Note: This article was originally written for Rough Asia and was published on 22 March 2018. Namsaknoi is now based in Bangkok as a free-lance trainer at Attachai Muay Thai with occasional seminars around the world.
The life of the Emperor, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn has been recounted numerously. It is the story of a boy born in a fishing village in the southern Thai province of Surat Thani.
Poverty drove the youngest of 7 siblings to the competitive world of Muay Thai. Talent and grit brought him fame and glory. But the tales that followed did not always have a happy ending.
Namsaknoi is known for an impressive list of achievements that includes his award-winning and spellbinding rendition of the Wai Khru Ram Muay. Let’s also not forget his amazing fight record and his 6-year reign as the Lumpinee Champion at 135lbs. He has built one of the most remarkable legacies in the history of Muay Thai.
Namsaknoi was also a senior of Muay Thai superstar, Buakaw, at the Por Pramuk camp. Por Pramuk was of course, the source of the Emperor’s rise but also his eventual fall.
The camp’s manager reportedly stole the fighters’ earnings and by the time the 2-time fighter of the year retired, he returned penniless to his hometown with nothing to give. His belts were also held captive at his former camp so he had no credentials to show for.
After a lifetime of dedication to Muay Thai, what’s a fighter to do if he couldn’t fight? Namsaknoi found a humble job making fish nets in his village, barely getting by with 200 baht a day.
Things looked a little brighter when he received a friendly call from Koh Pha-Ngan and he soon found himself back in a familiar environment albeit in a different role. As he recalled,
“The transition from being a pro-fighter to a trainer was actually really hard for me. I couldn’t speak English but I had to teach foreigners! It was the worst thing as I didn’t know how to express myself.
“There was a lot of self-doubt. I wasn’t confident of being a trainer which made me more resentful of my predicament. But as I started to pick up the language, I realized that all the negativity was uncalled for. My foreign students really enjoyed my classes and they kept coming back.”
Trainers working at Koh Pha-Ngan were making 10,000baht per month on average, with food and accomodation provided. It wasn’t the most lucrative job but it was decent enough for a man who once had nothing to his name.
2 years on, word got around and Namsaknoi got another friendly phone call. This time round, it came from Singapore wherein lies the silver lining. He was offered a job as a Muay Thai instructor at the renowned Evolve MMA.
“Evolve gave me everything I could ever imagine. I was also able to work very well with the trainers here. I felt like I really grew as a trainer at Evolve and everything in my life was going very well during this period.”
After 6 years as a highly-remunerated Evolve instructor, Namsaknoi was able to save up a sizeable nest egg that allowed him to realize an enduring dream. So in 2016, he left Evolve with the blessings of Chatri, his co-workers and students to start the Namsaknoi Muay Thai Club on Koh Pha-Ngan where it all began.
Namsaknoi’s elder brother, Ges Chaiyamart who was a former trainer on Phuket’s well-known Sinbi Muay Thai gym for 9 years, joined him in the endeavour. Namsaknoi’s then-partner completed the trio, taking charge of the gym’s marketing.
“I have always envisioned this dream life of running my own gym. Koh Pha-Ngan was the ideal place to realize it because I love the serenity and beauty of the island. Other than that one day every month when it becomes a madhouse (full-moon parties), it has a very peaceful vibe. The gym’s location was definitely a great place for visitors to focus on training Muay Thai. I had people coming and returning to train constantly.”
Namsaknoi was beginning to receive more recognition via the aid of social media. The camp also received a good amount of exposure when USA Muay Thai blogger, Paul Banasiak became their sponsored fighter.
Just when a new generation of Muay Thai fans in the West was getting acquainted with Namsaknoi, the bomb dropped: Namsaknoi was leaving his own camp for good after a year of its operation.
As it is now, Namsaknoi Muay Thai Club no longer exists, at least not in name. Namsaknoi’s brother, Ges continues to keep it running, along with the trainers who stayed behind.
“I don’t want to keep track of what is happening at the gym now but my brother does update me from time to time when we talk on the phone. They have, of course, stopped using my name for the gym. The facility is still there for anyone who wants to train Muay Thai on Koh Pha-Ngan. As to why I left, I don’t really want to talk about it as it is something too personal, and something very close to my heart.”
There were a few rumours that went round as to why he left but none of it was verified. As Namsaknoi remained tight-lipped amidst the speculations, Chatri Sityodtong shed some light on the whole episode. The Evolve MMA chairman announced Namsaknoi’s return to the gym via a Facebook post,
“It is bittersweet for me to announce that my bro and multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn will be returning to EVOLVE as a full-time instructor in Singapore in January 2018. Unfortunately, things did not quite work out with his dream of launching his own gym, and he used up his life savings. The silver lining is that Kru Must is coming back home to his family at EVOLVE, and will have another opportunity to rebuild his life savings to keep the dream alive of his own gym in the future. Life may take all of us on many different roads, but somehow we always find a way back home.”
There is no knowing what exactly happened but perhaps some things are better left unsaid. Namsaknoi resumed his post as a trainer at Evolve in January and has quickly settled down in what he calls his second home. Even after the trials and tribulations, Namsaknoi moves on and stays positive in the resurrection of his dream.
“I’m the kind of person who can’t multitask, otherwise I can’t excel in my work. I still dream of having my own gym but right now, I just have to cast the thoughts aside and focus on my role as an instructor here at Evolve.”
Editor’s note: Read part 2 of the interview here.