Ever since graduating University, Charlie has been on a journey of self discovery. Also known as the Linguist Monk, Charlie is a modern nomad who has been traveling the world for the past few years learning languages, training martial arts and eating a whole lot of good food along the way.
In order to make his money go even farther, Charlie has learned the art of budgeting. Charlie has been able to live off $3.50 a day on food and shares some good money saving tips for people looking to stay long term.
In this interview with Charlie, he talks about some of the similarities between learning languages and learning martial arts. Charlie also shares some insights on his life in Thailand and where he’ll be living in the future.
An Interview with Charlie the Linguist Monk
Introduction and Background
For people who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am Charlie, from Birmingham, England, the greatest city in the world. I am a martial artist, traveller, blogger, lover of all things delicious and a certified geek. I am the eldest of a family of 6. I have 2 younger brothers and a sister. I have been travelling around the world, exploring new cultures, martial arts and food since graduating from university. I currently live in Phuket, Thailand, training and fighting out of Phuket Top Team. Oh and I am tall, dark and handsome. That about sums me up I guess.
Before coming to Thailand and training Muay Thai what was life like for you? What made you decide to travel around the world learning languages and studying martial arts?
Life was pretty great! I had an amazing job as a curriculum developer at a technical college in Saudi Arabia. Living in Saudi Arab was a pretty interesting experience. It’s in the middle of the desert making it insanely hot during day. You will not encounter a single soul on the street in the daytime but the cities come alive and are a hive of activity during the night. It is nothing like we see on the news. The Middle East in general is nothing like we are shown on the news.
I loved watching Kung Fu flicks like the classic Shaw brothers stuff and the American kickboxing films growing up. In fact, I still enjoy watching them now. I wanted to fly through trees, do hundred back flips in a row and fly kick people in the face. I asked my parents to sign me up for Kung Fu classes but sadly they saw no value in martial arts. They signed me up for an after school science class instead. So I used to watch films then go out to the back garden and practice the jumping and spinning kicks I saw. I thought I was a little ninja. Those films kindled my love of martial arts.
Birmingham, my hometown is a very multicultural city. The only way you know someone is not a Brummie (that’s what we call someone from Birmingham) is when they speak. You hear all sorts of languages when you walk around town. My interest in learning languages really started during university when I used to look at the group of foreign students gathered, talking and laughing together and wonder to myself, what are they talking about? I heard Mandarin Chinese was the most difficult language in the world, so I thought why not start with that. Once I started travelling, I met all these people who spoke 5, 6, 7 languages. That inspired me to start exploring new languages. I figured if they can do it then I can at least try.
My favourite subjects in school besides Science were Geography, French and Physical Education. In hindsight I should have known I would end up where I am today.
You have a very interesting blog that documents your life as a Martial Artist, a Linguist and a Foodie. How did you get started blogging and why did you decide to choose these three topics to talk about?
You have been living abroad for a while so you know how it is when you call home or when your friends from back home call you and you have to keep telling the same stories over and over again, I got tired of that, so took my brother’s advice about starting a blog.
The topics developed organically over time because they are things I am passionate about. It doesn’t matter where I go in the world, I somehow end up meeting and hanging out with martial artist. I somehow find myself walking into a martial arts gym. I firmly believe everyone should participate in a martial art. It teaches so many valuable life lessons such as dedication, hardwork, fortitude, respect, honour, self-confidence, etc. Food is a gateway to understanding a culture. You can learn about the history of a place as well as its future through its food. If you want to understand someone, share a meal with them. Being able to speak the language of the place is even better. It opens doors and avenues which may otherwise not be available to further understand the culture and people.
Do you see any similarities between learning languages and learning martial arts?
Yes, definitely! There’s a similar learning process involved in both, just like there is in learning any skill. I find that the same steps are involved. Firstly you breakdown the skill into its constituent building blocks then choose which of those blocks will get you close to the result you want. Decide which block to master first, second, and so on. Have a result which is measurable in mind and then find out what obstacles will stop you from achieving that result and ways to overcome them. These steps apply whether you are learning to throw a Thai style round house kick or learning to speak French.
You’ve mentioned your goal was to learn a new language every year. How many languages can you currently speak? Does learning a language mean you achieve fluency or does it mean learning the basics? How is it possible to learn so many languages so rapidly?
