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Lee Power Muay Thai

Lee Power Muay Thai

I went to the Ultimate Fitness Centre on City Road, Cardiff to visit a well known name on the Welsh Muay Thai circuit.

Lee Power is the senior instructor of the successful Eagles Muay Thai club and has dedicated his life to training, fighting or coaching this devastating art. Despite suffering from disintegrating spinal discs, he continues to pass on his knowledge through verbal instruction while the more physical aspect is now implemented by his highly skilled and knowledgeable assistant instructors including Sean Facey, Joey Brincat and Tanya Merrett as well as many others.

The sound of fists, knees, elbows and feet striking pads echoed down the hall. As I enter, I discover what my father would call a ‘proper gym.’ The walls were decorated with fight promotion posters from over the years. Inside everyone was caked in sweat and was working their guts out. Some of the students were wearing Eagles Muay Thai shorts, others were in whatever gym kit they could find. In the corner is a small ring where some of the younger students were practicing clinch and release then following it up with knee strikes.

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All around, noses were getting tapped, knees kissed belly buttons but no one was over stepping the mark. One fighter got knocked on the jawbone and his opponent steps off seeing that he’s wobbled a bit. The fighter laughs, they tap gloves and go at it again. This wasn’t a gym but a forge for iron fighters. Ok……a bit dramatic, but the skill and work rate that the students kept was impressive. In the corner, there was a round timer so the instructor, Sean, didn’t have to waste his breath shouting when it could be used for fighting. Sean wasn’t on the sidelines. He was amongst them leading by example, working hard as well as teaching.

I met the man I came to see.  Just before I could start the interview a student approached and asked Lee if he thought that he was ready for a fight. Lee advised him that he was more than ready for an interclub match but had to do some more running to shed some weight for his category. The student went away happy and promised to go for a run that very evening.

LP. It’s really quite relaxed here. I’m not into gradings and having identical uniforms. I’m interested in getting the fighters, you know?  I started in 1984, I was 12. I trained in a gym in Barry under (Peter)Stuart. He had trained under Master Toddy. Because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for me to go training, I would go down there and clean the gym, hold the pads for the little ones and helped him with the classes in return for training. I was training all the time there and by the age of 14 I was able to hold my own against the men. That’s because I was doing a hell of a lot of sparring with Peter, who was like 6’2”. I guess I was like an apprentice more than anything. When I got to 16 and old enough for the insurance, I was teaching some of the classes there.

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I’ve always been into martial arts. I grew up in the age of the ninja movies. Revenge of the Ninja, Return of the Ninja. I loved all of that and of course Bruce Lee and what was the other one, The Twelve Deadly Vampires? All the really old terrible Chinese kung fu movies. I used to love them as a kid!

I started to get into boxing and loved it but found that it had no structure. One day they could just send you out on a run for 45 minutes, even as a little kid you know. I ended up leaving it and then hanging around the streets with my mates, causing a bit of trouble. I got in to a bit of trouble with the police a couple of times but when I found Muay Thai, my time was spent with focus and much more constructively. I was quite intelligent in school, it was just that I never tried. I worked hard in Muay Thai but I didn’t have to force myself to go because I enjoyed doing it. There were a lot of people who used to hang around in Barry that had these reputations about being these hard men. When I first went there, I was attracted to that and those sort of people until I realised even as a kid that they didn’t deserve those reputations. They were just bully boys. They weren’t really that tough.

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It was always Muay Thai for me up until I started working in the sports centres. I did my A levels and went away to Uni for about a year. I was working as a doorman at 16 in Barry. I looked older than I was and because of all the people that I knew through training, they knew that I could take care of myself and that I wasn’t an idiot who was trying to prove something. I just wanted the extra money. When I was in Uni, I couldn’t get any work. At 16 and 17, I had my own small club running and I had numerous personal training clients because at that time I was Welsh champion in Thai Boxing so I had income coming in. I had people who wanted to train with me and Peter just couldn’t train with everyone, so referred a lot of his to me.

GD. “What was your first competition like?”

