The Fight Night

It's been exactly one week and I can confidently say: we did it.  We successfully promoted our own show in the village. The permit almost wasn't processed in time, the police tried to shake us down, and an injury kept Bpaet from competing but we did it.

One week before the fight Bpaet fell off a motorcycle; his families only method of transportation. He wasn't hurt, other than a deep gash in his right shin.  We took him to the hospital where they haphazardly stitched him up, six stiches in total but he needed at least 12.  We waited to the bitter end, hoping for it to heal in time, but when it didn't we pulled him from the card.

Getting a license for Muay Thai in Thailand requires two things: approval from the Provincial Sports Authority and gambling and noise permits from the local district.  Because Boom doesn't have a promoter's license we require the help of a local promoter who then files the documents to the Sports Authority in the province the fights will be held.  The approval from the Sports Authority was very straight forward and approved almost immediately, but when we went to the local district it was another story.  It took five full days, when in reality it's only a thirty minute process.  On the last business day before the fight was supposed to be held, Boom handed the district chief an envelop with some money, and it was finally approved just hours before the office was to close.

Fight night started at 5am.  We drove to the gym to begin preparation to have a merit making ceremony.  Friends and family were invited to take part and the monks from the local village came bless both the fighters and the gym.  Bpaet's Auntie and Min and Mo's Mom were there cooking up some of the most amazing food to be shared with the visitors and the monks.  It was practically perfect.

We booked a total of fifteen fights, vendors came from all over region to set up shop.  There were balloon darts, a bouncy castle, wai kru on a tight rope, and countless food carts.  The police also arrived, ten of then, expecting to be compensated for their time.  After a few negotiations, and a few more drinks, they were happy and we were good to go.  

The night was magical.  Fighting at home is something special to any athlete and our kids didn't disappoint.  Mo was up first.  It was one of his best performances to date, everything came together for him, and after five rounds he was declared the winner.  Min was up next.  Her energy was contagious, and her kicks were strong!  She smiled her way to victory.

Nun, a punk kid from the village who goes to a local technical college notorious for gang fights, fought his very first fight!  Through Muay Thai he's found the focus needed to keep on the right track.  Although he didn't win, it was a really close fight and he fought with heart and skill setting an amazing example for others in the village.

Ni has only been training Muay Thai for a year.  She saw her little brother fight a few fights with us and was hooked!  She goes to university in Buriram and trains at Sor. Sawadee during the week and with us on the weekends.  She just loves to fight, and really struggles to find the opportunities to do so.  She won her fight, despite a significant weight difference.

After cornering, and massaging all of our fighters, together with injured Bpaet, Da was the last up from our gym.  It was a long day for him: setting up chairs, and serving food to guests in the morning and now taking care of the other kids.  This is part of being a fighter in Isaan, and for Da just another day.  He knew he needed to win, for the gym, for his family, and for the village.  Like a a boss, Da won his fight,  most beautiful wai kru of the night, and a 14,000 Baht side bet.  Even better, MuayTies was there to film it.

The highlight of the night for Boom and I was golden era legend Rotnarong fighting.  It was such a special moment for us to be able to provide this to the community.  Back when Rotnarong was fighting on TV most of the villagers were only able to listen to his fights on the radio.  For many in the audience it was the first time for them getting to see their local hero fight.

This event wouldn't be possible without the support of so many.  In addition to our monthly sponsors, and corporate sponsors who keep the gym going we want to thank the following people for your contributions to Wor. Watthana fight night:

Stephen Strotmeyer, Amber Marie, Ableen Tai, Ste Watts, Sara Cacchioni, Muay Thai Gram, James Gergory, Seuua Daao Muay Thai, Rosie Lee, Nick de Cock, Jason DeLuca, Patrick McDonald, Steven Moore, Strike Combat, Ting Tong Muay Thai Gym,  & Sok Sai.