Learning is the easiest part, maintaining the language is the hardest part. Just like martial art techniques, it requires consistent practice. I am currently on my 6th language. My goal at the beginning is always to reach upper intermediate level of fluency. I adjust this goal based on how much I am enjoying the language as I am learning. I really enjoyed learning Mandarin so I have a higher level of fluency compared to Arabic which I didn’t enjoy as much.
Once you learn your first language, it becomes easier to learn your 2nd or 3rd because you figure out your learning style and which methods work best for you. For example if I am an audio-visual learner, I will do a lot of listening when learning a language. I will listen to dialogues and podcasts on my mp3 player. Not only that, I will also have the accompanying transcripts so I can read along as I am listening. The key is to make the learning process fun. If you like watching films or listening to music, use that to help you learn your chosen language. Have your favourite book or audiobook in that language. Make learning the language part of your everyday life, that way it doesn’t seem like something you have to go out of your way to do. Practice a lot! Use the language at every opportunity. It is a use it or lose it kind of deal when it comes to languages. It’s all about having motivation, both internal and external. External motivation helps when you come up against obstacles. Most importantly, love the language and the learning process. If you love doing something then it is not a chaos.
When did you first develop your passion for Muay Thai? I remember watching Buakaw highlights back in 2006 and knowing that I would be training in Thailand one day. How did you end up getting hooked on Muay Thai?
I actually came to Thailand and Phuket Top Team specifically to train MMA. They have a cap on the number of students they take in so my back plan was to go to SInbi Muay Thai to train Muay Thai if Top Team was at capacity. I didn’t pre-book before I came but luckily they had places available. I was hooked right after my first morning Muay Thai class. I had never trained Muay Thai up till that point. I abandon MMA at least for a while to focus solely on Muay Thai.
Being the Linguist Monk, I imagine you have been focused on mastering your Thai language skills in addition to your Muay Thai. Have you decided to take a crack at the Thai language while you’ve been here?
I have been uncharacteristically lazy with language learn since moving to Thailand. I have been completely consumed with mastering Muay Thai. A friend of mine actually mentioned how my blog posts in the past year have been very Muay Thai heavy. I started properly cracking the Thai language about a month ago. I trying a different approach, choosing to focus on reading and writing as opposed to speaking and listening. I find Thai writing quite interesting. The characters I mean. My goal is to reach basic level of reading and writing comprehension in 3 months.
Living in Thailand
You’ve managed to live in Thailand for over a year without working. I imagine this took some pretty solid discipline in your spending habits to make sure that your money goes far. What are some things you have done to help cut your costs while staying in Thailand?
It took a lot of discipline. There are 4 areas I identified where I could save money. The areas I made cuts were accommodation, transportation, entertainment and food. Firstly I downgraded from a large air conditioned room to small fan room which was a quarter of the price. I then rented a scooter which at 3,200 baht (90USD) a month which works out a lot cheaper than getting around by taxi. It costs me around 100 baht to fill up my scooter. A full tank lasts a while depending on how much exploring I do.
I party less as it is quite pricey. A cheap night out will easily set you back 5,000 baht (140USD) which for me is equivalent to a month’s rent. If I need to let loose I go to 7/11 to pick up a bottle of Thai whisky, then only have to worry about taxi fare to and from the club. I don’t have to drink to have a good time so that helps. My entertainment cost is mostly on massage twice a month 200 baht (6USD) a session and the occasional trip to the cinema.
In terms of food, I eat like a Thai, meaning I only eat 2 meals a day. I budget 120THB (3.50USD) per day during the week on food. I eat after morning training, 60THB (1.60USD) a meal and again after evening training, 60THB. I might spend a little more on weekends but no more than 250THB. I eat largely at the small ma and pa restaurants. I avoid fancy foreign restaurants for the most part because food there can cost 4 times as much as at a small Thai restaurant. I treat myself to a burger or pizza once in a while, usually after a fight. Food is actually my biggest expense come to think of it.
I get the 10L container of water which at 100 baht deposit and 15 baht per refill is a bargain.
As a general rule, if I drive past a restaurant and it is packed with Thai people, I know it has good food at a reasonable price.
For someone planning on staying in Thailand, what do you think a realistic budget they should plan to spend per month. Assuming they don’t have a sponsorship, how much money will you recommend a normal person budget for training, living, and fighting in Thailand?
