above is a 5 minute trailer for episode 1 of my new Patreon series Kaimuay Diary – I don’t write about my home gym, Petchrungruang, very often, given how much I have written on Muay Thai. Part of this is that I’m 6 years into my fulltime life as a fighter in Thailand, now with over 200 fights in the country, and the day-t0-day has become a little invisible to me, so I don’t think to post about it at all. At the beginning, everything is remarkable. But over the years those things become part of the routine and you don’t think how novel they might still appear to someone who doesn’t experience it all the time. Additionally, this gym is my family and there’s a degree to which the insulation of that experience is precious to me, private. Runners notoriously don’t publish their favorite running paths, for fear of the path being changed by increased traffic.
You can watch the full 29 minute Episode 1 as a patron here
This video series is a very quiet look at the life of the gym. There will be no fancy editing, no “secrets” of Muay Thai to learn from. It will just be me letting the camera roll, and my thoughts on the fighters and the life, the training, in a gym I’ve sunk myself into completely. Something that I’ve heard from many who are powerfully affected by my Muay Thai Library documentary project is how close it makes them feel to Thailand, to real Thai training. For some of these people it is returning in their mind to their own experiences in the country, for some its for those who have never been here, and long for real, authentic, deeply thought out technique. This Kaimuay Diary series touches on some of that same “be in Thailand” feeling. There is nothing fancy about it, it’s just a chance to come and sit with me and watch the daily life of a real kaimuay, to be here in Thailand with me.
About Petchrungruang Gym
There is nothing abstractly special about my gym. What’s so wonderful about it is the individuals who make it up: Kru Nu is an admirable and personable man with a talent for raising fighters; the kids are very normal boys and young men for this area of Thailand. There are things that are unique about it, like that it’s the second oldest gym in Pattaya and one of maybe two gyms out of all of them here that is licensed as a traditional Kaimuay by the Chonburi Muay Thai Authority (the rest are unlicensed and fall into the Tourism Authority jurisdiction). As one of the oldest gyms, many of the current owners of the other gyms around Pattaya at some point grew up training together within the ropes of the Petchrungruang ring. Not under the banner of the gym, but in the shared space of it, like a community center. And it’s still like that, welcoming fighters from other managers to train together to this day. On a long enough timeline they all come and go. Boys train for years and then lose interest in Muay Thai when the thrill of motorbikes and girls take priority in their mid-teens. Some became stadium stars and were leveraged out from under his care and contract by parents looking to cash in big on opportunity. In this it is no different than many small kaimuay all over the country. Sometimes Pi Nu looks up at the posters around the circumference of the big ring and sighs, “everybody gone,” he says, then points to the core boys who still remain at the gym and are the current Lumpinee fighters. This is how a kaimuay works. This is how Muay Thai works. Among the boys remaining, the current “class” of boys, are Pi Nu’s son, Bank, who will turn 18 years old this August (2018) and has been fighting since he was only 5 years old. With him is Dtee, who is maybe 22 years old and has been with the gym for over a decade. His age group, like a class at school, is mostly gone already. Poached by other gyms once the young men started to become stars. So Dtee, being slightly older, has trained with Bank for all this time but they’re a slightly different social set. They’re friends, but age matters a lot in Thailand and as the oldest current fighter at the gym, Dtee is kind of doing his own thing a lot of the time. Near to Bank’s age is Alex, who is a unicorn of a fighter in that he’s Italian but has been living and training at the gym as the ward of Pi Nu for the past 4 years. He came to Thailand with his parents when he was only 12 and his mother tragically passed, which resulted in a very young and pained boy having to choose whether he wanted to stay at the gym as a fighter (with Petchrungruang’s kind of built in family of boys), or go back to Italy and live with his grandparents. He decided to stay. A few other non-Thai superstars have been partly raised in Thailand training and fighting fulltime at gyms, but the cases that are well-known are, as far as I understand, young men in their non-Thai father-owned gyms, trained by Thais. Alex has been raised in the gym and by his trainer as a legal guardian. This is perhaps starkly unique. He is raised as a Thai, by a Thai family. In a way Alex represents something very unusual about Petchrungruang. It is a real, family-run kaimuay, 3 generations on now, but over the decades its somehow integrated westerners into the process. Something about its slow, authentic energy, and it’s unwillingness to bend to the lure of financial success has kept the gym both real and open. Westerners who come looking for the next hidden gem, or incredible padwork or training, get bored quickly and don’t stay long. The gym instead has stayed camouflaged, true to its DNA, now for decades. It’s about the Thai boys, westerners are just folded in, and must have patience. The westerners who do come and love it usually return year after year. So, this series isn’t really a commercial for the gym. I honestly don’t think that most westerners would enjoy the gym as it takes lots of self-driven, self-directed work, and adopting oneself to the Thai timescale and priority. Instead this series is an insight into the kaimuay, this kaimuay, and into Muay Thai itself. Like Petchrungruang itself, it will not be flashy, it will not reach for powerful moments, there’s no direction here. It will just be what it is.
