In the early seventies in the former Soviet Union, many martial artists were treated no better than criminals of the State.
The history of Muay Thai in the Soviet Union is very fascinating, full of adventure and suspense. From its conception, at least in the Ukraine, the sports followers were faced with immense difficulties due to restrictions of the Communist regime. In the mid- seventies when the Soviet Union was still behind the "Iron Curtain", bits of information about such forms of martial arts as Karate and Kung-Fu began to trickle into the country. This flow of information happened despite the restrictions of the totalitarian regime, often coming from Russian seamen who were able to have a glance at Karate movies while sailing into foreign ports. Mostly these were Bruce Lee, Soni Shiba and other Karate and Kung-Fu films produced at the time.
Some of these sailors became intrigued by the highly effective fighting techniques of martial arts and began to study them. Though jeopardizing their careers, they purchased martial art magazines and books from abroad and tried to smuggle them into the Soviet Union. Up until very recently, martial arts was banned in Russia. The Russian sailors, if caught, also risked going to prison for smuggling martial art literature and publications into the country, as these were then classified as contraband. This was how the first publications about Muay Thai and Thai Boxing found their way into Russia, particularly into the port City of Odessa in the Republic of the Ukraine, where Mr. Vadim Fyodorov, finally acquired several books on Muay Thai. Vadim, the man who can ultimately be credited with the development of the sport of Muay Thai in the Soviet Union.
|Mr. Vadim Fyordorov together with Mr. Vladimir Borodin began to practice using the martial arts books as a guidance. As with the books, the secrecy had to be maintained at all times. Since no other sport existing in the Soviet Union at the time had similar techniques, practicing Muay Thai in public or in such places that could be viewed by people would lead to certain arrest. Thus the training had to take place late in the evenings, in dimly lit garages and often in squalid conditions. In 1978, the Soviet authorities finally legalized karate and recognized it as an official sport. |
However, such forms of martial arts as Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing and many others remained banned. Even Kyokushinkai Karate, because it permitted contact during competitions, continued to be outlawed.Karate was only legal in Russia for five years and in 1983 it was banned once again. Any practice of the sport was made punishable by a five year jail sentence. Although no longer enforced, the criminal statute that outlawed Karate remains on the books to this day. Soviet laws were stringently enforced, however, they contained certain loopholes which permitted the existence of Kung-Fu and Tai Chi Chaun.
Thus in response to the renewed ban on Karate, many people turned to these Chinese martial arts. Trying to obtain permission to practice or teach other martial arts was futile and could even result in being accused of "Subversive Activity", a very serious charge in a totalitarian country which could lead to dangerous consequences.
Valdimir Borodin had first hand knowledge of this, when he was once accused of subversive activity for trying to petition the authorities to legalize Karate, by being awakened at four in the morning by police and taken to jail, where he spent twenty-four hours in solitary confinement, and being falsely accused of murder and conspiracy. The police accused him of beating a man to death by inflicting blows with his feet and elbows. Fortunately he had a good alibi and was not prosecuted. Despite this experience with the authorities he continued to pursue martial arts by going under-ground.
He said, "holding small tournaments between Muay Thai fighters had to be done at night time. We had to secretly slip into a tiny boxing arena.
This was accomplished with the knowledge and consent of several boxing coaches who were followers of martial arts and were willing to risk prison. During these times, we felt almost persecuted like the Jews in Hitlers Germany, constantly on the look-out for the authorities. One time, a boxer suffered a broken nose, but we helped him get dressed, took him outside and called an ambulance pretending that he had slipped on ice and had hit his face, because it was winter time, and these types of accidents happened frequently."
Many sailors did not want to take the letters from us for fear of being caught and dismissed from their jobs. The era of Gorbachev and Glasnost opened a new chapter in the history of the development of Muay Thai in the Soviet Union. In the early part of 1989, the ban on martial arts was lifted The latter, they had tried to dispatch with sailors, as all foreign correspondences in those times were severely censored and any mail sent to capitalist countries usually did not reach its intended destination. They had also written letters to the Royal Thai Embassy in Moscow and to various Muay Thai Associations abroad.
People were permitted to form associations and rent facilities to practice martial arts even Muay Thai. Nevertheless, they were required to register at the City Athletic Club and to submit list of the names and addresses of their martial art students. At the end of 1989, the Association of martial Arts was formed in the Soviet Union. This was a government organization which combined all forms of martial arts.
Now, the fans of Muay Thai could communicate freely with each other and openly hold matches and tournaments. Since 1989, Muay Thai has been gaining increasing popularity in different regions in the former Soviet Union, but followers of Muay Thai lacked any new information, publications and video material, as well as International contacts After long efforts, we were able to get in touch with a Muay Thai headquarters in Europe, the European Muay Thai Association based in Amsterdam. It was still hard to get an exit visa from the Soviet authorities. The Soviet Regional Committees were refusing to give us their endorsement, arguing that all International dealings had to be conducted through the official Sports Organizations. Our main difficulty was that the President of the Odessa Sports Committee had a Black Belt in Karate Himself and operated a very well-to-do martial arts Club and did not want any competition from us.
Being a communist and a member of the infamous KGB, he enjoyed certain privileges and had access to high ranking government officials. He regularly wrote false accusations about people who tried to compete with him, which was enough for the KGB not to give the person permission to travel abroad. In 1989, Vladimir Borodin was the first to travel to Amsterdam, as Vadim was stopped at the border due to an alleged mistake in his travel documents. Borodin continued on and after a week training at the Chakuriki Camp he had acquired a vast amount of information.
The Dutch people were very hospitable and one of the members of the Dutch Karate Association, Mr. Peter Vergunst, upon finding out that Borodin also had a Black Belt in Karate and was the first Russian he knew to be interested in Muay Thai. He had offered Borodin to stay at his house, and after his return to the Soviet Union they had a lot to work with. Borodin had to change a lot of things in the Russian old fighting techniques and began to learn new methods.
"... I would like to take this opportunity to thank my American friends, the members of the USMTA for providing me with valuable information and allowing me to become aquainted with the workings of the association. I find it to be a highly professional organization with very thorough rules and regulations. While in the United States, I became acquainted with several publications and videos of professional and amateur fights of American Muay Thai fighters and have had the opportunity to attend some tournaments personally. Based on what I have seen, I would like to say that in both the former Soviet Union and the United States of America that
Muay Thai is a novel sport. I would like for the athletes of both countries to be able to communicate and compete with each other. I believe that this will serve to improve relations, not only between the common people, but between our countries as well. Lastly, I would like to thank MTI for the opportunity to share my story with its readers throughout the World..."
Kru Vladimir Borodin formerly of the Odessa Association of Oriental Martial Arts, Odessa, USSR
1998 USMTA Inc. All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2004.