Muay Thai gains momentum in Manayunk

Don Mahon was thirty minutes from stepping into a boxing ring with the intent of conquering his adversary with knees, punches and kicks–at the risk of being a target of those same weapons from his opponent.  But the impending battle did little to dampen his sense of humor.

“I’m definitely the oldest guy on the card,” said Mahon. “I feel like I’m the heaviest guy on the card too.”

Mahon, 38, of Manayunk, practices Muay Thai under the Cool Hearts fight camp at the Body Arts Gym in Northern Liberties. 

He fought an amateur kickboxing bout in the basement of St. Paul the Apostle’s Church in Manhattan on Dec. 3, competing in the heavyweight division.

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Muay Thai is called the science of eight limbs because its practitioners maximize the destructive potential of elbows, shins, knees and fists. It has gained new exposure outside its native Thailand through the popularity of mixed martial arts like the Ultimate Fighting Championships, as champions like Anderson Silva and Mauricio Rua have showcased their arsenal of Muay Thai techniques to knockout their opponents in brain-rattling efficiency.

Mahon finds time to train in between working 12-hour shifts in flight operations and raising two children. 

”I work a day shift for six weeks and then I work a night shift for six weeks so my body clock is always messed up,” he said. “Plus I have two young kids you don’t want to be the fat dad who can’t keep up with them.”

Mahon accepted the offer to fight on a professional card two and a half weeks prior to the event at the urging of his head coach. He married his wife the week of his fight.

“I’ve never had anyone in my life who is more strong and more supportive and believes in me to no end than my wife,” he said. “The fight was a celebration to me.”

Celebratory is an optimistic way to describe repeated attacks to the face —a barrage Don gamely endured until the referee stopped the fight by way of technical knockout in the early rounds. Still, Mahon regrets nothing.

“No matter how old you get there are always goals. If you stop going for goals I think you kind of die inside,” He said.

Living in the outskirts of Manayunk helps Mahon afford martial arts training. A yearly membership for Muay Thai and conditioning classes at Body Arts gym costs about twelve-hundred dollars a year, while it costs nearly two-thousand dollars a year to train in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

“When you get out towards Leverington and Umbria and out towards Ridge, it’s more affordable,” Mahon said. “The neighbors all look out for each other. I don’t think you can get that in any other neighborhood in Philadelphia.”

Kate Allen, 30, had lived in Manayunk for three years, and signed up for a trial membership at Joltin’ Jabs boxing gym on Main Street. But Allen said she wanted to exercise her long legs more, which eventually led her to Cool Hearts Muay Thai one year ago. She relocated from Manayunk to Port Richmond in December to be closer to the Body Arts gym and the Cool Hearts community she has grown into.

“You know that feeling you get when you visit your parents? As soon as you walk in there are familiar faces that are happy to see you,” Allen said.

When Cool Hearts founder and head coach Rigel Balsamico came out of a four-year retirement to fight on Nov. 5, Allen traveled in a bus packed with around 25 other Cool Hearts students to New York City to watch their coach compete. Allen says that seeing her head coach fight live has her considering the possibility of fighting in the future, if the timing and training is right.

Until then, Allen continues to train three to four days a week, often driving directly from her job as a dental hygienist in Center City.

She often sports pig tails, a neon-rainbow colored back pack and a bubbly smile. But when the timer buzzes for the next round of pad work or conditioning exercises, Allen is more concerned about commanding knockout power than knockout looks.

Her coaches have complimented her on her right low kick, she said, and she is improving on her jab and straight cross combination.

“Driving from work to the gym can be stressful during traffic,” Allen said, “but you leave the stress with you at the door of the gym.”

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