I would say budget about 5000 to 6000 baht (150-180USD) per month just on food. That works out to be around 200 baht per day. There are lots of cheap food available especially from the roadside carts. You can get sticky rice and crispy chicken or pork for 20 baht, congee for 30/40 baht, a bowl of noodles with chicken for 50 baht.
6000-12,000 baht (180-350USD) per month on accommodation. Housing a little further away from gyms tend to be cheaper. Training at a Muay Thai only gyms cost around 7000-10,000 baht (200-300USD) per month with MMA gyms costing twice as much.
What is it like training on the busiest Muay Thai road in Thailand Soi Taied (Tiger road)? Do you like all the foreigner foot traffic around or would you prefer to be out in a more rural area? What are some of the pros and cons of training on Tiger road?
The Soi is a crazy place! There is nowhere else in the world like it. Everything you to develop into an amazing martial artist is right on your door step. Lots of Muay Thai and MMA gyms to choose from, fitness gyms, restaurants serving healthy food, fresh juice stores, etc.
The majority of people who come here are martial artists or fitness enthusiast so I am constantly surrounded by like-minded people which great. It is also a bad thing because my conversations tend to revolve around the same topics all the time. I don’t think I have ever had so many conversations about weight in my life! And it has been with guys! There are always high level fighters around to train with and get advice from. I was sat at a small restaurant a few months ago and got taking to a guy who turned out to be an undefeated, high level boxer. We ended up training together and he helped me a great deal with my boxing. I have met so many famous MMA and Muay Thai fighters since I have been living here.
A big downside of living here long-term is that people come and go around me. Most people are only here for 1 to 3 months. I have made some amazing friends from all over the world but sooner or later they all leave and I have to start all over again.
At some point I want to go to rural Buriram and Isaan to experience training at a traditional Thai gym.
Fighting and Future Plans
When you first came to Thailand was it always your intention to fight or is it something that you figured you would do once you become good?
I had no intention of fighting ever! Love martial arts and training but I had no interest in competing. It just didn’t appeal to me I was asked numerous time to fight while I was training MMA but always declined. I used to tell my friends that fighting was a crazy way to make a living. After watching a few fights at the local stadia here, I thought maybe I can do this. 4 months into my Muay Thai training, the general manager of Phuket Top Team walked up to me after padwork in the afternoon and said “you fight next week, you ready?” Without any hesitation I yes. That’s how I got my first fight.
I am more into the ‘art’ aspect of martial arts, not so much the ‘martial’ part.
There are a lot of fighters who have a hard time dealing with the pressure of competition. Is there any mental techniques you use to calm yourself down before a fight? What are some things you do leading up to a fight to stay focused and relaxed?
I try not to dwell so much on the fight especially on the day of. I do yoga in the morning which I find puts me a great mental state. I do a lot of visualization. I try to make my visualization as vivid as possible, what I see, smell, hear and feel. I visualize everything, the walk to the gym, getting on the bus, the bus ride, arriving at the stadium, getting the pre-fight massage, the feel and feel of Thai oil and Vaseline, getting in the ring, doing my Wai Kru, etc.
I have a light lunch, get a relaxing massage and then spend the rest of the day watching comedies, whether stand-up comedies or films. I get nervous on the bus ride to the stadium but I say to myself this it’s normal, this is good, it’s my body preparing for war. I have trained hard, I believe in my training and I am going in the ring to have fun. I try to have a laugh with the people around me. I listen to music while getting my hands wrapped. I find music helps to keep me relaxed. Doing the Wai Kru is a big one for me. I feel calm and completely relaxed as soon as I start my Wai Kru. It puts me in the moment.
What are some of your goals for Muay Thai? Do you want to make your way to the top of the sport or are you competing for more personal development as a martial artist?
My only goal is to be able to display great, traditional Muay Thai. The Muay Thai of the golden era, the Muay Thai of Thailand. I want people to say, he fights Thai style, like a thai when they see me fight. I think that is the biggest compliment a foreign Nak Muay can receive.
In 2 years from now, where do you see yourself? Will you be in Thailand or will you be traveling in another country? What are some of the goals you have set for yourself in the future?
2 years from now I would have had MMA, Boxing and Kickboxing fights. I want to compete in all the combat sports. I really enjoy teaching and cornering people so I envision myself in a coaching capacity. I will be living in Brazil 2 years.
Thanks for taking the time to do the interview. I wish you the best of luck in your journey as a linguist and a martial artist.
You can follow Charlie’s adventures over at his blog Linguist Monk