“Muay Thai Saved My Life” — The Story of Kru Walter “Sleeper” Michalowski
Walter grew up in Hebron, Indiana and trained in Shotokan Karate for several years, competing on a local and regional training. He quit his training when his focus shifted to music. Not long after, his interested switched again to the martial arts that had initially won his heart.
“Returning to the martial arts after my passion for playing the guitar diminished was a bit ironic, yet on some level I felt my training now came full circle!” exclaimed Walter.
Later residing in the Los Angeles area, Walter began training in Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do Concepts and later became a staff instructor under famed instructor Richard Bustillo — one of Bruce Lee’s original students. Training at the well-known IMB Academy in Torrance, California, Walter met his first Muay Thai instructor Nanfa Serchadeco — a Rajadamnern Stadium Champion and an Olympic Bronze Medalist in boxing.
Walter soon embraced his training with the same enthusiasm and dedication he developed as a consummate musician. His work ethic enabled him to excel in the sport of Muay Thai and soon after, he began his competitive career as a fighter.
The untimely death of his instructor, Nanfa Serchadeco, was a tragedy and setback. Walter trained with Vut Kamnark and felt compelled by his loss to travel to Thailand and train at the famed Sityodtong Camp in Pattaya. Sityodtong was known for producing many legendary champions, including the famous Payakaroon brothers Smart and Kongtalanee. While training at Sityodtong, Walter’s coach was none other than acclaimed Ajarn Yod Tong Senanan, the founder of Sityodtong and appointed conservator of Muay Thai by a member of Thailand’s Royal Family.
After returning from Thailand, Walter trained at the Muay Thai Academy in North Hollywood, the oldest Muay Thai school in the United States and known for hosting every Thai champion arriving from Thailand. It was at the Muay Thai Academy where he also trained with other coaches, including World Champion Saekson Janjira. For several years, Walter trained diligently and fought consistently — resultantly winning his first belt! He was well on his way to becoming a champion.
Beating The Odds
Things changed in the summer of 1996. While riding his motorcycle on the way home after a bike run, an inexperienced driver veered into him. Rather than getting struck by the oncoming vehicle, Walter leaped over the car and landed on the pavement. He was rushed to the ER and suffered multiple injuries and broken bones.
His attending physicians explained the seriousness of his injuries and that it would be a long hard road to recovery. They also told him that he would never be able to train — let alone compete — in the physically demanding sport of Muay Thai.
His doctors were right about the time to heal. But they were not right about everything.
Against all odds, with the grace of God and the help of his friends, Walter began training again and had a comeback fight in less than two years after being hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. He won by an amazing KO victory and continued fighting for eight solid years — earning seven additional championship belts.
Walter attributes his success in the ring to having logged many hours with top notch trainers and coaches. To his credit, he is a certified senior instructor with over 25 years of experience in Muay Thai. He has trained and fought in Thailand under the direction of one of Sityodtong’s most celebrated champions, Kongtalanee Payakaroon — a five-time Lumpinee Stadium Champion and older brother to Thai legend Samart Payakaroon. Walter’s last fight in Thailand was broadcasted on Thai national television and he won by an impressive knockout victory against an active fighter, 15 years younger than him.
In addition to Muay Thai, Walter is also a skilled boxer and has trained with some of the best boxing coaches in the world — including Justine Fortune and Freddie Roach. When he was younger, his boxing training was from the original “School of Hard Knocks.”
“My father was my first trainer,” Walter recalls. “He was originally from the Southside of Chicago and was a former in the Midwest. His idea of training was to let you put on the gloves and then start blasting.” Although Walter felt his father’s coaching abilities fell short of many of his later trainers, he credits his father for instilling two very important elements for a fighter — mental and physical toughness.
In 2003, Kru Yod Tong approached Walter to commission him as the head of the West Coast division of Sityodtong, USA. The timing was perfect, because Walter and his wife June Castro Michalowski were currently in the process of opening their own academy in Pasadena. This invitation was an honor; an invitation to represent one of the most famous Muay Thai camps in the world is a responsibility that Walter does not take lightly.
“I would say that Muay Thai saved my life,” Walter said. “I might have gone down a different road, but that’s another story. Muay Thai keeps you living clean and kept me out of trouble. It’s also not just about fighting — training in Muay Thai develops discipline and respect, and improves confidence and self-esteem. It’s great for kids and especially young adults, because it helps channel negative energy into something positive. I’m living proof of that!”