His inspirational rags-to-riches life story has been profiled around the world on Bloomberg TV High Flyers, CNBC Entrepreneur Asia, BBC News, Harvard Business School, Sports Illustrated, and other major media. For the man who created Asia’s largest martial arts empire, it is not a coincidence that the life lessons inherited from martial arts gave Chatri Sityodtong the ability to shine in one of the most defining moments of his life and to overcome heartbreaking poverty. The way we survive the harshest situations that life throws at us dictates the way we live for the rest of our lives.
You can watch the feature above on Chatri Sityodtong’s rags-to-riches life story on McKinsey & Company’s CEO Conversations, a show that profiles the world’s most successful business leaders. Today, Chatri is the Founder and Chairman of ONE Championship, Asia’s largest sports media property with a global broadcast to over 1 billion homes across 138 countries around the world.
Chatri grew up in Thailand and started training Muay Thai as a young boy under the tutelage of Kru Yodtong Senanan at the world-renowned Sityodtong Muay Thai Camp in Pattaya, Thailand. From the countless hours of training under the watchful eye of Kru Yodtong, Chatri inherited an unbreakable warrior spirit, a steadfast determination to conquer all obstacles and to achieve anything in life. This very spirit enabled him to overcome failure, rise above circumstances, and defy odds. Above all, it gave him the ability to get back up on his feet every time he fell down in life. Martial arts also taught him humility, courage, discipline, work ethic, integrity, loyalty, and so much more.
By his description, Chatri had a blessed childhood. Things only changed in the 1990s when the Asian Financial Crisis devastated many families throughout the region. Banks collapsed like dominos across the region, wiping out the life savings of millions of families.
Chatri’s family was one of them, engulfed by the crisis that would forever change their lives. With the Thai economy plunging into its worst recession in history, his parents lost their entire life savings and found themselves jobless and homeless, suffering to make ends meet. Chatri’s father resorted to selling fruit on the streets in Thailand, while his family lived in despair. At the lowest point, Chatri’s father would later abandon the family, leaving Chatri to be the man of the house and provide for his mother and younger brother.
With no clear path out of poverty in the worst financial crisis in Asian history, Chatri’s mother suggested, on a desperate whim, that Chatri apply to Harvard Business School to get an MBA to rescue the family. Of course, it was just a silly dream without any basis in reality.
Chatri did not have the funds to pay for school fees and living expenses. As Chatri describes it, his acceptance into Harvard was a fluke and he initially decided against it out of fear of failure and a lack of financial resources.
At that point, his family was living on $6-8 a week in Thailand and Harvard felt like an impossible dream financially and academically. It simply made zero sense to take such a big risk. Not only did Chatri lack the funds for school fees, but he was also scared that he was not smart enough to graduate. He vividly recalls being filled with fear, doubt, and insecurity. After a few weeks of his mother’s persistency, Chatri took the gamble to attend Harvard because it was the only real opportunity to change his life and the lives of his loved ones.
When he first arrived for orientation at Harvard, he did not have the money even to pay for school fees or textbooks. All of his life belongings fit into one suitcase. During his time at Harvard, he survived on $4 a day, worked odd jobs, took out loans, and taught Muay Thai. He sent what little money he saved back home every month. During his 2nd year at Harvard, his mother eventually flew to the US to live with Chatri in his tiny single dorm room because she had nowhere else to go. To persevere through incredible levels of stress as well as exhaustion from the lack of sleep, he harnessed the warrior spirit that Kru Yodtong had instilled in him years earlier. No matter how exhausted he was and no matter how much he wanted to quit at times, Chatri fought for his loved ones and for a better future.
And the rest is history as they say. Chatri would later launch his first company at 27 years old, help to put his younger brother through university, attain financial freedom by his early 30s, buy his mom an apartment in New York City, and lift his entire family out of poverty. And yes, he still trains martial arts to this day.
Here are some of the life lessons Chatri has learned from martial arts that can help you to achieve your dreams:
1) STRIVE TO FORGE AN UNBREAKABLE WARRIOR SPIRIT.
