The Next PhetJee Jaa?
Above is PhetJing Jang getting her gloves tied just before her fight against the boy Gartoon for a local 20 kg belt. You can see the entire fight below. Last night, as I was waiting to fight myself, I noticed this incredibly small, but oddly calm and confident little girl standing with the corner of the first fight. At first I just noticed her cute, but very serious face and then how tiny she was, followed by how she wears her hair like Phetjee Jaa’s fight hair. Finally, I saw her walking around with her hands wrapped and realized she must be on the card. When I finally thought to look at the program I saw that there was a 20 kg title fight (the Thepprasit Stadium belt) between a boy and a girl. Well, she must be the girl.
Her name is awesome. It’s pronounced pet jing jong (not jayng but jahng); “phet” is diamond and “jing jang” means to be earnest or serious. The name fits her serious little face so well and is clearly somewhat designed to sound like Phetjee Jaa’s name, which it does over the loud speaker. It’s obviously always pretty cool to see a tiny girl getting ready to fight, but she has a magnetism to her that had me watching her march around before her fight as well. Her opponent was a boy named Gartoon (they use a “g” sound in the spelling, but “cartoon” is a semi-common nickname in small kids, both male and female; I haven’t met any teens or adults with the name yet, so maybe it’s a new fad). He was a good little fighter and stronger than PhetJing Jang, but she totally stole the show with her performance, even when she wasn’t winning.
In the first round she came out with this totally amped up “come at me bro!” tempo, slamming her gloves together to coax him on. Her footwork was absolutely incredible at times and she’s all kinds of spring-loaded, skipping here and there to come for attacks and spring out for defense. She clinched very low, which is something I saw Jee Jaa do in maybe the second time I ever saw her on TV – she was probably 11 years old then – but doesn’t do as much anymore. There was a lot of clinching in this fight and Jing Jang’s takedown defense was awesome; her guard in general was super strong. Gartoon got the better of her in the scoring rounds and swept her to the canvas a few times in round 3. She got up quickly but the fight was changing at that point. At the start of that round she does this absolutely badass teep to Gartoon’s leg as he’s kicking her and drops him. It’s not a huge point, but it looks so cool. Gartoon had already taken the fight by round 5 but Jing Jang comes out like she’s winning. She amps up her tempo again, slamming her gloves together like a gorilla chest-pound. She didn’t score in that round enough to steal the fight, but her performance was a strong argument. She’s a force, for sure.
Here is the fight below, sorry for the shaky cam, but Kevin had to use the phone to grab it.
the full fight video above
Child Fighting – the Quality of Thai Female Fighters
You may see child prodigy fighters in the west, young females who have fought a fair amount with in padded and modified-rule fights and dominated their competition, or girls who just seem to really rock the pads with fantastic boxing combinations, but the big difference between the west and Thailand is this: real fight experience. You can see it in this fight. I asked their team after the loss how many fights PhetJing Jang has and they said “4 fights”. Which is crazy, and can’t be true (it is possible they misunderstood me and were telling me she’s fought this boy four times). There is no way in the world that this girl has only fought four times. Just too much comfort with contact, too much awareness of spacing, too much styling. The female fighters of Thailand come out of a culture of fighting, it produces very high fight IQ and style.
For those in the west who object to child fighting, I do know where you are coming from. But it’s not black and white and most of those gradations are deeply steeped in cultural differences. When I watched this fight on video after seeing it live, I noticed how the referee responds to the kids. He keeps a watchful eye – referees in Thailand, in general, are incredibly keen and have impeccable timing and judgement – but he also responds to and treats them like children. With a western gaze, with our firm beliefs in what childhood should look like, these kids look like they are “fighting like adults,” because of how skilled, sincere and hard they go… but the delicate hand of the referee tells a very different story to my eyes.
When I spoke with PhetJing Jang’s entourage, I was told she’s 9 years old and from the neighboring city of Rayong. Twenty kilos is 44 lbs, which is small but not uncommon for the variation in kid sizes I’ve seen in Thailand. Her skills definitely are honed for her age and likely she’s been fighting for a couple years already. She wasn’t happy to lose that fight, but who ever is? She wasn’t devastated or crying, her corner wasn’t upset or yelling at her; typical of most of the young fighters I’ve seen, she was in a large group of family and gym, which might in some cases be the same people. It was the same for Gartoon’s corner and they were carrying him with his belt like a champion, not the least bit dampened by his opponent being a girl – a fight is a fight, she was a contender and he had to fight hard to win. They’ll likely fight again and quite possibly have fought before. Kids train together and grow up fighting each other until their sizes propel them into different pools of opponents, and that’s true for both boys and girls.
If you’d like to help keep unique Muay Thai content like this going, a pledge of only a $1 month can help me reach my goal of sustainability.
You can read articles from a Gendered Muay Thai perspective here.
You may enjoy my husband’s The “Natural” Inferiority of Women and the Art of Muay Thai guest post.