Phetjee Jaa’s Videos
those interested in the subject of young females fighting in Muay Thai, see my review of Buffalo Girls: A Way of Life
Phetjee Jaa appeared on my radar a number of months ago when a feature on her from T-Sport (a major network sport news show in Thailand, above) aired and was shared on YouTube and Facebook. The hosts talked a lot about Phetjee Jaa but I couldn’t understand any of it other than that she’s a little girl who now exclusively fights boys because she’s run out of female opponents. When I searched I found out that she was about 9 years old (at the time I did this search) and there was a video of her fighting and beating a boy with her quick counter kicks and relentlessness. It was at that time, as it still is now, a cool story. But it’s a much more remarkable tale than I even realized.
On this past Sunday I woke up and flipped on the TV to watch Muay Thai as I always do. A few fights in I saw a little girl beginning her Wai Kru across from a little boy (fight shown below). There aren’t a lot of kid fights at Aswindam Stadium to begin with, but I’ve never seen a female fight on TV outside of those airing on the Queen’s Birthday in August; that is to say, once per year. Don’t misunderstand, there are female fights on TV at other times, but it’s so infrequent and unpopular that you could go without ever seeing them, even as an avid watcher of Muay Thai on TV.
I was so excited to see a female fighter on TV that I almost didn’t even realize it was the little girl who fights boys, although that visual evidence did dawn on me very quickly. As the fight began I woke up my husband to watch with me, saying, “Kevin, it’s the girl who fights the boys!” The fight wasn’t spectacular in the way that some fights with children can be, but she is a skilled fighter, she’s got a big heart and her counter kicks are incredibly fast. She started out strong but by the third round the boy was overpowering her in the clinch (she was physically bigger than he, but he muscled her down in the clinch pretty steadily) and he began taking over the score. For those who don’t follow Muay Thai in Thailand closely in the last round a fighter who is distinctly ahead will stop fighting to demonstrate the lead they have, their superiority. Sometimes both fighters make a move like this. In this case Phetjee Jaa attempted to steal the win. At the last bell the boy was announced the victor and it was a clear decision. She fought well, though. The boy had more at stake if he lost to her than if she did to him, I would think – losing to a “girl” surely is a humiliation, this is something she faces regularly. [update: I realized later that this was a rematch and that he had lost to her already in October 2012]
We filmed the fight as it aired on TV. Unfortunately we missed the first round, but it’s wonderful to be able to help introduce Phetjee Jaa to the western world. I researched to find her name and found a recent article on her growing fame, [click here] Meet PhetJee Jaa which I had my Thai Language teacher, Kru Simon, help me translate so I could relay some of her story. And it goes like this:
Her Story – The 11 yr Old Girl “like a Broad-Chested Man”
Phetjee Jaa O. Mee Khun is an already risen star in many provinces around Thailand and is now brightening on the horizon of Muay Thai in Bangkok. She was born on December 31, 2001 (Thai: 2544) and raised in Chonburi province, the younger sister to brother Mawin, also a fighter. She is known to her family by her play name, “Nin” (นิล), meaning sapphire – her real, “given name” is Nindaa (sapphire eyes). At the age of 7 she was inspired by her two uncles (the younger brothers of her mother) and wanted to earn money for her family by fighting Muay Thai. She was clear about that from the start – she wanted to work as a Muay Thai fighter. Her parents were apprehensive but decided to let her try after she urged her father to give her a chance. Her first fight was against a boy at the Mongbondaeng Stadium in Chonburi. Phetjee Jaa lost the fight and received only 400 Baht ($13 USD) for her purse and her parents assumed she had tried it and wouldn’t want any more of fighting. But Phetjee Jaa insisted on continuing on and her parents relented. She and her older brother Mawin wanted to train and fight.
After 4-5 fights Phetjee Jaa found a gym to train her, the Toyota gym in Rayong (about 1 hour from Pattaya, where her family lives now). However, after 1 year training there Phetjee Jaa learned that they were not supportive of female fighters and at that her father decided to invest in setting up a gym at their home for the children. It was a considerable expense, costing almost 10,000 Baht ($333 USD) as well as requiring the family to purchase a truck with which to transport the young fighters to promotions. The children’s father became their trainer, developing their skills at the family gym named O. Mee Khun (อ. มีคุณ), roughly meaning to have obligation. “Meekhun” is the family name, “O.” is an initial added to gym names, usually for the founder. Phetjee Jaa began fighting all over the Northeastern and Southern Provinces, gaining experience and a name for herself. As of the publishing of the article I read, at the age of 10, Phetjee Jaa had fought more than 20 girls and more than 70 boys.
