Borodine Muay Thai – An American Muay Thai Legacy
By Mike LNg
There are few men in the USA that have made as many pioneering and indelible impacts on American Muay Thai than Vladimir Borodine. Vladimir Borodine is chief instructor and owner of Brooklyn, New York’s Borodine’s Gym. It’s been the training home of K-1 fighters, Muay Thai fighters and champions. Borodine has been decorated many times over as a fighter, an official, a coach and is now a virtual fixture in the American east coast Muay Thai scene. With 200 plus fights in Kyokushin and Muay Thai Borodine is a coach who has truly been there and done that. It was my pleasure to finally get to speak Vladimir Borodine for this interview.
Very few people know how you got your start in combat sports. You started initially in boxing and Kyokushin karate. What made you decide to try boxing? And then karate?
When I started boxing I was 10 and that time I lived in a Siberian city named Kemerovo,where my mom was transferred to work.
That region of the Soviet Union is very famous for it’s amount of gulag style concentration camps during the Stalin period and some of them are functioning til now. So many people who went through those camps usually stayed in the region as they were not allowed to go back to central Russian cities. That’s why many ex-convicts and criminals lived in that area and they usually formed gangs throughout the region and members of those gangs were sometimes the same age as myself. So for kids like me it was important to stay in physical shape to protect oneself and protect their belongings as gangs could just take them by force including your clothes or shoes away from you. They often so-called “borrowed it” and you could freeze on the street as winter temperature was often -40 celcius.
Anyway a lot of guys my age were signing up for boxing or sambo schools to be able to fight back in case any dangerous situations may occur. I have to mention that street fights in Russia were very popular at that time and sometimes they could be like riots of one project against the other. I once witnessed a fight of maybe 50 people against 50. My generation of Russians all remember how it was as it was mostly similar in many parts of the Soviet Union. Kids, including myself were just trying to survive in that street life.
Later in 1978 karate became popular and a lot of teenagers started signing up for karate training, in most cases ruled by so called senseis or sifus or a guru who never knew what karate really was and were just copying moves they saw in the movies or foreign magazines or contraband karate books. I need to mention that karate at that time was prohibited by law in the Soviet Union and practitioners and their senseis could get up to 5 years in prison for their training. So for some time we trained “underground”. That was fun and karate was becoming even more popular because of that. Later on communist party leaders realized that karate had to be legalized otherwise it could go out of control and turn into a dangerous tool against the government. So we got the opportunity to train and compete legally. I was very lucky to have very good and talented trainers help me to become a successful athlete
What made you decide to switch to Muay Thai?
After competing in boxing and karate for several years I saw documentary on Muay Thai on TV and was shocked and amazed by this sport, the reality of it. Plus in Muay Thai you could use both the techniques of boxing and kyokushin karate together. I just loved it!!!
What led to you forming the first USSR Muay Thai organization?
Me and my friends started to look for any information about Thaiboxing. We sent letters to all the international Thaiboxing organizations about cooperation but none of them answered us except one – the European Muay Thai association. It’s president Thom Harinck invited me to Holland for a trainer’s course and offered his help in developing Muay Thai in the Soviet Union. It was 1987 so after visiting the famous Chakuriki gym in Amsterdam several times, and opening my own gym in Odessa, Ukraine I decided to form an official association of Thaiboxing which could unite practitioners of this sport throughout all of the Soviet Union. So I did it along with my close friends and martial artists. The official training center for the association became “Kapitan gym” in Odessa which is still functioning now and producing many talented world known fighters. Needless to say, that at that time similar groups were formed in Siberia (now Russia) and Minsk (now Belarus).
Can you tell us what led to you eventually leaving the USSR for the United States?
In 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and there was a military coup in Moscow my family decided to move to the USA . Here as any other immigrant I went through the whole package of different dirty works, if you watched the movie “Moscow on the Hudson” that is my case hahahah!! But at the end I was able to open my own gym again where I still now work and train people.
How difficult was it to leave your home and rebuild your life and work in the USA?
For me frankly, it wasn’t too difficult as I was still young and full of energy.
You are one of few trainers who have trained in both the Dutch and Thai method of Muay Thai. What do you think is important to learn from the Dutch style of Muay Thai?
Dutch or European style of Muay Thai is more concentrated than pure Thai style. Thai fighters live in their camps and train twice a day, six days a week. European fighters train 2-3 times a week from the beginning and mostly 5 times a week when they become pros. So it really depends on the trainer to create a decent fighter within 2-3 years who can face serious opponents. That’s why I think Dutch or so called European style of Muay Thai is very real and successful. Thom Harinck and other Dutch or French trainers created fighters within several years who could fight and beat Thais in their rules. It’s just amazing! I’m not even talking about K-1 fighters Holland created, they dominate the world up to now. The most important aspect in the European style training is that trainers can give you as much within two hours of work out in the same amount of hard work as Thai trainers give you within 4 hours. Also trainers in Europe can concentrate on specific aspects of training rather than the same drills every day.
Is there anything specifically about the way that Thom Harinck trains fighters that you considered especially effective?
As I mentioned before Thom Harinck’s unique method is different than the Thai way in regards to the speedy development of an all around competitive fighter at a high level. He knows from his own martial arts experience (as a karate practitioner and wrestler) how to make a fighter. Thom can see what specific techniques a fighter should concentrate on, and he develops a special systematic training program for every guy he sees as a future champion.
How does that differ from the Thai way?
He is a sculptor just takes all unnecessary stuff out and hones a fighter to be successful. That makes his style different from the Thai way where natural selection is everything. That’s my opinion.
After training with Pimu in Thailand you continued training in Thailand. Who was the best teacher you had during your journeys there?
