Costa Rican Muay Thai Retreat
I really should have written about my Muay Thai Retreat experience a while ago. Like a long while ago. I attended one of Sean Fagan’s retreats back in September / October of 2017, which was two months before I started writing this blog, and this article is being published 375 days after my return to civilization. Some pieces of this article may be biased, and I’ll include my reasonings why as early as possible.
This was the first out of the country vacation I had taken in awhile and had been planning on going for almost a year. I learned about Sean’s Muay Thai Vacations about a month into me starting to take lessons at Northwest Fighting Arts. My brother from the LA area and I were set to spend a week bonding over training, good food, and fancy pad work. So here comes the nasty part (and hopefully you learn from my mistake here on booking plane flights.)
The flight path there
Initially I had booked a flight for us to leave out of Portland, OR around midnight to land in Texas before heading into Costa Rica. We were flying United, who had recently had the bad press with flight attendants fighting passengers (or whatever the big story was) so the tickets were cheap. Like half price other companies cheap. United cancelled the red eye out of Portland, and we had to switch to a daytime flight out of Portland to San Francisco to catch a red eye to Texas. So my brother flew from LA to Portland on Friday night, then we went to the airport around 2pm Saturday so we could sit in the San Francisco airport until Sunday midnight so we could land in Texas around 5am, then head to Costa Rica to land around 11ish – noon.
We were taking a shuttle from the airport to the Jungle’s Edge retreat where Sean was hosting the retreat. We met up with the others in the group who were going to be on the same shuttle and hung out in front of the airport playing cards. The shuttle showed up about an hour late, getting us to the retreat around 6pm Sunday. That’s over 24 hours of travel from Portland to our destination. Bad planning on my part. Next time we’ll fly out of LA or San Francisco, or any other major airport and avoid this much travel all in one day.
Arrival at Jungles Edge
We checked into our room and met Sean, Liz, and Chris in the main dining area. 99% sure the resort fed us dinner that night, I think I’d remember if they hadn’t. I can’t think of a bad meal we had while we were there. For the entire trip they fed us breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the main dining area.
All of our meals consisted of fresh fruits from the area, rice, beans, and delicious meats. Once a day we got a free smoothie or vegetable juice as well. Alcohol or additional beverages were available for purchase from the bar.
The dining area itself was an open air building with ceilings that must’ve been about 20 feet tall. There was a bar, a TV or two playing surfing videos (the owner of the retreat and the main bartender were both big surfers), tables for dining and comfy swinging chairs that I spent much of my down time sitting in.
Sean had this pretty dialed in at the time, and I’m assuming it’s even more dialed in now that he’s been running camps in Thailand, Costa Rica, and Greece since (plus doing seminars at various gyms.) The routine was as follows: yoga in the morning with Liz, then breakfast, then morning drills with Sean and Chris, lunch and smoothies, afternoon training, dinner, drinks, bed.
I’m not a flexible guy. But I do see the benefits behind yoga. I stick with Yoga For BJJ for about a week at a time before falling out of the habit for a month. Most of the people there weren’t flexible people. I forget that about Thai practitioners. Flexibility is a skill, related to how strong those muscles are in your body. With a lot of boxers, thai fighters, and BJJ players all being front loaded most of us aren’t exactly flexible.
Liz was patient with us, and helped put us into the correct postures (or as close as we could get.) She spent time getting us breathing and meditating as well as moving through some yoga flows to try and unlock our tight muscles. It was a good way to start each day, and I only missed one class the entire time we were there.
Sean and Chris’ training had us focus a lot on southpaw patterns or avoiding the common left, right, left, right patterns a lot of drills sink us into. Instead of going left, right, left, right we’d do something like left, left, right, left or right, right. At least that’s what I think I remember from the experience.
We had one sparring day where I got to technical spar with Sean, Chris, and a few of the other guests there. That was an experience and a highlight of my trip.
