Muay Thai and Paradise

Ao Nang, Thailand 11/20/12

When I booked my flight to Bangkok last month I wasn't aware that I knew anybody there. The plan was to have an adventure and figure it out as I went along, getting tips from other backpackers, being flexible and nomadic-like. I soon learned of a friend from California that was teaching English in Bangkok, so I made plans to meet up with her at some point while in the city. I'm glad I did, and this is why:

Krysta, who is from California as well, works at a school run by Thai Christians named Golf and Benz. Apparently, they have longer names that are considered their true names, but people in Thailand go by shorter nicknames that actually have nothing to do with their true name. For example, their daughter is called Bam, which is an acronym for "Business as Missions." This will start making sense, I promise. I had told Krysta about my upcoming volunteering time in Indonesia, which will involve me teaching English to refugees, and once she had passed this information along to Golf and Benz (her bosses) they offered to take me out to lunch. 

As we sat outside on a deck overlooking a fish pond, eating sweat-inducing spicy Thai soups, Golf shared his vision for "A-Mane English Center," which is partnered with Youth with a Mission to spread the gospel through a ministry philosophy that uses self-sustaining businesses as means for mission (hence, naming their daughter B.A.M). He and his wife have a heart for their country and for God's kingdom, so they are offering a much sought-after skill to children of mostly upper-to-middle class families who want to become more fluent English speakers. 

Golf asked what my plans were while I was in Thailand. I told him that I'd been in Bangkok for two days and was trying to get my bearings, but hadn't made any firm plans yet. However, I told him that I was very interested in doing Muay Thai training for a week, or so. He smiled real big. I thought at first that he was entertained to hear that yet another young Western guy wanted to go punching and kicking the crap out of someone while on vacation. All the bro backpackers out here talk about how badass Muay Thai is and how they are going to a bar out on Phi Phi island to fight some local boxers for a bucket of beer.

So, while he grinned, I became self-conscious that he thought I was one of these bros looking for a bucket of beer and a story to tell. I read him wrong, though. In fact, it turns out that he knows a married couple in Southern Thailand who are both Muay Thai trainers working at a gym, which is connected to the largest stadium in Southern Thailand; hook up. 

He got out his phone and made a call.

Two days later I landed at the Krabi airport and was picked up by these Muay Thai trainers

It turns out that these trainers, Doc and Zina, are an amazing Christian couple who use their extensive knowledge and passion for Thailand's national sport to connect with local people, living out a gospel-driven lifestyle in their midst. I've only known them for 24 hours, but from what I've witnessed in this short time, and from the stories they've shared with me, I find myself constantly wearing a surprised expression as I hear about their faith, their vision, and their hunger for God's restorative power to come and change the lives of people in Thailand. This expression also remains with me as I walk around my temporary hometown in Ao Nang, as it is one of Thailand's paradise destinations; a beach town near the islands where The Beach and James Bond were filmed. 

My new front yard. 
They dropped me off at a villa--where I'll be staying for the unknown amount of time that I'll be in Ao Nang--which belongs to a missionary couple from no place other than Sacramento, California. Oh, the smallness of this world! 

Monkeys at the top of the mountain.
They picked me up yesterday morning for the first bit of training, which consisted of climbing 1,257 steps (600 meters) to the top of a mountain temple called Wat Thumsua. The climb was killer, and combined with the humid heat the sweat just poured out of me. Once at the top we were greeted by mischievous monkeys, golden Buddha statues and an impression in the rock where it is believed that Buddha stepped down from heaven and touched the mountaintop with his foot, leaving his footprint in the rock. As we cooled off, walking barefoot, out of respect, around the golden dome perched atop this mountain, Doc shared with me about Buddhism and the religious attitudes that characterize Thai culture; fear and shame being a dominant one that serves to motivate many of their lifestyle choices. 

It's an obvious statement to make, but I'll say it anyway: this culture is nothing like the West. 

Doc, praying at the beach in Ao Nang.
View from atop Wat Thumsua. 
Over here, there's constantly a pressure to keep on good terms with the gods. If you need something to be healed, you make an offering. If you find yourself in a financial bind, you make an offering. But what was interesting to me was that these same gods that are looked to for good things are also the gods that are responsible for bringing torment to the lives of their worshippers. One day a god might be blue, which means he'll be good to you. The next day he might be red, which means that sucks for you. It made me really glad that I know a God who never changes, but is consistently faithful and loving no matter whether I bring him a string of marigolds or not. 
Mercurial nature of the gods represented in their varied colors.

Doc, Zina and I prayed over the surrounding villages from atop this overlook and asked for God's kingdom to come manifest itself in Southern Thailand. 

That afternoon Doc picked me up for my first session of Muay Thai training. 

The gym that he works out of is one that produced the Southern Thailand champion this year and has the biggest stadium in the South. He said that the style down in the South puts emphasis on KOs with knees to the gut, and use of elbow strikes to go for the head, neck, or jaw. Up in Bangkok, he said, the style is more conservative because those fighters are more established and so they fight more for points, collect their pay and get ready for the next fight. Whereas, in the South, fighters are working to make a name for themselves and are motivated to make a career out of fighting so that they can support their families. 

A fight in the South can earn its winner around $100. In Bangkok, a winner can make around $1,000. 

A typical career fighter will train three weeks out of the month, fight once, and then rest for a week. This cycle is repeated for as often as the person can fight. 

Muay Thai fighters reach their prime around the ages of 17-19, but Doc told me that just recently one of the headline fights in Bangkok was between six and seven-year-old boys. Some kids will start their training at age three or four. 

We started with some stretching before learning the basics; kicks, knees, elbow strikes, punches and some stand-up clinching techniques. 

Doc is an encouraging and patient man and he was kind enough to not throw me around too much during our first session. However, I have no idea what today's training session has in store...

...ramble on...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dane, just read your blog. Awesome stuff. I am Krysta's Dad, Doug. We made the hike with Doc and Zina to the top of the temple just like you and we love them and the work they are doing so much. Jeremy and Lisa Wight from The Ao Nang Muay Thai Missions team just had dinner with us 2 nights ago. Have a great time while you are there. What a great adventure,