From the Mekong to Cranbrook: a Master’s Journey
Forty-four years ago Songlith Singthong was clinging to a log in the Mekong River. Ajarn Song, as he is known to his Muay Thai students, risked drowning, marine predators and bullets from Laos soldiers who patrolled the banks of the Mekong with orders to shoot anyone trying to escape.
His journey brought him to Thailand and eventually Canada.
Ajarn (Master) Song spent the next four years in a Thai refugee camp where life was very hard. He used to sneak out at night to fight professionally as a Nak Muay, or Muay Thai fighter. He snuck back battered and bruised with rice, meat and sometimes whiskey, which he shared with his friends and fellow refugees.
Ajarn Song spent four years in these hard and often violent conditions before he finally got his refugee papers and moved to Canada. He went from the heat of Thailand and Laos, to the freezing winters of Saskatchewan. His dream was to share his passion, Muay Thai, with Canadians.
At first it was hard, because Muay Thai was new to Canadian martial artists. In fact Master Song was the first to bring this amazing art to Canada. Ajarn Song is truly the Godfather of Muay Thai in Canada.
It took time for people to accept what was seen as a violent fighting system in our country but over the next few decades the art grew and because of its effectiveness as a striking art, it has been called by many the king of ring sports.
Ajarn Song also teaches the culture of Muay Thai, the respect and the tradition of the Wai Kru and the Ram Muay, two dances that are performed by Nak Muay as part prayer, part warm up and pure respect to family, culture, higher power and the earth. Without the Wai Kru there is no Muay Thai.
After Ajarn Song arrived in Canada he spent the next 40 years promoting this art in Western Canada. He is recognized by those who know what he has achieved as a cultural treasure and an ambassador. He eventually ended up in Abbotsford and finally Vancouver and has produced many world, Thai, North American and Canadian Muay Thai champions.
On May 25, this ambassador of Thai culture came to Cranbrook to share Muay Thai with our community.
Hosted by Rocky Mountain Martial Arts Family Centre, Ajarn taught the ring art, the cultural art and the spiritual side of this beautiful art.
It has been my great pleasure to be part of this man’s life for almost 30 years now. He is much more than a coach. He is a man who has seen how challenging life can be and has overcome great obstacles to gift the world with his art, his heart and his gentle spirit. Although this man has survived violence both in and out of the ring he is a man of peaceful wisdom and it was not every day that a man of his stature comes to a small community like Cranbrook.
From the Mekong to Cranbrook, Ajarn Song’s life has been a fascinating journey. I can’t help but be amazed that I have been fortunate enough to learn so much from him and I just hope he knows how huge his legacy is. It is not just a legacy of fighting.
It is not only a legacy of bruises and broken bones. It is a legacy of love, of laughter, of extended family and connection with others over a shared passion; the passion of Muay Thai.
Lead image: Ajarn Song, centre, with Rocky Mountain Martial Arts Family Centre members. Photos submitted