Part of my 100 fights in Thailand goal was to fight more in Thailand than any other westerner, male or female – it appears that I have now surpassed the one male who had fought more (Jevon Stojanovski, by his very rough estimate). To say that I fought more than other people, or more frequently, is not to say that I am better. “Better” is only a tool we use in the ring to create change… to get better. Rather, the goal to fight more was in the heart of saying: I’ve experienced these things, I put the line here and I invite you to experience these things and move the line, or your line, also. Wanting to fight more than any other western female in Thailand was to do something that hadn’t been done. To build precedence. It is also important that a woman, any woman, appear near the top of this kind of list, for women.
It goes without saying that there are and have been top Muay Thai fighters who seldom fought in Thailand for any number of reasons. Not fighting in Thailand does not mar any fighter’s accomplishments, nor is it an automatic boon to have fought in Thailand. But this post is about those who have had the experiences of fighting a lot in this incredible country, the home and hearth of Muay Thai.
[dropcap style=””]T[/dropcap]here was a sense of absent history when I first started on my dream of fighting 50 fights. I knew that Sylvie Charbonneau had fought 50, but even with Sylvie I didn’t even know how many of those were in Thailand, or how many years it took her to reach that number. Those questions didn’t even enter my mind to ask until I was well on the way to achieving that number for myself as well. I had no way of even thinking about other women who had fought a great deal in Thailand, something that was my aim. I wanted to take compass headings, have possible peers, goal posts, but even the idea of fighting a lot in Thailand seemed alien to the efforts of many.
Part of why I took aim at 100 fights, and had resolved myself to recording these fights in as much detail as possible (a record of my opponent’s names, as well as weights, locations on a map, and blog posts and video of every fight), is that I wanted to create a different sense of history and accomplishment… accomplishment as experiences. And I wanted to make as real as possible what I was doing so that other women could think about doing it themselves, for themselves: create their own milestones, not just goals of belts or even necessarily victories. All of fighting, not just the numerical signifier for outcomes. As a note, the only western fighter I encountered who has documented their fighting in the spirit of what I’ve attempted is Mathias Gallo Cassarino, who has fought here in Thailand since a young age.
Below is list of western women who have fought a lot in Thailand. It’s a list in progress and hopefully will change as more information comes in. I want to recognize those who also have fought at great numbers here in Thailand, many for whom the high number of fights correlates to a long time spent in country. These are great achievements by unique, self-driven women. I also include the record of western men who have fought in Thailand a great deal, because this is a man’s sport, and women will always find some of their place in it in the context of what men do and will have done. There are forgotten men too on this list, a list I hope to expand and refine.
The accuracy of some of the numbers from men varies greatly. Part of this is due to the fact that numbers that have not been written down can expand over time, in the memory, like the size of caught fish. Some of the time fighters I contacted were just giving honest estimates or guesses of their totals achieved long ago. Some of the time I ran into what appeared to be out and out fabrication, with evidence against the claims. These records are incomplete, but names are included because they are part of the fabric of a history of westerner fighters in Thailand. It is all part of trying to record lore.
This is not an authoritative or complete list, do message me with additional names both male and female if you are aware of them, I’ll try keep it updated. It is the beginning of a list. Here is a sketch spreadsheet which has additional notes on sources.
Note: The below table was compiled on March 2015, the female fighters records were updated in May of 2016 while the male records remained as originally published.
When the idea of fighting 50 fights first captured my imagination it came out of a dissatisfaction with how we thought about fighting achievements in the west. Perhaps especially among or for women, but generally also. Among female fighters the only fighters we knew were those that held multiple belts, or the few who could be found in online fight videos, and this seemed so far from what I really wanted out of Muay Thai. I just wanted the art and the fight to be in me in the way that I saw it was in fighters (men) I really admired, especially Master K. Luckily I stumbled upon Sylvie Charbonneau who had no highlight film and held only a small Northern Thailand Champion belt; but she had been fighting like mad in Thailand, and that seemed just incredible to me. I wanted to fight like that. By my 2nd fight in Thailand, I knew I wanted 50 fights.
As my fight total increased it became clear that this different way of thinking about fighting had no real record, especially among women. The female pioneers fought in Thailand in a very different space. There were women who were pre-internet and women who were fighting at a time of very little internet, fights were seldom filmed and almost never shared. But more than this I think it just didn’t occur to women to try and fight a lot. I suspect that the goal of fighting a high number of fights simply doesn’t occur to many; it’s not the kind of goal that leapt to mind. My husband Kevin uses this analogy a lot: one of the interesting things about Babe Ruth (the greatest Home Run hitter in American baseball) was that early on he played at a time that nobody thought about hitting the ball over the fence (1920s). It just seemed out of place and was actually a bit brutish. Babe Ruth was the first player to actually try to hit the ball out of the park all the time, on purpose, as a thing. Or, to cite another sport analogy I think about: There are marathoners, people who run the epitome of “a long distance”, and then one day someone decided to attempt ultramarathoning, leading to people who run 6 marathons in 24 hrs. The meaning of running far is changed. Thailand happens to be a country where for Thais ultramarathoning is common, and many hit the ball over the fence. But this is not a mentality common to westerners.
