Muay Thai talk with champ Nadine Champion

Muay Thai, according to Wikipedia, is “a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques” (thanks Wikipedia).   That sounds completely dry and not exciting at all, but having watched a couple of fights both in Thailand and in Sydney, I can tell you that Muay Thai is an exciting sport to watch live, but sheesh it looks hard as hell.

Nadine Champion is not just a Muay Thai teacher, she’s also a champion fighter with 30 years experience.  As a woman in a very male dominated sport, as well as a cancer survivor, Nadine has had her fair share of heavy duty rounds, both in and out of the ring. Champion by name, champion by nature.

Nadine Champion: fighter, teacher, badass.  **Image courtesy of Nadine Champion.

Nadine Champion: fighter, teacher, badass. **Image courtesy of Nadine Champion.

Her TEDx Sydney talk is now online, where she talks about the fighter’s spirit and what her passion for martial arts brought to her life. It’s truly one of the more inspiring talks you’ll ever hear, and I highly recommend anyone to listen to this talk to get you going, to inspire you, to motivate you.  Watch it through to the very end (I don’t want to give away the surprise!).

Apart from her being an amazing athlete and sensei/teacher, I wanted to talk to her about Muay Thai, her love of martial arts and why she stuck with it through thick and thin.  Here’s Nadine in her own words below:

1. How did you get started in Martial Arts?

I got started in martial arts nearly 30 years ago, but I was training in traditional styles that didn’t involve contact such as punches to the face in training. After a real life dirty street fight that I didn’t win, I realised I needed a more realistic type of training. I found Benny “The Jet” Urquidez’s style of martial arts called Ukidokan and part of that was full contact kickboxing. This led me to muay thai and competing in the ring.

2. What was it that attracted you to Muay Thai?

What attracted me to this type of training was the opportunity to experience the traditions of being a fighter and also make peace with getting hit. I was scared if I got hit then I would get hurt, which had been my real life experience. But I saw fighters who could take a shot and keep going, so I wanted to find out what it took to become like them. When I was young the fighters seemed amazing to me. So brave, strong and frankly just special. I liked the way they got to use their skills for real and test themselves against another person. I wanted in!

3. What exactly is Muay Thai, and how is it different to other forms of martial arts?

Muay thai is often known as the art of 8 limbs, which means not only are the hands and feet used to strike, but also the knees and elbows. The simplest difference separating it from other martial arts is in the techniques used and how they are carried out. For example in Tae Kwon do (a Korean martial art) you are not allowed to elbow an opponent in the face during competition, but this scores highly in a Muay Thai bout.

Muay thai and kickboxing are both sports done in a boxing ring with only boxing gloves & mouthguard. Many martial arts do not compete as sports or if they do compete the matches are either non/ light contact or special padded equipment is used to protect the body and head.

I saw fighters who could take a shot and keep going, so I wanted to find out what it took to become like them

4. What’s you favourite thing about Muay Thai, and how does this compare to other martial arts moves/practices?

My favourite thing about it is that it has taught me what I’m truly capable of and changed the way I live my life. All the best things is my life have come from training, from the way I feel emotionally about myself, to having a healthy lifestyle, positive friends, and an incredible teacher as a guide in the gyms and also in my life. Many martial arts also provide these types of benefits, each with it;s own set of practices and traditions that make it special. For me, the full contact tradition was something that set it apart.

5. What can other people take away from the practice of Muay Thai?

The key things people take away from training are self-discipline, courage, perseverance, respect fro themselves and others, humility, honour and confidence.

6. Everyone would want to know what it feels like to be a woman in a very male-dominated field, but I want to know how you overcome everyone’s preconceived notions of being a woman in this field.  How did you overcome the naysayers, the people that just thought you wouldn’t make it as far as you have?

I grew up always being one of the few girls in the martial arts class, so it seemed pretty normal to me. But I’ve definitely run into sexism & misogyny over the years. I just see it as fear and insecurity on the part of the person saying it. What I do shouldn’t be someone else’s concern. I think it’s a bit sad when people have pre-conceived notions of what someone is capable of just based on their gender alone.

