Thailand is a country that celebrates a traditional as well as a modern way of life. Case in point: the capital city of Bangkok. A sprawling metropolis known for its Buddhist shrines and vibrant nightlife.
One of the mainstays of Thailand, however, is the art of Muay Thai. A close-combat martial art that places heavy emphasis on striking with elbows and knees.
Sasiprapa Gym, a family-run facility located in the heart of Bangkok’s Bang Kapi district, has trained some of Thailand’s best fighters for three generations.
Rusgumpol Pongsupha, also known as “Arm,” is now running the family business. He said people who come to his gym are extremely dedicated. They live to train.
“They wake up not later than 7:30 a.m. and run between 8:00 - 9:00 a.m.,” he said. “Then, they do all boxing training, get some sleep, then wake up and training again in the afternoon. We are like family.”
Muay Thai’s history goes back hundreds of years, but this style of fighting has become increasingly popular outside of Thailand over the last few decades.
Many of today’s mixed-martial arts competitors incorporate some form of Muay Thai in their fighting style. Some of them make the journey to Thailand for one-on-one coaching.
“People come from all over the world to train here,” said Arm. “A lot of our clients are from U.K., Australia, Ukraine, Japan and South Korea.”
Thailand itself still generates quite a bit of Muay Thai talent. The northeastern part of the country has bred several Muay Thai champions over the years. Many young Thai fighters from this region flock to the Sasiprapa Gym for mentoring and training.
For some, the goal is to become a national or world champion. For others, especially among the Thai people, it’s a way to put money on the table to feed their families.
“When I fight I need to look what strategy I should use against my opponent. I feel nothing towards them, I just want to win,” said Din Nauthong, a 17-year-old fighter from northeast Thailand. “If I win, I’ll be famous again.”
Din isn’t the only one with visions of championships and money. Hundreds of young fighters in his weight class come to Bangkok every year to train. Not everyone is born to be a champion. But one thing is a certainty. By training at the Sasiprapa Gym they have a fighting chance.