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Body by Muay Thai

Written by Clint Morris on 09 September 2011

Don't mess with South African model and actress Tanit Phoenix, guys - or she just might wipe the floor with your fringe. The covergirl-cum-actress has been studying Muay Thai and taekwondo for several years, and though she's yet to really put her skills to the test on the big screen, she always manages to find time for martial arts off set. Following the recent release of her latest film Death Race 2 to DVD, she spoke to Clint Morris about training and living healthy.

How long have you been doing martial arts, Tanit?
I have been training in Muay Thai now for about seven years. My fascination started when my father told me it is a good idea to learn self-defence moves - he said if I ever got in a situation where I would need to protect myself, at least I would know what to do!

I'm also interested in taekwondo and have been trained by some of the top trainers in the world. I actually represented the French taekwondo team in a commercial.

And why Muay Thai?
When I went to Thailand and saw the Thai fighters in the ring, the energy I felt, the deep respect I saw everyone give the sport [and] its tradition, I knew it was the type of martial arts I wanted to do.

I am not your regular gym girl. I danced ballet for 15 years, so I have strong legs and ample suppleness, but I'm also a tomboy. I love to fight, which made me the perfect Muay Thai student.

Who do you train with?
Quenton Chong and Winston Chong at Dragon Power Gym in Cape Town, South Africa, and with the huge space at the gym they have there I can really kick the bags and throw punches without worrying that someone will get in my way and get hurt. I love training there!

What's your training regimen like?
I wish I could have Quenton and Winston Chong with me while I travel but I can't, so I have to improvise. Some occasions I go weeks without a good workout. I get ratty and irritable, but then I realise it's due to all the pent-up energy and so I end up getting myself a bicycle or I run on the road.

If I'm in Cape Town, I'm training with Quenton and Winston. They get me doing weights and barbells, squats, leg-lifts, sit-ups and so on. On another day Quenton will get me in the ring sparring or on bags kicking. I do serious stretching, the splits... standing on the spot holding my leg in the air for a good five minutes! Then they make me do heavy cardio for 30 minutes right after.

That's quite a regimen!
I once thought that I was honestly going to stop breathing. On other free days I will do Bikram yoga or mountain biking, which is seriously the answer for any woman looking to build a good bum!

What do you think of the sport - do you follow Muay Thai, or UFC?

I follow Muay Thai - it's brutal! I watch a lot of fights in Thailand. Those guys are extremely strong, and you can tell which gym focuses on kicks or punches, as a fighter will either have more bruising on the legs or upper body.

Have you had any injuries, and do you have to restrict what you can and can't do - for example, sparring - so you don't get bruised up before a shoot?
For now my training is strictly one-on-one with Quenton and Winston but I have got into the ring and sparred with others. I recall getting into the ring with one girl who weighed more than me, although she was smaller in size, and she gave me a good kick to the ribs and smacked my face black and blue! For the sake of my acting career I've tried to restrict myself from sparring with those that have the potential to kick my butt.

Have you had to use martial arts for any of your movies yet?
Yes, in Death Race 2, although most of it was not shown in the film. I can't wait to get really physical; I am keeping my eyes open for the perfect role where I can show what I am capable of as a fighter.

So we don't get to see many of your moves in it, but what do you get up to in Death Race 2?
I get to navigate and I do major stunts, from climbing out of the speeding car and shooting characters, to being shot out of the car and landing with a safety chute. I also have an amazing scene with Sean Bean.

Not bad at all! Have you always been a physical girl, and been fit all your life?
I grew up with a skydiver father, so I have no fear of heights and have jumped a few times myself. I danced ballet for 15 years and was competitive in athletics, and even swam against other countries for South Africa while at school. I love to bungie and scuba-dive, but now I mainly run, mountain bike and train yoga - when I'm not in the gym sparring with Quenton and Winston.

You obviously eat well too...
Well, I went vegan for about four months while out in Los Angeles last year. That was tough on my body; I had to study up on where to get ample protein to supply my muscles while training. But my friend, who is a bodybuilder and an ex-stuntman, introduced me to a product he has designed for vegans, which contains hemp and super herbs, and minerals and all protein grains. It's a powder that you throw into a smoothie with almond milk and bananas. It does the trick; your body makes its own protein as long as you give it all the amino acids it needs. I eat a lot of honey and bee pollen, coconut oils and spirulina, and I stay away from refined foods and oily, fried foods. I like my food fresh and raw, [or] if not, steamed and lightly stir-fried. My father has an organic farm in South Africa; I am fascinated by fresh wholesome foods, so I stay away from vitamin pills and antibiotics.

Basically, every day consists of fresh fruits until 11am, then a huge, vegan, super-green hemp, almond milk and banana smoothie, then I snack on cacao beans, honey, nuts and raisins. I'll drink kombucha and herbal teas, and tonnes of water, and make myself a litre of veggie fruit juice, containing beet, celery, carrot, apple, ginger, lemon, grapes and spinach. At suppertime I eat soya sausages with steamed veggies, or salads with avocado, quinoa and amaranth, or butternut soups, or sometimes dhal. Lately I introduced fish and seafood back into my diet, but I am still not eating dairy or eggs. Oh, I am a Thai food addict.

What's your weakness?
My only weakness is dark chocolate. I have a pretty athletic build and I build muscle really quick, so I think I'm safe to indulge now and then! IK