In Thailand apart from Master Pimu I met many trainers who helped my fighters a lot. I want to mention them here. First it was Andy Thompson of the Lanna Muay Thai camp and the second is Saentiengnoi “The Deadly Kisser” of Songchai camp. They both are real gentlemen and are great teachers in sport and in life. They both took a good care of my students in Thailand and prepared them for their wins against Thai opponents.
What about your training has led you to have champions in Muay Thai and in K-1?
I don’t think my training is different than any other. I just happen to have good students in my hands. It always takes two people working together for good results in anything, in sport or art or anything else. I just did what I thought was the best for the particular fighter I worked with. And they trusted me and did my part 100% so it all went successfully.
You’ve not only been recognized for your excellence in teaching but also in officiating and even won a New Jersey state award for judging. What is needed most by American officials for Muay Thai?
Yes, I’m very proud of my award as a judge here as it takes a lot to be a judge. Especially when you know the fighters and their trainers personally for many years. You have to be clear, clean and make a right decision even if it may cost you a big scandal after the fight. I had one huge case of arguments with my close friend, a trainer when I judged against his fighter in the past. It’s a sport and if a promoter or athletic commission trusts you to be a judge, you have to put all your personal biases behind the ring otherwise its no good for anybody.
When training new fighters what do you look for in a fighter who might one day become a professional Thaiboxer?
Frankly, I don’t look at my students as future champions. It takes a lot to be a ring fighter, especially a pro. Nowadays our sport unfortunately can’t provide a pro fighter with a decent living so it’s very hard to make a decision for a guy to become a pro fighter. If a person loves the fighting sport with a full heart than it’s a different story. I never push anybody to become a pro fighter or to become a champion. It has to come from the fighter himself. On the other hand, if I see a talented, hardworking guy or a kid who is willing to train hard and who is not afraid to sacrifice his fun life for hard work, then I can create every possibility for him to become a champion or a pro. I’ve been taking my fighters to compete all over the world and and I am still doing it. I hope like any other trainer that one day my fighter will become the next Peter Aerts or Ernesto Hoost.
How do you feel about the current state of Muay Thai in the USA?
Right now I can say that Muay Thai is truly starting to grow in America. I look at the latest promotions in California, Nevada or New Jersey! Full Muay Thai rules were accepted in those states and now American fighters are being invited to big international promotions overseas. Big name international fighters came to fight in in the USA too. It’s good and it is a long step forward. I think it’s a big change for us here. We still need a lot of new developments like more international shows and strong foreign opponents to learn from. But all around Muay Thai has made gigantic moves in USA. I hope after big fighting corporations like K-1 and Glory come here Muay Thai will continue to grow with it’s own authentic rules of fighting.
What so far has been your proudest achievement as a teacher in Muay Thai?
As a trainer I’m always happy when my fighters win their bouts no matter if it’s four year old kid or a professional champion. If I see them happy, I’m happy too. Even if my fighter may lose but did everything right and smart I’m happy too. Through the years of hard work I have two distinct moments in my memory as highest achievements. First when Moti Horenstein won the 5 day championship of the King’s Cup Tournament in Thailand. And this meant for 5 days Moti had to fight a new opponent from different countries. That’s an unforgettable experience. And the second moment was when Andrei Dudko won the K-1 USA tournament in Las Vegas. That was incredible too. Those guys were following all the instructions, worked as monolith machines and earned their fame and glory. I think those titles are what every trainer would love to have in his achievements. The tournament style of fighting is the most hard and the most prestigious that’s why it always stays in the memory.
The Eastern European and Russian Muay Thai scene seems to very strong and constantly developing. Do you think your early contributions have helped it to become what it is now?
Who do you think the strongest fighter coming from the former Soviet Union is now?
Here I would like to mention three names because I still consider that region as commonwealth of independent countries. So, from Russia the strongest guy is Artem Levin, there’s no doubt about it. The Ukraine has Artur Kyshenko (even though in recent years he competes in k-1 rules tournaments). And in Belarus- Andrei Kulebin. But I must mention that those three fighters are just the tip of the iceberg. You can’t imagine how many young talents those countries have standing right behind theses champions. There are enormous amounts of upcoming future champions. The secret is that in these regions fighting sports always have been very popular. And training systems from Olympic boxing or judo have transferred to today’s Muay Thai development. Also many Muay Thai gyms like, Kapitan gym in the Ukraine allow kids under 12 years of age to train there for free. It’s really something right?
New York was recently hit by Hurricane Sandy and it notably did a lot of damage to gyms including CROM gym. How are you coping with the damage?
Yes, New York was definitely hit hard by hurricane Sandy but what can we do against mother nature? CROM gym was completely destroyed along with several other gyms in our area. But we are all fighters and we’re fighting back hard. We are just people helping each other anyway we can. I personally, lost half of my students because of the destruction Sandy made here. A lot of homes were destroyed, cars flooded, and we had no power and heat. But still all bad stuff is going to pass sooner or later and finally all will be back to normal.
I understand you also recently had a health scare even prior to the storm. As a friend I had to call to make sure you were doing ok. How are you feeling now?
Yes bad stuff happens sometimes in every ones life. Recently, I was diagnosed with stomach cancer and had to go through a big surgery.
What are the challenges after your surgery to go back to teaching?
It may sound crazy, but two weeks after surgery and living totally without a stomach which was removed because of two tumors inside I was in the gym teaching again. I just couldn’t stay home. Teaching and training is still giving me a full source of recovery. I live my life in a gym and forget about everything here. More over I already flew to Canada to corner one of my fighters there. That’s my destiny
What kind of legacy do you want to leave in Muay Thai and are there any new prospect fighters we should watch from Borodine’s?
I don’t know what every trainer would like to leave after himself , probably a line of champions, respected fighters, new successful ways of training. And his good name on it .