Grandmaster (GM) Sken was born in 1955 in Numpi, Ampur Tron Thongsaenkun, Uttaradit Province in the North of Thailand.
In 1962, Narong Kaewpadung, GM Sken's father was appointed to the law enforcement authority for the village. Because he was unbending in his belief that justice had to be served regardless of rank or status, he won the respect and admiration of many in the community.
However, after arresting a local gangster for theft, Narong became a target for the criminals in the area. Tragically, in 1963, GM Sken's father was assassinated. GM Sken was then only eight years old.
GM Sken's mother suffered a nervous breakdown on hearing the news and was unable to support her two young sons. Kit, GM Sken's elder brother, moved north to live with a family friend, while the young Sken moved to Pahkai Village to study at the local school. There his physical education instructor, Ajarn Visaed (who happened to be the owner of a Muay Thai camp), started teaching him the noble art that was to change GM Sken's life forever. The young Sken was presented by Ajarn Visaed with the fighting name of Narongnoi Lukborlhek; Narongnoi meaning Narong Junior and 'Luk' (in Lukborlek) being 'son'. Ajarn Visaed thus became one of the most important influences in GM Sken's Muay Thai career. More than the physical benefits that came from training, Muay Thai even then enabled the young Thai Boxer to earn 'purses' from fighting at numerous regional tournaments. The money earned did not extend to luxuries, but was spent on food and schooling.
Young Sken - temple boy, student and prize fighter
As rented accommodation was well out of his reach, Sken was accepted as a 'temple boy' by the Wat Phai Lom, the Buddhist temple at Uttaradit, some 140 kilometers from Chiangmai. There in the temple, he met a kindly monk, Pi Yai, who took it upon himself to teach the young acolyte Muay Thai, meditation and Buddhist philosophy, particularly the principles of calmness, respect, discipline and most importantly Dthamma (knowledge and wisdom of the Lord Buddha).
Moving again in 1966, Sken transferred to the Piammaythi Wittayakarn School. There, the Arjarns and Krus, passing on their knowledge, allowed him to continue to fight so that he could earn just enough money for food and education. Not long after, he moved to Sattahib High School. Here he was reunited with his brother who had taken up practicing Tae Kwon Do with the Korean Grandmaster, Sook Joon Ahn, at U-Tapao which was an American airbase. Impressed by what he saw, Sken asked his brother to help him learn this 'new' art. Happily, Grandmaster Sook Joon Ahn agreed to train the young Sken.
The school belonged to the Royal Thai Navy base at Cholburi Province. Many of the American GIs stationed there were very interested in martial arts and asked him to start teach them. In the course of doing so, Sken was challenged many times by the Americans as well as the Japanese. The fights were hard but formed the basis of a learning curve which earned him their respect – and a formidable reputation. Whilst there, Sken would often travel with friends to the North to fight in Muay Thai competitions. As before, the size of the purses meant that there was not much left over after paying for meals.
University of Physical Education
Finishing his education at Sattahib, he moved to Bangkok (in 1973) where he successfully passed the entrance exam to Srinakarinwiroj University of Physical Education. Here he was able to concentrate on the finer points of Muay Thai; learning its history, refereeing, coaching and judging, among other things.
The university regimen was gruelling. He would wake well before dawn each day to go jogging for an hour before returning to his apartment to for another hour of rigorous training. After this, Sken would walk to the university. The rest of the day would then be taken up by various disciplines such as track and field, volley ball, swimming, dancing, Krabi Krabong, Muay Thai, rugby, tennis and takraw. It was a four year course and extremely demanding, physically and mentally.
Sken excelled at university achieving A grades for the vast majority of his courses. This was not surprising as he loved the subjects. Indeed, his performance was such that in his second year, he was already hired by the university to teach physical education – in particular, Muay Thai. (This was highly unusual as instructor appointments were otherwise only extended to graduates.)
