By Ryan McKinnon

When you first meet ‘Rafa’ Arteaga you immediately notice a sincere focus in his eyes, which isn’t common with every 13-year-old. At the same time there is a sweetness to Rafa that’s equally apparent in his demeanour. He embodies the characteristics of IFMA’s vision for our younger generation of competitors. He recently graduated grade 8 this year with recognition from the faculty for being a charitable and kind person. At the same time, he is a fierce competitor who takes his role on Canada’s team seriously, training 6 days a week while enrolled in summer school courses to prepare himself for high school in the fall. This is one young man who personifies the spirit of international amateur muaythai.

 “Rafa has always had a lot of energy, and a burning fire inside him. Our goal has been to focus that energy, and weaponize it,” says Kru Cam of York Muay Thai who has been working closely with Rafa for the past 18 months. “He has come so far from being just a fiery child. He is very self aware of his emotions, and is learning how to stay calm, and use that explosive energy when it matters most.” This sentiment is shared by his former coaches, Kru Jordan and coach David Mirabelli of Lanna MMA who first met Rafa when he began training in Muaythai at age 5. Both coaches agree that Rafa was always the rambunctious kid in class, energetic, and a total joy to work with.

At the National Championship in November, Rafael decided to move up in weight to compete against bigger competition because there was no one to fight in his division. He embraced the challenge, and learned more about himself in the experience. Although he didn’t win gold, he continued to win the support of his coaches and muaythai family. When asked what being selected to the Youth National Team means to him, Rafa replied, “I feel excited and nervous at the same time. It has always been a dream of mine to fight in another country, and represent my country at the same time. But I’m nervous because everyone has helped me so much, and I don’t want to let anyone down.” When you hear Rafa say those words, you can feel how sincere he is, and how appreciative he is of the people who have spent time coaching him. “It’s very much a ‘proud mama’ moment for me watching Rafael take part in this huge event, and to watch Kru Cam, who’s been with me for 10 years, take an international competitor to such a huge stage,” says Kru Jen, owner of York Muay Thai. Rafa not only shares a special relationship with Kru Cam, but his father Oswaldo also trains and competes in the sport and has been his coach since the beginning. It is quite the support system that surrounds this impressive young man.

 “The best advice I’ve ever been given came from both my dad and Kru Cam. They told me to never give up on my goals,” says Rafa. “When I train in muaythai, I feel joy in what I’m doing. I can’t wait to see Thailand, and learn new words. I really want to learn about the culture as part of my training.” Rafa has already competed in front of hundreds of people at various championship events. He is no stranger to the big stage. With his family, coaches and friends by his side, Rafa accepts the challenge that’s ahead of him. He has the heart of a true nak muay, and is constantly evolving as a fighter. He will certainly be one of the most exciting fighters to keep track of at the World Youth Championships this August.

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Ryan McKinnon is the host of The Bloody Ballet Podcast and website, found at www.thebloodyballet.com. He is a regular blog contributor to www.lannamma.com and www.mississaugaelite.com. You can find him coaching 5 days a week at the Mississauga Elite Training Center.

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