Introduction plus Notes
For our participant observation activity, we, Greg Pascua and Enzo Agcaoili decided to attend a Muay Thai PE class. As our hobby, we enjoy watching combat sports such as mixed martial arts and boxing but for us Muay Thai is a combat sport which is vague in our mind. We decided to pick this activity for we have never experienced what it is like to participate in a legitimate Muay Thai training session, and so we could experience what Muay Thai training is like.
Both of us were quite surprised to see how nice the area was, especially since the Muay Thai program in Ateneo isn’t that popular. It was a wide area, complete with cushioned floors, punching bags, kicking bags, weights, and many more. We were also surprised to see the people that were part of this Muay Thai club – people who we usually just pass by in school, thinking that they were just ordinary students. But when we saw how powerful their kicks, punches, and combos were, our jaws dropped. We don’t think we’ll ever see those people the same again, as nobodies.
The activities were very intense, and this is coming from a member of the Ateneo Varsity Baseball Team. Enzo trains around 3 times a week, works out twice, and has weekly games. He was confident that his stamina and endurance was well enough to at least keep up with the training, but after training with the Muay Thai PE program for a mere 30 minutes, his head was on top of a trash can, close to hurling due to sheer fatigue. The training sessions were surprisingly intense to say the least. Almost too intense.
Surprisingly enough though, the members of the team and the Kru responded very well to us. They seemed very open to have outsiders train with them, as if it were a normal to them. This got us thinking that outsiders must train with them a lot. Many of the members even watched us during their breaks and assisted us with our kicks, punches, and form. It was very surprising especially for Enzo, who noted that where he comes from, assisting outsiders is a big no no and is generally frowned upon.
The PE program is not simply a class where in students know how to punch, kick, knee and clinch but a few elements of Thai culture is also integrated in the classes. For example, Kru, a Thai word for Master teacher, counts in Thai to let the students have a feel of Thai culture in class. Not only that, Kru Andre also teaches his students to greet through a gesture of gratitude and veneration which involves bowing to a person with hands at a position similar to praying. The students from this class would also get to learn discipline and respect under the tutelage of Kru Andre.
Observation and Participation:
Last Wednesday, since we were given a free cut by our teacher and since the Muay Thai class took place during that free cut, we decided to participate in the 2:30 – 3:30 PM PE class. At around 2:40, we arrived in the area where the Muay Thai class was held. When we arrived, we noticed that the students were excruciatingly exhausted. At first, we thought of these observations as exaggerations because PE classes are supposed to be chill and PE classes do not demand grueling physical exercises. This is the case for students in PE classes are not members of varsity sports, and training could be light.
The students of this first class did two exercises, which are the tabata sprints and an endurance midkick exercise. Tabata sprints is an exercise wherein a student will dash back and forth the basketball court for 20 seconds and will have a 10 second break afterwards, and this exercise will be done 8 times. For the midkick exercise, a total of 55 left and right mid kicks will be executed by the students continuously. At the end of their session, we thought we would not be incredibly exhausted afterwards for Greg plays Frisbee regularly and Enzo is a varsity Baseball player. We thought that our stamina would be enough to compensate this PE session’s rigorous demands. Apparently, this assumption of ours was incorrect.
For the participation part, we realized that activities are extremely different when we plan and forecast it in our heads compared to actually doing it. Participating in the class somehow tested us if we could fulfill the expectations we had during the observation. For Greg’s case, he finished all the exercises but as time went on during the exercises he was surprised that his stamina let down. Enzo on the other hand was close to hurling. We both expected ourselves to withstand the adversities we endured in those exercises. Participating in this activity made us realize some stuff. Greg realized that his current fitness levels is somehow mediocre. Enzo realized that his baseball-training program has nothing on these guys. He also realized never to underestimate other people as well. These things could not be achieved and acquired from mere observation.
Key informants helped us understand Muay Thai as a culture and as a combat sport even more. Members of the team also assisted us on how to land the proper power kick with the right juxtaposition and movement of the body. They somehow made us complete our tasks easier for they pushed and encouraged us whenever we had landed the proper kick or when our pace was slowing down. Team members were also able to answer Greg’s questions regarding the importance of pivoting the lead foot to generate optimum power for his kicks. With that, Kru did not necessarily elaborate why those specific exercises were done, but in a general overview doing those exercises regularly would improve one’s stamina and technique.
Participant observation is somehow a more effective way in gathering information compared to interviews and survey. This is the case because interviews and survey offer people only a sneak peek of Muay Thai training’s and essence. In fact, exaggerating feedback coming from interviews and surveys may alter the true essence or gist of the Muay Thai activity. Interviews and surveys may not exactly pinpoint and give the exact sensation of training for interviews and surveys fail to express the feeling of exhaustion and struggle while enduring at a middle of a routine. The participant observation activity has allowed us to experience those sensations of joy, exhaustion and struggle in those routines.
However, there are instances where questionnaires are more effective ways in gathering information than participant observation, even in the field of Muay Thai, or martial arts for that matter. We believe that this is in answering the more abstract questions like wondering how many Ateneans currently enrolled are willing to train, or how much money are Ateneans willing to pay for a month’s worth of training. As you can see, the questions are quite abstract and general. Surely asking real and concrete things in a survey like whether or not a person could complete a tabata sprint in one piece would be asking a little too much as that person will be basing his ability on what he thinks he can accomplish vs. what he can actually accomplish.
Our presence however didn’t influence the scene much. Like we said, the Muay Thai team seemed very comfortable with having outsiders train with them. We were just in the back, following what the Kru told the class. When it came to the kicking of the bags, due to the numerous equipment we were readily and easily handed a bag and a corner of the room to kick and punch to our hearts content. However when Kru or other members of the team saw that we were executing the wrong form of kicks, he let us stop and he corrected the form of our kicks. This gesture of them showed that the Muay Thai team is welcome to people who aspire and wish to learn more in Muay Thai.