It was now 1976. His student life was quickly coming to a close and after emerged unbeaten from numerous (village, temple, festival and celebratory) fights, it was time to make a life changing decision: to go 'professional' or to travel the world and make his living from Muay Thai, the art that he had become devoted to. Whilst he had always had a yearning to travel, Sken also wanted to fight at Lumpinee Stadium – considered by the Thais to be the ultimate bastion of Muay Thai. To be a Lumpinee champion was the holy grail! His decision, however, was made easier as a result of a visit to Lumpinee. Sken's 'guide' for this 'tour' was one of his university instructors, Ajarn Songsak Jaroenpong – someone Sken had great respect for. During this visit, Ajarn Songsak (who was also a senior Lumpinee referee and the stadium's head of rules and regulations) introduced him to a drinks seller – who was once a legendary Lumpinee champion! The realization that a ring career would be short lived and would not provide financial security struck Sken suddenly and impactfully! Sken had made up his mind: he would travel; continue his education; and spread Muay Thai wherever he went to.
Two other events happened in 1976 which cemented his decision. First, he was awarded the title of 'Kru' (instructor) for both Muay Thai and Western Boxing by the Thailand Professional Boxing Council. Thus, Kru Sken could now present himself as a fully accredited Muay Thai master. Next, fortuitously, he was approached by Master Toddy, who had already emigrated to the UK, to join him and help teach Muay Thai.
The Journey to the West
Arriving in England in 1977, Sken got his first job as a nightclub bouncer. There were many 'real life' incidents that kept him sharp which allowed him to demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that this diminutive and soft spoken young man could hold his own very well against multiple attackers – armed and unarmed – even though they were often far larger than him.
During the day, Sken attended college to improve his command of English and, of course, continued to practice Muay Thai daily. It was not long before people noticed his proficiency and urged him to teach Muay Thai to them. As his student base expanded, Sken decided in 1978 to teach full time.
From 1979 to 1981, Master Sken had to leave for Holland because of British visa issues. There, in Amsterdam, he started teaching at Samurai Gym where he trained and produced many Dutch (national), European and World champions.
Whilst Master Sken was in Holland, his student (instructors) in Manchester continued to teach a handful of students. In between teaching their classes and their day jobs, they persisted in their relentless mission of getting Master Sken back to Britain. In I981, they succeeded in getting a work permit and visa for him. Master Sken returned to find that they had formed a new Muay Thai association, the British Thai Boxing Council (BTBC) and had elected him their Chief Instructor. Regrettably, this did not last, due to internal politics. Master Sken then formed the Sitnarong International Muay Thai Association (SIMTA).
In 1991, Master Sken extended his Muay Thai lessons to cater for those who had no desire to fight in the ring, but who wanted to enjoy the art as a means of keeping fit and for self defense. The number of students who joined for the latter reasons grew rapidly as they came to realize that one could fully participate in this art without necessarily getting beaten up in the ring!
Not many except his closest friends and students know this, but 1990 began a few years of darkness, disappointment and sadness for Master Sken.
In 1990, he realized that his life had come to a cross road and he had to decide on the path to take. He had devoted his life to teaching the noble art and spending all his time with his fighters. Yet, he was saddened that at this time – when he needed then – most of them were not there for him. He realized that the western culture was vastly different from the Thai (or Asian) which cultivated loyalty to one's teacher(s). Some of his students even tried to discredit him. He was confused and greatly disheartened. Understandably, he decided that he had taken quite enough and decided to stop teaching his fighters completely – a decision he never dreamt that he would ever take, as teaching was always (a happily, remains) his passion.
This was indeed a dark time for him – and he embarked on a new journey to focus on re-educating himself through training, research and teaching students who were not necessarily aiming to fight professionally. He traveled back to Thailand and other countries to deepen his knowledge and skills and to promote Thai martial arts around the world. Spending much time in Thailand, Master Sken dedicated himself to extending his knowledge of, and expertise in, Muay Boran, the ancient art of the Thai warriors for battlefield combat. The more he studied and practiced this, the more he fell in love with this beautiful and graceful but exceedingly deadly form of armed and unarmed combat. He realized that as Muay Thai was increasingly evolving into a (relatively) safe spectator ring sport, many of the Muay Boran techniques were vanishing through disuse. This provided the impetus for his quest to master these little known devastating techniques. He also began to experiment with them, adapting them for application within the square ring. It was then that he resolved to revive Muay Boran which was in danger of extinction. Consequently, not only did he persevere in his own personal training in this art, but he began to teach his students the same. So, today, Grandmaster Sken takes comfort that some of his senior instructors are well versed in Muay Boran as well as Muay thai.
