The states of the Northeast have often contributed immensely towards popularising martial arts in the rest of the country. Its rich reservoir of talent ensures that, every once in a while, there emerges a hero from the hills- unsung and unrecognised but quietly bringing national and international honour.
One such unsung hero is Mani Rai. The 27-year old from Tashiding in Sikkim has already contributed a lot towards the evolution of Muay Thai in the State. And he has done it all without much recognition or official support. As a child, Mani Rai began his tryst with martial arts with Karate. When he was 13, he joined the Shitoryo Karate Academy and quickly progressed through the ranks to earn a black belt first dan. Upon completing his karate training, Rai took up kickboxing where he met the mentor who would completely reshape his life for the years to come.
“I started dabbling in Muay Thai in 2011,” says Rai in an exclusive conversation with Sports Possible. “It was Coach R.B. Rai who first guided me. He was my kickboxing coach since 2005. He guided me initially and has been a mentor to me since.”
Colloquially dubbed “the art of eight limbs”, Muay Thai is generally regarded as extremely difficult. It depends on offensive tactics rather than defensive ones and makes use of a combination of fists, knees, elbows and limbs.
Speaking to Mani Rai, there is little in his modest personality that would give away the greatness he has achieved in this field. In 2012, he won the Bronze medal at the Muay Thai World Championships held in Bangkok. The following year proved to be a very fruitful one for him as he won back-to-back Bronze medals- one at the Asian Championship in Vietnam and the other at the World Championships again.
The Road Ahead
Mani Rai has dedicated his life to Muay Thai. Incidentally, Rai is the one who, along with four others, was responsible for bringing Muay Thai into the realm of Sikkim. So far, he has conducted nearly 7 camps throughout the state. After multiple tribulations, he was successful in officially registering the Sikkim State Muay Thai Association. Even so, the discipline has not been included or recognised as a part of the sports curriculum in either the state or the country.
Despite financial constraints, Mani Rai remains dedicated to Muay Thai. Since he has received no encouraging support from the bureaucrats in charge, Rai has taken it upon himself to popularise the discipline in his native state. With minimal financial support from his friends and his perpetual mentor R.B Rai, Mani Rai runs a training academy with 300 odd participants of varied backgrounds. “R.B. Sir has always been my backbone,” Rai says fondly.
“Of course it is tough. Right now my training academy is my initiative alone. But I am hopeful I will be able to produce some great talents. I have always wanted to be a fighter. Now I want to give back to the sport what I have received from it,” he says.
“The National Championships will be held in Sikkim in December. My students will be participating. We will go through the selection procedures soon,” he added.
“Right now, I am conducting social camps alongside working with NGOs. I want to concentrate completely on my students. A few of them are very talented. I am confident I can make train them to be international champions someday,” he says with a touch of shy pride.
Although he plans to expand his training facilities to take in more students, Rai does not seem too hopeful of that happening in the near future. “There might be a problem with the funds. Once I am free from financial constraints, I would like to train even more people,” he says wistfully.
According to an interview with The Northeast Today, all that Mani Rai does, he does to make the country proud. “Though the sport I coach and train children for, may not be recognized or included in sports curriculum as for now and nor do I get a salary for training many but I am doing it all so voluntarily because I want to train many, especially women for self-defense and young children to stay physically and emotionally fit,” he was quoted as saying.
Looking at how far he has come, one cannot help but marvel at Mani Rai’s perseverance. In a region that has produced fighters like Sushmita Rai, efforts like Mani’s are few and must be appreciated.