In addition to those listed above we want to thank Timo Rogue and Scott Hirano for donating both your time and talents to our event.  Travel expenses for both Timo and Scott were provided by CNEXS Wear who designed a limited edition pair of Wor. Watthana leggings to sell as a fundraiser, they reached their fundraising goal with the support of Round 5 Fitness. Thank you to Thepminit and Abigail Sitmonchai for making the long journey to be part of our event, it meant the world to us to have you there.

The Trip Home

Way back in January I found some ridiculous cheap tickets online.  Without thinking much, I clicked purchase and told my family we'd be coming home for the holidays.  We could barely afford the tickets, and it meant that my daughter would miss a lot of school but something deep down told me we had to come home.

Life in Isaan is challenging to say that least, but what is more is that it is very insular and isolating.  It's so easy to get caught up in the life there and just get by.  We do not want to just get by.  We want to create tangible and positive change in the area while at the same time providing an enriching upbringing for our daughter.  To do this, we must be able to gain distance and reflect on our progress and failures.  Being in Isaan, we just can't gain the same perspectives that we can while at home.

We've only been back a little over a week, but so much has happened.  Our friend Michael, together with Arjan Dam and Boom's brother took two fighters to fight on Max.  They have kept the gym running and the kids training.  We're so grateful for the help and the support, but also proud that we have created meaningful relationships with others who are willing to help us.  We were also able to teach a seminar at my original gym and talk to other kids about what we are doing.

Getting to really talk to people and share our journey with them has been incredibly enlightening and humbling to stay the least.  When people ask what Boom and I are doing in Thailand, we do not simply say we are running a gym but instead tell them we are running a non-profit organization for disadvantagted children in Isaan; empowering families through Muay Thai.  And in saying that, I myself become empowered and realize how truly amazing what we are doing is.

Thank you to all of our corporate sponsors and monthly donors for keeping this gym running.  Special thanks to Fresh Belief, and Ajarn Mikey for taking care of the fighters and all of our animals!

Happy Holidays

The Cattle

Poverty is so deep here that you can swim for years before ever touching the surface.  Bpaet's auntie farms rice for $6 US per day, but that is only seasonal.  She weaves grass mats , grows chillies,  crosses the moon river to dig for wild potatoes, and she still can barely make ends meet.

She raised her kids, and has been raising her nephew Bpaet since he was two years old.  Her brother Sak died recently and she took in his two school aged children.  It seems like Dee just can't catch a break.  That was until now. 

Muay Thai Iyarin hosted a fundraiser to benefit the kids at our gym.  Together with it's students, they volunteered their time and resources to put together an exhibition charity.  Fighters came from all over the west coast to participate and support.  We talked before hand about getting Dee a cow, but Kru Tony Deva and his team completely blasted our initial goal and raised enough money for three!

The cows are not just a one-time purchase.  This is a long term investment that will directly benefit both Dee and our gym.  We plan to breed the cows and sell the offspring; splitting the profits.  And the impact made is more than just financial.  Dee's stress load has significantly decreased and the village is finally starting to come along in support of us.  The mayor stopped by and said he wanted to 'officially' include the gym into the sub-districts slogan.

Empowering families through Muay Thai, we are Wor. Watthana!  Thank you again to Muay Thai Iyarin, the fighters, coaches, and volunteers for the positive impact you have made on this tiny village in North East Thailand.  More specifically to Kru Tony Deva for making it all happen.

http://www.muaythai-iyarin.com

The Conversation

Even the drive to the village requires effort. The road is inches away from being flooded; flooding caused by deforestation and hasty development, not mother nature. Navigating through the patches of partially paved and dirt sections, new potholes show themselves almost daily.

I decided to pick up Bpaet and his aunt to take them to Buriram Hospital. While health care is free in Thailand, a lot of villagers can't afford the cost of gas to get to a proper hospital. Bpaet has a rash on his head that just won't heal. The local hospital, if you can call it that, conceded and gave him the papers to go to Buriram. So here I am, thanks to our donors, to pick him up and get him a proper diagnosis and medicine.

