but she feels that watching him grow and learn and being able to spend this special time in a way that many families don’t get to do makes it all worth it.
“Coming over was a tough decision. Once everyone was on board we just went with it. The biggest thing we had to adapt to was how schooling would work while we are abroad and knowing that once we jumped that hurdle, the rest would fall in place.
“Culturally this is great for Brandon. He is seeing the world, meeting new people and embracing exciting and refreshing experiences. He has learnt to work with the language barriers and has become more confident and it is great for me to see him coming out of his comfort zone. He knows that if he wants something, he must go out and get it.
“Training is definitely very tough. Getting in the right mindset and getting over those tough emotional hurdles and finding strength to overcome is what it’s all about. Watching my son fight and seeing his fearless nature and his willingness has really inspired me. I would definitely recommend muay thai to anyone. It’s a great way to embrace the culture and stay fit.
“Besides that, Thailand has the beaches, a people with a loving nature and, of course, coconuts. Talk is cheap. You have to take big chances if you want to do big things,” she said.