Today we’re so happy to be speaking with McSherry, Ricky, and JT, three of the instructors of the Muay-Thai-focused Gay Fight Club, operating every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Red Planet Muay Thai in Bedstuy
Pop Gym: What’s your sport?
McSherry: Muay Thai
Ricky: My martial art is Muay Thai. I’ve also recently been getting into wrestling/grappling/jiu jitsu.
JT: my martial art of choice (& passion) is the only & only muay thai.
PG: How long have you been training?
M: 2 years
R:. I’ve been training since January 2018
JT: I first started boxing (off & on) in about 2014, but it took me a few years to find a place where I could dig my heels in. now I’ve been consistently training in muay thai for about two years.
PG: Where have you trained?
M: Red Planet
R: I train at Red Planet Muay Thai! I’ve never trained anywhere else, unless you count the karate gym I went to as a kid.
JT: although I’ve tried on a few gyms here & there (from as far away as London to right here in my hometown, Brooklyn), my muay thai home has been, by & large, Red Planet Muay Thai in Bedstuy, Brooklyn.
PG: What kind of martial arts related work do you do?
M: for now, just coaching GFC–but leading these classes has given me a lot of new insight about how much i love supporting people as they navigate their relationship to their bodies. i’m considering doing a certification in personal training or physical therapy some time in the future!
R: I’m one of the coaches for Gay Fight Club! We offer donation-based, beginner-friendly Muay Thai classes for queer and trans folx at Red Planet. I teach the weekly Thursday night heavy bag class; I focus on teaching Muay Thai basics while offering drills that can help people of all experience levels improve their power and technique.
JT: my martial arts work started out, & continues to be, about finding a place where passion & discipline could collide to keep me fit, fueled, & body-mind-spiritually aligned. really I just train because I love it—that’s all it ever was. then came the blessing of a strong community, because Red Planet is such a wonderful home for people. & from there came coaching, when I realized my love of muay thai didn’t have to be an isolated part of my life, but in fact something I could share with others, especially those who, like me, may have struggled to find a place where they could safely & joyously connect with their bodies.
PG: What made you wanna start Gay Fight Club?
M: seeing the community interest was a huge motivator for me; having a space available time me, i was so excited to be able to offer it as yet another resource to the community.
R: Earlier this year (or maybe late in 2018?) Mario floated the idea of us hosting a donation-based class for queer and trans folks at Red Planet. Mario had opened his space in the past to Trans Boxing, and he enjoyed being able to give to a community of people who otherwise might not feel welcome in a boxing gym. JT, Image, and I got excited about the idea, so we started hosting a class! I think originally, we started with just the Thursday night class. Eventually, we arrived at our current format - 3 classes per week, coached by Image, JT, and me.
JT: it’s funny because even before we formalized it, it already felt like a thing that existed! Red Planet was such a loving, fierce ass space that even without any official programming we had a lot of queer/trans folks who were regulars at the gym. this was certainly the case for me, Ricky, & Mcsherry—it was one of our homes, so in a sense, we already had our own little “gay fight club.” I think head coach Mario Marin witnessed that to be true for us, & reached out to ask us if providing classes explicitly for the queer/trans community was something we were interested in. Mario is a huge part of the reason that Red Planet always felt so welcoming to us as genderqueer (et al.) athletes, so I think we all were more than happy to join forces with him in order to open up a space/activity that we loved so much to other folks in our queer community. ‘
PG: What has studying martial arts brought you personally?
M: oh gosh where do i even start; first and foremost, martial arts & combat sports bring me a safe & structured space within which to challenge myself and face some of my greatest fears. the things i struggle with in the gym often feel like metaphors for challenges i’m facing elsewhere in my life, and i’ve worked thru some tough shit by putting it in my body in that way. second, muay thai has brought me another strong, close knit community i never expected to have. and last but not least, it has given me a level of faith and security in my body and my own strength that has changed the way i move thru the world.
