Ladies & gentlemen, boys & girls, children of all ages! My-Thai.org is proud to bring to you a very unique and meaningful interview with a former Muay Thai champion, now Muay Thai & Muay Boran teacher and overall very inspiring and incredibly enthusiastic person. Grandmaster Suphan!
The interview was conducted in English and Thai. Most of my questions have been in English and Kru Suphan answered in English or in Thai with kind support of Mami Sato who translated most of the questions and answers. The words therefore are not exactly Kru Suphan’s but I tried hard to keep the spirit and meaning of Grandmaster Suphan’s answers as close to his original meaning as possible.
Kru Suphan and Mami! First of all thank you very much for your time. Really appreciate it that you took the time to see me here at your place. Since you are quite busy let me start with the questions right away. What makes teaching Muay Thai Boran so special?
Teaching Muay Thai Boran is not only about the Martial Art but also about the manners, the heart and the approach towards Muay Boran. It’s not only about but fighting but also a lot about the personality.
Is it difficult to teach those manners?
It might sound difficult but actually it is not. Manners are very very important for Muay Thai and Muay Boran and therefore the basis for everything. If you don’t have the patience to understand the manners you can also not be taught in the martial art. This is crucial to understand and when students understand that, they will follow those basic steps first in order to learn more in the future.
When did you start teaching?
When I finished University in Chaiyaphum. I graduated in physical education and started teaching right after.
Was it easier to teach back then? Sometimes it feels like students these days aren’t as dedicated as ‘back then’.
Not necessarily easier. Just different. Back then students would not have as many distractions as nowadays. These days everybody owns a smart phone for example. Even the young children. So getting distracted is quite easy. Some time ago students would listen more closely to their parents and would have to focus more on their daily chores and work. This does not mean that students back then have been better though. You have to go with the time and find ways to connect to and with your students.
Sticking to the point of teaching students nowadays. How important is it to not only teach Muay Thai techniques but also the cultural background of Muay Thai?
It is very important to understand the culture and the past overall. These days the development progresses so fast that it is easy to forget the past and to only focus on new things and chase the latest trends. Muay Thai Boran is not only a martial art but also helps to conserve traditions and helps to remember the past. Knowing how Muay Thai Boran developed, what struggles our ancestors had to go through in the past and how we came to the point where we are now is important and therefore should not be forgotten. This cultural aspect is also a big part of teaching Muay Thai Boran.
Why did you actually start Muay Thai when you were young?
I had to start Muay Thai to support my family. My family was really poor and we didn’t have any other chance and had to find a way to make ends meet. I started training with around 5 or 6 years and had my first fight when I was 7. So having professional fights was a way to support my mother and bring home a little bit of money.
Is that still the case these days? That fighters have no other chance to make a living besides fighting?
These days it’s probably not that bad anymore and not too many fighters are only in because they have to make a living but more because they really want to do it. What bothers me a bit these days however is that many fighters don’t really seem to understand why they are in it and what they are doing. They know how to fight but not why they are fighting.
Muay Thai is like art. It is Martial Art so the comparison is valid. If you look at the Mona Lisa you know it is a picture of a woman but there is more to it. The fine work behind it. They style, the artist who put lots of blood, sweat and tears into perfecting this master piece. Muay Thai is the same. It is easy to understand that it is about punching and kicking. Everybody can get or even do that. But when it comes down to the details and the background not everybody is made for it or willing to put in the work that is necessary to become a master of the art.
I met quite a few fighters now who said they fight because ‘it’s cool’. What do you say about that?
I don’t judge anyone for his or her reason to fight. Everybody is different and everybody has different reasons to fight. In the end it is good when more people pick up Muay Thai because if they don’t plan on doing so, they will learn something about the culture and heritage of Muay Thai and hence help to preserve it.
However I do believe that as a good fighter you need to have responsibility and dedication and therefore it will be difficult to become a real champion without putting all the hard work into it and just doing it because it’s ‘cool’.
When reading about the culture and what other trainers say you always read about ‘the heart of a fighter’ – now I wonder, can you train a fighter to have heart?
It is difficult to train someone’s heart. Especially these days. It might have been a bit easier back then since people didn’t have that much distraction but I believe it still is possible. However it is also clear that a teacher can also do so much to train a fighter’s heart. Eventually it comes down to the fighter’s dedication and willingness to work more than others and to trainer harder than anyone else.
Moreover besides training the heart it is also important to train the mind of a fighter. Hard is obviously necessary and great to have but if you don’t have the right mindset heart will not take you all the way. You need to be in the right state of mind and able to make the right decisions, understand everything related to the fight you are in simply think fast.
So it is important to be smart for Muay Thai?
To some point it is. Of course you can train all those necessary steps and reactions but when you are smart it certainly helps.
When I search for Muay Boran on Google, Be Muay is more or less the place that comes up most often in the search results. Why aren’t there any more places that focus on Muay Boran?
