I’m writing about something that in the West might feel or seem “impossible” to some, but quite honestly it’s not even extraordinary here in Thailand. Fighting twice in a single night isn’t common, but it barely causes a quiver of the eyelid to Thai trainers and fighters who are willing to and sometimes experienced in fighting at a moment’s notice, many times over a short period of days, against bigger and better opponents, etc. I’ve come to see that the only thing that’s really impossible is the thing you’ve said “no” to. “Yes” is a skeleton key that opens endless doors.
Surfing the Impossible
In 2011 I lost six fights in a row in the US – that took me a year. So for an entire year I had six fights (my complete fight record here), which is actually a lot in the West, and I lost all of them. It was rough. In the midst of it I read Sam Sheridan’s book “The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game,” which interviews fighters about the mental, emotional and spiritual elements of what makes a fighter. He mentions a professional boxer and friend of his, Clara de la Torre, based in New Mexico, who was in the midst of her own 6-fight losing streak. De la Torre memorably described the feeling as “surfing the apocalypse.” I could really feel this at the time. But like de la Torre, I didn’t give up and I didn’t stop. Instead, I moved to Thailand with the aim of accomplishing the goal of 50 fights, not thinking a moment about whether those would be wins or more losses. It didn’t matter. What mattered was continuing on, knowing I would get better in the process. As Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”
With the money we had saved, we didn’t know if we could stay in Thailand for more than 6 months. Getting 50 fights in that time seemed impossible; staying long enough to reach 50 fights seemed impossible; at one point in my life fighting twice in one month seemed impossible; in fact, fighting without shinguards and headgear for my second ever fight (the first trip to Thailand) seemed impossible; eventually increasing my rate from 2 to 3 fights in a month seemed impossible and last November when I fought 4 times in 13 days it seemed impossible. And none of these things were – obviously they are all possible once you’ve done them. Things change if you persist. I surpassed the impossible (to me) 50 fights, we’ve been in Thailand for 2.5 years already, I’m close to my 100 fight goal (which almost couldn’t have been dreamed), of course I haven’t worn shinguards in a fight since my second fight in the US, and I’ve just finished fighting 6 fights in 28 days – two of them fewer than 16 hours and a several hundred kilometers apart – and none of it feels like it was really that hard to do. All I had to do was say “yes” to each opportunity – and it is true that sometimes a fighter needs to say “no”. Instead of “surfing the apocalypse,” which is just a feeling, really, I’m “surfing the impossible,” and realizing that almost everything is, in fact, possible. Whatever it is you are talking about looks crazy when you think about it beforehand, but when you just go for it it somehow just works. It’s actually easier done than said. In both cases, Surfing both the Apocalypse and the Impossible, the only way to stay on the board is to keep saying “yes” to the waves – keep riding – it’s falling into the apocalypse or falling into the impossible that ends it. It’s the certainty that does you in.
I didn’t plan on fighting 6 times in 28 days (the same number of fights that was “a lot” over the span of an entire year, a few years ago). My plan was to fight “as much as possible,” which meant scheduling as many confirmed fights as I can, and then just saying “yes” to anything else that comes up in between. Sometimes fights fall through but often something else comes up as well.
First Fight: September 29
The first fight in this string was against a World Champion (post and video here), who I’ve fought before but this time she was 4-5 kg (9-11 lbs) bigger than I am. It was a really close fight and I lost it by centimeters, a few seconds in the 4th round that I didn’t make up for in the 5th. It was a good experience and one I learned a lot from. It felt terrible and frustrating (I thought I’d won), but I had no time to keep wallowing in it because I had another fight a few days later.
Second Fight: October 4
The next fight was up in Isaan against an opponent maybe 1-2 kg smaller than the last one, still bigger than me, taller and very rangy. I won by KO.
Third Fight: October 6
Two days later (and a 7 hour drive back home) fought an opponent actually my own size (47-48 kg; 103-105 lbs) who was really good out at a Chonburi festival fight and knocked her out for the stadium championship belt.
Fourth Fight: October 17
Eleven days later I was back up in Buriram (another 7 hour drive up) to fight an opponent who gave me a lot of trouble and was a few kilos bigger than me, at 50 kg (110 lbs), and was able to stop her in the 4th round. That fight took a lot out of me mentally and emotionally. I was really upset with my performance and when I got back to training a couple days later I had a hard time getting myself right. In the way time is expanded and contracted by this kind of fight rate, the five days of training felt like forever, but sulking about a fight for even a couple days is too long so I had to just push through – the waves of the apocalypse are steeper and also shallower.
Fifth Fight: October 25
Eight days after my last fight I drove up to Bangkok to take a fight that my friend Emma couldn’t make because she’d just had her Wisdom Teeth removed. Kind of like taking someone’s shift at the bar. The girl I fought there was less experienced than I am but had a good 7-8 kilos on me (15-17.6 lbs) and tried harder than anyone to finish me. I knocked her out in the 3rd round and on the drive back to Pattaya sent a text to the O. Meekhun Gym, letting them know I wasn’t hurt and that I’d meet them at the gym at 6 AM the next morning to drive out for a “match up.” A match up is where you go to the venue in the morning in what they call a “cattle call” or “go see” in the acting world, basically you just show up with a crowd of other fighters and stand on a scale, your weight is written in permanent marker on your arm and then they try to match you with other fighters at or near your size. Video and blog post to be up in a few days.
