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I got a message from Kru Nat, inviting me down to Chok Sabai for a post-Thailand experience  chat.  I jumped at the opportunity to see the space, which has been almost mythological over the past months, and was equally excited at the chance to spend a little time with Nathalie.

The address had been entered in my GPS before leaving the house, so I didn’t pay much attention to orienting myself on the streets – that’s what the device is for and my brain loves checking out whenever it comes to sense of direction – but I was happy to find myself in somewhat familiar territory near Herald Square and a few blocks from Madison Square Park.  The entrance is at the base of a terrific dark-red brick building.  Just inside one is immediately struck by the beautiful staircase and old-style New York tiled floors.  I was so taken by the stairs that I almost danced up them to the second floor, where there was a small, printed Chok Sabai sign about eye-level on a big  door.  I realized the elevator was a better bet and rather enjoyed another go on the stairs.

Pushing past the second heavy door between the elevator and the loft, I was totally enveloped by the bright, broad light of the space.  Kru Nat appeared from another room and greeted me and my husband warmly, introducing us to the couple of people working in the front room and then immediately walking us back to the main area through another doorway.  The space opened up into a stunning example of New York architecture, with giant floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the bustling streets, letting in the afternoon light and sending it bouncing through the room off the white walls and pillars that, quite honestly, look like the main stage of Olympia in the original Clash of the Titans.  (You’ll see it in the video, which might prove I’m a greater dork than poet, but the space is beautiful either way!)

Kru Nat moved confidently and enthusiastically through the space, flipping on the ceiling fans to demonstrate the efficiency of their placement and power and giving us an idea of the organization and arrangement of the room – where the ring will be; cardio and strength equipment; mats and storage.  We peeked into the newly floored Pilates room and, after Nathalie fiddled with the dimmer switch on the lighting fixtures a few times, I could see the ambiance of the room as a singular space in the loft.  We saw the beginnings of a massage room and the wonderfully odd-shaped dressing/shower rooms.

But all this will be seen.  What is most striking about this loft is how alive it is.  Standing in the foreroom one can almost hear the smacking sound of limbs against bags and pads, the heavy breathing, and the laughter.  There is a remarkable amount of space, but it doesn’t feel empty, not even with only a half-dozen of us in it.  This is because it is infused with the spirit of Nathalie, her friends and supporters, and her students and fans.  The breadth of Kru Nat’s invitation to those with sincere interest in Muay Thai is beautiful – and all those souls are already alive as promises within this space.

With boxes, boards, hammars and paint lying on half ripped up floors, the space is obviously under construction.  But nothing feels unfinished.  Once a proper floor is laid out, the space will be operational.  Kru Nat shows no hesitation in bringing people in at the very first opportunity and reckons Chok Sabai will be open and running as soon as she returns from her impending trip to Thailand.

In a way though, it seems as if this treck to Thailand is itself a kickoff for the start of Chok Sabai.  Kru Nat will be meeting with her past trainers and people who she admires in Muay Thai’s homeland, where she will no doubt revisit and charge her love for the sport and its tradition.  She aspires to bring trainers from gyms in Thailand to give seminars and training to students in New York, and plans to organize opportunities for students to travel to Thailand for training.  A bridge between New York and Thailand with active traversing back and forth across it. When asked if Nathalie was open to the idea of hosting the Female Sparring Circle at Chok Sabai she laughed and said, “well of course!” and made sure we understood that this was not a suggestion, but a goal.  Indeed, Kru Nat’s vision for her gym is one of genuine openness.  We’ll all feel what that is when Chok Sabai’s doors swing wide open in early May.

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