A diamond is only formed after a lump of coal is moulded by tremendous pressure for years. Such a parallel could also apply to the life of professional muay thai fighter and Evolve MMA instructor Yoddecha Sityodtong, who rose above terrible childhood adversity to make good for himself.
The 32-year-old Ladburi native was abandoned by his parents when he was just seven – they had fallen too deep into poverty to continue taking care of him, so they left him on a street corner during a family outing one day and simply disappeared. Desperate and afraid, the young Yoddecha was forced to scratch out a living on the streets before a gang forced him into slavery. He endured four years of abuse before he was rescued by professional muay thai fighter Vichai Sityodtong (of Pattaya’s famous Sityodtong Gym) and brought to the academy to train.
Yoddecha was taken under the personal tutelage of Sityodtong Grandmaster Kru Yodtong. At 11, he trained hard and competed in his first professional fight that same year. Going from strength to strength, he won his first world championship at the tender age of 22. Today, Yoddecha boasts a fight record of 145-37 and has been featured on the History Channel’s Human Weapon documentary. Not bad for an impoverished street kid. Here’s what he had to say.
ON HIS CHILDHOOD
After I was abandoned, I lived on the streets. I was only seven, yet every day I had to hunt for food so I wouldn’t starve. I often went to sleep with nothing in my stomach. When I didn’t sell enough dumplings on the street for the gang, they burned me with cigarettes and whipped me with a belt. I would wake up each morning with nothing to look forward to – no family, no love, no dreams and no hope. And I was only a child. I did not want to live. Looking back, living on the streets gave me great suffering, but also taught me many great life lessons. I shed many tears, but I am grateful. I would not change anything about my past because it made me who I am today.
ON FATE STEPPING IN
My life changed dramatically when I was rescued and brought to the Sityodtong Gym. The Grandmaster, Kru Yodtong, treated me like a son from the very first day. He gave me food and a bed, and I slept for two days straight because I was so tired. I remember thinking I was in heaven because I had three meals a day for the first time. By some miracle, here I was, a little boy at the greatest muay thai school in the country. I remember watching a few of the world champions train. It was beautiful, graceful and powerful. I was hooked instantly. From that day, Sityodtong Gym became my family and my life.
ON STARTING OUT
I had never considered becoming a professional muay thai fighter. In fact, I never even had any dream up to that point. I always assumed I was going to be a slave forever. A whole new world opened up to me. The first few weeks of training were very tough because my body was not used to training six hours a day, six days a week. But I stuck to it because I owed my life to Kru. He sheltered me and gave me options. He gave me knowledge – and hope when there was none.
ON OVERCOMING EMOTION
People ask me if I ever get scared or angry in the ring. Of course. When I was a young fighter in my early teens, I felt fear. Now, after almost 200 professional fights, I have no emotion. No fear, no anger, nothing. I empty my mind and heart before I step into the ring. Poverty toughened my mind, but it is muay thai that truly taught me how to beat my fears. It strengthened me physically and spiritually. When I enter the ring, I am prepared to die with honour. If you love what you do and you are willing to die for it, then there is no fear. There is only honour.
It is because of my brothers at Sityodtong Gym that I was able to become a muay thai world champion. They gave me hope, love and
courage. Above all, they gave me a reason to live. Daorung, Chatri, Ped, Noi… we trained together, ate together, lived the dream together. They gave me the will to fight whenever I felt like giving up. I only hope I’m able to give more than I have received in this world before I die.
People often think that discipline is the absence of laziness. But to me, discipline is the will and mental strength to overcome the presence of laziness. At Sityodtong Gym, we trained almost every day of the year, with no holidays. On an average day, I ran 40km in addition to my four to five hours of training. I did it six days a week for 11 years straight before I became a world champion. There were many times when I did not feel like running or training. But as a professional fighter, you cannot cut corners. There is a fighter out there who is outworking you and you will face him one day.
The biggest misconception about muay thai is that it’s about beating people up. Rather, muay thai is about unlocking your potential as a human being by expanding your horizons physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Just as Kru Yodtong changed my life for the better, I want to change my students’ lives for the better. If I can put a smile on a sad face, help someone gain confidence to chase a dream, push someone to lose weight or enhance someone’s mental strength, I am happy. Muay thai gave me a reason to live when I had none. The only way I know how to fulfil that debt is to try to enrich the lives of my students with what I’ve learnt.
FIGHT FOR (AND GET) THE THINGS YOU WANT IN LIFE
Yoddecha Sityodtong’s top tips on achieving your goals.
1 Love what you do
“When you love something, it creates an intense passion to excel in it. Find something that you absolutely love and follow it. Ignore your fears and doubts. Just love what you do and you will see magic appear in your life.”
2 Be delusional
“I was a child plucked from the streets. The odds of me becoming a world champion were almost zero. However, Kru Yodtong told me to dream the biggest dream possible. I believed I could become a world champion. However, that very delusion gave me the will to train hard. Dream the impossible dream and chase it with everything you have.”
3 Surround yourself with winners
“I was lucky to have trained at the top muay thai school in Thailand. I was surrounded by the greatest teachers, world champions and
winners. You maximise your chances of success by surrounding yourself with people who will push you to your limits.”