The Balance Part 2 -- Work, Family, and Muay Thai with Manuel Keo
In the first part of our series, The Balance, we interviewed Mia Kang. A Sports-Illustrated model turned professional fighter, she has a unique outlook towards balancing work and Muay Thai, and she had some great advice to those trying to do the same. In Part 2 of this series, we’ve switched it up slightly and want to give you a fresh perspective on someone who found a passion for Muay Thai later in life.
There’s a reason why most people that will read this aren’t professional Muay Thai fighters. The amount of practice, dedication, and hours needed to perform the martial art at a high level is simply not feasible when you factor in a full-time job, studies, or other responsibilities that inevitably pop up during life. However, as difficult as it is, there are a few individuals who are going above and beyond and searching for the balance. Manuel Keo is one of those. A Khmer Rouge refugee turned California Native, we chose Manuel based on his coach Patrick Rivera’s advice.
Interview Begins Here:
Can you tell us some details about yourself? Where were you born, where did you grow up?
My parents came to the United States from Cambodia after escaping the Khmer Rouge era. I was born in TX in 1983. We moved to California and lived in Van Nuys for a couple of years. Later we moved to Modesto where I grew up. I was raised in a very good family but hung out with friends who were involved in gangs. I was 12 years old when I joined. 13 years later when I decided to turn my life around, I went back to the one thing I had a passion for and that was Martial Arts. I trained out of my garage and competed in Muay Thai exhibition/smoker events. I started working with Vinotheque, a company that manufactures cooling systems and provides wine racks for wine storage purposes. I have been working there for 10 years now. I started from entry level and worked my way up to where I am now the Sales Manager. I have been with Valor Training Center in Stockton, CA for 3+ years. I am one of VTC’s Amateur Muay Thai fighter with a record of 4-3. I have a beautiful wife and 3 kids, a 16 year old son, 6 year old son and 4 year old daughter. It’s a challenge juggling work life, family life and fight life but the grind keeps me focused and puts everything in perspective.
When did you start doing Muay Thai?
My uncle got me involved in martial arts since I was a toddler. At the time, I trained here and there but nothing was consistent. When I was 16 years old walking home one day, I saw a friend hitting the heavy bag in his garage. I stopped by to ask what he was practicing and he told me Pradal Serey. Similar to Muay Thai but an art that originated from Cambodia. I was intrigued to learn and did that for about a year. It wasn’t until 2014 when I heard about Valor through a friend at work and I’ve been training there since.
When was your first fight?
I had my first fight in 2014 when I started with Valor Training Center in Stockton, CA. It was an amateur event under Pak Fight Promotions in Fresno,CA. I won via UD.
Is it hard to balance your Muay Thai training and your professional and personal life?
It’s definitely a challenge. There’s a lot of hardship and many sacrifices. Time spent away from family. Losing sleep to get up in the morning for an early training session and going straight to work after. It’s definitely tough so you have to be prepared to work hard. You have to want it. Through it all I was able to figure out a way to balance my schedule throughout my daily routine.
What are some tips and tricks you would give others in your situation or who are struggling to find balance?
Finding the balance is key. One of the things that helped me is planning ahead. With my wife’s help, I would prep tomorrow’s meal the night before. I would also plan my daily routine and have everything logged before I began each week. I’ve also learned the importance of listening to your body. This can mean how you’re feeling after training, the food you’re eating and how your body is recovering. What’s tough for me is there’s never enough time in a day.
What is your goal behind Muay Thai?
To be the best version of me. I want to challenge myself with what I have learned in training. I felt the best way to do it is through competition.
What do you hope to accomplish with Muay Thai?
I want to become a champion. When I’m finished with fighting, I want to run my own academy. My team will understand that the knowledge I have is through actual combat and ring experience. They’re learning from someone who has been through the ropes and can trust what I am teaching works in real life or in the ring. I want to give back and help others become the best of themselves.
How has Muay Thai changed your life?
In many ways but to name a few, I’ve learned to have more control over my temper. I stopped drinking and smoking so I can focus on training so my health and overall physical condition is in great shape. The sport has helped me learned a lot about myself, facing fears, overcoming doubts and has allowed me to fight in an honorable way rather than on the streets.
What does your family think about you participating in Muay Thai?
It was tough originally and why my fight career started later than I expected. Of course the decisions I’ve made as a teenager didn’t help either. But after getting back into training, it was a challenge since I have little ones and had to do my part as a father so my wife isn’t doing it alone. Although, I still feel she does much of the work since I’m always working or training. My family doesn’t understand why I want to compete or why I want to put myself in that situation. I tried to explain but it’s one of those things that only the individual involved or those on the same path can understand. My wife however is extremely supportive and as she would always tell my kids and family, “If daddy’s in fight camp, we’re all in fight camp” It can get pretty intense and stressful so having a supportive family definitely helps.
What is your Muay Thai training routine?
When I’m training for a fight, I wake up at 6am for roadwork and I head to work after. I get home in the evening and start my evening training session at Valor from 7pm to 930pm. My day starts at 6am and I don’t get home until 10/1030pm. When it’s all said and done, I don’t normally get to bed until Midnight or later, waking up again at 6am and repeat. I take one day out of the week to allow my body to recover and hopefully catch up on some sleep. I focus that one day on light work and stretching.
What are the challenges that you face training hard and taking care of business and family?
Time away from my family is the hardest and not getting enough sleep takes a toll. There are days I start training and my body is dead from the lack of sleep or recovery. But I keep pushing through. I miss out on family events and time with my wife and kids. I don’t even have time to hang out. I spend the very little time I have with my family between training and work. They’re my motivation. When I’m at work, I make sure to focus on my responsibilities and the tasks at hand. I am hoping the hard work and sacrifice will pay off.
When was the hardest point in your training and what did you do to overcome that hardship?
This year (2017) has been the toughest for me. I made plans to stay as busy as possible and took on whatever fight that was offered to me. I fought every month from Jan to Apr. This meant a lot of time in training and a lot of time away from the family. It was definitely a challenge in all aspects, mentally, physically and emotionally. I went on a 3 fight win streak but took a loss in Apr. I’m overcoming the loss by training hard and will redeem myself in the next fight. I don’t have anything confirmed yet but I hope to get a fight ASAP. My wife is the main reason why I am able to do all of this. From helping me with the kids and holding it down at the house to cooking my meals, everything. It truly helps to have family that supports you.
Manuel’s decision to do Muay Thai may be similar to yours and you may be in a similar life situation oftrying to balance everything. Troubled teen years and affiliating with gangs at an early age can lead to poor life decisions, and general well-being isn’t even considered at that age. Whatever the case may be for why you decided to take up Muay Thai, there are some crucial aspects to take away with you from Manny’s story in order to succeed:
- Listen to your body. If you’re getting tired in the evening, go to bed. If you’re hungry, eat. If you feel that you’re not spending enough time with your family, go and take care of them.
- Have the support of friends and family. It’s one less obstacle to face when trying to find balance. If you feel that your inner circle is hindering your growth, you need to evaluate what’s best for you.
- Plan ahead. Have a training schedule, a meal routine, and cook your meals the night before to save time.
- Utilize the benefits of conditioning, temperament control, and endurance gained from Muay Thai into your life outside of the sport.
Do you have a similar story to Manuel’s or can you relate to the struggles that he faces? Have any advice that you’d like to give the community to help succeed? Send us an email if you’re interested in helping contribute to The Balance series.