This report was written specially for my friends and training buddies from the Bangkok Fight Club just so I don`t have to tell the same story over and over againâ€¦
For most of you guys out there the word "Belarus" doesn`t say much. Only a few know that this is actually a country and even less could point it on the map. That`s how we were until recentlyâ€¦ The fact is that the Belarus had already put itself on the map of fighting sports and it`s time to wake up and notice it. Here is a little geography lesson you can use. Belarus formerly a part of the Soviet Union and located somewhere right in between Poland and Russia, with the population of around 10 millions and the capital city of Minsk. And so what?- you say. Here is the thing: for some unknown reason (our guess: it has something to do with the water they drink) this little city with population of less than 2 millions produced more Muay Thai champions, K-1 fighters, wrestling and Sambo European and World champions than any other city in the world!
See for yourself. Here are some names you might recognize : Andrei Arlovski (UFC fighter, heavy weight title contender), Vladimir "The Janitor" Matushenko (UFC fighter), Alexey "The Scorpion" Ignashov (World Pro Muay Thai Champ, K-1 World GP 2001 Champion, Pride FC champion), Sergei "The Bullet" Ivanovich ( MT Word Champ, K-1 fighter), Sergei Gur (K-1 World Grand Prix 2004 France Champion), Dmitri Shakuta (2x Muay Thai World champion), Dmitri Pesetski ( 2x Muay Thai World Champion), Vitaly Akhramenko (MT World Champ ,K-1 fighter), Alexei Pekarchik (Muay Thai World Champ, King`s Cup Champ), Sergei Karpin (MT European Champ)â€¦ And if this is not enough here is another fact: April 2004 World Amateur Muay Thai Championship Chiang Mai Thailand. Belarus had delegated 11 athletes and all 11 made it to the finals ahead of any other country including Thailand itself!
Here at the Bangkok Fight Club we decided to investigate this mysterious phenomenon. And what is the better way to find out than to actually visit the placeâ€¦ and so it was decided : the fittest BFC member Alex "the infodog" will be the representative and the Bangkok Fight Club`s ambassador to Belarus.
/ I only hope that other guys from the Bangkok Fight Club would skip this part /
Ticket. The cheapest way to get to Minsk (Belarus) from Bangkok is via Moscow (Russia) and the best fare was offered by the Emirates Airlines. Bags are packed and the journey begins. Todd "The T-Rex" Barlow waved me good by at the Bangkok International Airport and already cute looking flight attendants serving me drinks on route to Dubai. 6 hours Bangkok-Dubai flight was quite pleasant and relaxing with lots of food and drinks. Than another 5 hours in the Dubai International Airport before the next flight to Moscow. Just a few words about the Dubai airport. There is nothing you can`t build if you got unlimited resources on your disposal. And the DXB Airport looks just that. Another meal at the restaurant and they announced my flight to Moscow. Sweet.
Aboard a plane again I decided that since I am a passenger than I will do what a passenger is expected to do. Which are: eat, drink, watch movies and try to chat with stewardessâ€¦ and so I did.
Moscow. We landed at Moscow` Domodedovo Airport, where I quickly got through customs and to arrival hall. I was approached by few cab drivers, who looked unusually large to me after their Thai colleagues- Bangkok taxi drivers. Luckily I was supposed to be picked up and sent to the railway station and so I saved myself at least 50 bucks.
Vladimir - the up and coming Russian fighter was waiting for me at the Avis counter as agreed. We shook hands. Vladimir was dressed sharp. He took me to his brand new Mazda and put my bags into the trunk. He noticed my puzzled look, smiled and replied that only a lucky few could make a decent living just by fighting, "but for the rest of us there is also work and for some there is a hard work". We had few hours till my train departure from the Belarussian Station and Vladimir offered to show me "a little of Moscow" and than to have a dinner at some Italian place. I approved the plan. We drove around Moscow`s avenues did some sightseeing and dined at nice Italian place. Vladimir picked up the bill, I protested but not too strong. In the evening Vladimir drove me to the train station which carries the official title of "the Belarussian Train Terminal" and one of several (probably 6) large train terminals of Moscow. I thanked Vladimir and he offered to pick me up again on the way back.
Train. I got the ticket in a sleeping car in the "special express" train. Everything inside was spotlessly clean (if any of you had traveled by trains in Thailand than you know why I mentioned that) nice soft music played... Train moved, attendant brought tea and biscuits. The other two passengers in my cabin were a girl - native of Belarus and now a student in one of the Moscow`s universities, who looked more like a model to me and a guy in his twenties who works in some PR company in Moscow. We chatted about politics, presidents, wars, student`s life and some other stuff I can`t even remember. Upon arrival to Minsk early next morning we three were best friends.
