Da first came to our gym last April when we were kicking pads in the dirt. He had a few fights lined up with no where to train and no where to go. He was signed to the gym-school in town but his trainer there decided to close for summer holidays. At this time Da was going into grade 11, and had been with this gym and his trainer for the better part of the last 10 years.
He was lost boy of Muay Thai. For every champion this sport produces, 100 lost boys wonder through the stadiums fighting to make ends meet. For Da and his family, fighting was purely financial. Like all fighters he dreams of glory, but it's cold hard cash that got him started and keeps him going. It pays more than manual labour and is safer too. He is talented, young, and hard working. All that was lacking was the support system he so desperately needed for success.
Although from the same village that our gym is located, Da went to school in the district specifically for Muay Thai. Growing up here there was no where for him to train, thus at a great expense his family sent into town to study and live at the gym. One of the requirements to do so was that Da's family had to sign him over to his trainer via the Sporty Authority of Thailand. Any disobedience on Da's behalf would thus result in legal consequences.
As Da grew the stakes of his fights got more consequential. Bigger opponents meant a higher degree of danger if going into a fight with little or no preparation, and mismatches were equally as high-risk. He needed proper training and nutrition, but his trainer wasn’t providing it. For three years Da and his family put up with this, not knowing what to do or where to go. Da was getting hurt in fights, he was getting paid very little, and in general going no where. Being a teenager complicated things even more because Muay Thai was supposed to be what was keeping Da on the right track. According to Thai law his family could have sued his trainer, but a bunch of farmers going up against a local school teacher just wasn't going to happen. Even if fighters are aware of their rights, very rarely do they fight to have them met.
He started training with us when the gym opened. His trainer who was too lazy to hold pads or arrange clinching partners was happy; we did all the work, and he took all the credit.
For Boom and me, this didn’t really bother us. The gym is for the kids, and Da was back on the right track, winning 10 fights in a row with us. But as suspected, a conflict of interests emerged. The school wanted Da to compete in a Wu-Shu tournament. Last time Da was dragged to one of these tournaments he missed an entire week of school, a week that his trainer didn’t bother to sign off on. He was starved down to 53kg and not provided any training or explanation of the rules. To say Da embarrassed himself was an understatement.
Da had signed to the school as a Muay Thai fighter only, but they were putting him into random tournaments as they saw fit just looking for funding that would later be personally pocketed.
When Da's Uncle refused to let him compete, Da’s trainer threatened that he wouldn’t be able to step foot in another fighting ring again, and even worse, that he wouldn’t graduate from high school. That is until we offered to buy Da out of his contract.
And that was it, money was offered and Da was free. He would no longer be a lost boy of Muay Thai but instead a kid with a job, with goals, and with the means to success.
We want to again thank our monthly sponsors for the support they are giving to kids like Da. With your help not only is he able to keep on the right track, he is motivating other kids to do the same and is showing them first hand the opportunities Muay Thai has to offer.