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Ringside with Department of Surgery’s Alan Sawchuck

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When people think of starting a fitness regiment, their minds usually first go to the typical gym image—running on treadmills, using elliptical machines and weightlifting.

Group Photo of Dr. Alan Sawchuk's Jiu Jitsu class

Sometimes thinking outside the box can be beneficial and help individuals maintain their fitness goals. Take Alan P. Sawchuk, MD, a professor of surgery with Indiana University School of Medicine, and his passion for Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu.

For those unfamiliar, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a form of ground fighting that incorporates grappling and includes no striking, generally practiced on a padded mat. Muay Thai is a striking art that uses very little to no grappling and is performed standing upright. Both unconventional forms of exercise have seen increased popularity in recent years, and are favorites of Sawchuk’s. Here, the surgeon answers a few questions about both martial art forms.

How did you get involved with Muay Thai?

I got interested in changing what I do for workouts, such as the standard running, swimming, and weightlifting to doing martial arts. I started taking Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai, and the people I met were really dedicated and want to improve how they perform.

How did you become a ringside doctor for Muay Thai Midwest?

When I got involved with KruFit Muay Thai, they started putting on amateur competitions about every three months and those would include having a ring setup, taking admissions, giving all of the fighters pre-operative, pre-procedural, pre-fight physicals. During the fight, we monitor them to make sure they’re not hurt and stop fights if it looks like they’ll get hurt. Being the only doctor in the KruFit group, I think it was obvious why they asked me to volunteer for that role.

What drew you to practicing Muay Thai?photo of Dr. Alan Sawchuk giving doing a quick physical during Muay Thai class

I think it’s a realistic martial art. I believe that many martial arts aren’t very functional, but Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu are the basics of mixed martial arts. So, they’re very practical if you ever actually needed to use them.

Do you participate in any other martial arts?

Although I participate in Muay Thai, my bigger passion is probably Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu is a kind of submission style of wrestling. I do that three times a week so long as I’m not on call. I usually do the Muay Thai once a week. Besides those two sports, which I feel give me all the movement, flexibility and aerobics that I need, I also do two hours of weightlifting a week.

How long have you been doing these types of classes?

I’ve been doing Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu a little over five years. I have a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu, and I train with a very excellent group—Chris Howe Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I plan to compete in the Pan IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) Jiu-Jitsu Championship this March, which will be in Irvine, California.

Are you a fan of MMA fights?

Not really. I don’t enjoy seeing people get hurt or concussed. I’ll watch them occasionally, but my main purpose in participating in Muay Thai is just to promote the sport and promote everybody’s physical fitness.

Photo of Dr. Alan Sawchuk and his Jiu Jitsu teacherWhat’s a day in the life of a ringside doctor look like?  

Most of the fighters are fairly young and healthy. When there is a fight all the fighters will come in several hours early for their physical exam. That exam includes measuring their blood pressure, checking their neurologic status, listening to their heart, making sure they haven’t had any concussions or injury in the past that need to be watched. After that, they’ll set up all the amateur fights. I’ll be at the ringside and I’ll watch all the fights. If I think anyone’s getting hurt in the fight I’ll stop it. I can stop a match to check or repair minor injuries such as a cut or a sprain or a bruise. If anything more serious happens, I can certainly apply immediate aid and then I can make sure that fighters are taken to the right place for care. Thankfully that’s never happened, and I hope it never does.

What do you enjoy about doing this kind of volunteer work?

Well, one thing I really enjoy is getting the name of IU Health out, because all of the fights are advertised as being supported by IU Health. I also enjoy using my skills to help amateurs do something that they enjoy and want to pursue. It lets me give back a little bit to the fighting community.

What do you see as the benefits of doing Muay Thai as a workout?

Group Photo of Dr. Alan Sawchuk's Muay Thai class

I think that with Muay Thai you do a lot of things that include flexibility and movement. We also know that for people who have degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease, for instance, boxing, Muay Thai and sports like that really encourage their brain activity and helps slowdown that disease. I think that it’s an excellent all-round workout. It’s very aerobic—wrestling and boxing are two of the most aerobic things you can do with respect to burning calories and keeping your heart in shape.

Do you ever encourage residents or other fellow surgeons to participate in these activities?

I like to encourage anyone to look into Muay Thai and Jui Jitsu as fitness activities. They’re group activities so you’re always participating with other people. Classes normally are very mindful of experience levels. For instance, in Muay Thai, an individual can just do bag work and footwork and other things and never have to spar with others. They can do light contact or increase contact if they are comfortable. In Jiu Jitsu, we have kids in beginner’s classes and advanced classes. So there are all levels of training. The same goes for Muay Thai.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Marco Gutierrez

Communication Coordinator

Marco Gutierrez is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he supports the Department of Surgery and the Office of Strategic Communications. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications, Marco worked for...