THE MUANGSURIN CAMP
THE MUANGSURIN CAMP
Throughout my career I have travelled and visited many camps and gyms around the world. In 1992, I had the fortunate luck to train in one of the most famous, respected, and prestigous Muay Thai camps in Thailand at that time. Argue or not as to whether it was Thailand's top camp, it certainly rated in the top half dozen, and was known as the Muangsurin Camp. In Thailand, the Muangsurin Camp and its fighters are renowned for their punching ability and their refusal to take a step backwards while in the heat of battle. Great fighters like Samsak, Samransak, Raktae, Den, and many others have come from this camp (even the USA's Saeksan Janjira told me he came from this camp!).
I was preparing for a World Title bout under the World Muay Thai Council (the first incarnation of the organization) founded by Ajarn Panya Kraitus. (The present WMC - World MuayThai Council assumed the name from Ajarn Panya Kraitus original organization in 1995 and is presently the most successful International Muay Thai organization in the world.) The bout was scheduled for January 1993 in Macau, China against Sithisak Chor Vikul.
My instructor Ajarn Panya Kraitus and co-promoter Taweesak Phoo Thong decided it would be best for me to prepare for the bout in a camp in Bangkok. The founder of the Muangsurin Camp, Ajarn Sanong Rakwanich (deceased) was a student, as was my teacher Ajarn Panya, of Master Sudjai Charalrat (deceased) of the Kessongkram Camp. With this in mind, Ajarn Panya sent me to the Muangsurin Camp. It turned out to be an experience I will never forget.
After the very long flight into Bangkok, I was greeted at the airport by the daughter of the now deceased founder of the camp, Khun Amornrat Rakwanich. Her English was good enough to communicate with as my Thai leaves me sometimes self-conscious. Upon our very late arrival at the camp (1:00 AM), I was taken to a small room shared with two other boxers, one of whom woke up and found it very amusing to see me at the camp to train. This turned out to be the brother of Ajarn Raktae Muangsurin, who is viewed as the head man of the camp and the husband of Khun Amornrat. I was given a pillow and went to sleep on the barren ground as I was told it was late and that I would receive blankets in the morning. The camp was very close to Don Muang airport so there is the constant sound of planes arriving and departing. It felt as if the planes were only one hundred feet over head. The camp had several dogs which barked at anything that moved. The roar of motorcycles and cars nearby (just off of the freeway from the airport) made sleep next to impossible. The camp had caged birds that squawked all night. Topping it off, there was an oscillating fan at my feet which would travel to one side silently, but when it came back, there would be a loud whine of metal scraping against metal. It turned out to be a very long night.
When morning came, all of the boxers were very interested in me because I was a foreigner. We all did our basic toiletries and then prepared for the morning workout. I was exhausted from the jet lag and lack of sleep, but I did my first run with the group. The boxers were impressed by my fitness and speed. Half way through the run we came to a running track so I started sprinting with Coban Lookchaomaesithong (one of the many Muay Thai Champions to train out of the Muangsurin camp famous for his battles with foreign fighters including Ramon Dekker, Dida Diafat and Danny Bille) and I was surprised by his lack of explosive speed considering he was preparing to fight very soon. As we increased the speed, I noticed he was limping. I quizzed him as to what was wrong and was amazed when he told me he had a broken bone in his foot. I felt he was rather foolish training and injuring the foot even more. But fighting means money and money is a living. Such is the life of the boxer who is owned and fights for the camp and also tries to make a living for himself. We finished our run and came back to the camp and prepared for our morning workout. It was quite amazing how Coban had modified his training while hitting the pads and the bags to protect his injured foot.
Ajarn Raktae decided to see what this Canadian boxer had and he put me to work on the bag. My exhaustion from the run and the lack of sleep showed as I did not have the energy to break an egg. He seemed amused but took me in the ring and worked me on the pads for several rounds, evaluating me and showing me what to work on. That morning another trainer, Kru Srinarong "Supoch" Muangsurin (another champion from this camp) came in and was rather perturbed by my presence. Kru Srinarong was one of the fighters in the World Freestyle Fighting Championship in the 1980's. He destroyed a Karate fighter at this event by knockout and was proud of this. After the workout he confronted me and basically expressed his displeasure in all the other martial arts, Kickboxing, the W.K.A., and any champions from any of the other organizations. With no warning he decided to test me. He came running at me and he launched a hard cut kick believing my shins would be soft and weak and that I would fall to the ground in pain. Surprised and wondering what was going on, I blocked the kick with my shin. Kru Srinarong then looked at me and saw no emotion, either from his harassment or his kick and his face and attitude changed. To his displeasure he knew I was there to train seriously. We repeated the whole training program again in the mid afternoon. I was beat by the time bedtime rolled around, but the noise and heat (not to mention the bloody mosquitos), and the aches I was feeling from the workout, jetlag, and lack of sleep, made me too uncomfortable to sleep. I hooked up with Coban and we went for a long walk and he told me a little about himself and his history. I was impressed with and respect this man.