Sixth Fight: October 26th
Sangwean, Phetjee Jaa’s father and my padholder at O. Meekhun Gym, had told me come with them for this match up on the 26th, knowing full well I was going to Bangkok to fight on the 25th. I told him I wasn’t sure – I’ve never fought on consecutive days but didn’t realize earlier this month I’d fought twice within three days, which isn’t that different – but that I’d call him and let him know if I wasn’t hurt from my fight on the 25th. He thought I was being silly for not just saying “yes” or “no” before, but said that was fine. Again, seems “impossible” but to the father of two kids who have over well 100 fights each at 12 and 14 years old, clearly this is not a big deal. Even after I’d sent the late-night message from the road that I’d meet them in the morning I wasn’t sure if it was possible. I was realized I would have fewer than 3 hours of sleep in my own bed before getting up to head to the gym to drive back out to wherever for the match up and when my alarm sounded in the darkness I wondered if I could (realistically should) even get up. But I did. Then we drove for two hours out to Rayong and there were other female fighters there at a reasonable weight (50 kg) for me to fight, but even then it seemed like a match wasn’t going to happen. But it did – they agreed to let their biggest girl (55 kg – 121 lbs) fight me. Waiting for another 6 hours to actually get in the ring felt impossible – I was so tired from so little sleep and this was my second fight in fewer than 16 hours – but it wasn’t impossible. As I sat there, waiting, wondering if I could fight as I wanted to through all the obstacles I realized that I hadn’t said “yes” to this opportunity just to win; I’d said “yes” because of the experience, the chance to do something I’d never done before and that seemed really hard. So the intention was simply to do, regardless of outcome. Just don’t say “no” and the possibilities are endless. Video and blog post to be up in a few days.
Everyone has an “Impossible”
Fighting like this isn’t to prove something, it’s to achieve something, to push against a wall that just seems impossible from the face of it. For some fighters this “something” takes the shape of belts. For me, partly because I’ve seen some very suspect belt fights that make the whole belt pursuit iffy, partly because there are so few top, top level fighters at my weight in the world and I have little control over whether I can fight them, and because sanctioning bodies are so disorganized, my something is to fight as close to the ethic of young Thai fighters as possible, and through a high level of repeat experience to grow. In truth I only started fighting seriously a little more than two years ago when I got to Thailand the second time. Lacking in my childhood background any form of combat art experience, I was a violin girl when small, and then a soccer kid, I was coming at this very raw. I needed these fights to improve, and I still need them. I’m like a young kid in this, in terms of development. It is still new. My husband jokes about this stretch of lots and lots of fights in Thailand – now closing in on 100 in just a few years – calling it: Tyson in the Catskills. In the end, it didn’t matter who Mike was fighting then. Take a look at his fight rate. He fought like a Thai. And I’m not saying I’m going to emerge as a Tyson, but I do know I’m getting better and better and better the more and more I fight. And that is what this is about. That. And the hope that me doing this will fuel other women to do even more. This stuff is infectious.
When I got back home from that last fight I was catching up online with some other female fighters. One was offered to be a last-minute replacement for a big all-female card (World Muay Thai Angels Extreme) that will be televised, against an opponent bigger than herself but a fight she has wanted for a while. It was less than 24 hours notice, she hadn’t been training all due to an operation (same fighter I replaced the day prior), and she would have to arrange to call out sick from work. There were a lot of things that made this seem impossible, but all she had to do was say “yes” and the rest would work itself out. Unfortunately, another fighter was chosen to fill the slot before she got her chance, but the moment – the blink of an eye – of opportunity was there and she went for it. She refused the impossible; she paddled hard enough to try to catch the wave.
At the same time I was chatting with another fighter for the Angels show, who will be fighting against an opponent I fought maybe 7 months ago. Melissa Reaume is facing Lommanee, who is an incredibly experienced fighter taking a weight disadvantage against Melissa. It’s something that happens daily in the Muay Thai of Thailand, this constant maneuvering of weight against experience.
So few western fighters put all their full fights up (Melissa does), so you don’t get to see what it’s really like here – you don’t get to see all the different ways in which fights are uneven, or impossible, or ridiculous, or truly incredible. When fighters do put up video, they often selectively choose to put up a good performance perhaps, but you won’t see the fight where they outweighed their opponent by 4 or 5 kg (not uncommon for farang in Thailand), or you’ll get a highlight of a fight, and not see all the off-balanced moves that make the victory look not so blemishless – I’ve got a ton of those, learn to love them! There is a lot of image control when fighting in Thailand because 90% of the people reading and watching haven’t a clue never having been here for any length of time. Fighters have the video, they don’t share it. What gets lost is precious truth – not about how good or bad a fighter is, but about fighting itself. It’s not just shining belts, pristine techniques or top-heavy records. In my collection of fights I’ve seen almost of all of it on a personal level (and I’ve put every video up). Girls who don’t want to fight and lie down; girls who try to destroy me; girls who are huge with little experience; girls who are huge with lots of experience; girls who were my size last time and the next time are bigger; girls who weren’t good and then later they are; girls who were good before and then next time they aren’t… there are endless variables. And all I can do is put it all on the table to best of my lights. All fighters like Melissa, or Emma, or I can do is say “yes” to the opportunity and then have all of those who are outside ropes watch and determine what it is from the outside.
As Melissa and I were chatting she asked me how my body felt from the back-to-back fights. I told her, “two fights feels pretty much the same as one fight.” You’re sore and tired and have bumps and bruises regardless. The biggest difference isn’t the fight itself; it’s having nudged the line of what I thought was possible, I moved that line and cleared more space for myself. And for anyone else who wants to stand here too – and push that line too.