While some western women may have thought: Hey, I’d definitely like to fight more…being in Thailand, as a woman in a foreign culture you tend to defer to what others suggest you should do; and it was just not how Thai gyms thought about how to handle western female fighters – in fact it still isn’t. As westerners our fight paths in Thailand are much shorter than the Thais we fight, we arrive and start later, finish much older; it’s a condensed experience. So part of it is that most of us simply don’t have the time in the sport to accumulate high numbers of fights. But we also lead a more selective existence than our Thai counterparts who fight in an economy and sense of purpose of their own. That difference and the selectiveness can fade the longer we stay, the more we fight, etc. Western female fighters were not put in the same position Thai female fighters were, who might have upwards of 100 fights in their careers, fighting a few times a month over many years. Fortunately for me Lanna Muay Thai, where Sylvie Charbonneau trained and fought, and where I then lived and fought, was different. And I took Sylvie’s lead, and became inspired to push it, because in pushing it I was growing closer and closer to the sport and art I loved. I never thought of it with the phrase that’s literally etched into the cement floor at Lanna camp, the words: “fight like a Thai.” But to some degree that’s what I was reaching for when I felt compelled to “fight like how my opponents fought,” which often was at great frequency for many years. Fighting itself became a value.
Below is a short film that captures some of my motivations in fighting and goal setting.
Aside from trying to set a new aspiration point for women in terms of total fights in Thailand, I also found enormous value in fighting often. In fact, the more often I fought, the stronger I got and the fewer injuries I suffered, despite fighting larger and increasingly tougher opponents. This is something quite foreign to modern western concepts of fighting, where fights are carefully chosen as defining events, and “fight camps” are established to create some peak condition. Instead, what I found – and something that is pretty common in Thailand among Thais – the more you fight, the better you are. It’s not an alien concept when you think of fighting as practice or as experience – we, in the west, just don’t seem to think of the fight that way; we see it more as an event or test – are you worthy, or unworthy? When fighting a lot, fighting itself becomes a process, and the body hardens against injury – even a year ago I had to treat my shins more frequently than I do now. It’s part of training and development. If I fight the fights I have scheduled in March I will have fought 100 times within 3 years. Because this post is about recording history, from what history I’ve been able to access, this is the most any westerner has fought in a three year span, man or woman. And though it was quite arduous, physically and mentally, there were still times I was wanting to fight and couldn’t – due to stitches which keep you from training, or fights falling through. I would have fought more if those fights were available to me. Every fight is precious. Where else in the world is this kind of opportunity possible? If you’re in Thailand and you want to fight, fight.
This blog post is the result of an effort to put my own experiences in the context of what is largely an unwritten history, and to try to draw together the other admirable lives of fighters who put themselves in the ring in Thailand a great deal. When I had about my 100 fight goal to others I received a wide spectrum of responses: from that’s impossible, to that’s stupid, anyone can do that. To the first I now say, “obviously not,” to the second I’ve always thought, “well who and where are they?” (The westerners – I know many Thais with 100, 200, 300+ fights.) And this is part of the story, that there are fighters who come to Thailand and we don’t know about them; people who have done amazing things and shared it with only the small group of people who know them personally. It doesn’t make their process any less beautiful but wouldn’t you rather know? I know I would! Cartographers don’t invent the world, but they give it shape for those who want to make sense of it. They show us where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going and a land you’ve never heard of – never imagined – suddenly has shape in front of you. It’s real, even though it’s just lines on paper. Maybe that’s a little of what I’m trying to do here, to map the progress of those who have come before, those who are here now, and urge those who will come after to go farther. Already in my three years here I’ve seen fighters aiming for more fights – no longer is it hoping for one fight at the very end of a two month stay, but aiming for a couple fights in the same amount of time. Or people coming for a year and wanting to fight as much as possible in that time. I never saw that before. It feels new. And I do believe that simply sharing my experiences and goals has had some influence on these people; you decide what you want by seeing what there is and then going after it. So increasing the visibility of those who have done so much will in turn increase the chances of more sharing in that dream and then building on it.
For me, I’m thinking about the next impossible. The goal that truly feels impossible is 200 fights in Thailand – and that is now my Everest Goal – I write about it here. It would take 3 years to accomplish.
Below is my total fight rate over time with a rate line extended to 210 fights by September of 2018 – lulls were due to injury or difficulty finding fights. I cannot leave out a repeated thank you to my supporters who have made everything so far possible, on several levels. And for my readers and fans who’ve pledged to keep me going on Patreon.