Photos by Matthew Yarbrough
When Piyanat Chaimanee, better known as Phet, first began working at Tiger Muay Thai, rain often leaked through the palm frond roofs. The students, only three or four of them and all personal friends of the gym’s original owner, would follow their trainer’s lead on rainy days, wondering whether Phet would finish the session or call it off early.
Then in his early twenties, Phet was a veteran of about 70 fights, having retired from Muay Thai at age 18 to pursue a college education. His students respected him—he was young, but he was a skilled fighter, with a multiple amateur Muay Thai tournament medals to prove it. Moreover, he was a conscientious teacher. His students enjoyed training with him, and told their friends.
Soon Phet had five students, then six, then ten. The little gym known as Tiger Muay Thai was growing.
Twelve-plus years later, Phet is in his mid-thirties with a family of his own, and is still at Tiger Muay Thai. Tiger’s roofs rarely leak anymore. Metal has replaced palm fronds. The once quiet area is now a major destination for martial artists and fitness tourists. Hundreds of students pass through Tiger Muay Thai everyday. Phet, Tiger’s first trainer, now oversees dozens of trainers spread across the mega-gym’s campus.
Despite his background as a Muay Thai fighter in his youth, Phet never expected he would become a professional trainer, much less the head trainer of a major brand and business like Tiger Muay Thai. After leaving Muay Thai at age 18, Phet assumed he would work in the hotel industry after finishing his studies in business and English. The post-college job search was tough, though, and Phet found no luck with local hotels. Discouraged, Phet decided to visit his uncle, who was working on a new construction project ….View full article