There is something about the morning air at the gym, even for Bangkok, a city of smog and pollution. There is an honesty and purity about it. While the morning rays of the sun are busy cutting through it and across it, piercing the awnings and openings, casting its light upon every crack and crevice, the air remains honest. Even at the epicenter of struggle, the place where dreams are born and manifested, the place where fighters come and fighters go, there is no tension. There is no hostility among the bodies that exist on the landscape of concrete and canvas, the tough surfaces where the art of muaythai is carefully crafted.
The morning heat has yet to scorch the soles of the barefooted children, some just 8 or 9 years old, who practice alongside their older counterparts who jump rope. There is an innocence to all their faces, even on those faces which have been hardened by the ring, left with scars and stitches and pink tissue that has yet to heal. If one were to step back, the gym would look like a well oiled machine. There is no one single person barking out orders; instead, it is routine that leads the fighters while they spar and kick pads and punch bags. Some glove up and, playfully, jokingly, go back and forth with kicks. “Owwwaaay!” one of the fighters calls out. Another fighter plays the role of the referee, pretending to give an eight count to the fighter who was just scratched above his eyebrow by the toenail of the other.
A trainer awakens to the sounds of the fighters laughing in the ring; the gym is coming alive. A hippy sits on the chipped concrete wall and watches, still drinking what remains of last night’s beer. As he gets up and walks away, cigarette in hand, another fighter cleans the empty beer bottles off of the gym floor. He is the same fighter whose pictures grace the uppermost portions of the gym’s awning, pictures of him posing half-crotched with a championship title around his waist. There is no ego at these sort of places. There is no separation between the champion and children. They are all part of a community, a group within the larger society that banded together for a common cause.
It is now nighttime, and the very same fighters that joked and played in the small soi oasis now taunt and chaff each other in the dimly lit preparation area down the back corridor of Lumpinee Stadium. Their teammate is fighting next. Already warmed up and gloved up, he begins his decent into the belly of the concrete beast, where a thousand eyes wait for him to enter the ring so they can cast their weekly wages in the hopes of doubling, or maybe tripling, their earnings. The gamblers start their chatter and banter and the air becomes thick with the hunger for money, for the fighters, it’s the hunger for survival. The fight is ended early on the account of a knock-out from an elbow, and the fighter who wore the sauna suit this morning, cutting the last of his weight atop the broken blacktop of the temple parking lot, was now being carried out of the ring on a stretcher made of green canvas and two sticks of bamboo.
In the back corridor his wits came back to him just as his trainer began removing his hand wraps. The fighter’s girlfriend stood there clutching her purse. No one spoke. But a strange man came over and patted the young fighter on the back and told him how well he had done and not to be ashamed. Another fighter put the mongkon back in the black, weathered suitcase. The air was heavy now, so different from the morning air that brought with it the innocence of muaythai.
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