Trainings – More In Depth
Each of the trainings began with a warm up routine where you would move around the room jabbing, punching, kneeing, teeping, and karaokes. And most of our trainings (possibly all) ended with a variety of ab routines to strengthen our core (and this may have been where I got the idea for 11 minute abs.)
A lot of the sessions featured pad work or drilling with a partner. Sean posts some of these workouts on his Muay Thai Retreats Facebook page for you to check out. Sean and Chris would show you a piece of a combo, you’d drill it, then they’d teach you the next piece, drill, repeat.
We had a clenching day where we learned how to break a variety of clenches, a flying knee day (that may have been on the same day, but it was a fun move to learn), and a lot of side stepping or moving off your opponent’s center line to deliver counters.
One session was essentially a HIIT workout where we moved from station to station doing a variety of exercises (pull ups, ab wheel, knees on a balance board, bag kicking, pad work, etc.)
You Can’t Control the Weather
We were in Costa Rica when Tropical Storm Nate hit the country. Sean talks about our group in Episode 82 of his podcast. When my brother and I were hanging out at the Costa Rica Airport we had talked with one of the rent a car people. He had told us that the Costa Rican people loved to relax and only worked hard during the high tourist season, which is November – April. We were there in October. So when the power went out at the retreat we figured it was the Costa Rican people being lazy at putting their power line back up.
The first full day without power it was hard to train. We’d been in the middle of a torrential downpour for days and the mats were soaked through with water. Trying to throw any sort of kick or shift your weight quickly felt like a losing proposition and a surefire way to break one’s neck. So we played drinking games instead and talked about Jiu Jitsu.
The downside to having no power is that our families back home couldn’t get ahold of us because no power means no cell phone towers. Sean ended up renting us some vans to take us into one of the main towns so we could pick up cell service and contact our friends and family.
The upside to this is that we were forced to not play on our phones the entire time. Had this not happened to me while I was there I don’t know if I would’ve entered into the Jiu Jitsu Cruise with the same mindset (no cell phones & whatever happens happens.)
And the storm blows over
When individual training day came around the weather returned to normal, as in it was no longer raining. Good for most people, bad for the guy from Portland, OR who is used to a moist climate. It was hot. Really hot. I was out of breath in the first few minutes of my individual session with Sean and Chris.
What did Sean have me work on? The basics. Making sure I whipped my leg correctly and had the correct hip movement when I threw my kick. At the time I didn’t get it. I saw some others doing “cooler” things and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t doing “cool” things. But that too helped develop my mindset for another training adventure, getting ready for the SFG-1. Training isn’t about doing flashy things, it’s about getting the basics down.
Bruce Lee once said
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
You have to focus on the basics. The meat and potatoes (or steak and eggs) is where you make most of your gains in training. I didn’t get that then. I get that now.
Returning to the States
The most interesting part of doing a trip like this is the culture shock you face when returning back to the US of A. We were without water, power, and technologies for a few days in Costa Rica. The Houston airport had us order our meals from a tablet, without interacting with a waiter. We couldn’t use cash, we had to pay with card. That’s a crazy adjustment when you’d just spent a week sitting in a lounge chair in an open air building talking with people and ignoring technology.
Did I have fun? Yes. Did I realize I had more fun after the fact? Yes. Will I be doing another Muay Thai Retreat with Sean Fagan? Absolutely. Had I not been at the SFG-1 when I was I would’ve been in Greece at another one of Sean’s retreats.
Sean puts on a great vacation. It’s an excellent detox from the every day ways of life. The intensity level of training isn’t high (although I may have a different opinion had the weather been hot the whole time) and is totally acceptable for someone of a novice fitness level. You’ll be tested for sure, but you won’t be in the corner throwing up.
How seasoned should you be to go? We had one guy in our group who had never taken a Muay Thai class before in his life, just to give you an idea. He had general fitness, just not the specificity of Muay Thai. I was a year in. My brother is / was multiple years in. It depends. Go to have fun and learn something about yourself. You’ll be glad you did.