Inside the Muay Thai Gym -- My Life at Khongsittha
I’ve just completed my first full-rules Muay Thai fight. To be fair, this was my first fight ever, and just one year ago I hadn’t even scratched the surface of Muay Thai. I had never dreamed that I would ever take the plunge into a combat sport, nor fathomed the difficulty in preparing for a fight. A year ago, I was 26 years old, I had just quit my job as a marketing director, and I was interested in making a name for myself in Bangkok. Little did I know that I would embark on a remarkable journey, meeting Thai celebrities, budding entrepreneurs, professional fighters, lifelong friends, and Muay Thai enthusiasts from around the world. This is a story reflecting on a year of my life at Khongsittha Muay Thai.
Who am I?
Let’s start with a little bit of history about myself. I was born and raised in sunny Sacramento, California and am of mixed descent (Thai and American). I had never done any martial arts prior to Muay Thai; I was actively involved in American Football, Basketball, and wrestling during my high school years. I was feeling anxious at home and after starting university in California, made the huge leap to Thailand to finish my studies there.
I think the biggest reason for leaving America and moving to Thailand was to embrace my Thai heritage and to experience a culture completely different than the one I was raised in. My appreciation of Thai heritage and culture directly translates into my love of Muay Thai.
After finishing university in Northern Thailand, visiting many Southeast Asian countries and a two year stint in Europe, I found myself back in Thailand. I had a passion for marketing, and after working for a digital agency for two years remotely while traveling, wanted to pursue work within Thailand exclusively. Unfortunately, my then girlfriend of five years and I separated, and I was left with very little willpower to push myself and my career.
It’s incredibly difficult to suddenly lose someone who spent every single day with you for multiple years, and whether you feel it initially or not, reality will set in eventually. I was alone, unhappy, and needed a change.
After a year or so of partying, traveling, and pursuing various endeavors that never really materialized, I realized that it was time to focus on myself and to become healthy, physically and spiritually. I was introduced to Khongsittha in May of 2016.
I had never before been interested in Muay Thai and I never would have thought that I would be working at a Muay Thai gym. Located in Bangkok, the gym itself was beautiful; not at all what I thought typical Muay Thai gyms looked like. I was tasked with online marketing; to build presence online and to attract guests from around the world to come train and stay at the gym. I didn’t know at the time but this would be a dream job for many Muay Thai enthusiasts, to be able to work and train at a gym.
The owners of the gym, Dunk and Matt are some incredible individuals. Dunk has a love for Muay Thai, staying fit, and is an incredibly intelligent business owner. Having studied abroad in America, he found himself in a unique position to take his love of fitness and Muay Thai and establish a gym with his brother-in-law, Matthew Deane. Matt is a well-known Thai celebrity and also has an innate love for Muay Thai. His uncle, Ajarn Chai Srisute can be credited for bringing Muay Thai to America, and is known by many as one of the pioneers of making the sport internationally recognized.
Living and Breathing Muay Thai
Learning Muay Thai has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. The discipline, mental fortitude, physical conditioning, and strategic aspects of Muay Thai can easily translate into a happier, more productive life, as it has done for me. One of the incredible things about working at Khongsittha is surrounding yourself around individuals who have built up their livelihoods through the aspects mentioned above. Seaudam, or “Black Tiger” in English, is Khongsittha’s professional fighter and champion.
Watching Black Tiger come into work, rain or shine, day in and day out, has been an incredibly humbling experience. This man has fought well over a hundred times, endured multiple injuries, faced defeat with humility, has ran countless miles, and overcome difficulties that only fighters in Thailand know of. His work ethic is otherworldly, and being in his presence makes me want to succeed in life as he does.
One thought that goes through my mind as I write this; many trainers have come and gone in the year that I have been at Khongsittha. It feels like a transient position, being a trainer in Thailand. Only a few loyal guys are around since I started work, and it’s because they are dedicated to their craft. If you find a good trainer while learning Muay Thai in Thailand, make sure you are just as dedicated as he is to seeing you become a better fighter. They feed off of positive energy that gym members display, and I personally believe it’s rude to not give it your all or try your best in front of a teacher of any craft.
The Personalities of Muay Thai
Working at Khongsittha has allowed me a glimpse into a world completely different than what I was used to. Martial arts and combat sports were always spectacles that I would enjoy watching but never consider partaking in. The beauty of Muay Thai lies in its ability to combine the sweet science of boxing in addition to the inevitable variance of having eight weapons at your disposal rather than two. You’re going to get hit, you will have to trade blows at some point, and it will hurt. These are the hard truths you have to accept if you decide to compete in a Muay Thai fight.
In many ways, Muay Thai can be compared to chess. You sacrifice your queen to get a better position for your bishops. You let your guard slip slightly to let in some punches to set up your knee for the killing blow. Like chess, Muay Thai has you constantly using your brain and thinking two, three, four, or ten steps ahead.
I’ve met some incredible people and built friendships that I feel I will have forever through Muay Thai. When you think of people who fight for a living, how do you think they act outside of the ring? I’ve met champions who crack jokes, take names, pound beers, and are the epitome of friendly. There also hasn’t been a single gym member who has come to Khongsittha that I dislike. The sport of Muay Thai is built on respect and sportsmanship, and most of its practitioners realize this. Like Mia Kang mentioned in an interview we did with her about balancing work and Muay Thai, “You leave your ego at the door when you step into a Muay Thai gym.” It’s almost like having an over-inflated ego negatively affects your reputation within the Muay Thai world; those who claim to be unbeatable and who teach others without credibility tend to be shunned and even made fun of. I like this aspect of the sport; it allows me to stay humble and hungry at the same time.
2017 -- The Year of Growth
Fast-forward to 2017, and I’ve just completed my first professional Muay Thai fight. A knockout, first-round, to an opponent who I feel was not as prepared as I was going into this fight. The gym itself has grown, with more international recognition, more opportunities to collaborate with others in the Muay Thai world, and more foreigners coming to eat, sleep, and breathe Muay Thai with me. For an entire year, I dove headfirst into the Muay Thai world, not sure what to expect, and now have my fingers on the pulse of the sport in Thailand. I’ve met Saenchai. I’ve met Buakaw. I’ve met NBA players, world-renowned DJs, models, actors, musicians, and some genuinely awesome people. I’ve spoke with dozens of bloggers, trained with dozens of enthusiasts from around the world, met gym owners from around the world, and have had this ridiculous journey that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. If you ask me about my time at Khongsittha Muay Thai, whether it be now, or ten years from now, I’ll tell you the same thing. “Learning Muay Thai at Khongsittha has allowed me to become the individual I’ve always wanted to be. It will always have a special place in my heart.”