MBSB contributor Frances Watthanaya has been busy lately. She and her husband Boom have left Buriram to open a Muay Thai gym in neighbouring Nakhon Ratchasima Province (Khorat). The new Muay Thai gym is located in Boom’s hometown (village) in the Muang Yang district. The village is extremely isolated and lacking the infrastructure common to larger villages (for example, paved roads). Additionally, plagued by a lack of governance, there isn’t a local police presence in the area. Like many other villages in Isaan, adults from this village migrate to Bangkok to take up menial labour while those left behind tend to be the elderly, children, and those with addictions who are unable or unwilling to work.
This gym will be for my trainer Dam, to provide him with a secure job in which he can pass on his Muay Thai expertise to a new generation, and the for kids of the village and neighbouring areas, an outlet. The last year working, training, and fighting out of Giatbundit Gym made it very clear to me that the gym’s focus was not on the kids but instead on the personal reputation of the gym’s owners.
At our new gym, we will focus on the local youth. While a few young fighters may be able to embark on a long-term career path in Muay Thai, all will be given a community and a skill set through Muay Thai, as well as the ability to participate in a structured activity within a safe space far from the drugs and gang problems that plague much of Isaan. Dam has been waiting for my husband and me to open a gym for the last five years. It wasn’t until last month, when he was interviewed by Lindsey Newhall, reporting for Fightland that I realized why — having been burned by nearly every gym he’s worked for in the past, we, his family, are the only people left he believes he can trust.
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All Photos by Robert P Cohen.
Robert P Cohen, originally from New York, is a photographer currently based in South East Asia. His current body of work is his Little Tigers Series that focuses on the young child fighters of Thailand. You can find Robert on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. Check out his website here.