Walking into a Muay Thai kickboxing class at Stout Training in the Strip District, I admit I was a little terrified. All of those fears of being the last kid picked in gym class came flooding back. I do not like gyms. They intimidate me. To work out I practice yoga, go on hikes and walk my dog. I prefer low-impact stuff that also distracts the mind and tricks me into having a good time.
I refilled my inhaler beforehand, just in case.
When I admitted to the owner, Warren Stout, that I hated gyms, his response was, “Oh, me too.” He wants fitness to be fun, calculated, something more than just lifting weights or running in place.
Stout is one of the most accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors in the area. Before opening his own gym, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai fighters often had to travel to train authentically. Seven years ago, Stout decided to change that and opened a place for both serious fighters and those who wanted to learn. It is the only place in Western PA and the surrounding tristate area like it. In addition to classes, Stout Training recently started hosting the first Muay Thai kickboxing events in Pittsburgh where people can watch their instructors fight and compete. Stout has also just opened a new location in Cranberry Township.
Stout says his gym is unique because it offers “multiple disciplines under one roof, taught in an authentic fashion,” that is Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, kids Jiu-Jitsu and self-defense fitness. “There is no other like that in this region,” he says, adding that “the most accomplished, active MMA Fighters in the area train with us.”
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling-based martial art where the major focus is to get one’s opponent to submit, either through control or resistance. This is Stout’s specialty. They can count a family member of Renzo Gracie, a world famous Jui-Jitsu coach hailing from a long line of Brazilian fighters, as an associate, so the place has pedigree
Adding to Stout’s cred, many UFC fighters have trained there when they’ve come to town. Wiz Khalifa has been known to show up there, and Anthony Bourdain came by nearly every day to train while filming his Pittsburgh episode of “Parts Unknown.”
The Muay Thai class I participated in was taught by Will Morrill, who boxed at Penn State before learning the art of kickboxing. He teaches and trains at Stout Training, and later this year he will fly to Thailand to fight.
“We don’t have other jobs,” says Stout, “This is our life. Our instructors aren’t guys who took classes over a couple of months or went to Thailand for just a week. They’re fighters. They’re competitors. There is authenticity.”
Morril gave me a brief history of Muay Thai, which is the national sport in Thailand. It’s an ancient art that has been practiced for more than 1,000 years.
“It’s not just fighting. It’s very culturally deep and very tradition-based,” said Morrill, “They call it the art of eight limbs. A lot of [other] kickboxing won’t use elbows or knees.”
They mention that lead Muay Thai instructor Kru David Reese is one of the best Muay Thai trainers in the nation. He’s traveled the world to fight, speaks fluent Thai, and is well respected within the scene. Access to trainers like Reese and Warren is otherwise difficult to find.
Morrill’s Muay Thai kickboxing class is almost like choreographed dancing. You have to mimic the instructor, follow commands and coordinate your moves with your partner. There’s a rhythm to maintain when fighting. It also requires imagination. You have to think of your partner as an aggressor. You have to imagine the black pad is a human head or fist.
Stout Training offers three levels of classes to accommodate everyone from those with no experience to professional fighters. In the fundamentals class, a wide range of types showed up. There was me, the asthma kid, standing next to a circus acrobat, who was next to a gymnast. There were men in their 50s who were just starting out. There were young women who had come from work during their lunch break.
I was partnered with a woman my age who admitted to feeling a little intimated by the gym. We were strangers when we started punching each other. We were hesitant at first, but then our confidence started to build. We started to encourage each other to hit harder. We started laughing, and cheering.
Some things I said to my partner while punching and kicking the black pads she held up for me:
“I feel like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
“It’s like working out in a video game.”
“Women should definitely come with a girlfriend and learn self-defense.”
“Let’s come back next week!”
“Anybody who is in OK shape, or even not, can take that class!” Stout said. “That’s what makes us different … You have these gyms where there are these angry dudes. We’re a real fight gym that has really accessible and friendly classes for beginners,” says Stout.
“This is what we do. We train all day. We teach all day. It’s all I’ve done for thirty years.”
To sign up for a membership or to learn more about Stout Training visit their website.