What the First Year of Fighting Means – a Husband’s Point of View

this space is Sylvie’s space, where she writes her record. But with the first year of fighting completed I felt I wanted to add my thoughts, as a husband....

this space is Sylvie’s space, where she writes her record. But with the first year of fighting completed I felt I wanted to add my thoughts, as a husband. In part because Sylvie is fighting for all of us, a family. 


guest post, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

I’m a pretty quiet guy around the gym and at fights, so much so people tend to not get past the exterior. But when they do one of the things they ask me is “Do you ever get worried when Sylvie goes in there?” This is such a natural thing to ask a husband I suppose. Sylvie is small, only 105 pounds, a touch over 5′ tall. She’s pretty, not physically aggressive. All the things that would seem to put her at risk somehow. But for me it does not compute. Not only do I not worry, I can’t even imagine worrying. When she slips into that ring – under the bottom rope – its like watching a fish slip quietly into water after being kept in too small a tank. She is free. Finally free.

It’s hard to explain. Whatever happens in there is her environment, her victory place, her element. She is in her water. And it’s not as if she is a born fighter, in the physical sense. If you met her you would see it right away. She is full of thought. Quiet (more often than not), extremely internal. Still. She is magnetic, but only if you pause to notice. But somehow, someway, that is her element when she steps into fight.

Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu - Ram Muay - Muay Thai

It has been the most beautiful thing in the world watching her fight 28 times this year. All the bullshit that comes after, judging how well she did, what she could have done better, all the aspects of failing to be the fighter she wants to be – a swan of a fighter – that isn’t what is happening in the ring. What is happening in the ring is pressure. Is violence. It is art under violence and pressure. And this is Sylvie’s world. It’s the one moment and occasion that allows what is so fiercely kept deep inside – a crushing, quiet intensity that often is so turned in on herself – to be permitted to come out in the context of a conflict-torn art, beauty, truth. The terrible is given a voice, a shape. Sylvie’s hidden face emerges. And she grows calm.

When she and I talk about fighting we often talk about how the ring is a magic square. It is a kind of alchemy. When you step into it – each time – you come out a different person. There are not many places in life like that. And what fighting is about, what the art of it is about I think, is trying to gain control over what you come out as, to come out more beautiful, more redeemed than how you went in. People think this has to do with winning, but at bottom it doesn’t. The alchemy can work against you if you win – there are many winners made ugly, distorted – just as if you lose. It’s about fighting from the core, fighting out of the sinews of what you are – and letting that echo out beyond the hand raise. This is what I’ve seen 28 times in 12 months.

Why does it have this power? And why is Sylvie such a fish, a calm shark to these waters? I think it has to do with the Body. For some of us, no matter what we developed into as people – our personalities, our appearances, our comforts – things have been written powerfully on our body. Deeply inscribed, powerful truths. They were put there in the fire of our making. And only by bringing oneself back into those temperatures, do we get to touch, remake, and even express those truths. And each time I have seen Sylvie go into the ring – in particular, here in Thailand – I have seen her enter into those states that made her. I have seen her struggle to bring with her into the fire the techniques and language of Muay Thai, as an aid.

In a certain and very real sense it does not even matter how well she does at any one time, awkward or graceful – confident or faltering, because that very attempt to enter the ring, repeatedly, and bring with you your training in order to remake yourself is as noble a human endeavor as there is in my book, and when done courageously (even in the shadow of self-doubt) it is impossible to fail at. The act, the attempt, is the success.

This is why I am so thankful to everyone who has supported her in this incredible venture, from every Facebook comment to extra-ordinary parents and family, to Master K and every knowledgeable teacher that has offered her something, some small piece to take into that fire..into her water.

Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu - In the Gym - Muay Thai

I think that for Sylvie as well there has been something incredibly freeing to have the endless opportunity of training day upon day, pressing her body for more, and when her body fails her, pressing her mind for more. For those in the gym with her I think they know. It isn’t just the ring that has been a remaking, it has been the cement floors, the body-bag black hanging bags, the Thais who are heartless before a grimace or a flinch, the heat that packs onto itself – all of it populated with that unspeakable beauty that Thailand flourishes with…a smile that flashes out of nowhere in the eyes, an impossible flower blossom on branches hanging over a cinder block wall, the King on aging calendars everywhere beneficent and posed. It’s that hours upon hours of physical self tortured attainment, cycled through into days, weeks and months, has somehow also been Sylvie’s element. She finally is working in her own clay, shaping herself after many others have tried to shape her in life. That fights punctuate this enormous process every 10 days or so just makes a complete machine of joy for her – albeit a machine of joy full of tears and great physical pain – never is her body just free from ache and damage, one weapon off-line, then another.

Thailand has been for this last year the perfect gift of opportunity – the chance for Sylvie to be Sylvie.

So let’s watch together what year 2 brings. Let’s watch this fish slip into her sea. I know my eyes are wide open.

Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu - Anne Quinlan - Muay Thai



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