By Abigail McCullough
I don’t quite know if this story will fit into any particular category. It’s a bit of a work in progress, so apologies for its meandering nature. I wanted to write something for MMT about my friend and teacher Pra Ta – a Thai forest monk who I met earlier this year and who has been teaching me Muay Chaiya. He’s a gifted, devoted teacher, a master of this style who pays particular attention to technique. Pra Ta’s grandmaster is the the famed Muay Chaiya icon Ket Sriyapai, and he lived and studied directly with the late Kru Tong Lor Ya Lae in Bangkok.
Pra Ta, or Luang Pii Ta as he is known to his students (luang pii roughly translates as ‘older brother monk’), lives and breathes Muay Chaiya, promoting it as a vehicle for aligning mind, body and spirit. Because of his compassionate heart (he helps many families all over Thailand, teaching them about MC, meditation and nutrition and traditional Thai medicine for free) and because of his motivation to promote Muay Chaiya, I wanted to share my experience of training with him.
I came to Bangkok late last year to train Muay Thai. Like many before me, I have always wanted to experience the intensive training that a boxing camp would provide. But my first instinct was to try to find a place to study Muay Boran. My martial arts training began in 2001 when I started training Shaolin gong fu and san shou with Shifus Yan Lei and Yanzi in London, so the opportunity to learn ancient Thai fighting held great appeal to me. I also had done some san shou training in Dengfeng, China with my Shaolin teachers, so I had some sense what it would be like.
When I left for Thailand last year, I had been training with Neungsiam Samphusri and Bunkherd Faphimai at Fight and Fitness in San Francisco. As many of you will no doubt agree, they are great teachers and studying with them was very inspiring. Neungsiam in particular encouraged me to go to Thailand to train, so I started looking into learning some style of Muay Boran, but couldn’t find very much at all online (for some reason I don’t think I found Nathan’s site at that time). In the end I opted for Ingram Gym, at Neungsiam’s suggestion, as his friend Bu was head trainer there (and of course he used to be a trainer there as well).
I came for two months and had a great experience, and like many, fell in love with this place. So when my time was up flew back to San Francisco to clear out my apartment and six weeks later I was back in Bangkok and have been here since.
When I got back, I wanted to train like I was training before but I had to focus on finding a place to live and getting a means of income. I lived near Bu and his girlfriend for the first few months and spent a lot of time with the Ingram crew hanging out but not doing much training.
It was a bit of a let down – I was finding it hard to make ends meet and started to think I was seriously crazy for coming back even though my heart told me I was in the right place. Plus, I had no place to go back to – part of the reason I left the US was that I couldn’t get a visa to stay long term (I am a UK-Canadian). The desire to learn some style of Muay Boran was growing and the longing to train was getting more and more intense. I asked Bu and the other trainers and nak muay but no one seemed to know anyone who could train me.
I finally met Luang Pii Ta through a bizarre and somewhat magical sequence of events and since then, life in Thailand has taken a whole new direction for me. I’ve been training with him almost every day and we are working to combine some of our meditation techniques to help students with the internal practices of cultivating power and generating chi. I had a small energy healing practice in San Francisco that I had to leave behind, and now it is beginning to take shape here in Bangkok. Combined with the Chaiya practice it is all starting to work out beautifully.
Until now the training with me and his other students has been a little unstructured – we just meet wherever we can and there is no time schedule that we stick to – we just train until we are ready to eat or take a break, then get back to it. Most of his students have trained with him for a long time, so they got on with their practice and he will step in to help them with their technique. A lot of his current students are 20-something guys from Ramkamhaeng University, but he trains a few women in their 60s and some young kids as well. It’s pretty lovely to see that diversity and he treats them all with the same devotion, kindness and attention to detail.
So all that to say that in the next few weeks we will be finding a house to use as a healing, meditation and training centre and at that time Luang Pii will be offering a regular timetable of classes to foreigners and Thais alike. He is looking forward to teaching foreign students and promoting Muay Chaiya to the West. He has taught a few Europeans and Americans in the past, but right now I’m the only farang studying with him.
I thought about waiting to write this post until we find a place, but I figured I may as well introduce him now. Maybe some of you will want to know more about him and have questions. And if anyone is planning on coming this year, perhaps studying with him might be of interest. I’ll write more once we get the center set up – probably in 6 to 8 weeks and soon we should have a webpage and Facebook page too.
Oh and here’s some relevant background information about Pra Ta. His full name is Aekapop Suprapaso and he’s 37 years old. He started training with Kru Tong some 16 years ago when he was a student himself at Ramkamhaeng University. I am told that that Kru Tong was like a father to him, living together and training everyday. Since training with luang pii I see the same devotion and love coming from his students to him, which is always a good sign to me.