“More Than A Sport” — The Story of Ajarn Yodtong Senanan
From Rob Kaman to Ramon Dekkers, anyone significant in the Muay Thai world has made a pilgrimage to Yodtong’s camp Sityodtong to learn from the master himself. More than just a training camp, it’s a rite of passage among foreign fighters to symbolize that they have come of age in the Muay Thai world.
Yodtong considers all forms of combat “a science, which can be studied and ultimately mastered.” Yodtong Senanan’s world famous Muay Thai Boxing Camp, Sityodtong, is situated 150 kilometres south of Bangkok, just on the outskirts of the city of Pattaya.
In his gym, Yodtong provided boys with every possible need — including food, accomodation, clothing and of course, training. Although some of his fighters never grew into successful Muay Thai fighters, Yodtong continues to provide housing for them and look after them. For him, Sityodtong presents an obligation to help the boys when they do not have anyone else to turn to.
Yodtong Senanan was born in 1937 in the province of Banpong, which is about 250 kilometers south of Bangkok. From an early age, Yodtong had a fascination with all forms of fighting. Back then, however, Muay Thai was incredibly dangerous. Boys were not allowed to compete in fights until they were 15 years old; for many years, Yodtong would simply go to various Muay Thai camps in his area and patiently study other boys training.
Yodtong began to train properly when he was 14 years old, and he had his first fight shortly after his 15th birthday. Then, his fighting name was Erawan Detprasit Banpra — a combination between his real name, Erawan Sriwaralak, the name of his camp, Detrprasit, and the name of his stadium, Banpra.
At the age of 17, Yodtong changed camps and took the name of his new camp, Senanan, (this replaced his family name of Sriwaralak). It was at his new camp that Yodtong first began instructing the other fighters in the art of Muay Thai. It was apparent to everyone that Yodtong had a special gift for teaching fighters the art of Muay Thai. First Camp.
He continued to fight professionally until the age of 21. After this time, Yodtong was in semi-retirement and fought occasionally. In all, Yodtong had a total of 49 fights. As fighters in Thailand would not fight as often at this time, this would be equivalent to about 100 fights by today’s standards.
After training several champions for the gym, Yodtong went about starting his own gym. In 1960, he built his first gym at Mabtaput, which is in the province of Rayong, located south of Pattaya. Yodtong stayed at Mabtaput for approximately 15 years, until it was time to move and expand to an even bigger Muay Thai camp — which he did at Naklu.
Due to the large number of fighters training with Yodtong, he needed to change his camp yet again. This time, Yodtong purchased several acres of land at Banglamung province, (which is just a few kilometres from Pattaya) and built the current Sityodtong Muay Thai Boxing Camp, (although the present gym is on the original property, the original gym was moved six years ago to its present site).
The Sityodtong Camp became the envy of other managers and fighters alike throughout Thailand. The fighters that live and train at Sityodtong have all their needs met, and are not distracted by outside influences like other fighters in Bangkok. At the camp, the fighters live in either the dormitories or one of the several houses on the property, depending on how successful they are in the ring. Also, a full-time cook is employed to create specific meals for the fighters. The fighters do not have to worry about anything except training hard and winning fights.
In Thailand, Muay Thai is not just a sport — it is a science. And Yodtong believes that truly learning and studying Muay Thai cannot be done on a part-time basis. Rather, it requires years of full-time dedication and intensive study. This full-time commitment by the fighters at Sityodtong may be the reason for their extraordinary success. Sityodtong has produced a total of 22 Lumpinee Champions (Lumpinee is Thailand’s biggest and most prestigious fight venues), making it Thailand’s most successful Muay Thai Boxing camp ever.