"News about the USAP, the Ice, and the People"
United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
Sample Image
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
Martin Robinson works the computer help desk at McMurdo Station. Every year at the end of the summer field season in February, Robinson heads to Thailand, where he trains and fights as a nak muay farang, a foreign boxer, in the national sport of Muy Thai.

'Ultimate test'

Robinson trades computer for competition in the ring as nak muay farang

Martin Robinson is not unlike many support personnel who work for the U.S. Antarctic Program External U.S. government site.

He has an office job in Antarctica with the McMurdo Station External U.S. government site IT Help Desk, troubleshooting problems for PC users. On his way to lunch, the walk affords him a view of the gleaming glaciers that drape over the Royal Society Range across McMurdo Sound.

And like many of his co-workers, he takes advantage of the seasonal nature of the job and travels around the world between contracts.

But he is likely the only one in the USAP who spends his off-season months as a professional boxer in Thailand.

Few would guess that Robinson is a trained nak muay farang, a foreign boxer,who practices Muay Thai, a style of kickboxing as popular in Thailand as baseball is in the United States.

If anything, Robinson gives the impression of a Zen master, with two long braids dropping from his graying beard on either side of his chin and a third, shorter wisp of facial hair hanging from below his bottom lip. A tranquil demeanor adds to the Eastern mystique.
Boxer with belt.
Photo Courtesy: Martin Robinson
Martin Robinson raises him arms in victory after a bout.

“I don’t want people to think I’m the kind of person who would go and beat people up,” says Robinson, who has an easy and gentle laugh. “It’s totally out of character for me.

“The real reason I wanted to do it was because I had never really been in a fight. It was like Fight Club,” he adds, again chuckling at the idea of himself in a ring in Thailand. “The guy [in the movie] says how much to do you really know about yourself if you haven’t been in a fight. It’s true.”

Robinson first worked at McMurdo Station during the 2005-06 field season. He immediately became enamored with the Antarctic lifestyle and couldn’t imagine returning to the hour-long commute and smog-filled city when he left his job with the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C.

He’s returned to the Ice every season since. In 2007, he wintered over in McMurdo, leaving for a couple of months in August and September before going back for another summer hitch.

Two months didn’t seem like enough time to go back to the States to visit family. Friends on the Ice invited him along for a trip to Thailand. Not someone who partakes in the beach party atmosphere offered by the popular Southeast Asia country, Robinson opted for a different vacation.

He found a Muay Thai school in famous beach town of Phuket that offered a sort of fantasy camp for tourists hoping to learn a bit about Thailand’s national sport. Robinson says he never intended to fight anybody.

But after a couple of weeks of training, as his body adjusted to the exercise, Robinson says he wanted more from his experience. He wanted to take it to the next level.

“I tell the guy that I want to fight. He tells me I’m too old,” says Robinson, now 43 years old.

But the trainer, a former Muay Thai world champion, agreed to school Robinson as a true nak muay. The technique is often called the Science of Eight Limbs, because it employs hands, feet, elbows and knees, unlike other forms of martial arts.

“The next day they trained me so hard it was like the first day again,” recalls Robinson, who stands well over six feet tall with the physique of a heavyweight fighter.

He had one fight that year — and lost. “I’ve never even been in a bar fight, a school fight, or anything. The first time I had ever punched anybody was in Thailand in that Muay Thai fight. That’s probably why I lost. I had unrealistic expectations of what it would take to win,” he says.

Undeterred, Robinson has returned each year since to Phuket after a summer at McMurdo, where he usually trains for the annual marathon that takes place on the ice shelf near the station to help build his stamina for Muy Thai. It’s become a personal quest to prove something to himself.

“My brother says I’m way too old to do this, and he’s probably right, but I don’t believe it. I want to know for sure if it’s an age issue or a conditioning issue,” Robinson says.

In the last three years, the South Carolina native has proven that age is a state of mind, compiling a 7-3 record, muscling and grappling his way to the top of the talent pool in Phuket. This year he’ll test his skills against nak muay in Bangkok, the center of the Muay Thai universe in Thailand.

“You go from being a big fish in a small pond, and now you’re in a bigger aquarium,” Robinson says. “You start to realize the talent pool is very deep there.”

In the end, it’s not really about the fighting for Robinson. Perhaps he’s not a Zen master, but at the very least one of those Buddhist warrior monks set out on the path of enlightenment. Certainly, there is suffering and wisdom to be found in the ring.

“When you’re actually doing it, there’s a lot of suffering involved. I liken it to the mountain climbers who go out there and climb these crazy, ridiculous mountains,” Robinson explains. “It’s really a rush to do it and succeed, but it’s painful. There’s a lot of pain involved.”

He adds: “It’s always good to learn more about yourself. I understand why fighting and battles are metaphors that people use for everything in life. It’s right up in your face. Every little mistake you make, you pay dearly for it. … It’s the ultimate test.” 
back to top