if you don’t know who PhetJee Jaa is here is my intro piece on this 12 year old phenom female fighter, written a year ago.
here is my post on meeting her for the first time a few weeks ago: My Hero – Best Female Fighter in the World.
UPDATE: Since the publishing of this post, the location of Phetjee Jaa’s O. Meekhun Gym has moved to a permanent location, about 5 minute motorbike drive from this one. Here is a Google Map link.
We Take a Walk to PhetJee Jaa
Sometimes incredible things are just a few steps farther, just beyond the wall. My husband and I decided to start training at Petchrungruang Gym in Pattaya as a way to supplement my training with Sakmonkgol over at WKO. We picked Petchrungruang based on very little information, but what stood out about it to us was that it’s filled with kids. That seemed like a cool experience and one that has happily revealed itself to offer invaluable training for me because of all the kids – and an amazing and generous family that runs it. A few weeks in, kind of by accident, my trainer at that gym mentioned that Phetjee Jaa used to train there with the boys and lived in “that room,” he said as he pointed pretty much right behind me. I was staggered – training in the same gym my hero trained at was very unexpected. About a week later I was hitting the bag and feeling a little spent when I looked over and saw a little girl – so much smaller than what I imagined from watching her on TV that I didn’t recognize her at first – walking around the ring to say hello to me. It was Phetjee Jaa and I got legitimately starstruck, which I wrote about in a blog post about meeting my hero. A million points to Kru Nu for asking her to come take a picture with me.
When she first visited me at Petchrungruang she had disappeared through the “back door,” and I assumed that she was visiting the “chicken man” next door. (It’s a chicken farm behind the gym and the “chicken man” sometimes comes in to help hold pads for the kids. You can always hear the chickens and roosters clucking, crowing, making weird sounds I didn’t know fowl make, and generally scratching around.) After she’d disappeared we took a peek back there but could not see anything other than chickens, and it certainly didn’t look like it led anywhere other than into someone else’s yard. PhetJee Jaa had simply vanished into the Thai ether, going back to her gym or home which was “out there”, probably a good 10 or 15 minute walk, I figured.
Kru Nu had told me that she lived “just down the street,” and after training a couple of days ago we decided we’d like to go find her gym. To my surprise (so much so that I thought I’d misunderstood him, more than once) Kru Nu indicated that the gym was just on the next soi (residential street) and to just walk through the chicken farm. I was uncomfortable doing so because I come from an upbringing in the US that highly respects personal property and walking through neighbors’ (or strangers’) yards was strongly discouraged. In Thailand, not so much. So I sucked it up and we walked through the back door, stepped over a small cement curb and out onto the lot of dirt that’s the chicken farm (the walk is done in reverse in the video). A group of men were sitting in a circle playing dice or something similar. They didn’t look up at us at all until I asked, in Thai, where O. Meekhun gym is and they as a group pointed in the same direction we were walking. We weren’t more than 20 feet into the lot when Kevin said, “did you hear that? I hear someone kicking pads.” I scoffed and said it was the gym right behind us, but like a suspenseful movie he said, “no, it’s coming from in front of us.” Sure enough we passed by a row of cages, mostly filled with chickens but one containing a black and white dog that barked at us and began leaping around in his cage as we passed. His bark was a little strange; almost like he’d learned it from the roosters. And then I heard the padwork, too.
O. Meekhun gym is literally a few rows of chicken cages away from Petchrungruang – Phetjee Jaa has been a stone’s throw away this entire time, I’ve been here for almost 6 weeks (!). It would be like finding out that Buakaw’s camp has been your neighbor for the past month and you didn’t even know it. When we got to the front side of the chicken farm I saw Phetjee Jaa, dressed all in red, running up and down the street as her warmup. She had just finished her laps and walked over toward the gym, looking at both me and Kevin with a small degree of recognition and uncertainty – Phetjee Jaa is not a super expressive person; in her fighting, yes, but her face is generally set in a serious and neutral expression. But she kept looking at us, maybe waiting for me to tell her what we were doing – I smiled and she politely wai-ed to us before heading into the gym. I turned on the camera to get some footage of outside and then walking into the gym, so my attention was somewhat divided by looking partially through the viewfinder screen and actually being in the space as I moved in. On the right side is a wall of magazine and newspaper clippings of Phetjee Jaa at Aswindum Stadium (where she fought on TV and her sponsor, Pinsinchai, is the owner/promoter). The gym is very small, 75% of it is the ring and there’ s a small area for shadowboxing and a couple hanging bags, a row of tires on the far side where Phetjee Jaa put herself and bounced steadily as we talked with her mom and dad (who was in the ring holding pads for a western guy). Her brother, Mawin, stood with his gloves still on his hands and watched the conversation go down. My Thai is still pretty rudimentary, but I talked with her mom, Tawan, for the most part while her dad, Sungwian, leaned against the ropes with his bellypad and Thai pads still on to listen and add to the discussion. Both parents are very cool. I hesitate to say “more than I imagined” because it implies that I thought they’d be otherwise, but I guess the right way to say it is that I was taken by their personalities in a way that struck me in a very positive way.
