There are plenty of Muay Thai camps and training centers in Thailand, as you’ll find them in every single city, suburb, and even remote countrywide province. But while they range from a simple outdoor ring set up in someone’s backyard to a huge, modern complex like the Fairtex center in Pattaya, or the tourist-trap Dragon Muay Thai in Phuket, the actual training is always the same.
But there’s a unique fight camp in Thailand that transcends Muay Thai, and has quickly grown into one of the most notable in the world. The Judd Reid Fight Camp in Jomtien – a quiet seaside suburb outside of crazy Pattaya – (read about the beach walk here) has even been written up on lists of the toughest martial arts camps in the world (although that kind of thing is so subjective and incomplete.)
Regardless, it’s truly an honor and a privilege to attend. To give you the quick backstory, Judd Reid, now 46 years old, is an Australian born man who was incredibly passionate about Kyokushin karate as a teenager – and unusually skilled. He was early-on identified as someone with great potential and also respect for Kyokushin, so at 19 years old, he was invited to Japan to live and train under the ultimate master and founder of Kyokushin, Sosai Mas Oyama.
For three years straight – more than 1,000 days – Reid lived in the training compound with the other uchi deshi, or live-in students, under the most Spartan conditions. Reid was the only one who didn’t speak Japanese, although he had to learn on the fly very quickly, and his first two years, he was only allowed one phone call home. All of the studentsslept on simple bamboo mats on the floor, ate together, and trained incredibly hard almost 8 hours every single day. In fact, Judd was one of the only foreigners in attendance, and the first ever non-Japanese student to ever graduate as one of Sosai Oyama’s “Young Lions.”
He went on to a career in professional martial arts, winning the heavyweight karate championship towards the latter part of his career, and then engaging in one more impossible feat: the 100-man fight, or a real-life kumite where he went to blows with 100 black belts in a row – and survived to tell about it! (In fact, he was only the 19th man in history to complete that kumite at the time.)
Upon retiring from professional fighting with his wife in Thailand, he wanted to start teaching. But instead of just opening a dojo, he wanted to replicate the experience he had as an uchi deshi (live-in student) under Sosai Oyama, training three times a day under the most grueling physical and mental conditions. So, the Judd Reid Fight Camp was born, and it’s now on its third year.
For one week (it started as a 12-day camp but people were getting so severely injured and dropping out at such a high rate that he shortened it), people from all over the world congregate in Jomtien, staying the same beautiful hotel (no bamboo mats on the floor) and training three times a day with Reid and his other accomplished guest instructors.
I happen to be good friends with Shihan Reid, and was first invited to the camp in March of 2015, where I was just supposed to cover it as a journalist. Fat, out of shape, and totally inexperienced in karate (I had a little boxing training), he handed me a gi and a white belt the first morning and told me to join the training.
Twelve days later I had several broken ribs, had lost ten pounds, was covered with bruises from head to toe, and had a big smile on my face.
In the part two of this blog, I’ll tell you more about the training at the Judd Reid fight camp, and share why it’s one of the most unique and challenging martial arts training experiences in the world!