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From Benton to Thailand

June 27, 2012

Jeau Kung at Tyndall Park five days before going back to Thailand in early June. Tony Lenahan/Courier

BENTON – Graduating from Benton High School in 2001, Jeau Kung now works on the other side of the world. Kung is a Muay Thai fighter and trainer at the historic Fairtex Muay Thai Fitness Camps and he is currently training at the camp in Pattaya, Thailand. Kung was in Benton recently and spoke with the Courier about his life in another country.

“It’s really fun going over there fighting and training,” Kung said. “Just being at the Fairtex camp, and on top of that, you’re going to the mecca of standup.”

Fairtex is a fighting stable and has had over 30 world champions come out of their stables located in eight different locations around the world. One of the world champions is Yodsanklai Fairtex and Kung trains side by side with him. Kung has since fought and won his first international fight in April.

“I trained the Floyd Mayweather of Thailand,” Kung said of Yodsanklai. “The champion. He has like 12 belts. I had an opportunity to train him.”

Though Kung, 29, is 1-0 to start his international professional fighting career, his entrance into Muay Thai was a humbling experience. Kung already won amateur fights in the states and trained at several martial arts schools including Revolution in Benton.

“The first thing I really started doing was Japanese Jujitsu,” Kung said, “and whenever I started doing Japanese Jujitsu, the schools I was going to had wrestling, submission fighting and Brazilian jujitsu and I veered into that. Whenever I veered into that, I started training and started doing kickboxing.”

After training in Sherwood and Benton, Kung decided to go to New York where his sister, Sherry, lives. Sherry got her brother some contacts and his fighting and training career took off.

“I kind of set up things up for him,” Sherry said. “And people like him are very, very rare in New York. You can find 10 thousand designers, or 10 thousand architects, it’s very art and design-oriented city, but people like him, it’s just incredibly, extremely rare. When you have a city that has so many celebrities, they’re all really conscious of how they look and are looking for different ways to fine-tune their body. So, it’s really hard to find someone like him in New York. I told my brother, Jeau, there are great opportunities here.”

“I went to New York and started looking around trying to find something to do,” Kung said. “I looked up Punch Fitness looking for trainers and stuff like that, so I went up there and had a pretty big clientele with celebrities and all. It was really, really nice.”

Because of contract reasons, Kung couldn’t name any celebrities, but he splits time between Thailand and New York to train them.

From New York, Kung went to Thailand and was given a rude awakening from someone much smaller than him. Kung’s first training came from a trainer who had just won a match at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok.

“My brother is quite big, quite large,” Sherry said about her 187-pound brother. “[Kung’s trainer] was throwing Jeau left and right and Jeau was like, ‘what was going on.’”

“We were doing clench fighting,” Kung added. “I had done Brazilian jujitsu and submission fighting at Revolution. I won absolute as far as any weight class goes and I’ve beaten guys bigger than me, but when I went over there, I got my head thrown around by 112-pounder.”

Kung said right after his head was being thrown around, ‘you know the biggest lesson I’ve learned today?’ Humbleness. You have to be humble. This guy was throwing me around like I was nothing. I’ve done clench work before with Brazilian jujitsu and thinking I kind of know what’s going on. To doing Muay Thai clench work, I really embarrassed myself.”

Sherry said her brother was intimidated when he first went to Thailand because it was a foreign country fighting in the style the country invented. She said everyone expected Kung to fail.

“They’ve been doing it all there life, since they were 8-years old,” Kung said of the Thailand fighters. “Whenever you train Muay Thai, it’s about skills definitely, but how much, more or less, punishment you can take, if you can meditate through it.

“The Thais have trained their shins into like baseball bats. Every time I kicked them I was like ‘Oh my God,’ my eyeballs were about to pop out of my head, I couldn’t stand it. If you don’t do it daily, you could really damage your bones a great amount.”

The brother and sister duo also wanted to make it clear that Thailand was not their native country

“We are Taiwanese, not Thai,” Sherry said.

“A lot of people get that mixed up,” Kung added. “They’re like, ‘Are you going back to your homeland?’ I’m from Taiwan. I’m not from Thailand,” he joked.

Though Kung got off to a rocky start in Thailand, his fortune got better as he met a pretty important man by chance at a birthday party in. That important man was Philip Wong, the founder of the Fairtex fighting camps. Wong actually started Fairtex Garments Factory Co. in 1971 producing high-quality T-shirts. It wasn’t until 1975 that Wong’s passion for Muay Thai became the Fairtex Muay Thai Fitness Camp in Bangkok.

