Every once in a while you hear about someone who has bucked the modern day trend in pursuit of something special. While society tells us that we have to work the 9-5 job and be like everyone else, there are some people who decide to forge their own path forward in life. Tee Jay is one of these people.
Tee Jay’s story is quite incredible.
Tee Jay is a true martial artists who has dedicated his life to achieving greatness. He is a high IQ fighter who is constantly learning and evolving his game to continuously improve.
Read the full interview to learn about Tee Jay’s journey from America to living in Thailand as a full time fighter, husband, and father.
For the people who don’t know you, could you please give a brief introduction about yourself from the beginning to present. How did you get started in the journey and how did you end up where you are today?
I’m Tee Jay, originally from, Houston, TX and I’ve been training since Muay Thai since 2010; however, I didn’t begin to take it seriously until around January 2013. I remember driving by an MMA gym and off a whim, decided to give it a try. Even from the beginning, I felt more natural with the standup aspect of the training and so I ended up transitioning to a pure Muay Thai gym.
After a few years of training and fighting, I came to a crossroad in my life. I had huge responsibilities; being a full time parent, husband, working a 12 hour graveyard shift and coming off my first loss, I was on the verge of calling it quits. However, something within me knew I would regret the decision for the rest of my life. While I was on the graveyard shift I asked myself if, “I had one year to do ANYTHING and it would be a guaranteed successful endeavor, what would I do???”…..”I would go to Thailand to train and fight.” “Well why aren’t I doing it?” so I text my wife and she was with it!
Fast forward through 18 months of ups and downs, people telling us we were crazy, times we thought it wouldn’t happen but never giving up, my wife and I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand with a strict focus and determination on me giving everything I had to Muay Thai .
Choosing Your Training Camp
What made you decide that Sitjaopho was the gym that you wanted to train at? Did you already know people who were training there before or was it just from researching the different gyms out there.
Before moving to Thailand I was under the perception that to truly excel it was necessary to go to the “all thai”, no foreigners type of camp, so before arriving I had done my research and had found one that showed promise. However, upon my arrival it was NOTHING like the website entailed. Also after meeting the head trainer, I didn’t resonate well with the energy he was giving off so I decided to stop by, Sitjaopho.
I had seen the videos of the twins hitting pads and training on YouTube but didn’t really expect too much based on the blogs I had read stating that it was such of a “foreigner friendly” gym, I had the inclination that the training wouldn’t be “hard core”. My wife and I leave the original gym and take a cab ride to Sitjaopho and the whole aura was extremely welcoming. Petch-Tho greets me with a smile, we talk for a few minutes as I watched Charlie Guest, whom had just had an amazing performance against Antoine Pinto, smash pads with so much precision, I knew this was the place for me!
Besides your training camp in Hua Hin, can you talk a little bit about some of the other camps you’ve trained at. Where are your other favorite camps in Thailand?
Since I’ve moved to Thailand I’ve made Sitjaopho my home, but I’ve trained at over a dozen gyms in total. Some good, some not so good, but one thing about Muay Thai camps in Thailand is that they each have their own style and way of doing things. It all depends on what area of your game you want to focus on as to which you’d prefer the most IMO.
My personal favorites besides Sitjaopho would be Meenayothin which is in Bangkok, the training there is phenomenal, they train EXTREMELY hard everyday, it’s more a boxing and clinch camp. FA Group is a great place also they focus on clinching and cardio, I love clinching and there you do it both sessions about 30-45 minutes. Another place I’ve enjoyed a few times is Chuwattana, they’ve got some good stadium fighters you can train with and they’re extremely detailed oriented.
What are the biggest differences between training in the U.S. and Thailand? Is there anything you like better about training in the U.S. or is Thailand just better at everything?
It’s so many differences between the US and Thailand when it comes to Muay Thai, the average person in America has to work a regular schedule, and try to fit in their training amongst so many other responsibilities, while out here most fighters can strictly focus on just training. I train on average of 4 hours a day when not in fight camp and about 5 hours a day during fight camp.
Not only that, out here you’re constantly training with people that are better than you, which dramatically increases your skills. Also, as a whole, the clinch in the states isn’t at an extremely high level, I think it’s because most of the coaches just aren’t well versed enough to truly teach the details and intricacies of that aspect of Muay Thai.
Some may disagree with me but if you want to rapidly improve in Muay Thai it’s a must you come to Thailand. The training in the states just isn’t nearly on the level as it is Thailand but the America is constantly making strides of improvement, so there is a promising future.
Moving to Thailand
You are one of the few fighters I have seen who has moved to Thailand with their family. What made you decide that you needed to move to Thailand and pursue your love of Muay Thai?