R: This is a hard question to answer - Muay Thai has brought so many wonderful things into my life. Studying martial arts has challenged me physically and emotionally; it has made me grow in ways I didn’t expect. Sports are not therapy, but it has helped so much to work through the feelings that sparring and grappling bring up for me, especially regarding trauma. Not only am I physically stronger than I was when I started, but I am more comfortable in my body and I feel much more at peace with myself. I’ve remembered that I can rise to challenges - it’s incredibly rewarding to improve on a skill. The friendships I’ve made, especially with the guys at the gym, have surprised me and brought me a lot of joy. Red Planet is absolutely my happy place, and I am really excited about sharing this sport and this community with other queers.
JT: I think what I mentioned above—about it being my way of practicing both passion & discipline—is so much of it for me. & the effects are so immediate. there are some days that are harder than others, or don’t go as well, or feel like a failure… & yet even failure feels satisfying, fulfilling. muay thai has allowed me to develop consistent practice in a way I can’t say I’ve been able to develop in any other area of my life. & it’s so important to me that it’s this physical thing, too, because being in right relationship to my body has been a lifelong struggle to me, for a lot of reasons. I’m so grateful to my martial arts study for being such a big part of my improved, though ongoing, connection with my body & its strength, its capacity. muay thai has brought me joy, sweat, resilience, mental fortitude, new friends… the list goes on & on!
PG: What would you say to folks who don’t feel comfortable doing Muay Thai because they feel it’s not their space?
M: i think there’s a couple of different kinds of discomfort that queers often experience in fitness spaces. the first has to do with the stereotypical hypermasculinity of many fitness pursuits, especially combat sports; luckily, this small family-owned gym maintains an atmosphere of playful camaraderie without ever veering into machcismo. and then there’s the other discomfort of impostor syndrome; it is my sincere hope that seeing fellow queers in coaching positions & filling the class helps to relieve some of that sensation for those that carry it. we welcome everyone to bring their whole self—fears and all—to these classes, and face the challenges—both physical and mental—at their own pace, in a space where their comfort is going to be prioritized.
R: If LGBTQ+ folks don’t feel comfortable doing Muay Thai because spaces haven’t been welcoming to them, I’d say that that is VERY real. Gyms are so intimidating, and combat sports can be particularly bro-y and cisgender. Finding fitness spaces that make you actually feel good is so exciting, and I hope that Gay Fight Club can be one of those spaces for people.
JT: the room you’re in may not be the right fit for you, but that doesn’t mean that muay thai isn’t! I can’t tell anyone what to love or not love (though it is SO HARD for me to imagine not loving muay thai!), but I can tell them that it took me more than a couple tries to find the exact space that felt right. I knew I wanted to learn more about this thing, that it was fun & exhilarating & so interesting to me in so many ways, but I struggled too. I doubted myself, felt, at times, insecure or unwelcome in gym settings. I just had to give it a bit of time & faith—& now I have a muay thai home that I can’t imagine not having in my life. so I say… try it! it just might change your whole damn life.
PG: Who is Martial Arts for?
M: martial arts is for anyone who wants to challenge themselves to try it!! for those with movement limitations who are concerned about fitting into the class, i’m more than happy to do a private intro session so we can explore their capabilities and devise any necessary modifications for common movements.
R;I hesitate to say that I want martial arts to be For Everyone - I don’t want cops or people who are trying to learn how to hurt people in my space. I want these skills to be in the hands of queers, of trans and nonbinary and gnc folks, of Black and brown folks, of people who are subjected to systemic oppression. Basically, Sports Are Gay and I want everybody to be able to practice who hasn’t felt like there’s a space for them in the wider martial arts world.
JT: I mean, it’s not at all for me to dictate, but I think martial arts is for anyone who feels called to it. personally I think it’s especially for those of us who find value in the work that is beyond “violence,” & who can honor the many histories & communities associated with these arts.