An integral aspect of muay thai culture here in Thailand is reverence for those who teach you. Each fight commences with what is called the Wai Kru, a pre-fight ring ritual of respect. The Wai is a Thai gesture of veneration and Kru is the Thai word for teacher.
A few days ago, my pre Lookchaomaesaitong Sit Namkabuan kru, Gai, a.k.a. Sataban Tor Ratonakiet called to let me know a fight of his was on YouTube. This was new as he neither owns any footage of his career as a nak muay, nor could we find footage anywhere, other than a K.O. highlight lifted from the standard entrance cd given out at Lumpinee stadium.
The following is a fight between Gai and Buakaw Por Pramuk previous to Buakaw’s 2004 K-1 MAX World championship win. The footage is from 2001 when Buakaw was twenty years old (Thai years, nineteen Western years) and Sataban was twenty-two (Thai years, twenty-one Western years). I believe it’s one of a series of fights they had. My understanding is, there was a bit of a rivalry between the two for awhile. Gai is from here in Buriram and Buakaw is from neighbouring Surin.
Watching the footage only furthered my appreciation of Gai. He and I trained alone together, meaning privately / outside the culture of a gym at an abandoned ring for approximately one year. As a Foreign nak muay, often it’s difficult to find someone who will truly invest their time in you. I think in a lot of ways, the original spirit of muay thai is faltering here in Thailand, the tradition of teaching it as an art and for the love of it, to those who respect its culture is being commodified. Muay thai in the major cities is big business and a lot of people view training Farang as just that. They’ll hold pads, they’ll correct something here and there but they’re more interested in money or the perks one gets training Farang (gifts, sex, booze, clout, whatever); some aren’t interested in it at all.
Viewing this fight confirmed what I had already felt, I had spent a year training under someone who was sincere. How can I tell? I see it in the little ways that he moves in the ring. The tiny fragments, sometimes between the trading of blows, the tiny fragments he would aim to polish in me. It’s sort of like seeing old pics of someone in your family and realizing you share some of the same expressions. Except in my case, it’s not genetic, it was passed on via a lot of (challenged) patience, persistence and care.
Buakaw Por Pramuk (Red) vs. Sataban Tor Ratonakiet (Blue)
Saturday, July 30, 2011