Muay thai fighter kicks defeat after accidentIn the world of muay thai, where fighters often live by their fists and elbows, it is inconceivable for a fighter to have only one arm.
Kim Sun-gi, 29, who fights with the Seolbong Muay Thai gym in Icheon, Gyeonggi province, is living proof the inconceivable can happen. He has won 23 out of 30 matches, 19 by knockout. Mr. Kim was selected to represent Korea at the 2001 Muay Thai World Championships in Bangkok.
Standing 170 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches) and weighing 67 kilograms (147 pounds), Mr. Kim does not exactly look like a boxer. But growing up, he always loved sports. He learned taekwondo and was winning taekwondo championships in middle school.
When he was 18, he switched to Thai kickboxing, or muay thai, training at Seolbong.
Kickboxing came to Korea in the 1950s, and found a small but devoted fan base. As athletes became more serious about the sport and started traveling to Thailand, they found that there was more to kickboxing than they had imagined. The Korea Muay Thai Federation was founded five years ago by a group of devotees who wanted to introduce the rich culture of muay thai to Korea.
“Actually,” says Kang Seok-ji, a spokesman for the federation, “serious muay thai followers and most people from Thailand hate it when people call it kickboxing.” Muay thai is more than just a sport, Mr. Kang says, it is an integral part of Thai culture that has a rigid etiquette system and many centuries of history.
Muay thai centers are scattered throughout Korea. “However, the number of muay thai fighters is not so large, and there are only 100 training centers registered with the Korea Muay Thai Federation,” Mr. Kim says. In Korea, some of these centers teach other martial arts in addition to muay thai because of its relatively small following.
In 1995, just three years after Mr. Kim started learning the sport, he took fourth place at an international championship in Thailand. His future in the sport seemed bright.
Then last year he lost his right arm in an industrial accident.
He was devastated. He would no longer be able to use his powerful right hand to punch; he would no longer attack with his right elbow, a potent skill in muay thai. It would also reduce the effectiveness of his knee and kicking attacks.
However, Mr. Kim says, “I feel like I became a real champion after I lost my arm.” He now calls the loss of his arm a “minor inconvenience.”
Apparently, he never learned the meaning of the word quit. “I have never given up, even when I was in the hospital for five months,” he says. “Of course, it was sad to lose my arm, but I made up my mind that I would do my best in whatever I do, one arm or two.”
When he fights, he uses his speedy left arm. Quick footwork enables him to balance himself, and kicks are his specialty. Within a few months of having his arm amputated, he was back in the gym as a coach and also entered a national tournament. He took second place.
While he says he has retired as a professional fighter to become a coach, Mr. Kim has returned to the ring for some bouts.
In a recent fight in Thailand, he lost to a Japanese muay thai fighter. After the fight, his opponent expressed his deepest respect for Mr. Kim’s passion and courage with a sincere bow.
by Sung Ho-gun