LP. “The first competition that I remember is when Master Toddy did an inter-club at Master Toddys gym. I was 15 and I fought a bloke. I’m not going to lie, I was sh*t*ng myself. I ended up cutting my eye in a clash of heads. They weren’t any contact rules, you just went up there and you fought around the different gyms. Then I fought in North Wales in a Russ Williams promotion. The guy I fought was 25 and I beat him on points. I almost knocked him out in the second round. That’s when I realised that I was actually strong. By the time I was 17, I had won the British title. That was in welterweight for my first British title.”

(Lee breaks from his reverie and suddenly shouts at a group of younger students)

“Come on! What are you doing hanging around there for? Go and grab somebody and fight!

I won the Welsh a couple of times. We did kick boxing fights and full contact fights back then because there was no Thai Boxing in Wales really. There was a couple in Barry, a couple in Newport which was Tony Newmans gym and Russ Williams up in North Wales and that was it as far as Wales was concerned. Russ had a couple of satellite clubs around Wales because he was one of the first ones that used to do it in Manchester with Master Toddy. When I was 17 it was a good year for me when I was 17. It was the first year that I won the Welsh title, I had done the instructors course.

At 18-19 I started working in Leisure Centres. At one of the leisure centres in Barry, there were guys who used to run their own Karate class and a couple of the other guys into Boxing and Taekwondo, so we all used to train together. So, we all used to learn from each other and share our skills. It was like a mixed martial arts class. We used to get in to the squash court and get the mats out and have a knock about. So from there we were able to train in all the different classes. I went to Taekwondo and got a black belt in that and also in freestyle Karate. Just by training in the classes through work. I had dropped out of college and had a bit of fun as a kid, as you would. I kept up the training until I was 26 until I joined the police. I won British full contact kickboxing title against a boy from Newcastle down Haverford West.”

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GD. “Which was your toughest fight?”

LP. “It was a boxing fight and I fought a guy who had just won a gold medal in the student Olympics and beat him. That was for the final Welsh Amateur Boxing championships and it was one of those fights that at 72kilos where the guys was hitting me so hard in the body, if he had hit me on the chin I would have got knocked out. I wouldn’t give up though, you know? But as it was, he’d gassed himself out after the second round but it was a really hard fight it was. Eight counts in the first and eight count in the second with body shots, two eight counts in the third and then I stopped him in the fourth and that was for the final of the Welsh Championships. It was up in Maesteg.

I can remember being in that fight. It was f*****g hurting. I wouldn’t give up. I thought, please hit me on the chin! I was fitter than him. It was in 1995, I was working in David Lloyds at the time. I had worked in all the leisure centres and then in David Lloyds. I was lucky that I was working in gyms all the time so my fitness was good. In 96, I was chosen for the first ever 8 man tournaments in the UK called the Quest and then I had to pull out a week before because I had a neck injury and a shoulder injury and that was it then. In 96 I joined the police. I won a couple of boxing fights whilst I was in the police and continued with my club for a bit. But working shifts was hard and I was getting my adrenaline buzz from work.”

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GD. “Have you been to Thailand yourself?”

LP. “Oh, yeah, loads of times. The first time I went was for the first world championships in 1994. I had the worst draw at the time. I drew the Thai who ended up winning the gold medal. I spent quite a lot of time out there. I would go training with Peter, my trainer. I was away from Thai boxing for a long time until about 2006. I went to Cardiff MMA for a bit when it was open and I was just teaching them Thai boxing, you know ‘stand up’ for an hour twice a week. I realised that I missed this. It was a part of my life that I always had to be a part of. I was still training on the bags and everything. Sometimes Peter would ring me up saying that he’d be going away on holiday and ask me to take his class, so, I kept my hand in but I wasn’t coaching classes on my own.

In 2006 when I was in working I got myself an office based job I decide to return to coaching after helping out the MMA. I wanted by own club. In 2007, I took Joey (Brincatt) to Thailand and fought a couple of times out there. That’s where I met my wife. I went a couple of times a year and trained in a couple of different camps. I trained in a village gym where my wife lived. It’s on the border with Laos. The gym was on the banks of the Mekong River. “

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GD. “Which was the best gym to train at out there?”