It turned out to be a very long night with no sleep and I hated the thought of seeing the morning. The next day, I was told by all the boxers to go running with Saensucknoi, the brother of champion Chainoi Muangsurin. I could not understand why they wanted this but I agreed to it and all the boxers laughed. This kind of laugh is universal even if you do not speak the same language, the boxers combined laugh was covering mischevious intentions. I learned the reason for the laughter quickly enough. The run consisted of the two of us and it went on and on. Saensucknoi seemed impressed to see me keeping up with him, though it took everything I had to do so. He was preparing to fight the next evening atLumphini Stadium (one of Thailand's most prestigious fight venues) and he or should I say "we" were off on a fifteen kilometer run to make sure he made the weight limit (Unbelievable isn't it? The following year I saw Jomhod Kiat Adisak have to take almost twenty pounds off in one night and he still won!). Saensucknoi fought a fighter from the Sidyodtong Camp in Pattaya and won handily. (In the following year, Saensucknoi had a serious accident on his motorcycle and could no longer fight.) We came back to the camp and all the boxers were laughing hysterically. I laughed also, but at the same time I had playful thoughts of revenge on my mind. The boxers were amazed to see that I had made it back. Feeling thoroughly wiped out, we started our workout again and I went to work on the pads. During these workouts, I was thoroughly impressed with champion Den Muangsurin and the whack he possessed in his kicks on the pads, thinking he would be fun to spar with. The force of his kicks convinced me he was of a higher weight category and I was shocked when I found out he was fighting as a Junior Featherweight (122 lbs.). Den has fought many of the best Thai and foreign fighters, defeating the very respected Ramon Dekker in every one of their contests under Muay Thai and international boxing rules.(Fairly recently, he was teaching in Japan and then went to work in Macau). He also defeated my good friendTanongsak Sor Prantele in both of their encounters.
We repeated the workout in the afternoon, but there was now a new boxer at the camp who had not joined in the run. He was bigger than all the rest and I found out he was the resident boxer for fighting all the larger foreigners. He was there for my benefit as all the other boxers in the camp were rather small for me to spar with. The new boxer Yingyai Muangsurin (why so many Muangsurin's you ask? All fighters in the boxing camps are given fight names as their first names by the owners of the camp and they adopt the name of the camp as their last name during their fight career) made it clear that he did not like me. He (and I) knew sooner or later we would be clinching and sparring. In the middle of my warming up, he came up behind me and quickly grabbed me and took me through some controlled sparring (medium speed without gloves or headgear, concentrating on kicking and kneeing). As we started moving he seemed intent on intimidating me. I knew he wanted to see what kind of pressure I could take, and he started by trying to bang up my shins with his cut kicks. After a few crisp shin to shin bangs, I felt a sense of accomplishment because he stopped and went over and put on a pair of shin pads. All of the boxers would grab shin guards when we would work together. I knew this was to save their shins from injury for their upcoming bouts (to make money), but I was proud that my years of shin work had paid off. Yingyai's legs were like iron and during one exchange he caught my sciatic nerve with a well placed cut kick which crippled my leg. I refused to show its result and he never knew what happened. He continued about his workout trying to intimidate me. My lack of energy gave way to his intimidation somewhat but I found myself annoyed with him at the same time. Perturbed, deep inside I hoped we would be sparring soon. I believed that after sparring with him I would be able to concentrate on training and learning again, rather than having him interrupting me time after time.
The next day consisted of the same routine and Kru Srinarong was still intent on seeing me give up so he started working the pads with me instead of Ajarn Raktae. It was extremely difficult work to stay enthused and strong. The lack of sleep continued along with the dual training sessions daily and it made it more and more difficult every day to look forward to the workouts. Khun Amornrat had been asking me each day if I had any sleep the night before, to which I replied negatively. Finally her brother allowed me to stay at his house (this was the prior/old Muangsurin Camp before it became too small to deal with all of the boxers). I was given the room that champion Samransak Muangsurin had stayed in. (Samransak was to go and teach in Japan for the K-1 organization and in many video tapes of that organization and its fights in the 1990's, one can see Samransak strolling beside the K-1 athletes to the ring). The room was much more quiet, but the heat still made it unbearable and sleep still avoided me. I had arrived at the camp with instructions from Ajarn Panya to Ajarn Raktae for me to lose weight and to work on my speed. A week into training, lack of sleep, strict diet and everything else had seen me lose twenty pounds. The food consisted of a lot of rice and vegetables. All the food (carbohydrates) would do is provide enough energy for the training session. I found it amusing that even Coban complained of the food and the lack of protein. After dinner, to avoid sitting and being feasted on by the mosquitos, the boxers would go for short walks and not surprisingly, get something else to eat from the roadside vendors. I knew it was not allowed, but I needed something with a little bit of sugar and would resort to eating small bananas. Bananas do not promote weight loss, but I wanted something more palatable than rice which I was now extremely tired of.
