Dodi Karya: Indonesia's
own 'muaythai' warrior

DODI KARYA: (Courtesy of MTTC)
DODI KARYA: (Courtesy of MTTC)

Tall and lean, the muscles and veins in his arms clearly defined, Dodi Karya holds his palms together at his chin to greet people with a gentle nod of the head.

Apart from the battle scars on his legs, arms and face, you would never guess this softly spoken man with a shy smile is one of the country's greatest martial arts warriors.

Interested in martial arts from a very young age, Dodi dabbled in various forms before settling with muaythai, the traditional martial art of Thailand.

Born in Pontianak in April 1964, Dodi began his martial arts journey at the age of 5, when he began to learn silat, Indonesia's own traditional martial art. When he was in the fourth grade of elementary school, he switched to karate, and not long afterward to kung fu.

He moved to Jakarta when he was 14 and throughout his teens tried his hand at tae kwon do, a bit of old-school boxing and kempo, one of the traditional martial arts of Japan. He then turned to kickboxing, which saw him travel to Japan in the early 1980s to compete in tournaments.

It was in Japan that he first witnessed muaythai fighters in action, during a Thailand-versus-Japan kickboxing tournament at the Tokyo Dome. He was mesmerized by the style of the agile Thai fighters, who easily outsmarted their Japanese counterparts.

"I was instantly hooked ... their technique, the way they moved and toyed with their opponents, and used their knees and elbows as weapons. I thought: *I want to fight like that'," Dodi says.

In 1986 he ventured to Thailand and started his muaythai journey at a training camp in the capital, Bangkok. He soon discovered he would have to prove to trainers and fellow fighters that he was serious about learning muaythai.

"The Thais were reluctant to let me in on all their fighting tricks and tactics. They don't like to give any secrets away," he says.

So he devised a strategy to fast-track his muaythai schooling: He pretended to be deaf and mute.

"I just didn't talk, and I pretended I couldn't hear anything. It was tough at first, but I got used to it. After a while, people talked about everything and anything around me, because they thought I couldn't understand."

He started to pick up the Thai language and before long he could understand the conversations around the camp, which helped him learn a great deal more about the traditional art and sport.

After six months of grueling training, he stepped into the ring for his first muaythai bout on the outskirts of the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai: a hotbed for some of the country's toughest fighters. He won that debut bout and got a taste of what was to come -- fighting on a regular basis.

"I haven't kept count of how many times I've competed, but I think I have had about 370 fights, with more than 200 wins," he says.

"In Thailand, there are muaythai bouts on every night of the week, so Thai fighters can notch up around 100 fights a year when they are in their prime."

Dodi spent more than 15 years training in different muaythai camps and competing in bouts across Thailand. He changed gyms almost every year, which gave him the opportunity to learn from some of the most experienced and respected muaythai trainers in the world.

During his years in Thailand, he became the Muay Boran Koh Samui champion, the Thai Worawoot champion and the Battle of NS Thamahat champion. He also won five championships at the two most revered muaythai stadiums in the world -- three at Rajadamnern Stadium and two at Lumpinee Stadium.

He later found himself drawn to muayboran, or "ancient boxing", known as the predecessor to muaythai. In this traditional martial art, which was preserved by Buddhist monks who held temple fights on festive occasions, pairs of fighters, their fists bound in rope, battle it out until one is incapable of continuing.

"I really like muayboran, it feels like a real fight ... the way men fought in the times of kingdoms," he said of the art, which featured in the 2003 Thai film Ong Bak, starring Tony Jaa.

"There is no money in muayboran though ... fighters rarely get paid. They do it for the pride of their families, their teachers and themselves."

He says learning muaythai and muayboran -- and of the tradition and respect both command -- helped him learn a lot about himself and find his path in life.

"Before I knew about muaythai and muayboran, I was what you could call brutal, kind of a street fighter, I guess. Learning these arts cooled me down, so to speak, and taught me to be honest and live a simple life.

"I learned a lot in the muaythai camps. We (fighters) trained together, ate together ... life in a muaythai camp is like being part of a big family. My teachers and fellow fighters taught me to be humble."

He returned to Indonesia in 2004 for good and now divides his time between his family, teaching muaythai to the public and choreographing fight scenes for music video clips and action films, including the 2007 local film Sang Dewi.

He says he enjoys teaching people the art of muaythai and has not forgotten the wise words of one of his teachers in Thailand, who once told him his destiny was to take what he had learned in Thailand back to Indonesia and share it with others.

"I still have this message on my cell phone, it's something he once told me and I will never forget it: *The mind is the most powerful weapon in your body, and humility is what makes a real warrior'."

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