Catching Monkeys

Under an expressway flyover near one of the largest slum communities in Bangkok, a small foundation trains young children in Thai Boxing.

Thai boxing is often referred to as the national sport. But as a competitive sport it is incredibly tough and like competitive boxing in other parts of the world tends to attract people with few other opportunities. Boxing is a popular spectator sport, and despite gambling being illegal in Thailand, is the focus of serious betting. It is also known as the Art of the Eight Limbs for its use of kicks, knee and elbow strikes and punches. As such it requires incredible athleticism, strength and concentration.

But Thai boxing has a whole culture around it – with rituals to enter the ring, paying respects to the spirits and to teachers/trainers – and a musical ensemble playing throughout the boxing bouts. This provides opportunities for all the kids to participate, including those who might be less interested in the combat side. One of the most striking aspects of the school is the way in which the kids pull together, with the older children taking on coaching and mentoring responsibilities themselves.

The kids who participate in this project tend to come from very difficult backgrounds. Drug abuse – particularly methamphetamine – is very widespread, and very destructive. Many of the kids come from homes where the parents and older siblings are involved in drug abuse, with many in prison, and a general background of crime and gang related violence.

The kids who turn up tend to be quite wild. One of the volunteer teachers jokingly referred to teaching them as being like ‘catching monkeys’. They often turn up without shoes, and in quite tatty clothes. They have also had some major successes taking the kids to compete abroad and coming back with medals. Some of the kids have real talent, and perhaps do have opportunity to take their boxing further.