Gary masters his art before passing it on

Muay Thai expert, Gary Gregory has been graded as Master, (level 14 of 16) on a trip to Thailand. Non-Thai nationals cannot progress any further and he joins just two other people in the UK who have been graded as a Master.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131054-360)
Muay Thai expert, Gary Gregory has been graded as Master, (level 14 of 16) on a trip to Thailand. Non-Thai nationals cannot progress any further and he joins just two other people in the UK who have been graded as a Master.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131054-360)
RIGHT OF WAY? Camber Dock and The Bridge Tavern''Picture: Paul Simpson

LETTER OF THE DAY: No bullying over Camber footpath

Have your say

It takes a certain type of person to be humble about teaching Royal Marines unarmed combat and training with the King’s Royal Guard in Thailand.

But as a highly-skilled Muay Thai master and instructor – or Arjan – Gary Gregory remains precisely this way.

When the 42-year-old calmly talks about the ancient martial art he is now an expert in, it is clear it has become an all-consuming passion.

For 24 years Gary, who lives in Frobisher Close in Gosport and works at an opticians in the town’s High Street, has been training in different forms of Muay Thai, while teaching others.

And since 2007, the former British Army bantamweight boxing champion has each year visited Thailand to hone his skills.

It was on such a trip last month he was graded at 14 Khan, a Master in the art and just two away from the top grade of Grand Master.

Only two other people in the United Kingdom – one in London and one near Manchester – have achieved the same grade.

Since his last grading five years ago, he has been waiting to show senior Grand Masters his skills and progress further in an intense assessment, followed by a communal Wai Kru ceremony.

The yearly ceremony is a chance for disciples of the art to pay their respects and to be graded.

Gary is in Thailand for two weeks a year, training hard with his tutor – a Brigadier General in the Thai army.

In March he had to not only show off his techniques but also demonstrate classes and take part in three exhibition fights – all under the watchful eyes of experts.

But he now cannot progress any further as the Thai organisation he is graded by, the Kru Muay Thai Association, limits the top ranks to Thai nationals.

That does not mean the former Grenadier Guardsman will stop training in the martial art.

He says that his love is for Muay Thai as a martial art, rather than as a sport, which he first studied in 1989 while stationed in Germany.

But it was only in 1998 when he travelled to Thailand he began to learn a more traditional form of the martial art and started his passion to learn more.

He said: ‘To get to this level is an achievement, something I’d never imagined when I started – it’s not easy.

‘I started as a sport Thai boxer but then I progressed to the martial art side.’

His interest in self-defence stems from his time in the army, which he joined at just 15.

He said: ‘I left school and went straight into the armed forces.

‘Being a small little weedy kid, it was a big change in my life.

‘I didn’t go easy, I went straight into the Guards regiment.

‘Being the smallest person, somebody put me in the boxing team.

‘When I was in the armed forces I thought about having a go at a bit of everything and just always wanting to improve myself.

‘I wanted to know how to defend myself.

‘And when I was in Germany I found a school that does Muay Thai, and that’s where I started.’

Despite now being out of the armed forces, he remains deeply connected, training members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Commando instructors in his art.

Back in 2006, his civilian classes attracted sailors in Gosport, where he introduced them to self defence and the control inherent in Muay Thai.

He says the navy does not teach an unarmed combat system and many of the sailors are keen to learn how to defend themselves.

Before long his pupils asked if he could train them within their bases and following an interview in November 2007, Gary began to teach classes at HMS Sultan, which quickly spread to HMS Collingwood.

By January 2009, he had moved the classes to HM Naval Base Portsmouth and the Royal Navy Muay Thai Association was born.

Gary is the senior instructor, teaching sailors at a dedicated gym in the Historic Dockyard, with separate classes now running in RNAS Yeovilton and even Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

And with evening classes at Bridgemary School for the public, he loves to see others take an interest.

He said: ‘It’s very satisfying when the things you’ve learnt, that are special to you, are passed on and you see other people wanting to learn them.

‘They become a part of you as such, as you pass it down to them.

‘It’s very rare to find stuff like this in this country.

‘When you see other people with the same interests, it brings back the first day you walked in the class.

‘In the Royal Navy we started as a little group.

‘I did a display at Yeovil and the Royal Marines combat display team came over to us.

‘We had a play with them and our system worked very well.

‘I now travel around the country a lot with the navy doing seminars, what they call grassroots training seminars.

‘It tries to build up the system we use – Royal Navy Muay Thai – and let people know about us.’