Documentary Photographer Richard Friend is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From his project ‘In the Ring‘ and ‘Catching Monkeys‘. To see Richard’s body of work click on any photograph.
Under an expressway flyover near one of the largest slum communities in Bangkok, a Thai charitable foundation trains young children in Thai Boxing – Muay Thai. Led by Uncle Khae – a team of volunteer teachers supports the children in training and in participating in boxing competitions, for example, at a nearby temple.
"Most 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 participate in this project tend to come from very difficult backgrounds. One of the volunteer teachers jokingly referred to teaching them as being like ‘catching monkeys’. Drug abuse – particularly methamphetamine – is very widespread, and very destructive. Most 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. They often join the training sessions without shoes, and old clothes.
Thai boxing is often referred to as the national sport. Even for young fighters it can be incredibly fierce. As with competitive boxing in other parts of the world tends to attract people with few other opportunities.
"...Thai boxing has a whole culture around it – with ritualized movements to pay respects to the spirits of the ring and to boxing teachers..."
Thai boxing 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 ritualized movements to pay respects to the spirits of the ring and to boxing teachers – 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.
"The teachers are essentially volunteers – and often pay out of their own pockets to provide the kids with snacks and treats at the end of training."
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. There is an incredible camaraderie. The teachers are essentially volunteers – and often pay out of their own pockets to provide the kids with snacks and treats at the end of training. The foundation also collects donations to provide school uniforms, books and pens at the start of the school year. It is much more than just a boxing club. 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 as a professional career.
By Richard Friend