I’ve found the antidote to this is just to be who you are an take up the space you area in. I was taught this in a very macho boxing gym in Canada as a young fighter. The guys would literally take the space you were training in off you unless you held your ground. By getting on with what I was doing, owing my right to be there and being quietly confident I earnt their respect. The same goes for naysayers. You can’t worry about them. The best thing is to just do your best for you and they’ll either respect you or not. I’ve changed some minds that way over the years for sure.

I’ve definitely run into sexism & misogyny over the years. I just see it as fear and insecurity on the part of the person saying it

I know when I started teaching at the prestigious UFC Gym there was a well respected Muay thai coach who said something unhelpful on social media about the coaching staff. So I spoke to him next time I saw him – not to challenge him on what he’d said but just to share with him a bit more about how I teach and how much I love it. The next thing you know he was saying helpful things on social media. You can’t force people to be respectful or change their closed minds, but you can be the best of who you are unapologetically and good people will support you.

7. You’ve overcome cancer, you’re a teacher, you have decades of experience behind you.  What makes a fighter’s spirit?

In my experience a fighter’s spirit is made of a desire to be their best. That doesn’t mean always winning or being perfect, but it’s a spirit of wanting to hang in there even when the going gets tough. I’ve had the chance to test this theory through fighting, teaching and even cancer. What it’s taught me is that some people quit too soon, before the good bits happen! A fighter’s spirit is about not giving up and doing your best even when the odds are stacked against you.


Champion by name, champion by nature. ***Image courtesy of Nadine Champion.

8.  How can a person start out in Muay Thai?

You can find a muay thai or martial arts school on google in a few seconds, but I suggest going to try a class at 2 or 3 different gyms before you choose one to devote your practice to. You have to find a place you feel comfortable, where they treat everyone with respect, where the teaching style makes sense to you and where you have fun while you’re sweating!

Doing your first class can be intimidating, so ask lots of questions before you go or watch a class first so you low what to expect. Then use 10 seconds of courage to take the plunge and go for it. If you’re in Sydney, you can come try my muay thai class at UFC Gym in Alexandria. It’s fun, I promise!

9. How has your experience in martial arts and Muay Thai enriched your life?

My training has enriched my life in so many ways, but most of the best ones have been in giving me the confidence to be happy with who I am. I see people every day struggling with themselves over food, smoking, not liking their bodies or not feeling good about themselves. Those things make life so hard from the inside out. But training has given me the ability to enjoy my life more as my self esteem grew from facing new challenges in the ring.

You can’t force people to be respectful or change their closed minds, but you can be the best of who you are unapologetically and good people will support you

10. What advice would you give anyone wanting do take up Muay Thai as a practice?

My advice would be to give it a try and see if you fall in love with it. Have an open mind, be prepared to work hard within your limits and be open to learning new things. I love trying new things and being sick taught me that there are no guarantees you’re going to have time to do these things later, so there’s no time like the present to act on it!

A bit more about Muay Thai

As Nadine mentioned in her interview above, Muay Thai is “the art of 8 limbs”, using arms, legs, elbows and knees against your opponent.  There’s also a whole ceremony a fighter goes through prior the fight (called a Wai Khru), where the fighter goes around the ring 3 times, kneeling and bowing each corner as a sign of respect to the higher powers (these days so many fighters are from everywhere), as well as a sign of respect to their opponent.

They then do the Ram Muay, which is a series of movements to show the audience his or her skills as a fighter.  They wear a headband called a Mongkhon as they do this.

The music that builds up in each round not only adds to the energy of the fight but also brings another element to the experience, it turns the event into not just a display of self defence but a cultural artform too.  Musical instruments called the Ta Pong or Glong-Kag (Two face drum), Toe Pee Java (Javanese flute) and the Ching (cymbals) are used.


Nadine teaches at the UFC Gym at 85-93 O’Riordan St, Alexandria.  Follow her via Facebook.  Watch and listen to her TEDx Sydney talk now.

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