Jack LaGrange and several of his fighters have just returned from the Muay Thai World Expo in Des Moines, where his gym competed with fighters from across North America.

Three of LaGrange’s fighters accompanied him to the World’s Fair, which was held in Des Moines from June 22-26. Dylan Wurslin, 6, Lincoln Williams, 14, and Chad Kirkhove, 27, all competed in tournament-style bouts, based on age and weight classifications. Wurslin, the youngest competitor in LaGrange’s group, placed second in his weight class, as did Kirkhove. Williams brought home a fourth.

Left to right: Coach Jack LaGrange, competitor Dylan Wurslin, referee Dean Rosenwald, opponent and coaches at the World's Fair.  Wurslin took a second place overall in his weight class.
Lincoln Williams (kneeling), Sara Misfeldt (back to camera) and Jack LaGrange.  Williams performs Wai Kru before entering the ring.

LaGrange, a former and current Navy police officer, studied Muay Thai, receiving his early instruction from Ajaran Chai, the Grandmaster who brought the martial arts of Muay Thai to the United States. He retired from professional competition in 2015.

LaGrange and his gym members are preparing for another competition to be held in Houston, Texas in September.

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About Geneseo Gym

LaGrange and his wife Jena own and operate a martial arts gym located in Geneseo at 320 N. 2250th Avenue Unit #2, next to Simpson Overstock. They have been at this location since July 2021. Interested parties can contact the gym at 309-721-9885 or [email protected]

LaGrange teaches classes for children, from 5 years old. Classes for adults are also available, as is individual training. For the serious competitor, there’s a regimen of a 1.8-mile run, coupled with 24 station drills and “clasping work,” or vying for top position.

He cites the various benefits of training as not only the obvious ones of physical fitness and self-defense, but also the instilling of respect and its relationship to competition and the opponent.

Assistant Mat Voigt (left) prepares to train with instructor Jack LaGrange.  LaGrange wears protective padding at the target points that Voigt will hit.

How Muay Thai Differs From Other Martial Arts

Muay Thai literally means “Thai boxing” and is the national sport of Thailand. It differs from other styles of martial arts. Called “the art of eight limbs”, it uses punches, elbows and knees and kicks, the “eight points of contact”. Other martial arts such as taekwondo and karate use four hands and feet.

According to LaGrange, the Muay Thai kick is a stronger kick because you are taught to “go through it, not hit it.”

Mixed martial arts or MMA fighters use elements of Muay Thai in their competition, incorporating knee and elbow strikes into their fights.

Fighters use a lighter boxing type glove, with less padding, to protect the hands. Shin guards and ankle supports are also used in competition.

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Emmett Rangel performs a series of punches and kicks with a training bag at the LaGrange Muay Thai Gym in Geneseo.

The highest level of respect in martial arts

Muay Thai students learn from the moment they walk into the gym that it’s all about respect. Much of the tradition involved in this is the Wai Kru, a series of ceremonies in which a fighter prepares for competition.

Before stepping into the ring, a fighter dons his mongkhon, a ceremonial headband worn in the ring. It is made of fabric from people close to the fighter, symbolizing their support for the candidate. Often they incorporate a talisman with special meaning to the fighter. When the mongkhon is brought into the ring, it is always above the ropes, signifying the utmost respect for the mongkhon and what it stands for. It is not worn during combat.

Prajiat, or a ceremonial armband is also worn and can be worn during competition. It contains many of the same elements as the mongkhon, historically being a garment of the fighter’s mother, for luck and protection.

The fighter, entering the ring, will begin by “blessing” the four corners of the ring, stopping at each corner with a prayer asking for protection and guidance. The fighter then walks to the center of the ring and performs a ceremony that honors ancestral fighters, teachers and family. The fighter salutes the opponent by crossing his hands in front of him, as in prayer, and bowing his head. The placement of the clasped hands indicates the level of respect the opponent receives. LaGrange himself always places his clasped hands on his forehead, indicating a high level of respect.

The fighter will then go to the four corners of the ring again, and “seal” the ring against bad energy, and return to their trainer, who will remove the mongkhon, and prepare for the competition.

LaGrange’s Muay Thai competitors are not permitted to “slap talk” or disparage their opponents. LaGrange also has strict rules about students initiating fights outside of the gym. For the teacher, Muay Thai is about competition, strength and endurance training, and self-defense.