MUAY THAI BOXING is Thailand’s national sport, and for Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa’s Muay Thai expert Tanaphong Khunhankaew (nicknamed Ping), mastering this traditional martial art form has been a passion since a young age.
His dedication has reaped great rewards, from being a highly successful competitor himself and a trainer of world class champions, to a sought-after international instructor, as well as a referee and fight promoter.
Born and raised in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, Ping fell in love with Muay Thai as a young boy. “My uncle used to fight in local competitions and I’d spend every weekend at his house watching matches on TV with him. I was always practising my fighting skills with school friends and at 15 I started training every day at a professional Muay Thai gym. After just one month I entered my first competition and won it by a knockout. From that point on I was hooked.”
Out of 134 local and international competitions, Ping has won 112. When asked what it takes to become a champion, his eyes light up. “You need to be strong, have excellent technique, relentless energy and a courageous spirit. If you’re scared you’ll lose, so a strong inner will is essential.
“I train six days a week, between two and four hours a day, and up to six or eight hours if I’m preparing for a fight. Getting ready for a competition also takes great mind control. On the fight day itself, just before I compete I pay respect to my mum, dad and trainer as this ritual helps me to get focused. When it’s time to enter the ring I psyche myself up.
“Sometimes I know my opponent and if I start thinking he’s a better fighter, I remind myself that he’s just the same as me – he eats rice not iron, has two hands and two legs, and is only human. I make myself feel like his equal. The mind is very powerful – if you believe you can achieve something, you will.
“I love the challenge of competing but I’m just as passionate about training and the psychology behind it. I’ve been a Muay Thai instructor at seminars all around the world, from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, to Dubai and China. To date I’ve trained over 3,000 people from all walks of life, from complete beginners to professional fighters and world champions.
“I use my training in other martial art forms like judo, jujitsu, tae kwondo, boxing and wrestling, as well as my Masters in Sports Science, to create training programs for fitness, weight loss, self-defence, mixed martial arts and competitive training.”
He teaches everyone on a personal level to bring out the best in them and build confidence. We find out what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are, and most importantly what motivates them. Two people might want to train for the same purpose but what it takes to inspire them might be very different.
The most important thing, he says, is to getting to know your student – what they’re looking to achieve and what keeps them interested to learn more and be better. He even teaches children and turns training sessions into fun activities so they don’t realize the games we’re playing are getting them fit and developing skills.
When he’s not travelling to compete, instruct, referee or promote other Muay Thai fighters, Ping can be found training at the gym, running up the steep 13-kilometre slope of Chiang Mai’s famous Doi Suthep Mountain, or training Anantara Chiang Mai guests from all walks of life, who are keen to get fighting fit with a true expert.