The music blares. A group of people that varies in number from five and 25 moves around the room in a circle, running, strafing and hopping around the room, before dropping to the floor to do pushups and sit-ups. On other days the running and laps are supplanted by a crucible of jump rope.
Later, the snapping, percussive sounds of gloves striking punching pads fills the room along with the bellicose grunts of people throwing punches, knees, elbows, feet – and shins at the impact pads.
Though this sounds like a pretty rough way to spend the evening, the people doing so couldn’t be happier, and the mood is one of levity and lightheartedness. This is a slice of what life is like training Muay Thai at Highland Muay Thai and Fitness.
Although people attending classes have a great deal of fun, they are putting in some serious work.
That work ethic – and the constant drive toward self-improvement it entails – is one of the pillars upon which the philosophy behind Muay Thai rests, noted Highland Muay Thai and Fitness owner and founder Matt Martin.
“There’s a lot of practice. It’s an art form,” Martin said, to the sound of boxing gloves hitting a heavy bag. “There’s punching, kicking, elbows and knees involved. There’s some standing grappling and clinch. You practice certain moves over time and you get better – it’s a discipline.”
By the end of the class the work ethic of Muay Thai is in full effect. Sore muscles, a sheen of sweat and an overarching sense of accomplishment are among the things that you take home from a proper interval of training.
Martin said he’s glad to see many people who were part of his previous club return, as well as some of the new faces he’s been seeing.
“It draws in a great crowd, with people from all walks of life,” Martin said. “That’s what’s fun about; we all come together to do Muay Thai.”
After the initial workout, the class is devoted to the nuanced, technical element of Muay Thai – the actual performance of the martial art.
During the instruction in the technical nuances of Muay Thai, acuity and proper posture from how far apart your feet are, to where you keep your hands raised are important, but Martin is an encouraging instructor, and although he pushes his students, he also stresses the importance of taking things at your own pace.
Martin emphasized that respect underpins Muay Thai – something acknowledged in the formal etiquette that bookends each class.
“Muay Thai involves respect for your community, for yourself, for your students – you try and do good, not only in here. It spills over into the community,” Martin said. “A lot of respect comes through the hard work and training. There is respect to that work and the work ethic students put into it.”
Martin teaches Muay Thai in three adult classes and two youth classes a week. He also does two fitness classes a week, which entail kettle bell, plyometric and bodyweight exercises.
Been here before
There is an ease in which Martin falls into the drills and lessons of his Muay Thai class – almost as if he’s done it before. That’s because he has.
This is not the first time Martin has provided tutelage in the science of eight limbs in Antigonish.
Martin ran a Muay Thai club in Antigonish called Matty’s Muay Thai from 2013-2015.
After marrying into the community, Martin admits he not only fell for his wife, Jennifer Boyle, but also became smitten with the community of Antigonish. This due to Martin seeing a great deal of commonality between his hometown of North Bay, ON and Antigonish, through the strong sense of community both places have.
“I feel like the community adopted me,” Martin said with a grin. “I definitely feel at home here on the east coast.”
Although the class has changed locations a few times – from the fire hall on Sydney Street, the barn up on Mount Cameron – and for a little while, the City of North Bay – Martin noted he found a good spot back in Antigonish, with the club taking shape in the basement of the old post office on Main Street.
“I used to have my name on the logo,” Martin explained, pointing to the back of his sweater, which bore the old logo for his club. “I wanted to change that.”
Looking for a name that would appeal more to the larger community, Martin observed a naming scheme for businesses in his home town.
“North Bay is called the Gateway to the North, so a lot of businesses have ‘gateway’ in front of their name,” Martin said. “I thought highland is a word you see associated a lot with Antigonish, so it would be a good fit.”
Martin recalled fondly how several long-time members of the club, from when it was based in Antigonish before, pitched in to clean out the basement and prepare it for the impact mats, heavy bags and workout equipment
“A couple of old members who used to train with me bought this building, and that’s how I ended up finding this great location,” Martin said. “It basically fell into my lap. It’s much bigger than previous places, and I like how it’s centrally located downtown with lots of parking. Mount Cameron was really cool with its beautiful views, but it was out of the way and not big enough to accommodate the growth of the club.”
That growth entails upgrades to the facility. Martin noted he intends to cover more of the cement floor of the basement of the old post office with training mats, set up more bags for punching and kicking – and eventually set up a boxing ring.
Martin also hopes to get weightlifting equipment, including free weights, a bench, a squat rack and stationary bike and treadmill.
Martin said he wants Highland Muay Thai and Fitness to eventually become a multi-purpose fitness destination, “something that is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.” in which people can work out and avail themselves of the classes Martin offers.