In the photo above are all cousins, at the center is Bam (6-7 years old, Den’s nephew); left is Den’s son Dtong (3 years old) and right is Badt (8-9 years old, Den’s nephew).
As I strode into the gym this morning there was nothing unusual going on. It was largely empty, the trainers kind of milling around before any of the westerners were ready for padwork and the main thing of note being that the number of little gromit kids running around was about half of what it’s been the past month or so.
The youngest of the kids, Bam (pronounced between “bum” and “bahm”), had his first fight the other night. He’s only 6 or 7 years old and under 20 kg so he’s too small for the local stadia, so his fight was out in the fields of Mae Rim at a festival. Normally all the boys require a lot of scolding and being told repeatedly to hit the bags or do some kind of training while the trainers are all busy with holding pads for the bigger folks. (Kids generally get padwork last.) Largely they’ll hit the bag a few times, throw some spectacular kicks and then just swing on the bag, clinging like little monkeys to it, or hit each other, or just sit down. They do not train. Bam is the youngest and smallest, so he’s pretty much the runt of the pack and gets picked on by everyone. He’s a scrapper though and most of the time will keep coming back at the much bigger kids, although there is a lot of crying as well. On the day of his fight, however, when he was supposed to be resting he simply would not stop. He had been smashing the small weights in the morning – they’re the size of long eggs – like how little kids smash toy cars together. In the afternoon he was running around, swinging on the bags, jumping on everything and hitting and kicking everyone. Nook yelled at him mai som! (“no training!”) but he just kept going. When an intense rainstorm blew in Bum ran out into it and had to be dragged back under the roof. I think he was just so excited and nervous about his fight that he had to let his energy out. I figured that if he could keep that kind of energy up he’d destroy his opponent, but the likelihood that he’d fall asleep in the truck on the way out to Mae Rim was equally high.
When I walked in this morning I asked Daeng what had happened in Bam’s fight and it turned out that he’d lost by KO in the first round. My eyes shot open wide and I asked if he was hurt at all. Daeng laughed, “Not hurt; he’s small.” Unfortunately it turned out that Bam was mismatched against a 9-year-old who was also much bigger. Despite the terrible match up, Nook had placed a 100 Baht bet on Bam, demonstrating his belief in the little guy. It almost makes me cry thinking about how sweet that is. Bam wasn’t hurt. As I was shadowboxing at the end of training he and his cousin Badt saddled up to the ring and Bam looked shyly at me. I asked him in Thai if he’d had fun in his fight. He tucked his chin down in a sweet look and then grinned, nodding his head “yes.” Sanook mai? I asked again (“fun?”) He nodded again, saying sanook. Then he tucked his chin again and in a tiny voice told me he’d lost. I knelt down and grabbed his wrists from under the bottom rope, me in the ring and he standing next to it. I told him in Thai, “I lost my first fight, too. I lose sometimes still.” His face lit up and he smiled as I dragged him into the ring, under the bottom rope by his wrists. He squirmed a little on his belly and then rolled over as I began poking him, kind of tickling him, asking if anything hurt. He said nothing hurt and I found a little black bruise the size of a silver dollar on his right shin. I tapped it with my finger and said, oooh, jep (“pain”) and he shook his head adamantly, correcting me that it didn’t hurt. I pushed him over playfully and then pointed to him as I spoke to his cousin, who picks on him all day, “champ,” I said. Bam stood up and started kicking the air. He’s amazing.
As I was hitting the bag I saw out of my periphery that the most seasoned trainer Nook was tying tennis shoes onto his feet. I’ve never seen Nook wear sneakers. He’s got sandles that he wears everywhere and then a pair of work boots that he wears to fights when he gets dressed up. (“Dressed up” for most Thais is jeans and a clean T-short or button down shirt and closed-toed shoes.) I watched with interest and to my delight he walked over to the driveway and started jogging back and forth along the maybe 30 feet of it. I’ve never seen Nook run, ever. I kept hitting the bag and he kept jogging back and forth, trying out his new shoes. After a few laps he sat down on the bench by the gate to the house and made some “oooh!” sounds of exhaustion and started rubbing his bad leg, which is what he’s usually doing when he’s not holding pads. But after a minute or so of that he got back up, assumed a sprinter’s pose and took off in what was his version of a sprint (he’s 56 years old, so his sprint is not the most explosive but it’s still damn impressive). He was actually doing sprints in the driveway after not running for probably 25 years, when he had his accident that banged up his leg.
When I was done with my bagwork I went over to him to “ooh” and “aah” over his new kicks. They weren’t new, but they were new to him and he seemed really into them. I’m not sure if he’s ever owned running shoes. I can only assume they were given to him by Robin, who is a Brit and long-time friend and former fighter for the gym. Nook offered his own assessment of the shoes, which is that they are bao bao (“soft”) and showed me with a few little hops how cushy they felt. I said that’s probably good for his knees and he put his heels together to show that his left knee is still three times the size of his right – it’s always this way; it will probably always be this way. But he was still excited. “Fight Lumpinee next month, right?” I asked and Nook laughed, breaking into his signature grin and held up his fist. “Iron Dynamite!” I yelled, which is Nook’s old fight name. He turned the grin into a fight grimace, but his eyes stayed smiling. I think Bam and Nook take the cake for creating the sweetest morning ever.