Kru Srinarong eventually respected the fact that I was not going to give up and he genuinely started to help me and my Muay Thai technique. As a consequence, I started feeling closer to Kru Srinarong and we started spending a fair amount of time together. While training, he was encouraging me constantly. Socially, we would spend much time communicating and learning about each other through my English- Thai dictionary. He had started discussing with me that when I fought next, I should be wearing the shorts of the Muangsurin Camp. I considered this to be an honor, but never agreed as I was a student of Ajarn Panya Kraitus.
One night, I was taken to his house and to get there we had to travel across Bangkok on the back of his motorcycle (this was a true test of courage as we were speeding past buses and cars and the sides of these vehicles would be brushing on my leg while sitting on the back of his bike moving faster than the speed limit). We arrived at his house and his wife, brother and brother in law treated me like gold. This evening, Kru Srinarong took me out as a celebration to a restaurant/cabaret for seafood. It had good food but lousy music, and I was surprised to find out there was also a brothel upstairs. Funnily enough, every day while in training, Kru Srinarong would test me to see if I desired women, cigarettes, hamburgers, whisky, or discos. I was obviously there to increase my Muay Thai skills and prepare for a fight, but he still liked to test me. During dinner, he loosened up and told me that I could have a women for one night! I was not interested, but I was surprised at his offer and I laughed to myself. Upon reflection, I know he was still testing me. Several weeks in and I had only managed a few hours of sleep, so it was difficult to make our way across Bangkok when it would have been far more enjoyable to try and get some sleep.
Upon our arrival at the camp I was thoroughly tired. I completed my run and when I came back I was gloved up and told it was time for sparring. I had just finished running but Yingyai had just appeared at the camp and he was fresh. I knew I was in for more than a little good "sparring". Because of how I was feeling, I knew I had to move smart, conserve my energy, and remain calm while sparring. In the first round, he was just wading through my strikes and he laughed at my body shots (one of my strong points). I then decided to work my jabs just to see what he would do defensively with his head. In the second round, knowing what he would do, I waited, set him up and capitalized. I hit him with a three punch combination to the chin knocking him out. I had no intentions of dropping him but it happened. It was an unwelcome shock to Yingyai and upon reflection I was surprised I did it considering how tired I was. After that Yingyai would no longer spar with me. Ajarn Raktae started taking me more seriously and became more interested in my training. Every workout after that, there was little or no gloved up sparring for me. However, I did spend a lot of time clinching with Yingyai. During one session, he wanted revenge for the sparring and I was tossed around like a rag doll (due to my being physically drained and his superior clinching experience). I literally cleaned up the canvas with my sweaty and then filthy body. With each successive session, I would start to throw him around and I gained some respect (he still threw me around easier than I did him). I enjoyed the clinchwork with him each day, as he would counter my strategies to which I would have to think on how to counter him the next session. I appreciated his work as I was too big for everyone else, although Den would clinch with me once in awhile but Yingyai usually took the honors.
Ajarn Raktae was renowned for his right hand, and now he acknowledged my punching ability. He would bring me into his living room and we would watch fights on videotape of other great Muangsurin boxers, or watch the live televised fights. One evening we watched Cheungpuek Kiatsongrit fight a foreign fighter from France. I thought the foreigner was awkward. He was wearing Thai shorts but his kicks were definitely Tae Kwon Do oriented. Khun Amornrat and I laughed about this. Ajarn Raktae said I would easily knock out the French boxer. Cheungpuek looked terrible as he had not trained hard and taken the French fighter seriously.