For the next 20 years, Master Sken has been fine-tuning his "2 part system":
The first part focuses on providing students (beginners and advanced) with a strong core foundation covering everything from warming up, flexibility/stretching, conditioning and relaxing right through to advanced techniques. He believes that if the foundation is weak, a person's full potential will not be realized. In anything so worthwhile, there are no 'short cuts and quick fixes'!
The second is a unique method to train instructors in a standardized but highly effective and differentiated way. Grandmaster Sken created a 'numbers system' to help himself and his instructors (and students) to drill and remember set combinations of techniques. For example: he has created 50 sets of Muay Boran grappling combinations (deploying clinches, punching, knees, elbows and kicks). He believes that this structured, focused and highly systemic approach will enable a fighter to achieve much greater precision, power, fluidity and effectiveness of technique – not to mention superior stamina and fitness – in a much shorter time. This is about achieving a higher level of performance with greater productivity (from effort and time).
Since 1991, he has maintained a strict regimen of instructing virtually every working day – whether to instructors or general students. By combining the various 'numbers' (combinations), his students are able to exponentially create hundreds more of combination techniques - that work!
In 1991, Master Sken seriously considered returning 'home' to Thailand. However, by then, he had already met Kay Hampson who began training with him in 1989 - and was, before long, to become his wife. Kay persuaded Master Sken from leaving the UK. They decided to move out of Manchester to Wilmslow, Cheshire and there, they began afresh the teaching of Muay Thai at diverse types of venues including church halls and sport centres.
In 1993, Grandmaster Sken married Kay who gave up her job to support him in his Muay Thai mission. Together, they opened a full time Muay Thai and Martial Arts Centre at Cooper Street, in Stockport, Cheshire. It proved to be one tough challenge! They had a large gym to run whilst also taking care of a significant number of members - and running Sitnarong International Muay Thai Association (SIMTA - which he had founded) to boot! SIMTA attracted thousands of members and teaching at their gym every single day placed a great deal of pressure on the relationship of the newly wed couple, as they ended up with very little time for themselves. But they stuck together for better and for worse. Today, they can look back on a journey that not only tested them but which improved them in many ways both individually and as a couple.
Grandmaster Sken has this to say of his phase of his (and Kay's) journey: "I have learnt so much from this period and have had a very happy time teaching and helping so many people to achieve their goals in life, self confidence and respect for themselves and others. We have also created no fewer than 13 full time and part time affiliiate clubs the focus being that MSA will do everything it can to improve and grow ' MSA affiliate clubs' supporting and creating a strong and dedicated team. I am very grateful to the unwavering support in that my wife, Kay has dedicated in helping to build and structure the MSA foundations – regardless of how difficult things have been at times. Kay has also played an active roll in teaching females and young, junior fighters building up a very successful team of students and fighters with minimal direct involvement on my part. With a team of 12 junior fighters, she managed to keep one of her best students who became Junior British Champion in 1999 and captured the UKMF British championship title on 31st May 2009 –She remains a dedicated ambassaor of Muay Thai and with out her MSA would not be what it is today. I will always be tremendously grateful to my wife all my students, friends and colleagues at MSA and to our allies who have been so supportive of me. Working together, we will not fail!"
The Birth of Master Sken Academy (MSA)
In March 2008, Master Sken was jointly awarded the title of 'Grandmaster' by the Kru Muay Thai Association and the International Thai Martial Arts Association. However, because he was not able to travel to the Nai Khanomdtom ceremony that year, he was officially presented with the 'golden mongkorn' in Ayutthya in March 2009. Also in March 2009, Grandmaster Sken was awarded – as a singular honour – the Gold Nai Khanomdton trophy for his promotion of Muay Thai abroad over the last 3 decades.
The MSA core principles of Muay Thai are compassion, peace, respect, discipline, chivalry, courage, responsibility and personal accountability to the communities we are members of.
By building MSA as a reference point for Muay Thai Education– A benefit of all', the founders and members of MSA are united in their belief and commitment to ensuring that 'the best is yet to be!'.
Grandmaster Sken would like to remind everyone reading this is: true strength lies in gentleness - and mastery of the world begins with mastery of self.