LP. “Training wise was Jutti gym. The guys were getting good fights out there. The best gym, well, the best set up was up in the village gyms. They don’t take foreigners though. It was only the fact that my wife and my wife’s father knew the guy that they would let me train there. They wouldn’t have any foreigners up there because they would cause too much trouble. All the girls would turn up there and the boys would be there and …you know…they would be a bit lonely and stuff. The girls would end up getting pregnant and you’d end up having farmers turning up with shotguns demanding that the guys marry their daughters because they’ve got them pregnant!

It was a funny old set up there. It was next to a temple and the guy that ran it all or funded it all had foreign students coming over – mostly females to teach English to the Thai kids who were, mostly orphans. I asked him if he would look after the boys .Joey Brincatt who was number 2 in the UK, Matt was fighting for British titles. The guy just said it was just too much trouble. They went out the following year and stayed in Phuket. They stayed there for 6 months between University. Matt is another one of my instructors but he’s away on the oil rigs now. He still comes down and helps teach now and again.”

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GD. “What’s your best achievement?”

LP. “On a personal note that would be seeing the guys coming in here with 0 confidence and 0 mates and six months later, being part of the team and having fought an really giving a good account of themselves. I’ve had a couple like that. A got a couple of good world class fighter here now with Charlie Sitwell and Amin Alkalayni from Pentwyn, though he’s gone to pro boxing. He only lost to the world Champion. He’s a pure raw talent. He’s fought the best fighters in the UK. He would never turn down a fight from anybody. He’s fought all over. Canada, Thailand. Charlies the same and the two girls, Tanya and Becky. They are both world class fighters. It’s great for the gym to have them but for me, the best are the likes of Pitbull. He’s an accountant. He comes in here with his glasses, he can hardly see. He’s not a nasty guy but as soon as you get him in a fight, he changes so much. That’s why he’s called Pitbull. He wasn’t confident and took him to an inter club. He fought five inter-club matches in one day, you know what I mean? He never took a step back. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same kid.

In the last two years the one that’s really inspired me is a student who has gone to Swansea University. Physically, he’s the most inflexible person in the world. We call him Rigamortis! He’s got the heart of a Lion. He’s had ten fights and lost seven but he just keeps on going. He’s got no natural talent what so ever. He won’t mind me saying this but you look at him and you would not think that he is a fighter at all. The boy has got the heart of a Lion. He won’t give up. He was rubbish with his kicks, so he went away and trained for four months on kicking and got them working for him. Then his boxing was rubbish, again he went away and worked his boxing. Then his clinch. He’s just gone away and taken every little bit and worked at it. In his last fight that I believe he should have won knocked him out of his stride a little bit. I don’t want him to give up with everything that he’s accomplished. The sheer determination and will to get better.

So my best achievement is seeing them come in a bit shy and then they develop after a few lessons get  that look in their eye and you know when they leave and walk down City Road, they’re not scared. Do you know what I mean? They may be rubbish in school. Have a sh*t house or whatever but they come here and feel like they’re part of something I suppose. We’ve got people from everywhere here, from every country in the world. We all get on. The ones that stay become part of the family.”

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GD. “When’s the next big fight for these guys now?”

LP. “We got fights all over. I’ve got Shaun for the British title on the 7th of March against Egan and Becky is fighting in the K1 on the 27th of March in Cyprus.”

Although I unfortunately didn’t have time to speak to Shaun, I managed to speak to Becky Hodge, (29) from Bristol about why she has decided to train at Lee’s gym. She said;

“I’ve been doing Muay Thai for about four years now. I used to do Taekwondo but felt I needed a new challenge. I’ve had ten fights but my biggest is coming up. It’s a Rumble promotion in Cyprus, a K1 fight. They approached me after seeing one of my other fights. I used to train out of Bristol Thai with Mike Townsend. He was very good but found that I was the only active fighter at that time and so it was suggested that I come here and train with Lee. I can get to another level here. I come over from Bristol twice a week. I don’t mind the travelling but the bridge is a nightmare!”

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Lee’s club is gritty but very friendly and a great example of traditional Muay Thai because – they keep it that way. If you would like any more information about the club, then please visit the website by clicking here for more details/contact information.

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About Gareth

Jack of all trades and master of none. Fully qualified and unrepentant M.A.G (Martial Arts Geek). Willing to bleed for your entertainment. Gareth- the original sofa samurai and editor of CMA News.