Travel News

Fighting for Your Vacation

Locations in this article:  Bangkok, Thailand Beijing, China Rome, Italy Tokyo, Japan

KarateYou, the modern traveler, have a lot of options about where to spend your vacation time, and odds are that you will, in the absence of some pressing need or somebody nagging you, choose to spend that vacation time someplace relaxing.

Who wouldn’t want to fly to Hawaii to evenly bake sides of yourself while the surf laps at the shore?

Or frolic through Disneyland, the happiest jam-packed place on Earth?

Outside of the financial concerns that may arise after these taking types of vacations, the options above are often low stress. But what if you don’t want to relax?

What if you’d rather spend your hard-earned vacation time plunging into a world of sweat, grime, and flying fists?

It sure beats sitting in an office cubicle, and you’ll return home refreshed, renewed, and in great physical shape.

Gladiator Training in Rome

gladiatorThe gladiator training program at Rome’s Hilton Cavalieri is ideal for dilettante warriors. Operated by a historical group called Gruppo Storico Romano, this day-long program surrounds you with an atmosphere which is as traditionally authentic as possible, works you hard for a couple hours, and then gives you a nice, relaxing massage.

If you just want a taste of the fighting lifestyle, this can be a great choice. The same group also operates two-month-long programs intended to provide serious immersion in the world of ancient gladiatorial combat. Be warned that the day-long program is not cheap (500 euros, about $700).

Muay Thai in Phuket

One day isn’t enough for you? Hop on over to the Thai island of Phuket and try out a Muay Thai training camp. Muay Thai, for the uninitiated, is an ultra-violent form of kickboxing whose roots can be traced to the fighting style of ancient Siamese soldiers.

Already a popular resort destination, Phuket just so happens to have a number of Muay Thai gyms that are open to foreign visitors. Most of the Phuket gyms offer on-site lodging and gear their programs toward visitors with at least a month to spend in training, but some also offer shorter programs.

Expect to pay about 7000 Baht (or $235) in training fees, plus $200-$300 for lodging per month. That’s right, you can study Muay Thai in Phuket for a whole month for less than the cost of the one-day gladiator training program in Rome.

A little about Phuket: it takes about an hour and a half to fly to Phuket from Bangkok. The island is hot and humid all year round, and you can escape to the beaches when you’re not in training. Outside of Thai kickboxing, Phuket also offers surfing, scuba diving, elephant rides, and the ethnically themed amusement park Thai FantaSea. In other words, Phuket is a worthy destination even if you’re not interested in spending your entire time there in the gym.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of a few of the Muay Thai training programs in Phuket:

Chalong Chi Muay Thai & MMA Training Camp (
Phuket Muay Thai Camp & Gym (
Rawai Muay Thai Camp (
Suwit Muay Thai Training Camp (
Tiger Muay Thai & MMA Training Camp (

ShaolinflyerKung Fu in Shaolin

So maybe kickboxing isn’t your thing, or maybe you’d like to go straight to the source of the martial arts myth: Shaolin Temple.

Yes, Shaolin Temple is an actual place in China’s Henan province, and yes, you can go there and study kung fu with a real live master.

If authenticity is critical, you may want to know that the present Shaolin Temple is a rebuilt and thoroughly tampered-with version of the functioning Buddhist temple that the communists destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

However, it is still possible to receive some seriously hardcore martial arts training there.

The area surrounding Shaolin has attracted a number of schools which accept foreign students. Not all of these are based in the temple itself, and not all of them devote effort to advertising themselves abroad.

It is in fact possible to show up in the area, look for a master you like, and negotiate the conditions of your apprenticeship from there. You’ll need to fly or take a train from Beijing to Zhengzhou. From Zhengzhou, you can catch a bus or taxi to Shaolin Temple itself, or you can continue onward to the nearby city of Dengfeng, which has tons of kung fu schools. Expect to pay $300 or so for a month’s training. Lodging and meals are generally included, but from what we hear, conditions are primitive.

If that all sounds a little too nebulous, here’s one program with a Web presence. The International Kung Fu Training Center ( in Zhengzhou offers very reasonably priced instruction ($375 a month, including room and board) and the master teacher, who received his own training at Shaolin, has some credentials. The instructors speak English and the program includes a weekly Chinese language class. Beginner through advanced-level students are welcome. The same program also offers sanda (Chinese boxing) and taichi instruction.

Henan province is not generally considered a tourist destination, so don’t expect a wealth of sight-seeing activities. Expect only to train hard.

Martial Arts in Beijing

This is an option for those who are interested in studying the Chinese martial arts in the land of their origin, but who are perhaps not crazy enough to travel all the way to Shaolin and search independently for a master. WorldLink Education offers a Beijing-based martial arts study program which offers great flexibility in terms of length and content of instruction. They’ll train you in kung fu as well as in martial arts you’ve probably never heard of, from jianshu to shanshou. You can take Chinese classes if you like, and sightseeing trips are arranged on the weekends.

Since you can spend as little as a week in the program and since Beijing has an awful lot to offer to tourists, this is a great option if you’re looking to combine short-term martial arts study with a vacation.

Just Do It

You work hard for your vacation time, and working hard during your vacation time may not sound appealing. Martial arts aren’t for everybody, and you probably already know whether or not you’re dedicated enough to travel to travel to a foreign country and dive head-first into that rough-and-tumble world.

However, if Disneyland bores you and the options presented in this article sound appealing, why not jump right in? Even if you never go to the extreme of traveling to Shaolin temple and searching out your own kung fu master, it may be worth it to you to fight for your vacation.

By Mike Day for

Previously by Mike Day on