Muay Thai

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On both occasions that Stornoway’s Norrie Mackenzie had the Scottish Muay Thai championship belt tied around his waist the steadying figure of Guy Ramsay was in his corner.

Urging his protege on in every round, mopping the sweat from the champ’s brow and offering words of comfort and advice and cheering him on during every triumph.

A former professional Muay Thai fighter in his own right before branching out with his own, now famous, Griphouse Gym in Glasgow to help steer the next generation of martial artists onto the road to glory.

Among his students was a teenage Norrie, freshly relocated from Stornoway to Glasgow and keen to test his mettle with a new sport.

It is now ten years since Norrie last held a title, and nine years since he moved to home soil on Lewis to open his own gym - Eilean Siar Muay Thai.

In his competition days Norrie won two Scottish and a British title while he was rated no 1 in Scotland and second in the UK for super light heavy weight

Yet the one-time master and apprentice are still bonded by their shared history, twinned by their love of the ‘art of the eight limbs’ and forever kindred spirits.

“We run martial arts seminars every year to keep up to date with what’s working right now in the fight scene,” said Norrie as he discussed Ramsay’s visit to the club which welcomed him with open arms.

This week Ramsay was back in Norrie’s corner as a guest at the Eilean Siar Muay Thai to both visit his old friend and also host a week-long series of Muay Thai training sessions for island students at Fitness Studio SY.

Another former student of Ramsay and club mate of Norrie, Dip Sekhon, also made the trip across the Minch for a week of full blooded Muay Thai.

Like Norrie, Dip has also opened his own gym, and he made the trip to see his old mentor Guy and his old pal Norrie, with his wife Hillary Mac, herself a female world Muay Thai champ trained by Guy.

“Its fantastic to see,” said Ramsay regarding seeing ex students branch out with their own gyms.

“It’s like seeing your kids leave home and it is a natural progression. When Norrie told me what he was doing here I thought it was a really brave thing to do particularly to convert what was a public bar into a gym.

“It has totally worked out and a lot of that is down to his own enthusiasm for what he does and of course his ability too. He’s very much still got it.”

Like the piped piper of Muay Thai and MMA, Guy Ramsay has seen a huge number of students through the doors of his famous, and widely respected, Glasgow gym.

But as he reflects on when his path first crossed with 37-year-old Norrie’s, a warm smile breaks out across his face.

“He was always really hard working and really driven,” he recalls. “I think he was only 18 when he first came to train. I remember his first night and we saw straight away he knew how to fight so we had to work on adding some technique. He was a fighter from day one which fuelled his desire to improve.”

“His two championship fights I remember one being against Ali Smith who was always touted as Scotland’s best Thai boxer...that was until he ran into our Norrie,” reflected Ramsay cheerily.

“Then down in England he caused a major, major upset. This was back in the time when the Scots were brought down to England to lose gloriously. Needless to say we weren’t invited back.”

Last week marked the third successive trip to the Hebrides for Ramsay and while Norrie and his wife Muriel will insist they are both honoured and thrilled to have a coach of such reputation and quality visit the club, Ramsay himself says he is humbled to be continually invited north.

“We can’t believe how lucky we are to have this opportunity to come up to such a beautiful place and do what we love to do. here,” he grins. “The training has been really hard but the students here at Norrie’s club are a really motivated bunch of people. For three days on the trot we worked really hard but the same people kept coming regardless of how sore or tired they were.

“Throughout the week we were concentrating a lot on the kicks in Muay Thai and also how to deal with the kicks - a lot of defensive work leading into sweeps and throws and all the spectacular stuff to watch.

“It’s not a sport for the faint hearted and not a lot of people who do Muay Thai actually fight. I would estimate 80 per cent just do the training because it is such a phenomenal way to work out.”

A keen sportsman in his youth Ramsay dipped a toe into a variety of sports before Muay Thai won his heart. Laterly Ramsay has been heavily involved with the booming MMA (mixed martial arts) discipline including providing one to one training with UFC superstar JoJo Calderwood.

“It was a frustration with the way traditional martial arts had gone which led me to Muay Thai,” admitted Ramsay.

“I felt they were very soft and overtly cerebral. Discussing a good technique rather than trying to perform it. Getting disqualifed from tournaments for hitting people. Karate led onto kickboxing and into Muay Thai and then you have more questions asked of you as an athlete.”

“I had a fairly average fight career but I won more than I lost - marginally,” he laughs. “I had 22 pro fights and I was drawn to it more by curiosity than anything else and watching Bruce Lee as a kid of course too.]

“The birth of MMA came in after that. When MMA first began if someone had decent Muay Thai that sufficed as the standard, but the evolution of the sport has been huge, and now it’s no longer fit for purpose for the game.

“There are elements of all the striking arts and wrestling involved, MMA has almost become a study of evolution. The top guys of five or six years ago would be getting soundly beaten by the new generation.

The evolution has been massive and it’s a Darwinnian thing that if you don’t evolve and survive you will become extinct. It’s huge now, it’s brilliant.”

He continued: “JoJo has had her contract renewed in the UFC which is fantastic and she is back on track.

It’s great to see her back in the gym, in her happy place.

“With the women’s division I think you see the evolution clearly.

In the early days it was easier for women to get to the top of the tree quicker as there were so few of them, but now its very different and they are all so good.

“Hopefully there is one more fight for Jo before she gets a shot against Jo (Jedrzejczyk) to see who earns the women’s title fight.

“She could be just two fights potentially away from a title fight.”

Calderwood faced, and defeated, Valérie Létourneau at UFC Fight Night, winning the fight via TKO in the third round after striking Létourneau with a kick to the body and finishing her off with punches.

“She was seeded No.5 and JoJo No.11 so to win it like she did gave here a big boost,” said Ramsay.

This week Eilean Siar Muay Thai rolled up the red carpet and placed it back in storage once again - soaken in the blood, sweat and tears of a Muay Thai master and one who while reuniting with his old friend, provided the greatest tag-team of martial arts training to ever take place on this side of 
the Minch.