Young Nak Muay Boxers in Muay Thai
Muay Thai is a sport that requires the use of eight limbs in order to subdue an opponent. Through years of practice, these eight limbs become strengthened and sharpened with thousands of hours of repetition. In Thailand, you’ll see that the majority of successful Muay Thai fighters start off young, some even beginning their careers before attending school. While there are laws stating that children have to be of a certain weight and age to compete, there are many tournaments in smaller, rural towns throughout Thailand that go unregulated.
Start em’ Young
According to a study recently done in Thailand, there are over 30,000 nak muay between the ages of 6-14 who compete. Many were thrust into the sport as a way to provide for their families, and almost all of them have the support of their family behind them. It’s considered as a way of life, and can be considered as the equivalent of having a child participate in a country’s past-time. Think baseball in America, hockey in Canada, skiing in Norway, and football in Brazil. These young fighters follow strict training regimens, diets, and are closely monitored by their trainers. Young nak muay barely have any time to play or do activities outside of Muay Thai training. If you’re coming to train in Thailand and happen to meet a Nak Muay who have gone into early adulthood, you’ll find that they still enjoy doing things children like to do, and have a childlike attitude outside of the ring as well.
The Gambling Aspect
Betting and gambling on fighters of any age remains a huge aspect in the world of Muay Thai. It’s intertwined into the culture of fighting in Thailand, and in many cases, the stakes and bets are much higher between fights with young nak muay than more established ones. There are areas in Thailand where families makes less than $2000 USD a year farming or selling small goods. A fight between two rising nak muay then attract thousands of dollars, and massive bets are made on these fights quite commonly. You can see the appeal to a young fighter and their family to train hard and reap the rewards from all the stress and hardships that are within a fighter’s life.
It’s a Long, Hard, Road
A publication was recently done on a young boy by the name of Boonsong Samrong, a 12 year old aspiring professional fighter. He was given the opportunity to fight instead of attend school by his father. Preeda, his brother, is also a professional fighter. They come from the Rayong province, where it’s typical to see bouts between children raise up to $15,000 in high stakes betting on a weekly basis. Preeda is a construction worker, making between $20-30 per day for hard, laborious work. The boy fighter can make up $100 a fight if he is victorious, which is an incredible amount of money for a struggling Thai family. The consequences are quite apparent; bruised bodies, crushed bones, a lack of scholastic education, and an intense life. Boonsong hopes to become a champion one day, moving out of the Rayong province and fighting in prestigious stadiums in Bangkok like Lumpinee and Rajadamnern.
These young fighters typically have their bouts in town festivals and fairs, with the sound of ancient Thai instruments playing in the background as they fight. It’s a righteous sport, and many in Thailand are happy for it to continue, but not everyone sees it as a cultural pastime that should remain in Thailand.
Children’s rights activitists pushed for a law to be made in 1999 that states children can not compete professionally until fifteen years of age. This law makes little difference, as they can still receive a letter of permission from their parents allowing them to fight.
Many children have instances of brain damage at a young age from repeated shots to the head, and the majority of child fighters are absent from school due to training. Professor Sombat Ritthidech from Ramajitti Institute states that if changes aren’t made, there will be a continuing trend of child athletes who are not able to transition into normal life properly after Muay Thai.
Below is a great short documentary on the trials that young Nak Muays face and what their thoughts are about life and fighting.
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