Photos by Matthew Yarbrough
As with most gyms, we heard the sounds of Sasiprapa before we could see it, tucked away in a long alley in Bangkok’s Bang Kapi District. A local ice cream seller pointed the way. “Walk along the waterway, turn left at the mosque, and keep going,” he told us.
The journey from across town had been time-consuming, but at least there was no traffic. The waterways were clear, with boat passengers jostling for space, swaying along with the river motions, moving toward the center of the vessel to make room for new passengers. It was a relief to disembark at Wat Klang Pier, stepping off a rush-hour-packed Bangkok boat onto dry land just a 10-minute walk from the gym.
Sasiprapa was crowded, fighters everywhere—hitting pads or bags, lifting weights, running sprints outside. Monitoring it all were father-and-son team Thakoon and Ratkamphon Ponsupha, two-thirds of the Sasiprapa dynasty.
In the natural life cycle of Muay Thai gyms in Thailand, few camps survive more than one generation. Many fall apart after a few years or decades, usually when the founder loses interest or passes away. Sasiprapa, however, is turning 51 this year, having been established in 1965 by Chanai Ponsupha, a soldier in the Thai military. Now Chanai’s son, Thakoon, is the big boss, raising up his own son Ratkamphon, better known as Arm, as his successor.
“My grandfather loved Muay Thai,” Arm says when asked why Chanai started a gym. “Everyone knew him at the stadium,” though Chanai fought only a handful of times. At his first gym, the tiny Suan Miskwan, Chanai made a name building Muay Thai champions. His gym later found sponsorship and its current name under another military man, General Attadej Sasiprapa. The gym moved to a bigger space, continued developing fighters, and found additional fame training athletes ….View full article