By Colm Ashe
In Thailand, 27-year-old Jeff Nilssen marveled from the sidelines as one of his trainers, Jom, unleashed a fury of vicious leg kicks. It wasn’t long before Jom dislocated his opponent’s knee.
According to Nilssen, Jom is “the nicest guy in the world, 120 pounds and can literally kick your leg off if he wants to.”
The next day, Jom was laughing and hanging out with everyone at one of the many camps Nilssen stayed at during his trip to Thailand.
In America, fighting with your peers can be a recipe for disaster, but Nilssen is well acquainted with the type of brotherhood that forms from muay thai, Thailand’s national sport, also known as the “art of eight limbs,” because it utilizes the fists, elbows, knees and shins to physically enhance a full-contact fighter.
Nilssen has been training as a martial artist and kickboxer since he was 14 years old, but used his trip to gain a “deeper understanding for the different styles of Muay Thai and refine my technique in the sport’s country of origin.”
For the last five years, Nilssen has been studying the combat sport. He took what he learned from his trip in January and broke ground with his newfound knowledge at Fusion MMM & Kickboxing, a gym in Port Jefferson Station, where he trains clients.
Although Thailand’s national sport is a deadly style of combat, Nilssen infused the various moves he learned, along with the discipline, to create his own personal style.
Most of the Muay Thai instructors at Fusion have a background in the Dutch style of fighting. With his knowledge of traditional Thai style, the gym’s repertoire has never been more expansive, giving a deeper meaning to the name “Fusion.” The best MMA fighters tend to adopt a style that blends multiple disciplines.
In the words of Bruce Lee, the trainers at Fusion “take what is useful, and discard what is not,” combining a medley of fighting styles from Brazilian jiujitsu, wrestling and karate, to taekwondo, chute boxing and western boxing. All together, the team has created an innovative and creative form of MMA.
It’s the environment seen in Thailand that Nilssen tries to emulate. In the country, the dominant religion is Buddhism. The combination of disciplined exercise and mindfulness fostered an environment in which Nilssen witnessed next to no “street” violence during his four-month stay, he said. The trainer described the Thais as “incredibly friendly and helpful people, but all warriors at heart.”
The fights he did see were organized events that “exemplified the duality of this warrior culture” and expressed how gracefully the Thais balance opposing poles of aggression and respect.
Each fight began with a dance called the wai kru, which demonstrates the fighter’s respect for his or her own gym as well as the physicality they possess, and ends with both fighters bowing to show respect for the opposing side.
Since the sport is so widely practiced, it was common for Nilssen to see kids as young as 10 participating.
“As a Westerner, this might sound outrageous, but it is their culture, not ours, and as an avid student of combat sports, I can see how the effect of this ripples through their culture,” Nilssen said. “It is an honor for the kids to represent their family and their gym. I know how influential competing has been on my life, so I can understand and respect this practice. The kids fought incredibly hard and with pride.”
Not only did Nilssen have a deep respect for the traditions he was exposed to, he understood them on a core level.
Nilssen returned to Port Jefferson Station in May in great shape, with a fresh new perspective and a diverse array of fighting techniques to implement into his classes following the life-changing experience.
Nilssen’s trainer at Fusion, George Lederer, said he wishes he could have “22 Jeffs at the gym to train with.” Lederer said he respects Nilssen, not only as a student, but as a training partner. Even when no one else shows up, the Fusion trainer is consistently there and ready to work.
Nilssen’s clients say they love that their trainer thinks outside the box, and has tremendous knowledge about how the body works and moves, to keep them safe but also push them to work hard.
“Jeff is a really knowledgeable, caring, and intense trainer,” Brianna O’ Neill said. “He knows how to push you out of your comfort zone and teach you amazing techniques. I have grown so much since I started training with him — both in my Muay Thai technique and my overall fitness level. He makes sure to tailor our sessions to my martial arts and fitness goals. I owe so much of where I am to him.”
Fusion also offers fitness programs for those uninterested in combat, hosting yoga and kickboxing.
For more information about Fusion, visit www.fusionkickboxing.com.