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Thai-style boxer who takes to the stage

ISRAELI ex-paratrooper Tomer Oz is passionate about Muay Thai boxing and has applied his martial arts to stage and screen where he has played a ninja and a man in marriage counseling, writes Sam Riley.

It is good to feel fear," says Israeli Tomer Oz when he describes the adrenaline rush when facing an opponent in the ring.

Oz is a professional Muay Thai boxer and every year he competes international competitions, the most recent being in southern Thailand where he was the only non-Thai combatant among 16 fighters in one of the world's toughest martial arts.

A year of preparation is crystallized when he saw his recent opponent, a stout, tough-looking Thai, who was schooled in Muay Thai since he was a child.

"His legs were like tree trunks and hard as iron," Oz says when describing his opponent who toughened his shins by spending hours kicking spare car tires. Muay Thai uses shins, knees and elbows, as well as hands and feet - a fighter literally throws everything at his opponent.

In the 16-fighter competition last June, fighters wore light, eight-ounce gloves and wore only a mouth guard for protection

Oz lost the match on points and he said it took two weeks for his body to heal from the ferocious blows.

Muay Thai is Thailand's national sport and traces its origins back to a form of martial arts used by the Siamese army to fight invaders.

Oz is not a typical brawny boxer. Fighting in the under-70kg class, his slight build belies an explosive power.

The 29-year-old Israeli has trained in Muay Thai since he was a teenager and traveled to New York and later Thailand to further his skills in a fighting style that some, especially Thais, regard as the "king" of marital arts.

Muay Thai is devastating because it also uses the shins, knees and elbows to strike an opponent, while other martial arts focus more on using the feet to kick or the hands to punch.

Oz regularly teaches Muay Thai at his Body Fit gym in Jing'an District where he takes both beginner and advanced students through their paces.

His gym, tucked away in a lane off Kangding Road, also offers yoga classes and non-contact Muay Thai-type fitness classes.

The former paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces began his study of Muay Thai as a 16-year-old in his hometown of Richon le Zion, a coastal city near Tel Aviv.

At the age of 21, he went to the United States to train in a New York gym where he sought "intensive and authentic training" in Muay Thai.

While in New York, he also worked in an unusual job to keep fit and make a bit of extra money during the warmer months.

Oz toiled on a two-seater bicycle rickshaw, taking people through the streets of New York, especially in the Soho area.

It was while working as a rickshaw driver that this toughened Muay Thai warrior finally met his match, outside the ring.

"I thought I could take anyone with this bicycle, but one time I was waiting outside a Broadway show and there were a lot of rickshaws waiting for customers and I was the last in line," he says.

"I got two very big ladies and I had to strain with everything I had just to get the first pedal down. Somehow I started but I could only go a few hundred meters before I got stuck in the middle of the road and I couldn't carry them anymore. I had to tell them to get a taxi."

During his two years in Shanghai, Oz has also dipped into the world of acting, snaring a small role in "John Rabe," a Hollywood movie starring Steve Buscemi about a German businessman who used his Nazi connections to shelter thousands of people during the Nanjing Massacre (1937-38) in World War II.

He also worked as an extra on the Jackie Chan/Jet Li blockbuster "Forbidden Kingdom" in which he played a ninja.

While acting is a world away from the adrenaline rush of a Thai boxing ring, Oz has used his martial arts skills in his acting, in particular during a recent theater production.

"Marriage Counseling" was the first production by experimental theater company 5th Wall, and Oz acted in its third story in which a couple's problems were dealt with using dance and movement. He also acted in "The Dragon and the Pussycat," a short film that won second place at the recent Shanghai Short Film Festival. He played a gang leader called Mr Little (unprintable).

"Acting was a challenge, but I like to try new things," he says.

Nationality: Israeli

Age: 29

Profession: Muay Thai instructor


Description of self: Never give up.

Favorite place in Shanghai: My gym.

Strangest thing seen in Shanghai: Employees standing in lines in the morning and afternoon and doing exercises together following their manager.

Worst experience in Shanghai:

Getting a visa.

Motto for life:Yesterday gone, today we are here, but tomorrow who knows?

Things that could improve Shanghai:It will be nice if it can be less smoky.

Advice to newcomers: Study Chinese.


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