THE sound of shins slapping heavy bags and the sight of people engaged in their individual warm-up routines greeted me.
Thai boxing or Muay Thai is a martial art which originated in Thailand often nicknamed “the art of the eight limbs” due to its liberal use of punches, elbows, knees and kicks.
Russ Williams is Wales' most experienced trainer having been the first person in Wales to compete in the sport and set up gyms in Wrexham, Caerwys and Deeside.
Russ said: “I started off in martial arts when I was a teenager. At that time, most of the martial arts that I saw were too slow. You’d have to do it, learn it, and rehearse and rehearse. It wouldn’t do you any good on the street for a couple of years.
“I knew at that early stage that I wanted to be a teacher so I was looking for something that you could learn to do today and it would help you in a fight tomorrow.
“I started off doing Thai kickboxing and I just loved the training. I was training all the time.”
As an avid Mixed Martial Arts fan myself, with prior experience of ju-jitsu and karate, I'd long been eager to get involved in a Thai boxing class and I saw this as my opportunity.
I started to question my decision when, upon entry to the gym, I was asked, “Can you skip?”
Not eager to embarrass myself so early in proceedings, I opted instead to jog on the spot.
Following a class warm-up and stretches, I was thrown in at the deep end with some light sparring drills with boxing gloves, followed by some heavier sparring while wearing body armour.
“Let him kick you. Don't block it,” said Russ, cheerily.
My Muhammed Ali and Anderson Silva inspired head movement wasn't doing me any favours as I was tagged on my substantial nose several times.
“Just stay in close,” said Russ, something which is easier said than done when a trained fighter is trying to counter your attacks with punches of his own.
Despite my frequent back-pedalling, Mark Evans, who had the pleasure of beating me up, seemed impressed.
Mark said: “You could see that you had the basics there but it was just getting back into that rhythm.”
Mark is one of the regular fighters at the gym.
Mark added: “I’d always wanted to do some form of boxing or martial arts. I was just walking past here one day and there was an open day on so I came along. That was five and a half years ago.
“It’s good because it teaches fitness more than anything, discipline, it promotes confidence. We always say to the kids, ‘Don’t go out onto the streets and use this.’
“Russ promotes the gym well, there’s no egos so you won’t have people walking round picking on people. If you’re better than somebody, you’re there to help and support them.
“That’s one of the good things about the gym.”
Before the class had even ended, I could feel that my biceps and abs – muscles I'd long forgotten I actually had – were already sore.
Despite my dreadful fitness level, the hour-long class flew by and the friendly atmosphere both Mark and Russ spoke of was evident from the beginning, as was Russ' coaching skills.
Within five minutes he had improved the punching power of this skinny weakling tremendously.
After the session, Russ demonstrated how to block a punch using your head, a technique I don't think I'll be incorporating into my routine any time soon.
Russ added: “People ask me do I miss the fighting? No. Because I didn’t go into the sport, it was just to help youngsters like myself and to keep them out of trouble.
"That’s one thing. The other thing is to help someone who hasn’t got confidence; to give them confidence to stand up to the bullies.
“We’re not into going into the gym and on the treadmill and all stuff like that. We want something where if you come here, you’re getting fit but you’re learning to defend yourself as well, rather than just going to the gym to keep fit. That’s what I enjoy more.
“It definitely gives people confidence and we have a friendly atmosphere here. It’s a nice atmosphere and I’m really enjoying teaching at the moment.”
Russ runs classes every week at his Mixed Martial Arts gyms in Caerwys, Wrexham and Deeside Leisure Centre.
For further information about the classes, visit www.RussWilliamsMartialArts.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07814 516102.
See full story in the Free Press