September 2, 2018
Just under a month ago, I came home from fighting in Chiang Mai and training with Langsuan for the Muay Thai Library project. When I got back to my regular gym for training, I was committed to the #Langsuan1000 challenge of completing 1000 knees and 1000 teeps at each session, every day. This meant I was kneeing or teeping the bag pretty much any time I wasn’t in the ring doing padwork, clinching or sparring. When I skinned my knees from sweating and kneeing the bag, I had to move into the ring and do my knees in the corner, because the point is to just keep going. The point is increase.
Kru Nu’s father, Bamrung, would smile at me every time he saw me kneeing in the corner. There were three other women at the gym at the time, one from Spain, one from Slovakia, and one from Italy. Bamrung would point at me and talk to those women, and soon enough I noted that all three were doing knees in the corner of the ring during their training. It was catching on. But I hadn’t told anybody at the gym what I was doing, where it had come from; nothing.
But this is another thing, this video is the boys doing knees in the corner of the ring: Alex, Bank and Team. I’ve never, ever seen them do this in the 4 years I’ve been at the gym. The first point is that these aren’t babies, these are the Lumpinee fighters of the gym – and they’re getting ready for fights, this isn’t “maintenance mode.” Secondly, they’re doing knees in the corner of the ring despite bags being available; I know because I was kneeing one of the bags and the one next to me was empty. Usually the boys have to do a few hundred knees at the end of session and they kind of rotate, all using one bag and waiting for each other between sets. Someone, I’m not sure Kru Nu or Bamrung, had put these young men in the corners of the ring on purpose. This is unquestionably, 100% certainty, influenced by me doing my knees in the corner for about a week while the skin on my knees healed up.
Above: Alex is Italian but has been living at the gym and is raised by Kru Nu for the past 4 years. In the far corner is Team, and the same side with Alex is Bank, Kru Nu’s son.
In many ways, I’m on a side path in my gym. Kru Nu specializes in raising young boys to be Lumpinee and Rajadamnern fighters. It’s what he knows, it’s who he knows, and he’s great at it. In Thailand, there are promoters who know and book female bouts and many who don’t. It’s who you know, it’s the circles you frequent. Women don’t fight at these stadia (yet), so I’m not in the circle he knows, and the circles I know – promoters who book women – aren’t the circles Kru Nu knows. This allows me a degree of freedom from the gym; if I relied on them for fights I’d fight maybe once or twice per year. But it also separates me, simply because I’m categorically different from a young, male fighter. So, for me to see this direct influence from me on the most valued fighters at the gym… it’s hard to describe what that feels like. I was so excited, I had to take this video. I’d intended to upload it to Lens, which is why it’s so short, but then there was just too much context that I wanted to include with it. I’m doing these knees because of a legend of Muay Thai, Langsuan Panyutapum taught me about the way it was done when he was a young fighter. So, I brought something from a legend into my gym. But nobody at the gym knows this is from Langsuan; whoever made the boys go into the corners saw what I was doing and recognized it as the way one trained back in the day. Kru Nu tells me about the repetitive and intensely tiring training he did as a kid. Maybe Bamrung felt this “Old School” intensity. I don’t know, but its value was recognized and invited into the space. This is very exciting to me.
A few days later Kru Nu was writing on the fight board, filling in names, dates, weights and venues. I’d already written the date of my next fight on the board and Kru Nu looked to me, asking the weight, where and with whom I was fighting. I told him “Lopburi,” and he dragged his right hand across the white board, keeping in line with my name on the far left side. “Not Lumpinee?” he teased. This isn’t the first time he’s joked about this. When a Chinese student came to the gym a few months ago, while I was away for a fight, Kru Nu had pointed to my photo on the wall where I’m wearing the Northern Thailand championship belt and told the student that I’m a Lumpinee champion. So, when I came home that guy kept giving me thumbs up and saying, “Champion Lumpinee!” Kru Nu knows I can’t fight there. He even believes I shouldn’t be allowed to fight there, that the male-only tradition is right, or unmovable. But these jokes mean something. It means there’s a thought in his head that resurfaces all on its own. It means that somewhere in his heart or mind, that possibility exists. And therefore that possibility exists for all women.
I sat alone in the back of Kru Nu’s car, the whole area dark except for the blue glow of the stereo lights on the dashboard. His son, Bank, was in the front seat and was fiddling around with his phone to get to a particular song on his playlist. He wanted Guns’N’Roses “Welcome to the Jungle,” which he loves and knows that they were my favorite band as a kid, so he likes to play this song for me all the time. As he was searching through his phone, Kru Nu was chatting to us both about the fights we’d just watched and were driving home from. We had two fighters; one fought very hard and lost, so there were complaints about whose fault that was and what he’d done wrong. But the other fighter won his fight within the first minute of the first round, with the very first knee he threw into the opponent’s guts. “That’s because he trains clinching with Sylvie,” Kru Nu said, matter-of-factly. I was quiet. The opening bars of “Welcome to the Jungle,” came out of the speakers down by my calf and I felt it vibrate. Kru Nu’s eyes looked at me in the rear view mirror, “chai mai?” he said (right?). I smiled. “You make him strong,” he added, and then Axl’s falsetto drowned out our conversation.
Four years ago, I moved to Pattaya and Petchrungruang from my first gym in Chiang Mai. The boys were small back then, and when I clinched with them I was thrown and bettered all the time. Every day. They shaped me and taught me and we learned together until I got better and they got bigger. They grew out of my range. Now I can still clinch with Bank every now and again, because he knows how to control his levels despite his huge weight advantage and skills. But the smaller boys grow into my range, are my training partners, and then keep growing in size. It’s this cycle of me being stronger or more skilled for a few months, and then the boys get bigger and better and I wait for a new partner. This is the first time I’ve been credited with shaping one of the fighters – at least to me, to my face – on his way to becoming a Lumpinee fighter. In this way, I’m absolutely part of the gym. A valued part. A tool within the process of raising and molding fighters. Maybe a lot of this goes unsaid; maybe I don’t look for it and so I don’t see it. Now that I’m looking at it, I’m incredibly honored. Afterall, that’s what training partners are. We sculpt one another.
If you’d like to read more about my goals and aims, you can see my Impossible Goals post.