Boxing master squares off in politics

From the noble to the ignoble art, Pramote takes on all challengers

To Pramote Hoymuk, the tough, liniment-scented world of boxing is an abiding passion, but he takes the gloves off for another love. The old master of the Muay Thai world is a devoted promoter of the sport, but he loves just as much the bare-knuckle mayhem of politics.

For more than two decades, the Nong Khi Phahuyut Muay Thai camp in Buri Ram has been a household name among enthusiasts. It has produced several top professional boxers and owner, Mr Pramote, is the man behind its success.

Mr Pramote, 66, was among the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters who faced charges after the seizing of Suvarnabhumi airport and violating the emergency decree during the PAD's protest in 2008.

Born in Buri Ram, Mr Pramote is respected as both a devoted boxing coach as well as a political activist who has been passionate in campaigns alongside the local people to address injustices.

Unfazed by many cases of political offences being brought against him, he is still active in his role as an adviser to the Liberation Army in the lower Northeast as well as a Muay Thai coach who trains both locals and foreigners.

Mr Pramote was himself a boxer before pursuing his studies in the teaching field. But his love for Muay Thai brought him back to the sport. Many years ago, he turned the area around his home into a boxing training centre and it has remained so until this day.

"The boxing camp has produced 14 Isan boxers who went on to become champions.

"Boxers from my camp are different from others in that they have Muay Thai moves created by our camp," Mr Pramote said.

The unique style has captured the attention of many foreigners who are eager to learn from the camp. When they master the techniques, they set up boxing camps in their own countries and use the name of the camp. Today, the camp has several branches, such as in Perth in Australia and Manchester in the United Kingdom.

Mr Pramote is now working with a foreign friend in Los Angeles to write a book intended as a work of reference on Muay Thai moves (Mae Mai Muay Thai).

The book is expected to be released in the next three months and will be available at airports in several countries, Mr Pramote said.

Even though he is devoted to boxing, his passion for politics is no less strong.

Mr Pramote graduated from teachers' college, now renamed Ayutthaya Rajabhat University, and received his master's degree in sports science from Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University.

He is married to Sriwilai and they have four daughters.

Mr Pramote had formal training in boxing when he was a young man and competed in a few tournaments. Later, he gave up boxing at the urging of his parents who wanted him to concentrate on his studies. In 1968, he graduated from university and landed a teaching job at Nong Khi Kindergarten. During the Vietnam War, Mr Pramote, armed with English language skills, joined the "C-suppression operation command", fighting communism in Nakhon Ratchasima where the United States military was based. He worked for eight years at the command until the end of the war. After that, he went to the US and opened boxing camps with the help of the men he helped teach to box.

On the political front, Mr Pramote has close ties with Somkiat Pongpaibul, one of the PAD's co-leaders. In 2008, Mr Pramote took part in the PAD rallies and made speeches on stage which criticised the government of the time, which brought repercussions on the boxers in his camp.

The boxers usually competed in the major boxing stadiums such as Ratchadamnoen and Lumpini in Bangkok.

"Boxing promoters dared not arrange matches for our boxers because they saw us as PAD supporters who were against the government. They saw us as yellow-shirt boxers ... Even sports circles were affected by politics," Mr Pramote said.

After the PAD announced it would end its rally in 2009 when the political situation at the time returned to normal, Mr Pramote also decided to tone down his political role until the conflicts arose between Thailand and Cambodia over the 4.6 sq km disputed border land surrounding Preah Vihear temple.

Local activists, residents and PAD supporters have formed a group to protest against the government for ordering them to leave their land and move away from the border area even though the International Court of Justice has yet to rule on the border dispute.

They insist they will not accept the ICJ ruling if it favours Cambodia.

An ICJ judgement in 1962 granted ownership of Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia, but the 4.6 sq km area around the temple remains heavily disputed.

Cambodia asked the ICJ in 2011 to reinterpret its 1962 judgement and clear up the dispute following a series of deadly clashes between the two countries. Oral hearings will take place on April 15-19, with a ruling due in October.

In October last year, an attempt by the government to push for a controversial amnesty bill and a charter amendment bill also prompted anti-government elements to form a group calling themselves "Ruam Phon Khon Thon Mai Wai" (people who have lost patience) and plan a rally against the government's move to push for the bills.

The PAD resolved that it would not participate in the protest but it did not prohibit its yellow-shirt supporters from attending the rally as observers.

The group drew tens of thousands of people before Pitak Siam leader Boonlert Kaewprasit called a major rally at the Royal Plaza on Nov 24. Mr Pramote was responsible for ensuring safety for participants at the rally. He brought in many of his friends who were formerly so-called contributors to development (ex-communists) to provide security.

"Now, we are waiting for the ICJ ruling on the border dispute and we are ready," Mr Pramote said.

The Liberation Army in the lower Northeast has received funding to buy food from the Santi Asoke Buddhist sect and locals who live in border villages in Buri Ram, Surin and Si Sa Ket and are affected by the government relocation order. "Whatever the ruling might be, the local residents will be firm on their stance. We and other local activists are working on a project to protect the country," he said.

About the author

Writer: King-oua Laohong
Position: Reporter