There is coherency in how I see myself, perhaps for the first time in my life. There was always a kind of Jekyl and Hyde dichotomy in my self-perception, or a hidden, inner self that I kept separate from what I projected into the world. Or, perhaps it is a better truth to say that however people viewed me on the outside is what I accepted as my projection, and because I never dared make a correction to that image, whatever I felt on the inside remained a separate identity.
I can’t say where this coherency came from, but it has grown in such a way that it is rooted within me; secured and outstretched at once. Maybe I simply outgrew my passivity to the outward eye’s gaze.
When I first began with Muay Thai, I did not intend to fight. When I first began violin at the age of 2, I didn’t intend to play in orchestras or perform; although recitals were, from the beginning, a requirement from my teachers. All my life I have written, in journals or for school or pleasure, but never did I have any desire for publication. In all these examples, I had within me a desire to learn and hone an art, but never any need to call myself an artist; I play violin without being a violinist; I write without being a writer. But for the art of Muay Thai I have become a fighter and in that I have collapsed an inner wall. I’m not sure what this wall was keeping out, or perhaps more accurately, what it was keeping in. But I am undeniably relieved by its absence.
This is not to say that there is not still a difference in how I perceive myself and how I am perceived in the world. Upon hearing that I wanted to fight my entire family sided with the part of me that does without becoming. My brothers did not view me as a fighter; not in the literal sense. My parents were supportive through ommission of fear, which is perhaps a true parental response. And those who know me only superficially, even after the fight, were slow to believe or accept that I had fought and loved it. Most of my family did not ask me why I wanted to fight; only one brother dared challange the desire, on a moral ground to boot. I do believe that most of them, whether stated or not, did question my resolve – perhaps even in a moral sense – but they did not question that there was something in me that needed this strange desire to be realized.
When all is said and done, I have overwhelming support. Once my parents saw me training in Master K’s basement during a visit a few months ago, they were astounded at what they saw in me and no longer afraid of or perplexed by my need to get in the ring. Without this experience of meeting Master K and seeing me train under his tutelage, the wall in my parents’ perception would never have collapsed. And even without this experience, my brothers chose to overstep their vision obscuring thoughts and came to support me at my fight, perhaps seeing what they had expected; perhaps something different.
So what makes a fighter? More importantly, what makes me a fighter? In short, the answer is the same as what makes me Sylvie. There is no element hidden within me that allows me strength, courage, aggression or resolve in the ring that does not allow me everything required to be exactly who everyone on the outside sees me to be. They are one.
I stole this image above from an album of photos by C. Rizzo, an acquaintence I acquaintenced on Facebook. The statue is at a temple in northern Thailand and is one of maybe 3 such images in the whole country. That is to say, the image itself is incredibly rare. To the ignorant eye, the image itself is unrecognizable. The statue is the Buddha on his 39th day of fasting, just before reaching enlightenment. In fact, the most recognizable image that springs to mind among westerners who don’t know anything about the Buddha is the robust, full, fat, joyous and laughing figure from Chinese folklore, the Budai. Rubbing the Budai’s belly for luck is something that nearly every westerner knows, despite a lack of any other knowledge surrounding the figure. At the time of seeing the Emaciated Buddha in this photograph, the historical Buddha, I did not realize he was entirely different from the depiction of the “Laughing Buddha,” which is not Buddha at all. In my ignorance, I thought they were two versions of the same figure, one more recognized than the other. I’ve since learned the difference, but it is true to say that the Emaciated Buddha image is far less recognizable than the reclining Buddha, or the Buddha sitting in quiet meditation with a soft, full face. Among these two, they are not different versions of the Buddha, they are the same Buddha at different moments of his enlightenment, but one depiction far more recognizable than the other.
My figher body is perhaps less recognizable, perhaps more rare in depiction than the other forms I take. If this part of me is looked over, it is because you’re looking for somebody else.