Buakaw Village is More Than a Gym Inside the Jungle

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CHONBURI, THAILAND - OCTOBER 11: Buakaw Banchamek of Thailand poses during the K1 World Max Final on October 11, 2014 in Chonburi, Thailand. (Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)

Journey to Buakaw Village

As our elongated metal tube trudged along Chotana Road, a busy highway in the Thai province of Chiang Mai, a thought dawned upon us. The street corners, billboards, and fluorescent lighting had changed to open rice fields, and an assortment of vibrant greenery. As this came to pass, memories openly flooded the conditioned air of the cylinder-like vehicle. A connection had occurred, not one between man and nature. Instead between men. Shared admiration and appreciation connect the most opposite of people despite whatever barriers may stand between. Language, religion, or whatever it may be otherwise.

After a fair distance through the open fields of the Chotana road foreground and its subtle mountains creeping in the backgrounds fog, another change in scenery occurred. Now the hollow metal box moved onto a narrow road. As the worn tires skidded along the path, clouds of dust particles burst into the air behind us. The further away we moved, the more each cloud dissipated into the dense shrubbery that surrounded the road. Either side was crowded with long banyan trees. Up close the spectrum of green differed significantly, its beauty only multiplied.

Another Change in Scenery

Soon after leaving Chotana road for the narrow dirt path shrouded in shrubs, small villages began to appear. Minimalist communities, ones that seemed to thrive on the cooperation of others. Mopeds and motorcycles were abundant. More than a good many whizzed past us on the road. Along the side of the central roads in these villages, were distinct yet small and unadulterated signs bearing the words, “Buakaw Village”.

We made various turns through countless villages until finally we were again covered in the jungle. Plant life was so dense in parts that for minutes at a time, the sun was only faintly recognizable behind the wisps of branches. It wasn’t much longer after that when we came upon where the signs had directed us.

“Buakaw Village.”

The entrance to Buakaw Village is truly extraordinary. As a sudo-gateway stands a short bridge which extends over a lazy stream. Upon clearing the bridge, suddenly the dense packing of trees is no more. An opening in the jungle greets you and a massive bronze statue draws your eye towards the center of the compound.

It’s Buakaw.

The Village

The large statue sits in between the offices of Buakaw Village and the infamous Banchamek Gym. Just over to the left of the office building, a quaint dinner-type restaurant overlooking a large open field and the northside tree line that gleamed in the red-stained sun.

It is here that Buakaw Banchamek has made a center to facilitate the growth of others in his beloved art of Muay Thai.

Of the many people I asked, what the art of Muay Thai meant to them, only a small few answered the way the fighting legend Buakaw did. Simply, he put it, “Muay Thai means my life.” Although the bravado of this answer was lost between the transfer of my questions to the receiving of only written answers, I imagined his response in a stoic way. His answer, while short on characters was deep in meaning.

The Beginning for Buakaw

Muay Thai training began at an early age for Buakaw. Back in the days of his childhood in the Surin province, where his village was located, Muay Thai was the sport of the village children.

“Since I was a kid, all the kids in my village, in Surin where I was born, like Muay Thai. I wanted to be the best since then.”

It is important for children to have a sport. Being involved in physical activities, let alone one that demands respect and dedication bestows numerous advantages. These benefits extend beyond lessons of the mind.

“For children, any sport could shape them to be a strong and good man. [Any sport could teach] (about) rules, how hard (it is) to be the winner, and how it feels to be the loser. You learn from it. But Muay Thai is the sport that your opponent is also your teacher, you learn every time that you fight.”

Lessons and Teachers

Interestingly enough, Buakaw mirrored this sentiment when it came to his inspirations as a fighter. He claimed, “Every fighter who fight with me, (taught) me a bit more every time I fight. So, they all are my inspiration.”

One would be hard pressed to find such sentiments outside of the martial arts community. Many of these arts of combat are designed in such a way as are sports, in a general sense. The nature of sport is so that these ideals are found there as well. Outside of sport, similar aspects are only found in ancient cultures. In most other walks of life, these lessons are lost. Thrown away with the liter gathering on the sides of the road.

Competition and sport pull the very best from people. Buakaw believes his art has and continues to mold him into a better man.

“Muay Thai makes me a patient and disciplined man. (I must be) if I want to be the best of the best.”

As so, Buakaw believes it is vitally essential for those wanting to truly practice the art of Muay Thai to experience it in its birthplace. He painted an analogy to draw a comparison.

“It’s important if you like to try real Thai food, you need to come to Thailand. (The same can be said of) Muay Thai. If you really like to feel the realness and action of Muay Thai, you need to come to Thailand.”

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