Confessions of an English Ganja-Smoking Nak Muay
In the life of a Fightland writer, or an ageing nak muay farang, a week without weed is simply not worth contemplating.
Artwork by Grimoire
Have you ever trained under the influence of marijuana or hashish?
Have you ever smoked a big fat zoot after a hard night in the gym?
Have you ever smoked el zumo in the run up to a bout?
Have you ever fought whilst under the influence of weed or hash?
Your Honour, the defence rests.
The judge might as well throw the book and prosecute me to the fullest extent of the law, for I have been a ganja-eating nak muay farang (western kickboxer) for the last 28 years, and will probably remain a regular and confirmed "pothead" (I loathe and detest that word) for the rest of my natural life. In fact, only just the other week, my learned younger brother, a 45-year-old who recently knocked up his gorgeous, pouting girlfriend, dismissed me in conversation as "a deadbeat who has gone crazy from smoking too much marijuana."
(To mitigate in my defence, Your Honour, I immediately informed my cheeky younger sibling that I was writing a story for Weed Week and not smoking nearly enough.)
Nak muay, western boxers and MMA cage fighters; I know loads of health-conscious fighting men (and women) who eat, smoke and vape weed on their downtime. These "stoners", it must be said for the record, are in the very best of martial company. Not a "pothead" by any margin, Bruce Lee was allegedly partial to loco weed. In Davis Miller's legend debunking biography, The Tao of Bruce Lee, there's an anecdote about the Little Dragon eating Nepalese hash brownies and passing out joints at louche parties in Hollywood and Hong Kong. The clean living martial athlete believed that "chewing hashish" helped his muscles to be more relaxed and fluid. In fact, Lee nearly died after a collapse in 1972, and was warned off eating it by one of his doctors, Peter Wu.
"He said that it was harmless," Doctor Wu is quoted as saying in The Tao Of Bruce Lee. "He said that the actor Steve McQueen had introduced him to it and Steve McQueen would not take it if there was anything bad about it. I asked him if Steve McQueen was a medical authority, but he didn't get my joke."
Some argue that eating cakes made with high-strength Nepalese hash was the catalyst behind Bruce Lee's sudden death in 1973 at the age of 32. It's a theory that holds no water in medical fact: Lee died of a cerebral edema that was said to have been a severe reaction to him taking an over-the-counter medicine for a headache (ahem, at the Hong Kong apartment of his mistress).
Bullshit theories about the death of Bruce Lee aside, eating weed or hash is patently harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. One nak muay farang that I know, a clean living Australian dude who doesn't smoke or drink, eats it because he occasionally suffers from seizures and anxiety not best served by conventional medicine or therapy. He's not the only one after an alternative. Forsaking the toxic sting of Namman Muay oil, many nak muay farang readily attest to the anti-inflammatory properties of a hemp oil rubdown, and so on.
If eating weed is harmless then what about the idiots who smoke it? For the record, I happen to be one of them. There's nothing like a big, fat, Jamaican Woodbine after a hard day's night kicking blokes round the head. A post-training spliff goes back to the late 1980s when I was a teenage psychopath in London. Then as now, Muay Thai and ganja didn't really mix too well in the UK. The R&R poison of choice was beer. The pint-swilling pugilists of the Muay Thai boxing scene almost universally frowned upon smoking. That said there were many British and European champs whom I knew, goody-two-shoe types who lived in the gym but smoked copious amounts of ganja. "It brings me closer to Bob Marley," joked one of them, a man with so many medals and title belts that a lesser man would not be able to stand up.
This wasn't just a bad habit or questionable lifestyle choice for raggedy assed nak muay in the UK. Ganja smoke permeated the Bangkok scene, too. Take my old gym. Sure, it was a badass pro-joint 10 years ago, brimming with big name fighters, and assorted hangers on, all of whom took their trade very seriously indeed. Not many of them drank alcohol but quite a few of them smoked herb. One of the chaps, a world champ from an Eastern European country, was one of the worst offenders, and smoking weed often sent him into periodical bouts of cannabinoid psychosis.
Obviously, scoring weed in Thailand is a highly dangerous affair. Marijuana is a "category five narcotic" in Thailand. If you got busted with one blunt, the minimum sentence is 6 months and a skinhead haircut down at the Bangkok Hilton. You can bribe your way out, but the going rate is $6000-$8000 USD. If Thai cops sense that you are scared and have access to big funds, they will shake you down and squeeze you until the pips squeak.
How the stoner boxers at the gym in Bangkok got their weed was simple but risky. The camp was situated in the car park of a crusty apartment block just down the way from Khlong Toei Market and the old Lumpinee Stadium. Permanently stationed outside were a gaggle of motorcycle taxi guys. One of them flogged 1000 Baht ($29) one-ounce blocks of weed. The ganja was Thai sativa with an organically high THC – none of this smelly skunk stuff that makes you go bonkers, like certain Eastern European World Muay Thai champs.
Our Thai dealer did not speak one word of English. "You gotta turn on the Thai when you talk to him," said a stable mate, a big chap from America. "He's okay. He knows a lot of guys from the gym and he won't snitch to the cops."
The American friend was right to caution me. Most farangs (foreigners of European descent) buying weed in Thailand often get stitched up by the very dealers who supplied them. Not with this Thai bloke. He didn't like the cops and wasn't prone to squealing.
After nine years in Bangkok of hard training and cheap weed, I relocated to the USA. Sure enough, the MMA and Muay Thai scene was full of secret, and not so secret, pot smokers and vapers. One of the MMA guys that I was coaching from 2012 to 2013 once showed up at my house, after his weigh-in, with some blunt and primo herbs. Did pot smoking hinder or help? It was never a question. He liked weed. He smoked weed. And he wasn't going to bin the habit, not even for a cage fight. He went on to win by KO in R2.
And it wasn't just guys in my immediate circle. Our corner and cut man, a major pothead himself, once complained about some dreadlocked cage fighter who was scheduled to fight one of his lads. With dreadlocks bundled into a genetically modified pineapple on the top of his head, he turned up to the weigh-in with a vape toking entourage and stank out the changing rooms. The dread promptly lost to our man the following day.
The moral is that it's best to keep your ganja eating or smoking a bit of a secret because no one takes a "pothead" seriously. Not even the aged black guy with the shears at my local barbershop in downtown Atlanta. He's a big boxing bore and one day we got to yakking about Tim Witherspoon, the former heavyweight champ who once got into a spot of bother in the 1980s when he tested positive for marijuana after a post-fight drug test. Witherspoon later admitted to smoking it right before his fight with Tony Tubbs and was fined $25,000 by the World Boxing Association. The barber recoiled at the memory. "How could he bring shame to the noble sport of boxing by smoking weed?" Inwardly, I wet myself with laughter. Weed is not exactly a performance enhancer. And it's a bummer that something as harmless as ganja lingers in your system for 28 days.
Smoking too much ganja has always been bad for the brain. And in sports, if you lose your brain, you lose your game. So it's really not best to turn up to training red eyed on a parsnip-shaped spliff like the boxer Kirkland Laing or hopped up on space cakes like some latter-day remix of Bruce Lee. It's okay to be a guilty pothead. Just do it on your downtime.