The Santa Cruz Muay Thai Academy, located at 509 Swift St., isn’t one of the brand-name schools with hundreds of students and head instructors that double as movie stunt men.
With an average of 15-20 students enrolled at any time, Jason Murphy, the academy’s owner and chief instructor, isn’t out to make his fortune off the sweat of others.
“I don’t like to have a big school,” Murphy, who has been practicing martial arts since he was 16, said. “I’m not really doing this to make money. It’s a hobby that turned into a lifestyle that has turned into a school.”
The school, open for about 15 years, was formerly called the Santa Cruz Kickboxing Academy because “no one knew what Muay Thai was.” Thanks to the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Murphy said the general public has come to understand his art as one of the most fearsome fighting styles in the world.
“From watching UFC, people have seen that Muay Thai and jiu jitsu are the most effective ways to take someone down,” he said.
Also known as “the art of the eight limbs,” Muay Thai utilizes the hands, feet, shins, knees, elbows and head to strike opponents. Practitioners can deliver knockout blows in the blink of an eye.
Murphy trained in Thailand for a time and said he was struck by the infusion of Buddhist philosophy into “one of the most brutal striking arts on the planet.”
"There were these beautiful, gentle, kind-natured people and I was seeing them do this particularly brutal style of martial arts," he said.
Muay Thai uses no belts and has no ranking system, relieving classes of the hierarchical structure found in some systems.
“The way I was taught and the way I teach is called ‘village style,’” he explained. “We all train together. Those that are brand new train with those that are experts. This accelerates the learning of the new students because they are getting different tips from different people.”
Classes are an hour and half long, with 30 minutes spent doing rigorous cardio followed by stretching and sparing. Stamina, Murphy said, is a hallmark of Muay Thai.
"We work out a lot," he said. "Eighty percent of your effectiveness as a martial artist is your stamina. [Classes] are vigorous and taxing on the body."
Fighting is optional, though Murphy encourages students to take the plunge into the ring.
“I teach what I call a reality based self-defense,” he said. “We’re not a cardio kickboxing class. There is contact involved. You don’t ever have to spare if you don’t want to, but if you want to get to any level where you can experience what you’d experience in a conflict in safe environment, this is the place to do it.”
“Reality based self-defense,” Murphy explained, is possessing environmental awareness and understanding “transitional flow,” or the natural progression of one technique into another. The concept stems from Daoism and other Eastern religions.
Students are encouraged to infuse the Muay Thai techniques with their own skills and personality so that the moves flow naturally from them.
“I primarily teach culturally authentic Muay Thai because I trained in Thailand, but I’m also me and I’m not Thai, so I teach a mix of American kickboxing, Western boxing and Muay Thai,” Murphy said.
The first class is free and anyone, novice or experienced martial artist, college student or retiree, are welcome to try "the art of the eight limbs" for themselves.
“I encourage people to come and try it out themselves,” Murphy said. “If you like it and it works for you, like it's worked for me, then you’re good to go.”
The Santa Cruz Muay Thai Academy is located at 509 Swift St., Unit L. Call (831) 234-6872 or visit the school's website for more information.