When I arrived at Bpaet's ramshackle house, everyone was there waiting. Everyone except Bpaet, that is, who had taken off on his bicycle somewhere. A small boy approached Dee, Bpaet's aging auntie. At only forty years old years of manual labour and the stresses of providing for kids that aren't hers puts her weathered face at about fifty.

The boy quietly asks for some money, as if embarrassed. I shoot back at him.

"Who is your dad?"

"Sak."

"Well go ask him for money!”

Dee interjects, "His dad is dead."

"What about your mom?" I ask.

"We don't know where she is," Dee responds and we all get into the car.

Sak. I remember now. Sak is Bpaet's uncle who drank himself to death just last year. He was diagnosed with Hep C. The doctors said that as long as he took his medicine everyday and stopped drinking he would be fine but he couldn't. When I pictured Sak, I thought of an old man alone, not someone younger than Dee. Not someone that has an eleven year old boy and a fifteen year old daughter.

The kids ended up with Dee. Now with Bpaet included, she is raising and responsible for three school aged children. Her own two kids are grown and married; she gave her land to them and now has nothing. She picks up work in the fields for a measly $6 USD a day, working in the oppressive heat. Rice farming here is seasonal. The farmers, with no irrigation system in place, rely solely on rainfall. Odd jobs keep her going but only just.

I've been living paycheque by paycheque for my entire adult life and while there is stress it is different as I have always had a job and access to stable employment. This is a whole other level of financial insecurity. Unfortunately a lot of the family's burden has fallen on Bpaet, whose money earned through fighting has made a significant and positive impact on the family’s financial situation.

Dee however, still smiles, still laughs, and still hopes.

Photo by Kansas Amelia

Photo by Kansas Amelia

The Moments That Matter

There are things that happen at the gym that are too precious to record, but instead must be lived in the moment. Tonight was one of those nights. 

 

Bpaet had booked another fairly high-profile fight. This is a big deal in and of itself, as it takes a long time to get called in to fight. Many, like the other kids at our gym, will travel for a few years going to match-ups, taking what they can get. 

In the ring, Bpaet is known as a fearless fighter with immeasurable heart. But in the gym he refuses to push himself, and often acts out when pressured. After a series of high-profile wins, the time has come for Bpaet to take his training to another level. 

Our gym will always be open to the non-fighters. Kids that come to hang out, hit the bag, do some sit-ups and go. We are really proud to offer that. After all, not everyone can fight. But for the kids that do want to fight, they need to take it very seriously; Muay Thai is a cut throat business. 

Rotnarong came out to the gym and really pushed Bpaet. He pushed Bpaet physically and mentally. He made him knee, and knee, and knee. He threw him down and told him to get back up faster, told him to kick then swept his legs from under him. He yelled at Bpaet, told him to control his emotions. He told him the secrets to being great. He told Bpaet to respect us, to know how lucky he is and to appreciate it. 

If Boom and Mali didn’t open up a gym here, there wouldn’t be a gym here.

It's moments like these that make or break a fighter, and in Isaan more are broken than made. It sounds harsh, but it's done to keep the fighters safe. Muay Thai is a business, and you must perform at the level that is expected of you. Fighting is a full-time job. 

I sat nervously on the sidelines. I knew what was happening. This was Bpaet's moment. There was a fifty percent chance he was going to give up, a fifty percent chance he wouldn't. I waited.

Rotnarong taunted him, pushed him even harder. Emotions spilled from Bpaet: nervousness, aggression, anger, sadness. Grit.

Abandoned by his parents, left behind, struggles at school, Bpaet’s story is not a happy one, but it is one that is all too common in Isaan. No matter the adversity he’s faced, there comes a point in time where Bpaet has to take what opportunities he has been given, and work to make himself great. 

Sitting in the corner, pretending to stretch as I watched Rotnarong push Bpaet, I saw it happen: The turning point. The moment when Bpaet decided that he was going to be a fighter, and he wasn't going to give up.