“Jeau really looked up to him,” Sherry said. “He’s an amazing man and one of the things I really respect about him is you can go anywhere in the world and you ask a Thai person, do you know Fairtex and they say yes. Philip Wong is a very good man. He’s all about giving to the people that need help. That’s one of the reasons we actually feel very secure about sending my brother out there for such a long time. We call him Uncle Philip now because he treats my brother so well.”

Kung agreed and seemed amazed of the quality of the camps.

“The training facilities, the weight and fitness room is complete,” Kung said. “They have a yoga place, the training facility at the Muay Thai camp, and they even check your diet and have a place where they do colonics. It’s all packaged in one. It’s really set up. I can’t ask for any more. I’m at a world-class place.”

Though Kung loves what he is doing, it’s hard for him to be away from his family for two to three months at a time. His wife, Shirley, and two children, 2-and-a-half-year old Genghis, and 1-year old, Jewel, all live in Saline County.

“It’s tough for me to leave her and the kids all the time, going over there and not seeing them for an extended period of time,” Kung said. “But we Skype a lot and do video chats and such. Whenever I see my kids’ pictures of them jumping around, it gives me the motivation to do what I’m doing. ‘OK, I know why I’m here now. I’ve got kids, responsibilities.”

What those responsibilities include may want to make many people want to stay in bed. Kung’s training consists of running for five miles in the morning, and Kung said Arkansas humidity doesn’t come close to comparing to Thailand’s.

“It’s nothing like running around here because the heat and humidity is so intense, “ he said of Thailand. “I feel like I’m in hell. [Arkansas] is cool compared to there.”

After the running, Kung does pad work, works out, does an hour of bag work and then does biometric drills.

“We’ll sleep and rest, wake up at 3 o’ clock and do it all over again,” Kung said. “Not the running part. You do run, but instead of running for an hour, you run for 30 minutes.”

Though Kung said eight weeks of training before a fight is prime, he trained for just a month when he picked up his first professional win.
“They didn’t expect someone like Jeau, a complete foreigner, to go there and start fighting right away,” Sherry said with her brother’s agreement. “Compared to almost all foreigners, he’s really, really fast, especially with nearly no real Muay Thai training background.”

“I had some American kickboxing training, but nothing like the Muay Thai like I learned over there,” Kung said. “I never learned clinching, I never learned the correct way of throwing knees, I never learned the correct way of throwing a kick. I kind of just taught myself by doing it. It wasn’t like anything whenever I went [to Thailand]. After that, my balance was correct. At first when I got there, I thought I was kicking correctly. I was leaning backwards and the trainers would sweep me really bad. I fell on my face about a hundred times until I got my balance down.”

Kung said he enjoys the kicking aspect of Muay Thai, but uses all aspects as Muay Thai is the “art of eight limbs”.

“I like to kick,” he said. “The roundhouse is really quick and effective. It knocks a lot of opponents out. Knees are really, really good; elbows, I’m really naming all of them. You’re not selling yourself short with anything. Whenever you go there, they teach you all of it.

“The clinching (a form of stand up fighting) is good. I like to clinch, but I like to kick a lot. That’s where I had a big awakening. I was kicking in my pro fight and whenever I got checked, I felt that sensation when he blocked my kick with his shin. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want to quit’ and this was in the middle of [the fight]. My will came through and the satisfaction of winning and knowing you trained that much and actually got to use the moves that you worked hard at. The training part was the hard part. It was when you got to the fight was the easy part.”

Sherry said Kung has a great personality and that he jokes around a lot, but knows how to motivate people because he knows how hard it is as he was on their same path.

“He really understands how to motivate people and find different ways to improve your body with a different technique,” Sherry said.

“Just improving yourself,” Kung said. “Everybody has a fight. It’s not just in the ring that your fighting. You may go home and get a call that your grandmother just died and you have to take care of family then. It’s all how you take care and deal with the situation. I think that’s what martial arts is all about. Martial arts is all about self-improving. It’s not about the fight, actually, it’s about how to better yourself. It’s a journey, definitely.”

So what does Kung do when he isn’t training or fighting?

“I hang out with the kids a lot,” he said. “I never understood what two too many was and what it meant until I had the second one. I could handle one kid, but two kids feels like you have 10 kids. This one poops and this one’s hungry, or this one’s hungry and this one needs to change clothes.

“I hang out with them a lot. Just do relaxing things; go watch movies and try to teach them Mandarin. I hang out with my family. That’s one thing that’s really, really important to me – and my good friends.”
Though he is away from his family and friends for an extended period of time, at least Kung loves what he is doing at Fairtex.

“What else can you get other than that,” he asked rhetorically. “I can’t believe it in all actuality. I went to Benton High School and now I’m flying to Thailand, go there for two or three months, come home for a month. It’s really rewarding. I can’t believe I’m doing that.”

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