Road to the Pro’s: Helen Harper #4 – The First Step

When I originally came to Thailand to train, it wasn’t at Phuket Top Team, and it certainly wasn’t with a view to fight.

I had only been training a few months, and my cousin and I were sat chilling out on a Friday evening after a long week at work. It was coming up to the end of the year and my cousin asked me what my plan was for the year ahead. Jokingly, I said, “I’m going to go and train in Thailand”, to which he replied, “OK”.

I didn’t expect this response, so I immediately backtracked and said, “No, no, I’m joking, I’m not really going out there, it’s way too far and it’s so expensive, I’ll never afford it.” My cousin quickly pointed out to me that they have these things called planes nowadays, and I had a decent enough full time job, so there was no reason not to be able to afford it.

This left me without an excuse not to go, so he said to me, “If you can’t think of a reason why you can’t go by tomorrow then you’re booking your flight.” Now, everyone needs a cousin like that!

Obviously I was unable to think of any reason at all why I couldn’t go, so I spoke with my boss and he very kindly agreed that I could take all 22 days of leave at the same time to give me a full month in Thailand.

All in all it was one of the best months of my life. It taught me a lot about myself, about people, and about what really matters. The Thai philosophy is very different to that of a westerner, and just being around the Thai’s and their way of life was enough for me to see I preferred it.

Only two days in to my adventure, I was asked whether I would like to take part in a smoker level MMA fight. I hadn’t fought before on any level, but I was intrigued so I agreed. Unfortunately, I lost via knockout (and I actually went out completely for a few seconds) but it made me hungry to do it again, and to better myself. And that was probably the biggest learning curve of all. It had never before occurred to me that I might enjoy getting in a cage with the potential of getting my head smashed in, and honestly, I still find it strange, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

When I returned home, I had an immediate feeling that something was missing. I wasn’t unhappy in the slightest, I just felt like I wanted more out of life than what I had.

Although I was training in the UK as well, I just didn’t feel like I was being pushed and by this point I had worked out being pushed was what I wanted. I switched gyms and felt a big difference but I knew my heart was in Thailand, so I hatched a plan to get myself back there.

I knew that the majority of ‘farang’ (foreigners) in Thailand either worked as diving instructors or teachers, so I looked into both avenues before quickly realizing that becoming a diving instructor would not be the ideal job for someone who was essentially scared of deep water – it kind of misses the point somewhat don’t you think? But teaching… teaching I could do. I had done quite a bit of personal training in the UK already, both to individuals and big groups so I felt confident that it was something I would enjoy.

After some extensive research I decided on a TEFL school in Phuket, I booked my flight.

Luckily I booked a changeable ticket, because I ended up staying a lot longer than originally planned! Most people I spoke to, although excited for me, didn’t really believe I would find a job and be able to live out here for so long. But I think they forgot that once I have an idea in my head it is GOING to happen, whether they like it or not.

My entire plan revolved around finding a job within two months of being in Phuket. This is possible, but if you saw the amount of teachers applying to each position, you would understand how hard it can be!

As I said before, once I decide something WILL happen, I make it happen – whatever it takes. I must have applied in the region of 50 jobs, and had nine interviews.

It was coming to the end of the second month, and I had  to book a flight home if I didn’t find something soon.

Then it happened! Of course, like buses, nothing comes at first. But then, they all come at once. I got two phone calls offering me a job within half an hour of each other! It was time to choose.

helen-harper.2One job had a high hourly rate, but was further away and had less hours. It was also potentially less reliable. The other job was really close, a full time job with a year’s contract. I definitely made the right decision, and it was hands down the best job I ever had in my entire life.

The whole school consisted of 30-40 kids (low season/high season) and was split into two different classes (or in high season three). I had the oldest group which consisted of 4-6 year-olds.

Children are amazing. They are the most humbling people to be around, because they don’t care if you’re a millionaire or you’re living on the street. Or a 5-time Olympic gold medalist or a couch potato. If you’re fun and you make them smile and laugh, they will like you.

Part of my dream was coming together, but the gym felt different to how it had been before. I was desperate to fight again but my coaches weren’t so keen. I guess my previous bad performance had put them off. But all I wanted to do was fight!

Eventually I found a girl to agree to another smoker level fight. I’d been training over a year by then so I was feeling a little more confident. Unfortunately for me, she was 10 years more experienced than me and also a blue belt (I was still a white belt then). I lost again, this time by Rear-Naked Choke.

This was clearly not going well.

Although I lost by a choke, I felt weak during the fight, so I knew this was something I needed to work on. At this time, the number one place in Thailand for strength and conditioning was at Phuket Top Team, with their coach Anthony Leone.

The problem was that Phuket Top Team was a rival of the gym I was training at. But I bit the bullet and went there anyway. After training with Anthony, I realized how much I’d been missing at the previous gym. Phuket Top Team had the family atmosphere I was craving, and it also had coaches who really cared about their students. I made up my mind at that point that this was the place to train for me.

After speaking to Boyd, the owner and manager of Phuket Top Team, he agreed that Phuket Top Team offered exactly what I wanted, and was very willing to help me get fights. Boyd was extremely supportive, and I can honestly say I would be no where near where I am now if it wasn’t for his belief in me as a person and a fighter.

*Helen Harper is a Mixed Martial Artist from Farnham, England. Her column on Fight Sport Asia, called ‘Road to the Pro’s’, focuses on her life as a fledgling MMA fighter.


Follow Helen on Twitter (@hhhellraiser) and Facebook


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Categories: Featured, Helen Harper, Phuket Top Team, Road to the Pro's



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