By David Le Blanc
Andy Thomson was loved in the Muaythai community, and news of his passing has brought an outpouring of that love from across the world. For me, it has been a time of sadness, reflection, and nostalgia. Seeing all these kind words and anecdotes from the hundreds of people that have been fortunate enough to join Andy for a bit of his journey has brought a smile to my face, and is a testament to his character. I’ve taken the last couple of days to think about my time with Andy, and the impact he’s had on my life.
I first met Andy in January of 2003 when I settled into the Chang Khian mansion down the road from the old Lanna location in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When I first stepped foot into the camp, I didn’t know what to expect, but any hesitance I might have had was erased when I saw this smiling man with two dogs in tow emerge from the house. I was greeted warmly, and told the afternoon session was about to start – and that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would see me develop as both a fighter and a person over the coming years.
One thing that struck me right away with Andy, is that he always had time for you. Whether you were one of his veteran fighters, or a backpacker stopping by for the day, Andy wanted to share his love of Muaythai with you. His work ethic was unparalleled, holding pads for dozens of eager students, rarely complaining about his sore joints and back. And even if he did, it was with a laugh, and quickly followed with “but I love it…”
You didn’t need to have talent when working with Andy. You had to have resilience, discipline, heart, and share his love of the sport. The more committed you were to the life, the more committed he was to you.
In addition to his tireless work ethic and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Muaythai, Andy made you feel special, and that you mattered to him. This is no better exemplified than how he’d interact with newer fighters. You might have been one of five camp fighters fighting on a given night, but when it was your turn, Andy made you feel like it was your night. During the fight, after the bell had rang to end the round, Andy’s first words in your corner weren’t about what was going on in the ring – it was about you. “How are you doing?” he’d ask, “is everything okay?”. Only after you gave him the nod would he go on about what to do in the upcoming round.
I’ll also look back fondly on our time outside of Muaythai, as friends. Andy had so much to teach about life as well. As much as I enjoyed riding with the fighters in the back of Andy’s pick-up truck as we’d head to countless temple fairs, some of my favourite times were sitting in the front with Andy on the way to Burma on our monthly visa runs. Andy didn’t talk a whole lot about himself and especially his past, but he had a lot of wisdom to share. An accumulation of life experiences that were exclusive to someone that had a dream and pursued it to its end.
I’ve found in my life that when I’ve received news of someone passing, I’ve immediately tried to remember the last time I saw them, and the last words we’ve exchanged – which I don’t think is uncommon. We grasp at that one final connection to try and set things right in our heads, and make sure that mentally, we can have closure. Did I say goodbye the “right way”? Did I tell this person how much they meant to me, and how I think I’m a better person for having known them? Of course, we almost never get to. When I left Andy the last time, it was at the airport in Chiang Mai, and I fully thought I’d be seeing him again. Ours wasn’t a goodbye, it was a “see you next time.”
The fact that there won’t be a next time is still sinking in, but I take comfort in the fact that I have all the wisdom and joy from my time spent with Andy. I try to pass these on to my own students. Especially before fights. Every time I catch myself saying to one of our fighters “you’ve done the hard part and now it’s just time to let all that hard work come out…” I’ll smile and think of where I heard it. Andy you will be missed. You still mean a lot to me and I think I’m a better person for having had you in my life for awhile.