After my spar with Yingyai, everyday Den would constantly come up to me during workouts, and ask me if he was throwing his hook correctly. This bothered me because I believe it bothered Ajarn Raktae and I wanted to show no disrespect to the master, so I would acknowledge to Den he was doing it correctly so I could continue with my own workout. Kru Srinarong told me my punches, elbows, and kicks were good but my kneeing was weak, but I was so tired, that I could barely lift them let alone "punch" my knees in. I laughed to myself and found it amusing that I was older than both Ajarn Raktae and Kru Srinarong, both of whom had retired from the ring. Kru Srinarong kept telling me I could fight until I was forty (I won third World Title at 37 years of age) and I wondered why he was still not fighting. As soon as this thought hit me, he told me he was going to come back and fight (but a year later I found out later his wife convinced him not to).
I was treated very cordially by khun Amornrat and her brothers (Khun Anurak and Khun Apirak) as well as by Ajarn Raktae. The hospitality and the regard of most of the fighters in the Muangsurin camp was very much appreciated by me. However, before the length of my training arrangement was completed I had to leave. I will not get specific, but the living conditions and some of the training habits in the camp left a lot to be desired, and combined with the lack of rest, it affecting my health significantly. These were the reasons I left the camp to finally go home. Kru Panya had cancelled my fight because Sittisak had just lost his belt in Malaysia, and it coincided with the fact that I was not healthy. Ajarn Panya stated he wanted me to fight someone with a belt to add credit to my name, not against someone who had just lost. I just accepted that all the events together meant the bout was not to be. The illness forced me to turn my attention to the fighters from my gym who were also going to be fighting on the same international card in Macau (three fought and two won while the third lost a split decision for a WMTC World Title).
After leaving Ajarn Raktae and Kru Srinarong sent news consistently asked me to come back to the camp. In the years since much has changed. Kru Srinarong left the camp in 1994 and quit working as a Muay Thai trainer deciding to make money in different fields. He was replaced by Kru Neng (Terdtoon Taothong) for awhile as a new trainer. Kru Neng has a strong background as a fighter as well and he and I have discussed about him coming to Canada each year to assist me with my fighters, offering to fight while here in Canada. In 1996, Kru Neng also left the camp to pursue different goals. I have been back to Thailand every year. While in Thailand I have so many people (Ajarn Panya, officials, fighters, and friends) to see that I have bumped into Ajarn Raktae, Kru Sringarong, and Kru Neng a few times with much pleasure. In 1995, I trained Team Canada for the 1st World IAMTF World Championships in Bangkok at the Muangsurin Camp. Ajarn Raktae would encourage me to get out and fight as well as take me to Lumphini Stadium to watch some of his fighters do battle. I will be going back to Thailand early in the next year to see and arrange for Ajarn Panya to come to Canada as well as talk with everyone at the Muangsurin camp.
During the past few years, I have happily bumped into my friend Coban Lookchaomaesithong almost a dozen times in the USA. I have wanted to bring him up to gym and into Canada but paperwork and regulations have made it extremely difficult for him to leave the USA. Much to my glee, I have also bumped into several prominent Muay Thai athletes of Thai origin in the USA who have also trained in or been trainers at the Muangsurin Camp. One of the better known is Kru Saeksan Janjira. It has amazed me at what a small world it truly is!
(Originally published in 1993 and updated in 1997 - ROUND ONE North American & World Muay Thai/Kickboxing/Full Contact News Vol. 1 No. 1)
AJARN RAKTAE MUANGSURIN PROFILE
NAME: Real name: Mr. Boontham Toykratoke / Boxing name: Raktae Muangsurin (which means "true love") for his wife khun Amornrat.BIRTHPLACE: He was born September 8th, 1960 in Ladyai, Muang District, Chaiyaphume, Thailand.TRAINING: He started training at the age of fifteen in Chaiyaphume Province for five months. He had his first fight at Ladyai Sports Center and fought under the name of "Saint Po". He had twenty nine fights after the first one, all in the rural area. In 1977 at the age of seventeen, he moved to Bangkok and was trained under Ajarn Sanong Rakwanich - the founder of the Muangsurin Camp. This has been the only camp that he has formally trained in. He retired as a fighter at this camp at the age of twenty eight years.FIGHT RECORD: 129 bouts (90 wins, 39 losses, 0 draws with 35 KO's)TITLES: Radgdamnern Stadium Lightweight Champion - Sept.6, 1979. First Runner-up, Amateur International Boxing at the President's Cup in the Lightweight Division in Indonesia. Professional Lightweight International Boxing Champion of the O.B.A. (no longer exists).TOUGHEST OPPONENT: Usope S. Thanikul for the Radgdamnern Stadium Lightweight Championship.FAVORITE FIGHTING TECHNIQUES: Punching, elbows and knees. He had an extremely heavy right handed punch and the Thai press gave him the name "Aiy Mud Narok Taeg" which means exploding hell puncher.