This past March we were privileged to welcome Michele, here on the Fulbright Grant, into our gym. Michele came to us for an internship of her choosing during her five-week summer break from teaching in southern Thailand.
A martial arts enthusiast, Michele was recommend to us by one of her predecessors in the Fulbright Program, Anne Lieberman. Michele's main goal with her internship was to teach English to the kids at our gym. Using Muay Thai as a universal language, she implemented English vocabulary into their training routines. She trained along side the kids for four weeks, and then while at match-ups in Mahasarakham, we found Michele an opponent to fight. Despite knowing nothing about her opponent or having any real preparation, she didn't hesitate to take the opportunity,. Later that night we piled into the truck as usual and headed out to the fights, held in an open rice field. There was no washroom, no running water, no change rooms, nothing. It was Isaan, it was real. It was how it usually is here.
For me personally, this was the highlight of Michele's visit. She fought well against a much more experienced opponent, losing a decision. To be able to show the kids popularity of Muay Thai on such a global scale was an achievement in itself. A university graduate currently based out of the most prestigious univiersity in Thailand, Chulalongkorn, was here in Isaan fighting alongside the children from our gym.
Despite being Thailand's national sport, there is still stigma attached to Muay Thai. Fighters are still viewed as low-ranking members of society without other options. In most cases this is true, but the popularity of Muay Thai in the West has opened a lot of doors for Muay Thai fighters in Thailand. The social mobility that Muay Thai can offer disadvantaged youth has no rival. In a country where nepotism rules and the poor are systematically held back, Muay Thai can be the answer.
The local government has been extremely reluctant to even acknowledge us despite our best efforts. Having Michele here was a huge boost for the fighters and their families. Word spread in the village that the kids at the gym were learning English from an 'American student of Chulalongkorn'.
Despite all five of our fighters losing that night, a bond was forged between the kids and their English teacher.