Although, I am not here to discuss nor focus on the negative side of the sport. Things like that will exist any and everywhere a profit is to be made. The reason I started this was to shed light on the social dynamics of Muaythai; the life behind the fight. So that is what I will be focusing on. Behind every fighter, behind every gym, there are stories to be told, lessons to be learned. Due to my Thai being equivalent to that of a grammar school child, I’ve had to hire a translator. This has led me to believe that even long after filming is done, when translation begins, I will only then come to learn the details of each person I have interviewed. It is like an added bonus, a payoff for the long hours and time put in right now.
My journey began at a gym which I am very familiar with, Sangmorakot. I have spent the last three years coming to Sangmorakot in Bangkok and I’ve always found the life that the fighters lead here to be intriguing. The gym is unlike any western friendly camp you may have seen before. Almost to a fault. Being that they aren’t familiar with westerns you have to be prepared to adapt. The training is tough, the area is harsh, and the camp is filled with smaller children whom they recruit from the countryside. This is what led me to start my documentary here. I’m going to spare the details and save them for the documentary.My first subject was Petchatsawin Seatransferry. You may be familiar with him from this year’s Izuzu Tournament at Omnoi Stadium. He just lost his last fight to a strong fighetr from Kaewsamrit Gym. It was a brutal KO that sent Petchatsawin to the canvas like an accordion. Having asked him about the fight, he laughed it off and seemed to want to chalk it up to experience. Even the younger boys around the gym imitated him dropping to the canvas. Back home, if one of your teammates lose a fight, it is customary to comfort them, to make sure they are okay. However, in Thailand, I have noticed that quite the opposite goes on – unless of course a large purse is on the line. For the Thai’s, there will always be another fight, even long after they reach their peak. To dwell on a loss would be a disadvantage, especially with another fight coming up only three weeks away.
My second subject was Dangchiangkwan Sangmorakot. Dangchiangkwan is a light-skinned, lanky fighter who loves his knees and elbows. I was always interested in getting to know more about him after watching his Wai Kru at Omnoi a few years back. There appeared to be more meaning in it for him, more attention to detail. He entered the ring wearing his mongkon and wrapped around the front of it was an amulet that hung down in the front of his forehead. I can still remember how he had performed his dance in center ring. To me it was beauty. The substance that makes up Muaythai.
Lastly, I sat and talked with Bao Sangmorakot. Bao is a younger fighter who goes to school during the day and trains in the late afternoon. I had always wondered what these kids go through as fighters and students. Do they have friends on the outside? Girlfriends? Is all their time dedicated to training and fighting? Bao, being a jokester and camera fiend around the gym, suddenly shelled up when we asked him such questions. I’ve come to learn that the Thais are very shy when a camera is pointed at them, and this inability to open up has added another difficult element to shooting the documentary. But I feel we got what we needed.
After some time catching up with old friends at Sangmorakot we continued the journey to Petchyindee Gym. Petchyindee is located right outside of Lumpini Stadium, above one of the equipment retailers. We arrived early. There is a saying in Bangkok. You don’t ask how far someplace is, you ask how long it will take to get there. During the middle of the day it is not out of the ordinary for the police or army to shut down a section of highway so the Royal Family could travel through. This is done without forewarning, of course. Needless to say, it’s better to leave early and arrive early, then to leave on time and arrive late. Even traveling a few blocks could take close to an hour at certain times of the day, I’ve experienced. Out of all the adversity I am greeted with here in the Land of Smiles, traffic has to be the worst.
Having time to kill before our meeting with Sam-A Gaiyanghaadao, I thought it would be cool to get some footage of the inside of Lumpini Stadium. After some serious negotiating over the phone between my translator and one of the army generals, we were allowed ten minutes inside the stadium, free range to shoot what I could in that time. The general sent one of his maintenance men to open the gates and allow us in. I had been to Lumpini umpteenth times, but never had I seen it like this. It was like walking into a carnival after everyone had already left. Garbage and litter were everywhere, the bleachers had an erie feel. The ceiling fans spun around ever so slowly when the hot Bangkok breeze cut through the concrete openings. It was so lifeless compared to the nights I had been here and witnessed thousands of gamblers throwing hand signals up in the air, placing wages across the arena. Think of the floor of the stock exchange, except the suits and ties are replaced by bad polo shirts and grim lighting. I took what I needed in the ten minutes and left.
I sat and waited for Sam-A. The inside of Petchyindee was nice. Better than our gym back home. It had air conditioning, modern lighting, and a flat screen television. Not something you’d expect from a hardcore gym, not one that Sam-A would be affiliated with. But this is modern day Muaythai. A time where western influence is changing the face of the sport. As I peered out onto the Rama 4 road I saw a figure walking down the street. He had caught my eye. Lumpini is a business class section with nice buildings and modern structure. Not someplace you’d expect to find a relic like Lumpini Stadium, or a Muaythai gym for that matter. And not a place where you’d expect to see a fighter walking down the street with his boxing shorts on.Sam-A made his way towards the gym. He walked differently. Immediately I could tell this was a fighter cut from a different cloth. His confidence was unlike that of any other of the Thai fighters I had met to date. However, as with mostly all the fighters I have met, Sam-A was humble, respectful. He greeted us with a smile and asked to take twenty minutes to get prepared. We obliged. As he went about his business in the gym it was easy to tell what separates him from other fighters; why he is on the level he is. He had certain way about him that demanded nothing but the best. Afterward, he wanted to do the interview with no shirt. For Sam-A, he is a superstar, a fighter who could demand a 400,000 baht purse to fight overseas. He is a fighter who loves the spotlight. After convincing him that we needed him to wear a shirt so we can hide the microphone, our talk began. I am not going to go into detail and spoil the documentary, but you will want to tune in to what he says. You will learn what separates a fighter who does Muaythai for survival, and one who does it for pure success, and with drive.
In part two I will talk about my time with the dean of social sciences at Mahidol University and the day spent at Sitmonchai.