“Don’t train hard because I tell you. Train hard for the benefit of yourself. You must do it for yourself, not because of me, because of you. If you do it for me you wont be successful.”
-Mr. Dit, owner and head trainer at Giatbundit Gym, Buriram
The southwest monsoons had arrived in Issan. Humidity reaches an almost unbearable peak before the downfall begins as cool winds and dark clouds roll in. It is a time when morale seems a bit lower at the gym – less fights and less running. Lately however, things seemed to be a bit heavier. As with most gyms, we go through our ups and downs and right now was definitely a down.
I had to go out to Surin to process my work permit today so I didn’t arrive at the gym until after training. The truth of it was, I didn’t want to train and hadn’t in over five days. Generally speaking, I am at the gym seven days a week and training six of those days, so this was definitely a rare occasion and Boom’s and my absence was surely noticed.
Dinner was delicious as usual, and I had missed it. Doctor Pung always makes sure there is more than enough food for all of us; rice, papaya salad, fresh fruit, soup, stir fry, and eggs. A complete and perfect meal made with love that you can taste.
After dishes were put away and mats had been rolled up Mr. Dit called all the fighter and the trainers to come sit down for a meeting. Today we were to welcome our new trainer, 70KG active fighter Samgow Wor. Suntoranon. He had gotten lost in Bangkok – drugs and drinking, but had decided to turn his life around when his wife got pregnant. Somehow Mr. Dit found him and brought him to us.
It would be hard to get Samgow back in at Lumpini or Rajadamnern because he was still owned by his previous gym. He said that he doesn’t want any money, just a home for he and his wife and a chance to get his life together again. On top of holding pads for everyone at the gym, he will be fighting four times in August here in Issan.
After his introduction came the pep talk. Mr. Dit is the big boss and he knew that this had to happen right now. He could feel focus being lost and knew that confidence needed to be reaffirmed. He told us we need to train hard every day because we are fighters and this is our job. Our job is to be the best we can be. He then went on to say that this wasn’t for him, or about him but for us to better ourselves and that in return we must be grateful for the opportunity to be able to do this.
This moment made me think about ages ago, sitting under a mosquito net with Boom at his family’s home in Khorat. Boom said to me we fight in order to live; this was his mantra of which he held in high esteem as if the words were sacred to him. It was something that his old brother, now passed, had said to Boom and he kept it close. He wasn’t talking about Muay Thai, he was talking about life. But for us, Muay Thai is life and so it is quite fitting—fight in order to live, sôo pêua chee-wít, สู้เพื่อชีวิต.
We talked about our gym and how we have Somrak Kamsing in our corner at Lumpini, and how Scott Hirano came to photograph us, and how Thailand Journal came to film us, and how Rotnalong comes to teach us. We are lucky for these opportunities, extremely grateful as well but what is really comes down too, according to Mr. Dit, is the love we have for each other. He said that when we love each other, other people will love us too.
Our gym is built on family and as a family we must work together and appreciate each other too. At this point, he went to his beautiful wife—Doctor Pung, who is known at the gym as Mom to everyone. She works full time at the hospital and puts in overtime whenever she can. In the morning before work, she cooks for the fighters and after work, she hurries back to make us dinner. She not only pours her heart and soul into the gym, but the majority of her monthly income too.
Mr. Dit explained that we must show our love for one another, including Mom, and to do that we must take care of each other. As fighters we need to clean the gym, do the dishes and our laundry too. We need to make sure time is kept, that in-between rounds water is served, and fighters headed to Bangkok are massaged daily. He wasn’t telling us that this was our responsibility, or that we had to do it but that it is what family does and we are family.
For Mr. Dit and Doctor Pung the gym is a labour of love and no more. He said that when we take care of each other he is proud; and that when we train hard, and we do it for ourselves, he is proud. When he feels this way he knows the opportunity he has given us is worth the hardships that he and his wife must endure to allow our gym to survive.
“Don’t think about other people when you train. Think about yourself. Don’t think about me or the Doctor. Focus on yourself and after awhile, when you are good, you can think of us. That is all I want.”
In Muay Thai, the buying and selling of fighters is a common practice. Mr. Dit has never sold any his fighters. Before Giatbundit he was running a gym out of his backyard with a few other locals called Sor. Sokhunchai where in he gave away two top prospects hoping for better opportunities for them and their families; Channel 7 Champions Sokhunchailek, and Jaemsak. Now that he has his own gym with proper facilities, he refuses to let any one go.
“If you want to leave you can, but if you want to train Muay Thai you stay here with me because I am your father and you are my children.”
We talked again about the opportunities that we have been given, and were assured that with these and the tools we have, we can be successful. In Bangkok, it can be very hard to compete with some of the larger sponsored gyms like Kwaiitong Gym, or Eminent Air because they have the money to pull in a lot of fighters. Furthermore, they not only have connections with the big stadiums, but often act as promoters for there too. Parents feel confident that shipping their kids off to such gyms will surely pay off, but what they often overlook is their child is not being picked because they are special, but because they can be used [chái dâai ใช้ได้]. They can be used to wrestle and spar with the gym’s tops prospects, and by putting them under contract, their fighting future and schedule is controlled.
Mr. Dit finished the night assuring us all that if we take care of ourselves, he will take care of us.
“We can compete with Bangkok. Our family doesn’t have to be broken up to win a Lumpini title.”
After receiving a Muay Thai scholarship to train at a prominent gym in Northern Thailand, Watthanaya packed her bags at 19 leaving home with a one way ticket. She ended up however at a Bangkok street gym affiliated with Sor. Thanikul and married one of the fighters. They took off for Khorat and Watthanaya fought her way through Issan. Now, with a degree in tote, a four year old daughter, and a passion to fight again, she is back. Connect with Frances Watthanaya on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook .