Interview of André ZEITOUN by Serge TREFEU (2009)
Serge TREFEU: Hello André, before speaking about your career as trainer recognized for a long time in the world of feet and fists, let us speak a few about your past of fighter. You arise from boxer’s family, tell we how you discovered the boxing and which passed on to you the passion of this sport?
ANDRÉ ZEITOUN: since my most soft childhood I received a “boxing education” at the house by my father who was a good boxer and by my older brother who was also a rather talented boxer, quite naturally I turned to this passion without asking me of questions. There is a rather important element which determined the continuation in my life, are my friends very close to my district of 4 000 housing in Courneuve (suburb in Paris), which practiced several styles of fights at once, the boxing, the Thai boxing and the karate, and forcing as we were all the time together and indeed it was only strengthening this passion which is always intact today.
You began towards which age the boxing and in which gym?
I began the Thai boxing in 1980 in Yamatsuki Gym of Roger Paschy in Paris, real precursor of the Muay Thai in France.
Have you make many fights, what is what you took titles?
Not I do not have made a lot of fight, 19 all in all, I was a champion of junior France twice
Muay Thai was not still well developed in your time, which were the champions of moment?
The big stars of time were, Philippe Cantamessi, Christian Bahfir, Kouider, Gilles Tirolien, Jami, the brothers Desjardin enter other. In the rest of Europe there was especially Dutch who dominated Muay Thai of time and some English. But the most technical were always French. But I was a very big fan of the Dutch Lucien Carbin.
What is that you had the opportunity to fight a champion known in your category?
The hardest fights that I made were the ones in front of Berrandou (the brother of Sam, that I met twice).
What is what there are boxers who influenced your boxing, what you liked seeing boxing?
When you are young you are forcing influenced by fighters who made for you vibrated. He had Lucien Carbin, the Japanese legend Toshio Fujiwara and especially the Thai Samat Payakaroon, a god of the Muay Thai.
You were one of the first fighters at the beginning of the 80s to leave for Thailand, can you tell us your first experience in the country of Muay Thai?
The first time when I travelled for the Thailand, it was to become an immense champion and be able to fight against the best fighters, I fast realized that my level was far from being the one that I claimed, I was from camps to camps to find finally the one who was convenient for me. I suffered a lot, especially in the work of the clinch and in the way of arresting Muay Thai. All that I had learnt previously it is flown away to let place with a new way boxing. After several round trips in the countries of the smiles, I finally realized my dream to fight in a big stadium, the LUNG-KEE stadium of Pattaya in 1991. I won before the limit, but I was to train as a madman several weeks before the fight.
In the 80s, how were perceived the foreigners who came to train in camps in Thailand?
The foreigners were not often welcome in camps because Thai took them for lazy and not rather serious people. Some foreigners were formidable fighters, the others just came to make photos with their girl friends …
Do you interest in the Thai culture?
I am not too much interested in the Thai culture, I like their food, their way of teaching, but for the rest I am not a big fan, can be because I am too Mediterranean, but it is very opened people and that I appreciate him a lot.
For you which difference there was between the French fighters of your time and those current?
The fighters of time were very hard boxers on the boxing ring because they were more limited technically than those current, and then they came all from different style of fights, they thus had a “less Thai” style but I saw at the time the breathtaking fights, I remember it even today as if it was yesterday.
At the beginning of the 90s you decide to set up your own gym, of fighter you become a trainer how it is crossed the transition?
From 1990, I decide to teach Muay Thai to the Gym Daumesnil in Paris in the 12th district. I gave only 2 lesson a week, the rest of the time I continued to train at my friend’s, at Omar Benamar with Lyazid Bélaouès and to the Derek Boxing of the city Courneuve at the brothers Desjardins. We grew together thus it was easier. The transition was relatively well made because it was gently made and in a natural way.
Tell us a little the debut of your gym, the first young people whom you trained and the first experiences of official receptions as trainer?
My trainer’s debuts were rather difficult because I had only 2 lessons a week and to train fighters it is necessary more than 2 lessons. I began to have a small group of rather serious pupils and then we are crossed in 3 lessons a week. I had some fighters who began to climb walking fights after fights, I took this work very seriously with an important personal investment. I ate, slept, and lived Thai boxing permanently. I always put a lot for my pupils and my boxers (too much??)
We often blamed me for being too hard and too close to my boxers, but I do not know how to make otherwise!
You quickly became a figure in the environment of the trainers of the Muay Thai, what was your trade secret “of champion “?
I have no trade secret, it is just of the observation, the love and the feel like which allowed me to form some boxers of good names. The rest is only the daily work relentlessly. I think of having formed a legend of French Muay Thai, Jean-Charles Skarbowsky, it is my most beautiful pride, we lived magic moments and extraordinary together, from the beginning I knew that it was going to become what he became today. It remains for me one of the best fighters any categories confused by the planet. I also am to occupy of Jérome Lebanner during some years and together we are to go to take the championship of the world in the Zenith (big stadium) of Paris. I am also busy of Kamel Chouaref (World Champion Kick Boxing and French Boxing) during of long years, he has never lost a single fight with me. I formed some fighters who became a champion of France or Europe.
To me it works in the emotional and seriously of the fighter, otherwise it is impossible. With all these champions whom I formed we were as a true family, there is some love, enjoyments, punishments, fit of bad temper which we share together.
What are for you the European, Thai and Japanese champions who are to etch for ever in the story of Muay Thai?
The biggest fighters for me are Samat Payakaroon, Toshio Fujiwara, Ramon Dekkers and Skarbowsky…
But there is so many others who made me vibrate, perspire, which gave me the pulpit of hen!
You had the luck to be next to two legends of Muay Thai, Samart Payakaroon and Toshio Fujiwara, can you enumerate us the strong moments with his two great champions?
I had the luck to trainning with legends of Muay Thai, André Richard Nam, Bruno Benlabed, Fujiwara, Rob Kaman, Jo Prestia and heights of the others, I learnt a great deal of things with them on the sports plan but what I hold of these extraordinary experiences today it is the simplicity and the humility of these outstanding persons. We remained very close and I thank them for having helped me to build me practicing it so much of Muay Thai but especially as man.
That feels you, at feet of the boxing ring, when you coach one of your boxers?
When I coach one of my pupils, when he is novice or champion I keep the same feelings, I have the throat squeezed, the clammy hands, the heart which beats in one hundred at the hour, I am almost transported in another universe, and it is rather mystic. I like this sensation, it offers me the possibility of living rare, intense and magic moments …
Can you tell us your best wishes of trainer until to day?
My most beautiful memory doubtless remains the victory from Skarbowsky to Las Vegas when it put K.O the Thai Robert Kaenorasing in the first round. It was magnificent and indescribable …
You are a passionate person of the Art of Muay Thai in the state pure kept silent bus also interests you in Muay Thai practised in Laos and in Cambodia, can you say to us about it more on this subject?
I discovered some years ago the other styles of fights close to modern Muay Thai. Muay Lao and Kun Khmer. I went to Laos and in Cambodia repeatedly and I saw these styles very, very close to Muay Thai. Especially in Laos or the fighters are of courage and an extraordinary determination, they never release anything, and it is incredible!
You realized videos and books on the boxing Thai, where from come to you this thirst, to pass on this passion which you have on the ancestral Art that is Muay Thai?
I like teaching, passing on, sharing my passion for the Muay Thai, the place or I feels me best to the world it is in my gym (after my children indeed on!!!) I like seeing my pupils evolving, progressing, improving of current lesson, it is a real enjoyment for me to teach, I take that in a happy way and I know that I am a privileged person to be able to make what I like!
Would like you that the boxing Thai becomes Olympic Sport?
I admit you that I don’t care completely that the Thai boxing becomes an Olympic discipline or not, amateur or professional, it interests me in no way, I like teaching my art whom the rest wants, it am the politics…
According to you, one day, will the boxing Thai be media coverage as well as like sports as the football, the cyclist, the tennis or even the boxing?
For a sport which is only 30 years old hardly in France, I find that we see not bad Thai boxing on the television while the other sports have no possibility of expressing himself in front of the small screen, let us be not fussy and let us take advantage of what we have …
What is your opinion on Muay Thai practiced today in France, as active trainer since of numerous years did you see an evolution of the level?
In France we are crossed by all the possible and conceivable feelings, we were a beautiful family at the beginning then we became a big association, then a federation, then 2, then 3 federations. I do not know how to any more or look of the head!
I admit you that I am tired of all these inter-federal wars or the politics has took the step on rest. I am interested fewer and fewer in the federal life, I just take some pleasure to see evolving the boxers on a boxing ring, it is them who make the sport and not the opposite!
How do you see the future of Muay Thai in France?
I see a rather positive and optimistic future for the Thai boxing in France, we have never missed official receptions and some more fighters, thus no problem, the Thai boxing stays and will stay what it was always, a spectacular and fascinating sport!
What are the projects of Team Zeitoun for 2009?
My projects always remain the same for years, to teach, to take some pleasure, to remain enthusiastic and to keep the same intact passion for this discipline as is Muay Thai.
Have you to fall in love, to have a rant?
My fall in love? To see my children coming to train for the gym as all other pupils, it is a great honor for me…
My have a rant? That the Thai boxing in France is not reserved that to a single category of nobody, but that she is opened to all and to all, without distinction of sex, race or religion; this sport belongs to nobody but to everybody!
The passion, the grace and the fire…
Thank you very much to have answered this interview and CHOOKDEE in the TEAM ZEITOUN
Thanks to you Serge and in siamfightmag.com
ECOLE DE BOXE THAILANDAISE
MUAY THAI LAO-BOXING KUNKHMER
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Website : www.teamzeitoun.fr