The pursuit of happiness, my friend, at that particular time in my life I was beginning a new outlook on life and I guess you could say I began too understand that ’TIME” is truly precious commodity , and how it’s paramount not to waste it. Internally I was thinking I could spend the next several years on a job I didn’t particularly care for, train sparingly at a gym where I wasn’t receiving the necessities I needed to help me grow OR I can take a gamble on myself, take a huge leap of faith and move to the motherland of my passion.
What are some other challenges (eg. visa issues, the cultural differences, family life or the food) you face living in Thailand besides the tough opponents?
I’m a husband and a father and sometimes when i just want to rest I have to remind myself that they need my time too. My kids do homeschool now but last year they went to an International School, and so I would wake up extra early, get my jog in, come back and wake them up, iron their school clothes and help make their lunch before my wife would take them to school.
To excel at anything you have to give 100% effort and your results will be your compensation. However, life is about balance, and as a husband and a father it’s extremely important that I use all the time I can, to give myself to my family. So after training or between fight camps, I stay up later with my kids, we’ll watch movies, go places, have wrestling matches (I just lost the championship belt two days ago) and just enjoy each other.
My take on it is that one day I’m going to wish they were this small again so it’s best to take advantage of it now. None of it is possible without my wife. I mean I can go on forever about all the things she does to help me prepare day in and day out. It’s simply amazing.
For the second half of your question; We live in, Hua Hin, an area about 3.5 hours south of Bangkok. It’s more of a small beach town with a hometown feel to it. We all immediately fell in love with the food and the lifestyle.
I would say most of the challenges I faced would be different than what most people would face. I’m pretty much fine with staying anywhere as long as I can train, but my main concern was that my family could be as comfortable as possible. Therefore, I had to deal with the issues of finding a suitable place of residence, transportation, schooling, all kinds of things that most fighters that come here to train don’t have to deal with. But again with the help of my wife the transition was much easier to handle .
Fighting in Thailand
What are the biggest differences between fighting in Thailand and America? What are some things that you like and dislike about fighting in each place?
I feel the biggest difference between the two is the overall mentality of fighting. I know when I was fighting in America it was always like a “BIG EVENT”, you know. You’re selling tickets, getting shirts made, all that extra stuff and it seems people tend to place too much emphasis on just the fighting. While here in Thailand the fight is just part of it. You train hard for a couple weeks, you fight, you win or lose, take a week off and start over! I actually like that mentality much better. To me, Muay Thai is about the journey. Who cares if you win or lose. What did you LEARN from the experience that you can use to make you a better person?
I think when you can’t fight as often like in, Thailand, it’s more natural to put more pressure on yourself to win.
Some people in the Muay Thai world dislike the three round Thai shows like MAX. They feel that organizations that prioritize knockouts with bonuses, use the refs to force fighters to engage, and shorten the fights to 3 rounds, it puts technical fighters at a disadvantage. What what you say are the PROS and CONS of fighting in a show like MAX from your own experience?
Great question, I think the 3 rounds are actually in favor of the foreigners. I know most Thai’s have the reputation of being slow starters so with the 3 round of scenario you’re forced to come out banging. It’s a great show, but I actually prefer 5 rounds, over a 3.
I started off with the idea of wanting to fight with a technical and relaxed style but on the Max show if it’s more than a few seconds without action the ref will give both fighters warnings and will force you to push the pace more. So now my trainers have been helping me develop a more Muay Khao Style. Which I’m enjoying very much, the main thing they’ve been pushing is my cardio.
Do you feel like technical Muay Femeu fighters are put at a disadvantage in these type of Muay Thai shows because it they emphasize knockouts and aggression?
Oh yea it’s no doubt that The Muay Femur style is at a disadvantage on the Max show. I’ve seen superior fighters actually been warned for backing up even though they were landing shots and actually end up losing when they were first to come forward, but that’s part of Muay Thai, just like in life, things won’t always go the way you plan, so its a must to have the ability to adapt and figure out a way to overcome.
A lot of people focus on the winning in Muay Thai, but losing is part of the sport. What was the most difficult loss that you suffered in the ring, and how did you bounce back from that loss? What kind of advice would you give someone who has suffered a hard loss and questions whether they have what it takes?
A lot of people focus on the winning in Muay Thai, but losing is part of the sport. What was the most difficult loss that you suffered in the ring and how did you bounce back from that loss? What kind of advice would you give someone who has suffered a hard loss and questions whether they have what it takes?
Mentally my toughest loss was my last ammy fight, i would consider it the toughest. Not only did I not train properly but i let my emotions get the best of me and didn’t perform anywhere near my capabilities. It really hurt because not only was it my first loss, but I was fighting under a gym I had just joined and i hadn’t built any genuine relationships so I felt alone, after it happened.