For me, I started at the gym when all three of these boys were smaller than I am. They all grew, I didn’t. Now they’re young men, nearly doubled in size and fighting at Lumpinee, often together on the same shows so they can prepare together as a team. I’ve watched in this kind of inside-out scenario, where I’m part of the gym and I do train with them and know them well, but I’m absolutely outside of their group. I’m not a teenage boy. What makes the kaimuay, which is a community space all throughout Thailand and distinguishes itself from the western-oriented gyms where training foreigners is the main business model, is that the everyday process of training is a long-term effort in raising fighters. Westerners simply don’t live at gyms in the same way that young Thai boys do. We come for an experience, to learn and improve, fight a few times if we can. It’s short-term even on a multiple year scale. But the traditional kaimuay is like a farm. You plant and tend and weed, it’s endless work and a lot of it is maintenance; you have to wait years before you see the fruit of your labor and then you might lose much of your crop to drought, insects or birds, floods, poachers… whatever; or you yield a lot. You never know. You just keep working because it’s your way of life. I love that I’m part of this process. I love watching the normality of it all, which is the exact opposite of the highlight reel approach to a 40 second clip of some superstar smashing the pads for the camera. It’s understandable to want to go to Saenchai’s gym or Buakaw’s gym and feel like you’re seeing the life of these celebrated stars. But those men – all the great fighters you’ll ever know – came from the kaimuay. From the everyday work, from the community, from the fighter farm in which they were raised. That’s what I’m in love with. That’s what I see as poetry and want to share. Pi Nu sees my camera and pulls a funny face or strikes a pose to be silly – that’s who he is. But who he is all the time is what I love so much about him. It’s him sitting on the weight bench between sets and singing along to the music on the stereo. It’s how Bank and Dtee talk while skipping rope. How Alex will put his hand on Bank’s leg while they peer into the phone together, laughing at whatever totally mundane thing it is that boys laugh about. Kru Den trying to balance a plastic bottle under his head in lieu of propping himself up on his own arm while he watches the boys lift weights after training. The way Chicken Man sprawls out in the corner of the ring after he’s held pads. It’s the way boys show up on a staggered time scale, dressed in their school clothes, put in the work and then reverse the process of wai-ing to everybody on their way out, as the sun is setting, their school uniform shirt buttoned over their wet Muay Thai shorts. That’s the kaimuay.
If you want to watch this series as it develops you can become a $10 supporter. I don’t want to hard sell my Patreon but it is probably the greatest collection of digital content on the Muay Thai of Thailand ever created, and its just getting better. It contains over 40 hours of detailed commentary video in my Muay Thai Library documentary project and loads of exclusive videos, articles and fight commentary – see everything a patron gets beyond the Library here. It supports me as a historic fighter, as I push to an impossible 450 fights in the country. And it allows me to also create new projects like this one, finding creative ways to share what is special in Thailand to me, and probably to you as well. I appreciate the support.