A late-day arrival at the Bangkok International Airport in Thailand and I can practically hear Sagat’s Theme playing in the background. Mostly the tune is in my head, but I could swear the enchanting melody is coming from a few of the shops in the vicinity. Wandering about the most prominent international airport in Southeast Asia is daunting, but I’m focused on an upcoming interview with the King of Muay Thai, Sagat. Unfortunately, my stomach is growling, and my senses are overwhelmed by the abundant shops and delicious smells filling the airport.
When I finally encounter the guide Sagat’s team has sent to escort me to his village, I am intimidated by the towering, burly man fitted in a snug black suit. Mind you; I never see the large manicured hand that accosts my shoulder as I’m gazing upwards towards a menu filled with delicious looking Sticky rice. I might have run away if it wasn’t for the tiger-head pin stuck to his lapel! He offers no introduction, just a nod and gesture to follow him towards the exit. Without a word I picked up my things and followed him to a dark SUV parked outside.
I must admit that I am afraid to speak after he has loaded my belongings into the back of the truck. I quietly take a seat in the rear, and I am surprised when the guide enters, turning around to flash a wide grin my way. He introduces himself as Dang, Sagat’s pupil and expert on all things regarding the Tiger King.
“You should see the look on your face,” Dang’s voice booms from the front seat. He informs me that as a pupil to the King of Muay Thai he has to maintain an intimidating demeanor in public. Behind closed doors he is quite friendly.
The sun is setting as we head northward towards the Phi chit Province where Sagat resides. A few hours from Thailand’s capital, Dang is talkative as we ride along the Thai highway. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of his master's past bouts, recalling travels to face the famous Fei Long at Hong Kong’s Tiger Balm Gardens, and the extraordinary Northern Lights highlighting Sagat’s fight with Cammy at the English Manor. He insists that all of those exotic locales pale in comparison to his Master’s preferred battleground in their proverbial backyard.
I have always wanted to see the Ayutthaya Ruins, and I am determined to visit them before I leave. Unfortunately, it’s off-course, and I am pressed to meet Sagat, but Dang insists a detour towards the Ruins is a necessary stop.
“Trust me,” Dang says, “Being in the presence of the Resting Buddha will help you relax. It is not wise to meet Master Sagat while overly anxious. He will detect your apprehension, and become closed off.”
I reluctantly agree and sit back as Dang brings me up to speed on the historic site. The Temple of the Reclining Buddha located at Wat Lokayasutharam depicts the enlightened teacher laying on his side, facing the East. His head rests on a lotus blossom as he prepares for Parinirvana, or, a liberation from karmic rebirth. Teachings of the Buddha state that when a person dies, and their physical body disintegrates after achieving nirvana, there is no unresolved karma to pass on for reincarnation. Parinirvana is the end of this cycle, and the final step towards the realm of the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure.
Upon arrival, the sun sets behind the enormous Resting Buddha. I grow more excited as we get closer, and then I catch a glimpse of the Eternal King, Sagat in his championship Muay-Thai shorts, sparring in the shadow of the high statue with a heavily padded partner.
At 24 feet high, the statue appears to look on as Sagat expertly blocks a flurry of high-knees and kicks from his sparring-partner. Maybe he catches a glimpse of our approach when suddenly he extends a stiff kick to create room between his opponent and himself. Cocking his thin, muscular arms back with elbows bent, he produces a fiery burst of energy and pushes it towards his opponent in an instant.
I recognize it as the fearsome Tiger Shot, and I fear he may set the man on fire. Instead, the projectile disperses when it makes contact, sending the man flying backward from the force. Sagat slowly walks over to help his opponent up, before crossing his arms and awaiting our arrival.
“The Master is awesome, yes?” Dang says before stopping the SUV.
“Yes, he is,” I comment. Stepping out of the vehicle I am immediately captivated by the size of the Muay Thai King.
“Master Sagat has one many battle under the visage of Buddha,” Dang says as we drive past the awesome site. At 24 feet high and over 100 feet across, the towering statue has always been a treasure to the locals and tourists, but the Resting Buddha became entrenched in the global lexicon during Sagat’s first World Warrior Tournament.
“My master’s greatest victories and defeats are traced back to this area,” Dang recalls.