She is also an avid student. She goes to school for extra study on weekends and maintains a 3.75 GPA. Although she and her brother are professional fighters, both supporting the family with their earnings, Phetjee Jaa’s name and fame are greater and her “fight queue” is constantly full, allowing her 3-4 fights per month and earning an average of 30,000 Baht ($1,000 USD) plus tips from gamblers to support the family. Most of that money goes toward daily costs as well as expenses for travel (payments on the truck, gas, etc) but Phetjee Jaa also is treated after fights to trips to McDonald’s, Bic C and Tesco, as kids tend to enjoy.
Phetjee Jaa’s name and reputation has grown and she is now known all over Thailand. She gets offers from gyms to come live and train with them and fight under their sponsorship but Phetjee Jaa’s mother explains that she doesn’t want her daughter to be bridled or pressured by the contractual obligations that come with signing to a gym outside the family. (It is worth noting that Phetjee Jaa could potentially earn more from her fight purses with the management of a big gym, certainly allowing her to continue to support her family, and this is not only an issue of who is managing/profiting off of her work/fame. Having trained with the family for over a year, it’s also clear to me that they do not want to give up control of Jee Jaa to outside powers, hoping to establish their own gym’s name through her fame.
She is a dutiful daughter and hard worker. She takes 2 days of rest after fights and then resumes her regular training schedule right away. She runs 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) every day and jumps on a tire for her leg strength, clinches every day and trains both in the morning and evening with school in between. Her parents are very proud of her and speak highly of her absence of fear toward injury or fatigue. The Muay Thai community is proud of her as well. Samart Payakaroon, one of the most famous Boxer/Muay Thai fighters of modern times, speaks highly of her, acknowledging her skill and heart as well as saying she is just as the broad-chested man (“man with 3 elbow-to-fingertip measures”), which is to say she is – at 11 years old already – representing the masculinity and honor of Muay Thai.
At the time of the article, Phetjee Jaa was not lacking for fights and at 11 years old has over one hundred bouts. There is no doubt that she will represent a new possibility and era for female Muay Thai, as she is already doing exactly that. She hopes to continue fighting to support her family and aims to fight in the Olympics (western boxing). It is my hope that Phetjee Jaa’s opportunities and accomplishments remain unobstructed by her uniqueness and that as her un-sexed little girl body disappears she does not become resigned to pre-existing limitations with it. To use Samart’s description, I hope her chest remains so broad that the door frames bend open for all women who follow after and alongside this amazing path she is carving.
This topic is very close to the things portrayed in the film Buffalo Girls, my review of Buffalo Girls
Update Dec 2015: About 2 years ago Jee Jaa was banned from fighting boys anymore. The rule is pre-existing but wasn’t publicly enforced because most of these co-ed fights take place in the provinces – only Jee Jaa was doing so in a televised stadium, broadcast across Thailand. The enforcement was a public event and Jee Jaa was in the ring and had already done her Ram Muay when the owner of Aswindum Stadium, Mr. Pinsinchai, took the microphone and announced that this fight, nor any future fights of Jee Jaa against boys would take place. The two stunned children exited the ring and the broadcast cut to commercial. It was crazy.
With her big, televised fights suddenly halted, Phetjee Jaa didn’t fight for over 4 months. No girls wanted to fight her and she couldn’t fight with boys unless it was called a “show fight,” and even then it had to be under the radar. For the past 1.5 years, however, she’s been steadily fighting against other female fighters but taking a significant weight disadvantage in those fights in order to get other camps to agree to them. She’s far more experienced than almost any other female fighter her age (and certainly her weight), so she’s often younger by a few years and lighter by a few kilos in each match. And she’s dominating these fights, even when against top-ranked contenders for world titles. She has gone back to fighting on TV at Aswindum, although now far less frequently. She’s fought a handful of times at the stadium since the ban, all fights against girls who outweighed her by about 3 kg (6.6 lbs).
Phetjee Jaa now weighs about 44 kg (Dec 2015) and is getting taller by the month. Having trained with her for over a year, I can attest she’s incredibly strong and when she gets to be about 100 lbs she’ll be able to fight pretty much any of the top Thai women up to 50-52 kg, which is a good class. She’s turning 14 at the end of the year (Dec 31st, 2015) and her prospects are looking good.
the above photos are from the Siamsport article Meet PhetJee Jaa. The article content is a blend of the Siamsport article (hastily translated a few years ago) and updated by my own personal knowledge, from training with these kids at their family gym for a little over 1.5 years.