Training. My training was organized by Valeri Polukhine talented wrestler with multiple national and international titles and once a member of national squad. The large building of the Sports Palace located right in the downtown by the river and next to the beautiful park. There are two huge halls for the freestyle and Greco-roman wrestling, one almost as large for Sambo team, and another one with rings, heavy bags and boxing equipment belongs to boxers. That`s where members of the National teams are training and where I will be lucky enough to roll for the next couple of weeks.
Afternoon training started at 4 pm sharp with about 20 minutes of pretty heavy warm up and than we proceeded to some standup grappling drills, clinch, single- , double leg takedowns, ground positioningâ€¦ all the guys were super friendly and helpful and everybody pushed each over hard. I loved the spirit of the place. Valeri said that the preparation for the Athens Olympics is in the full swing and guys are training hard, but on the other hand they always train like that. Last half an hour I grappled with Valeri and it was quite an experience. His sensitivity developed by almost 20 years of wrestling is amazing! Even during pretty intensive grappling Valeri could control his breathing so well that he even managed to talk and tell jokes and funny comments to his opponents in the almost normal tone of voice. It seemed impossible to see him tired. That`s for me a sign of the really skilled technician.
Next day we met again at 4 pm but instead of mat work "we will play basketball" - that`s what I was told. I am not a big fan of basketball I complained and can`t dribble well. That`s no problem, said Valeri, you don`t need toâ€¦ We were divided into two teams with some wrestlers and boxers mixed in and game started. First thing I need to say about their version of basketball is the only thing that relates the game we played to its name is a ball and baskets to throw it in. It was actually rugby on a basketball field and it was so intense and dynamic that after about 40 minutes I felt like I rolled for two hours. Than after the game we did some grappling drills and weight training. Another game I was introduced to is a pull-ups by numbers on a chin up bar. You start from one, than next person jumps in and also does one, than you go two, your partners follows with two, than three, fourâ€¦tenâ€¦ without pauses and let`s see how far you can go.
Wednesday we did another light training and went to the sauna which is located right here at the building and only team members have a privilege to use. That was a treat. Russian sauna is the great experience and also an important training tool or so I was told. It helps your body to get rid of lacto acids accumulated in the muscles after hard training sessions and a good aerobic exercise in itself. It was also nice to listen to the old coaches sitting telling endless stories about fights, places, athletesâ€¦
Next day we trained with Valeri`s friend and Sydney Olympics Silver medalist Alexey Medvedev. This guy is scary! Really nice and friendly off the mat he could just smash you with his strength and speed.
Another day my coach/training partner was Alexei Beliakovski, Greco-roman` World Champion, National champion and one of the coaches of the National team. After the training Alexei insisted that I have to join their picnic on Saturday somewhere just outside of the city by the lake and I happily accepted.
My next week`s program was the training with the Sambo guys from the elite team of the Police Academy and was also organized with the help of Valeri who seems to know everyone.
The only condition was that I can`t take any pictures while training in that facility and this was fine with me as well.
The hand-to-hand combat instructor Major Sergei Eremetko was really helpful and friendly. He invited me in, stopped the training for a moment to introduce me as "BJJ guy from Bangkok who will be rolling with us for the next week". I was given the "kurtka" - something that looks like a Gi top with some little differences and traditionally used by Sambo practitioners. Also everybody wore wrestling shoes.
Sambo fighters don`t use much of the chokes, but big on armlocks and leglocks. They also spend lots of time perfecting their standup grappling and throwing. We drilled nice flying armbars, rolling kneebars and some other Sambo trademark techniques. The head coach of the Sambo Team is Colonel Anton Novik who is 3 times Sambo World Champion and holder of many National titles. He took me under his wing for the whole week of my training with the team and shared with me as much as he could in such a short time.
The afternoon session was a Combat Sambo which is actually what we call an MMA type of training and also went pretty well.
Time flied and another week past pretty quick. I hope that my girlfriend isn`t reading this one but training wasn`t the only thing we did in Minsk. It was also some heavy partying on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday nights. We hit some real hot night spots, clubs, discos, strip joint, even went to try luck in a casino. Girls. That`s another story and it`s not for the training report but take my word Eastern European chicks is something that will make you want to come here againâ€¦ or even stay.
The last part of my training program in Minsk was hosted by Michel Mozhar the head coach and the President of the regional Muay Thai federation with whom we met in Bangkok five years ago and who became my good friend. Michel introduced me to some great young fighters whose names are to be recognized world wide pretty soon, he said. Seeing their training I had to agree. These guys are training as much if not harder than Thai pros in the camps around Bangkok. The sound of them kicking the heavy bags bangs like gun shotsâ€¦
Three weeks past as fast as three days and here I am again: by train from Minsk to Moscow, than to the airport and back home to Bangkok and already planning my next tripâ€¦