Sisaket is one of 76 provinces that make up the country of Thailand. The province, famous for its silk and cotton and tropical fruits, is nestled in the northeastern section of Thailand. Like most of its surrounding area, Sisaket lacks infrastructure and technology and education. And most people in the province are plagued by poverty.
For locals, there are only a handful of ways to escape the impoverishment and climb the ranks of Thai society. Muay Thai is one of those ways. But even in Muay Thai nothing is guaranteed. Only a small percentage of fighters come out on the up-side of life. Komkit Chanawong is one of those fighters.
Chanawong grew up the eldest of two children. His father worked construction and his mother cared for the elderly at a nursing home. He started Muay Thai at 10 years old for the same reason many children outside of Thailand take up martial arts: to protect himself from being bullied by the neighborhood no-goods. But unlike many children outside of Thailand, Chanawong practiced Muay Thai for more than just self-defense.
At 10 years old Chanawong started the long and often unrewarding journey of a professional Muay Thai fighter. For two years he fought out of Sor. Tosapon Gym as Pinpet Sor. Tosapon. As a young boy fighting at temple fairs and in rice fields, he had no idea Muay Thai would take him as far as it has. He saw fighting as something that brought immediate results. “We were poor,” said Chanawong. “Fighting brought us income to support myself and the family.” He wasn’t yet mature enough to realize Muay Thai was an investment into his future. But fighting was the first step that helped him and his family climb the rungs of Thai society. Moving to Bangkok was another.
When Chanawong was 12 years old, Sor. Tosapon Gym grew quiet. Fewer fighters showed up for training and the gym began losing money. They were forced to close their gates. But the remaining fighters—Chanawong included—migrated to the country’s capital, Bangkok. In the heart of the city the fighters trained under and were managed by budding Muay Thai promoter, Jartui Sangmorakot, at Sangmorakot Gym. Jartui not only taught Chanawong about Muay Thai, but about life as well, giving him more opportunities and better life experiences. “I got a better income and became more knowledgable in Muay Thai. I got a better education,” Chanawong said. “I also became more famous as a fighter.”
As he fought his way through the Bangkok Muay Thai circuit, Chanawong sent portions of his winnings back home. His family invested the money in five rai of land in Sisaket. They planted a rice field and have been financially stable ever since. With over 20 years invested in the sport of Muay Thai, and by fighting over 230 times, Chanawong had taken his family out of poverty and again up the ranks of Thai society. But his biggest boost from a life in Muay Thai hadn’t yet come.
In 2010, as a full-time trainer at Sangmorakot Gym, Chanawong was given the opportunity to travel to Australia to work as a Muay Thai coach. He jumped at the chance, knowing it would better his life and his financial state. Once there, he returned to the ring as a fighter. Between training and fighting he was able to send more money back home than he did when he lived in Bangkok. Once again Muay Thai was the catalyst to a comfortable life, for both him and his family.
After five years in Australia Chanawong’s life has changed. He now lives in Perth, where he fights and trains others how to fight at Kao Sok Muay Thai Gym. And he recently got married to an Australian woman. The couple plan on building their home and family together. They want two kids. Chanawong is planning to open his own Muay Thai gym as well, where he hopes to teach Australians the art of Muay Thai for fighting and self-defense.
Self-defense. It is the reason Chanawong started Muay Thai. It is now what he aspires to teach. His life has come full circle through the science of eight limbs. With the help of Muay Thai, Chanawong has elevated himself and his family from poverty to prosperity. The life he now lives is a life unfamiliar in comparison to that of the 10-year-old boy’s life back in Sisaket. But for Chanawong, those formative years will be hard to shake. After all, that’s where he began learning that Muay Thai could help him climb the ranks of life.