It has been amazing watching the growth of Muay Thai in America. From being an obscure kickboxing art that Jean Claude Van Dame portrayed in a movie, to live fights on cable TV, our art has emerged from the depths of obscurity. It edges it’s way towards being a household entity with every fight and every class that is taught.
I remember fighting in this sport in 1996, back when it was barely legal in Virginia. Fights were scarce, there was no money to be made competing, and most people simply thought I was crazy doing this for “fun.” Now there is a sense of wide acceptance for Muay Thai in the US. With it being the prevalent striking art in the UFC and Mixed Martial Arts, (which has gained massive popularity in the last few years) it is now “cool” to say that one does Muay Thai. Finally our art is getting the attention it deserves, and therein lays the problem.
In the US and world wide, there is a huge emphasis on the sport aspect of Muay Thai. What allows Muay Thai to progress and continue to evolve as a combative art is the fact that it is, and continues to be battle tested. When the Muay Thai of old (known as Muay Chai Ya, Muay Boron, and other ancient names) no longer occurred on the battlefields of Thailand, it became a full contact sport. Because of this, the fighting art was preserved through sport combat and has since manifested itself in various forms. Known as King of the Ring, it has also taken form as kick-boxing (Glory, K1, etc) and has gained massive popularity in Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC as its premier striking art. Ring sport has become the litmus test for Muay Thai. It’s full-contact, no-nonsense nature is what separates it from many arts and is the reason why it so practical for real combat.
The real value of Muay Thai, however, does not end in the ring. It’s value stretches far beyond the constraints of sport combat.
One of my students (who wishes to stay anonymous) saved his own life using Muay Thai a week ago. Two men attacked him, one carrying a knife, and using basic skills that he earned in only 6 months of training, he was able to thwart off the two assailants and live to tell the story.
One of my student/instructors Kru Jim Hill at 52 years young out-hustles my young guys in our Fighter Fitness and sparring classes. “Muay Thai saved my life,” is what he has told me. Jim has lost 50 pounds in his 4 years of training and said that if he hadn’t started Muay Thai, he may have dies of a heart attack by now. Now through teaching children, which he has an amazing passion for, he passes on powerful life lessons to the next generation.
Krus Ron Jacobs and Jimmy Canales, two Marines who run the MCMAPS (Marine Corp Martial Arts Program) in Quantico Virginia, teach my Muay Thai system to the men and women who protect our freedom. Like the Muay Thai of old their emphasis is on winning on a battle field, where there are no rules, where winning means life and losing means death.
12-year-old Pedro, who now trains in our adult program, has learned how to be a young leader through training at our gym, The House of Muay Thai. He takes initiative by showing up early to clean the gym. He shows respect by saying “yes sir” or “no sir” when speaking to adults. He looks people in the eyes when he speaks rather than looking at the floor. He will be a champion in the future, not because he can fight, but because he will be a strong, confident leader.
The list goes on and on of people who have benefitted from Muay Thai who do NOT fight in a ring or a cage.
There are elitists out there that only see validity in the competitive aspect of Muay Thai. They feel that only high-level “kick-boxers” or fighters should ever teach because “You can only teach from experience.” As a former fighter myself who has fought professionally and produced high level fighters such as Brandon Vera, Shawn Yarborough, Chase Walden and countless others, I appreciate the value of experience as a coach.
But this narrow-minded approach to our beloved art undermines what countless students have achieved through Muay Thai outside of the sport aspect of it. By definition, the elite only comprises of a small percentage of the population. What about the rest of the people? True, the SPORT of Muay Thai should only be reserved for those who are committed to the highest level of athleticism and competition. Does that mean that Marines, 12 year olds, 52 year olds and average joes can’t benefit from the LIFESTYLE that is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai has helped me become a better person. It has made me face my fears both in and outside of a ring. It has taught me the value of culture and respect, something that many of our martial athletes lack. It has taught me that fighting is only a small part of my entire life, and that when I step out of the combat arena, I must still conduct myself as a champion in my business practice, in my friendships and with my loved ones. Muay Thai has taught countless others these same values and more. That is why it will always be more than just a sport to me.
My focus in the last few years has been on promoting instructors through the Muay Thai University. More importantly, I strive to develop leaders in the Muay Thai community. Some of my Coaches and Krus will choose to produce athletes. Others will choose to teach it for fitness and self-defense. ALL of my instructors, however, see my vision; that Muay Thai is a way of life. It encompasses kickboxing and MMA but it is so much more than just a sport. It is a vessel towards self-discovery for ALL, not just the elite and my mission is to share this powerful, all encompassing art form with the world. For those who believe in what I believe, then I welcome you along this journey with me.