But I’m thankful for that because that situation made me realize that if I wanted to continue my pursuit of Muay Thai that I would need to take my Training to the next level and working a 12 graveyard shift, getting to the gym at the crack of dawn, to hit the bag by myself for an hour wasn’t going to get me what I was wanting to accomplish.
I’ve matured mentally since then and my advice now to anyone that takes a loss is that you shouldn’t let it define you. Muay Thai isn’t who you are it’s just what you do! You can’t put your self worth on anything external of yourself. I could lose 10 times in a row but my family will still love me, I’ll still be the same great person that I was before the 10 losses, and the sun will still shine.
Again the biggest thing is “what did you learn from it that you can use to apply to your life”. My first loss taught me to control my emotions even when upset, don’t REACT to circumstances and situations, but instead ACT, In other words NO ONE or NO THING should have the control of YOUR temperament, except you.
The fight game is mental. I’ve seen some fighters look amazing in training and the moment the bell rings they are a shell of themselves. What are some mental strategies you use to help calm your mind and to allow yourself to fight to your full potential?
Well I honestly still believe that I haven’t fought to my full potential just yet lol but I do feel as though Im improving with every fight . Im an avid reader on metaphysics, mind science and psychology so now I have a better understanding of how the mind works, which has improved my performance ability tremendously. Ive discovered that meditation and visualization works the best for me.
I have a saying that I let my trainers handle my physical and my responsibility is my mental. So everyday I take time to read about tapping into the subconscious area of the mind and allowing my higher self to take over when it’s fight time.
Some guys like to hype themselves up before a fight or listen to hardcore music but when I’m in the dressing room, I’m damn near about to fall asleep I’m so relaxed because IMO being too tensed and amped actually inhibits the creative mechanism. It’s a statement by the famous psychologist Maxwell Maltz that states that most nervousness and apprehension comes when people mentally try to escape something they’ve physically decided to do! I used to be the same way but now I know why I’m doing it.
I train the hardest I can and when the lights come on, I unclamp and allow my subconscious to take over. It’s kind of like a concert pianist playing in front of a large audience, when they play they aren’t consciously thinking about what key to strike ,no… the conscious training has been done in practice. It’s the same with Muay Thai or any other activity.
My advice to people having issues staying calm is to realize that it’s ONLY a fight, nothing more nothing less, it’s 15 minutes of your life, win or lose it doesn’t negate the fact that you’re a phenomenal individual. Relax ,breathe ,and release all care of the outcome and just enjoy being in there!
How much longer do you see yourself in Thailand? Are you planning on staying in Thailand for as long as possible or do you have the dates lined up as to when you are going to return home?
My wife and I have decided to stay in Thailand for about another year and some change and then we’ll begin part 2 of our 5 year plan. But for now I’m just enjoying life and never taking any of my time out here for granted. I know one day I’m going to look back and wish I could live these times again so everyday I train hard as I can, wake up with a spirit of gratitude, never complain and do the best that I can.
What are your goals in the sport? Do you want to become a champion one day? Are you looking to gain more exposure and fight internationally?
My goals are honestly to just get as much experience as possible, I absolutely love Muay Thai, the training,the challenge , the fighting I love it all so my goals are to improve and continue to learn everyday I’m here and if a belt opportunity comes my way, I’ll be ready.
That’s not the end goal of what I want in Muay Thai though. I would consider myself more so a martial artist than a fighter. I’m the type that after a fight instead of taking a week off I’m back in the gym on Monday just to watch. I’ve been at Sitjaopho longer than any other foreigner but I still ask the most questions.
I’m truly a student that has dedicated my life to this craft. One day I plan on passing on my knowledge to the next generation but not just Training people to kick or punch but motivating them through the art of Muay Thai to improve all aspects of their lives.
Fast forward into the future in 5-10 years from now after you are finished fighting. Where do you see yourself? Do you want to be a trainer in the U.S.? Open your own gym? Are you still training in Thailand? Any predictions on what you’ll be doing in the future?
Haha great question my friend, however I can’t give too much information on my future plans. But rest assured, I keep it constantly in my mind and literally everyday I wake up I know I’m one step closer to it! Everyday I refer back to the William James quote that says, “The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart, THIS you will build your life by, THIS you WILL BECOME”
Thank you for all of the thoughtful answers Tee Jay. I’m sure this interview will inspire people who read this to take a leap of faith and pursue their dreams.
Be sure to follow TJ on Instagram over at @TJtheThinkingMan. He’s got a great channel that showcases lots of great Muay Thai content.