Note: This article was originally published in Rough Asia on 21 September 2018.
Like the beginnings of many Muay Thai fighters in Thailand, Takdatnai Kiattakluck’s childhood in the northeastern region of Isan was plagued by poverty and hardship.
We often wax lyrical about controlling your own destiny. But when you are nine and your family struggles to put food on the table, all you can think about is trying to survive.
Almost every Thai goes by a nickname and all of Kiattakluck’s friends call him Tan. Tan’s parents separated when he was still too young to remember it. Even though he was placed in custody of his father after the separation, things didn’t quite work out.
Tan’s dad made the acquaintance of the well-known Muay Thai trainer, Kru Diesel during the latter’s younger days in Nong Khai. After a quick call, Tan’s dad sent the then 9-year-old packing and on board the bus to Bangkok.
It was 6 years ago that Tan arrived at Bangkok’s FA Group Muay Thai Gym. He found himself living among complete strangers but it was the least of his worries. The camp’s trainers and fighters occasionally give him pocket money. For a 9-year-old from Nong Khai who grew up with next to nothing, this was an upgrade. Tan recounts,
“I actually felt relieved when I came to the gym. I had food on the table for every meal.”
Tan continued going to school in Bangkok but decided to drop out when he was 11. It was then that he eventually started to train in Muay Thai. Compared to his peers of the same age, Tan was a latecomer to the sport. Most kids bring with them over a hundred fights’ worth of experience from the countryside by the time they arrive in the capital.
Tan’s initial foray into Muay Thai was thus met with little enthusiasm. Everyone at the camp didn’t think Tan was cut out to be a Nak Muay. Unimpressed by his lack of heart and talent, they discouraged him from furthering his young fighting career. Adopting the fighter name of Songfangkhong FA Group, he began racking one loss after another. Tan pressed on.
“There was nothing else that I wanted to do. I just kept on training and fighting,” he said.
Muay Thai is a sport where only the toughest survive, quite literally. For many Thais, it’s one of the few viable paths out of poverty in the country. Not every fighter rises up to become a stadium champion. But Muay Thai has provided individuals and families with a means of living in Thailand.
Tan’s persistence is paying off. Things are beginning to look up for the FA Group fighter who is adding more wins to his record with passing time. Clocking wins, striking those winning poses after fights, he has also started competing at the prestigious Rajadamnern Stadium this year. Fellow camp mates and foreign friends of the gym who have watched him grow up feel comforted in witnessing his improvement over the years.
Tan is working harder now than ever. He gets on average, 400 dollars for each of his fights which is a considerable sum of money for an Isan boy of his background. With food on his table at every meal, a new found sense of purpose as a Muay Thai fighter, Tan is intent on building his career in the sport.
When asked on what he hopes to achieve as a fighter, he replies with his usual mild temperament,
“I want to become a Rajadamnern stadium champion.”
Nothing is a guarantee in fight sports. Destiny can be quite a trial and torment, if you choose to believe in it. In the sport of Muay Thai, champions come and go like the rainbow. With thousands battling for a piece of glory every year, only a small fraction can ever ascend or ever translate to true greatness.
There is no knowing how life will eventually pan out for Tan. For now, there isn’t a lot more he would ask for.