Not quite sure why that is the case. It looks like Muay Boran is also becoming a bit more famous again these days. Also thanks to action stars such as Tony Jaa who promote the art of Muay Boran on a big stage. Overall Muay Thai still is certainly a bigger draw but Muay Boran is also growing in terms of interest shown. The reason why you mainly found us might also be that we’re doing the best job in terms of web and social media presence ;-)
Besides that the advantage that we here at Be Muay have is also the mix of theoretical studies of Muay oran as well as practical Muay Thai experience. I fought for Muay Thai championships but also studied the art of Muay Boran as well as physical education in general at University. Therefore I am quite confident to provide a wide range of knowledge to our students. Others might be study Muay Boran in great detail but only are experts in the theoretical field and therefore lack practical experience.
How is it actually with Muay Thai and Muay Boran? Are those two different styles competing for the attention of a similar target audience? Or does it belong together?
There are different view points. Some people might say that Muay Thai is for the competitive fight inside the ring while Muay Boran is not a competitive sport and only there for shows and performances. We here however believe that both belong together since Muay Thai developed from Muay Boran. The differences nowadays are obvious though with Muay Thai being a regulated sport and Muay Boran being, in its origin, a real fight. No gloves, no rules, everything goes. You probably know the history of Muay Boran – it comes from the daily life of the people back then. There were no sandbags or punching bags to practice. People would carry rice bags, use trees, etc. to strengthen themselves. As society developed, so did Muay Boran and Muay Thai.
When I came to your class for the first time I told one of my Thai colleagues that I would go to Muay Boran class and she responded: “Oh god, are you crazy!” – What do you think about that?
She probably remembers the old Muay Boran. Just like we said before. No rules, everything goes. You can bring her along some time and I’m sure she would appreciate the cultural aspect of our training :-)
Some fighters that I met said they practice Muay Thai in order to use it for MMA fights later on. What do you think about that?
As long as they want to learn everything is ok. Muay Thai is very powerful and more and more people realize that and therefore want to utilize it. It will just be difficult to compare styles one on one since every martial art has different techniques, scoring styles, etc – but knowing many different martial arts is certainly not a bad thing.
Talking about different scoring styles and such things. A few weeks back there was a fight between Buakaw (Thai Muay Thai hero) and a Chinese Shaolin Monk (Yi Long). How do you feel about bouts like this?
In this case I think it was ok. It showcased both styles and rule-wise they met in the middle. It wasn’t a pure Kung Fu fight and it wasn’t a pure Muay Thai fight but something they adjusted and agreed upon to match their skills and to make it happen.
Do you think it is a good thing that Muay Thai becomes more commercial with show like this or with promotions like Kunlun involved?
It is ok that Muay Thai fighters and people involved get their fair share of success if they work hard for it. Muay Boran itself however will never be as commercially successful as Muay Thai since it is a very traditional martial art and does not appeal to such a wide audience and does not have that much marketing potential. A real martial art will always stay true to itself. This means people who participate in a martial art go there to learn from their teachers, to learn the culture and everything that belongs to it.
[Tweet “”A real martial art will always stay true to itself” #MuayThai #MuayBoran”]
Could you think of a current fighter that impresses you? Saenchai? Yodsanklai? Buakaw?
All those fighters who are famous now deserve it. They all worked very hard and I do appreciate that. It is nice to see them excel. I really appreciate fighters who are versatile in their use of Muay Thai as a martial art and hence like to see those skillful fighters. However I would like to see more of the professional fighters spending more time on the studies of the culture and the heritage of Muay Thai and Muay Boran so they could help even more to preserve it for the future.
It is important to understand what you do, why you do it and when you do it. Therefore I am always happy to see former professional fighters returning to study more and to become real teachers themselves.
My last question is about the Wai Kru. When Mami showed it, it looked really impressive but when I watch current Thai fights I don’t see too many longer Wai Kru versions. Does it lose importance? Should it be kept more important?
It is important. Yes. It is a very important part cultural wise but also helps the fighter to warm up. The Wai Kru typically consists of two parts. Firstly the warm up and stretching part and secondly the part where the fighter pays tribute to his parents and teachers. Those parts are essential but up to each fighters own interpretation. So it can be long and extensive or quite short. Depending on the education of the fighter and on where the fight takes place. In Thailand Wai Kru’s might last a bit longer as overseas for example. Moreover TV stations might force fighters to keep the Wai Kru short since they want to broadcast the action and not the Wai Kru ceremony. Once you are famous, like Buakaw for example, you will have the freedom to perform Wai Kru ceremonies for as long as you wish though.
Thank you very much for your time and inspirational words. So far every class I attended was special and never disappointed and I am looking forward to learn many more things about Muay Thai Boran, the culture and everything that relates to this fascinating martial art.
Let us finish this article with a performance of Kru Suphan and Mami Sato where they show the key Muay Boran techniques.
In order to complete the article also some short information to Mami Sato since she was kind enough to help translate the questions and elaborate on a few answers: She came to Thailand first as an exchange student while studying in Australia. Born and raised in Japan she values traditions and cultural heritage a lot and saw that, unlike in more westernized countries, Thailand still has lots of those values. She feels Muay Boran is a great way to preserve and teach those values and has never regretted her move to train this ancient Thai martial art and to help teach those who are interested.
Oh and Kru Suphan just appeared on the “Lightning Talk” show on Channel 3 HD. Check it out below:
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