Chatri attributes his success in life to the warrior spirit he developed through his Muay Thai practice. Martial arts teaches us never to surrender, despite all of the adversity we may face in life. Everyone fails. Everyone falls down. Everyone faces hardship. What determines who we become and what we achieve in life is how we react during the toughest moments in our lives. Do we quit? Do we give up? Or do we fight with everything we have? According to Chatri, life is simply a fight for your dreams. He often says,
If you are unwilling to fight through the worst days of your life, you do not deserve the best days of your life.
One of the keys to success in life is the ability to get back up on your feet every time you fall down. Never give up. Never. Nothing equips you better than a warrior spirit forged by martial arts training.
2) INHERIT CONTINUOUS SELF-IMPROVEMENT AS A WAY OF LIFE.
Every day, we should work towards becoming the best version of ourselves. According to Chatri, martial arts helped him realize that every day is a chance to make yourself better: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And all it requires is a commitment to improve yourself just 1% a day.
The power of compounding is enormous. If you improve 1% a day for 70 days straight, you will theoretically be 100% better than you are today. This rule of thumb applies to every area of your life. We can all be better fathers, daughters, sisters, husbands, wives, working professionals, martial artists, and everything else. Make it your goal to be better today than you were yesterday…and better tomorrow than you are today.
3) EMBRACE FAILURE AS A WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN.
For Chatri, failure is just a part of the process of becoming everything you can be in life. It is a stepping stone to your greatness. Everyone fails. It is inevitable. Don’t fear failure. Embrace it. Look for the lessons. Seek the knowledge that will make you a better version of yourself.
Whether it is in our careers or our personal lives, many times we are afraid to take a risk. Our fears, doubts, and insecurities consume us and stop us from doing what we truly want to do. When we practice martial arts, we learn that we can achieve anything we set our minds to, as long as we work hard. We set our standards higher for ourselves and dare to take risks because of what we’ve learned.
Despite all the hardships Chatri faced in life, he was determined to make something of himself. He conquered his fears, doubts, and insecurities to achieve the life of his dreams. Conquer your fears, doubts, and insecurities to unleash your true greatness in life.
4) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GREATNESS TO UNLEASH YOUR GREATNESS.
Chatri firmly believes in surrounding himself with people who will bring out the best in him, people who will make him strive for more, people who will push him to his limits, people who will help him evolve into everything he can be in life. In return, he tries to do the same for others.
Chatri believes in the concept that every person simply evolves into the average of the 5 people with whom he/she spends the most time. If you want to have a marriage that lasts forever, learn from couples who have been married happily for 50 years. If you plan to learn martial arts, train with World Champions. If you want to learn business, study with the best and brightest minds in business. If you want to become an entrepreneur, find mentors who are already successful entrepreneurs.
Success leaves clues. Surround yourself with greatness to unleash your greatness.
5) FIGHT FOR SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOURSELF.
For Chatri, the only true joy and significance in life is what we do for others. Chatri often says, “At the end of the day, we all die. Nothing remains, except for the impact we make on others. If we leave this Earth better off than how we found it, then we have truly lived.”
Evolve MMA is his way of giving back to the world. Martial arts changed his life. And now he wants to empower others to achieve a healthier, happier, and more productive life through the power of martial arts. Evolve MMA positively impacts thousands of lives every day, whether it is our students, instructors, fighters, World Champions, staff, or the underprivileged children from the Evolve Community Outreach Program.
Most of you probably do not know that the vast majority of our instructors were living in poverty before arriving to Evolve MMA. Today, they earn a great living by any standard, are able to support their families financially back home, and save for their futures. Evolve pays the highest salaries in the world because our mission is to change lives for the better.
Along the same vein, the Evolve Community Outreach Program was launched in 2010 to help underprivileged children, troubled kids, and orphans to inherit the precious lessons of martial arts. Evolve makes charitable donations, sponsors Movie Nights, Bowling Parties, Team BBQs, and more for our partner organizations such as Boys Town Home, Children’s Cancer Foundation, MINDS, etc. The children also train at Evolve MMA for free under our World Champions. Lastly, we will end with another one of Chatri’s favorite quotes,
If you fight for only yourself, it is possible to quit. When you fight for others, it is impossible to quit.
The life lessons we learn from martial arts are truly valuable and applicable in our daily lives. Chatri Sityodtong is a true example of the life-changing abilities of martial arts. It is time to train hard and inherit the beautiful lessons of martial arts so that we too can unleash our greatness upon the world!