To sum up the video above, I say hello and Phetjee Jaa’s mom immediately recognizes me from a photo of me and Phetjee Jaa taken at Petchrungruang gym and posted on the gym’s Facebook page a week or two ago. We talk about how long I’ve been in Pattaya, that I normally live in Chiang Mai and Tawan wants to know what gym I train at up there and how many fights I’ve had in Pattaya. When I tell her it’s three in Pattaya and 70 overall in Thailand, she’s not really impressed. Her daughter is a 12-year-old Muay Thai superstar with over 160 fights, after all! We talk about Phetjee Jaa being prevented from fighting boys any longer and how that has resulted in her not fighting at all for four months already – her first fight since the ban was two weekends ago in Korat against a girl named Fah Seengern G. Adison who outweighed Phetjee Jaa by perhaps 10 kilos (that’s 22 lbs!); given that Phetjee Jaa is only 31 kilos (68 lbs) that is an incredible weight disparity. And Phetjee Jaa won that fight by stopping her opponent in the second round with knees. With no fights available because there are simply no girls at Phetjee Jaa’s weight that are at her level and a reputation that certainly precedes her, so not many opponents really want to face off against her anyway (she has a belt that nobody is coming after, her mother explains), she’s basically just been training every day with her regular schedule and waiting for her luck to change. It’s hard though. The gym ring is provided by her sponsor, the promoter and owner of Aswindum Stadium where she was fighting on TV before, for purses that it can be certain are not matched by whatever fights she may find outside of Bangkok, but his sponsorship isn’t supporting the family the way her fighting was. They have a promoter and friends asking for female opponents for her all throughout Bangkok but at 31 kilos it’s slim pickings. Her father, Sungwian, suggests that they may have to wait for her to grow, that fights at 42-43 kilos might have more options for opponents near her level. That’s pretty close to what my fighting weight would be if I were scrapping after a title.
Their gym is fairly new. The O. Meekhun banner has been what Phetjee Jaa fights under for as long as she’s been on my radar and she was trained by her father and has traveled extensively around various provinces in order to get the experience she has accumulated so far. She’s been fighting for about 4-5 years and has around 160 fights already, over 100 of which her father says are have been against boys. There aren’t a lot of famous kid fighters in Thailand, even though there are a lot of children who fight professionally (see Todd Kellstein’s film Buffalo Girls, or my interview with him for more on this) . They might be known locally and there are very young fighters at Aswindum on Sundays, as well as kids Phetjee Jaa’s age fighting at Lumpinee, but for that ring a fighter must be at least 100 lbs (which she’s not yet) and must be male (which she will never be). So she certainly stood out as a young female fighter who was knocking out boys on TV – she has quite a name and reputation and through that she was able to support her family through her fight purses and even at least once as the spokes-model that fighters can get for farm equipment. Since the Muay Thai Sport Authority of Thailand put the kibosh on mixed gender fights in Bangkok, all the ways in which Phetjee Jaa’s awesomeness could be visible and rewarded, financially, has also vanished. It’s difficult and it doesn’t seem like there’s any way around it until there are more female fighters at her level, at her size, or she gets to the size where there are already more opponents available. The waiting game, women fighters around the world can attest, is no fun, and the outcome is never assured.
go to a Google Map of Petchrunguang Gym is
UPDATE: the O. Meekhun Gym in this video (and photo) has moved to a permanent location since the publishing of this post. You can find a Google Map marker of the new location here.
a photo I took with Jee Jaa and her fighter brother Mawin.
Here is my Muay Thai map with all the gyms, people, fight locations and important places of interest marked out
View Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu – Muay Thai Map in a larger map