Referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs,” Muay Thai is a combat technique that uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes combined with a strict discipline. It gained prominence in the 16th century but morphed into a sport fought for entertainment as it spread from Southeast Asia. Muay Thai boxers began defeating established practitioners of other combat styles, ushering in a rare wave of foreign fighters, known here as Nak Muay Farang.

These few Nak Muay Farang (“foreign boxers”) make their way to Thailand to train under some of the most experienced and well-versed instructors in the world. For Richard Heaps, a young fighter from New Zealand, Muay Thai is a way of striving towards self-improvement. And though he’s trained for nearly three years, he says there is still much to perfect before being considered a true fighter.

This is his life as a foreign fighter in Thailand, in and out of the ring.

Richard Heaps, a Muay Thai boxer from New Zealand, trains in Chiang Mai.

Muay Thai uses eight points of contact as opposed to two or four, used in more regulated combat sports.

The Chai Yai Gym in Chiang Mai.

Muay Thai’s popularity in the US, the UK, and New Zealand has led to a steady influx of foreign fighters.

One of the head trainers at the Chai Yai Gym.

Outside of the ring, Heaps is a web designer and has plans to start an online Muay Thai apparel site.

As the sport becomes more popular in the West, the demands for a bloodier, more ridged style have grown.

Heaps tapes up his toes and feet in the assembly room prior to a fight.

Heaps gets a massage from his trainers prior to a fight.

The fighters perform their respective Wai Khru Ram Muay before their fight at the Chai Yai Boxing Stadium.

Heaps exchanges blows with his opponent during a Muay Thai fight.

A trainer gives advice in between rounds at the Chai Yai Boxing Stadium.

A painting of Heaps done by a local artist of him in the ring.

This is his second visit to Thailand, where he plans to stay for a year to train and fight.

Even with a 24-6 record, Heaps says he has a long way to go before being considered a true fighter.