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, G M 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, G M 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, G M Sken asked his brother to help him learn this 'new' art. Happily, Grandmaster Sook Joon Ahn agreed to train the young G M 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, G M 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,G M 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, G M 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.
G M 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 emerging 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, G M 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 G M 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 realisation that a ring career would be short lived and would not provide financial security struck G M Sken suddenly and impactfully! G M 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, G M 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, G M 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, G M Sken decided in 1978 to teach full time.