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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

The Muay Thai Videography of Stillness and Color - vlogging the choices

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I've started vlogging my experiences in early work with video and color to capture some of the elements I've been pursuing in still photography. You can check out the first two below:

 

 

What is principal here for me are all the ways that slowing down footage actually works to produce motion. It is all this micro-motion, which for me is like a kind of breathing, as if the form itself is breathing, that I find really interesting. This...and how color grading can work to building up atmosphere, a materiality of space, out of which the depicted form or focus emerges, is cloistered in, or erupts. This is something I seek in lots of my still photography. It's why I often try wider lenses. I feel like Muay Thai photography, and videography as well, has extracted too much from the surrounding nature, mechanizing it, alienating it, making an fragmentation. These video experiments are in that direction.

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    • A little aside note re punching / boxing moments in Muay.  Im thinking on the match between Calista and Pheetjeeja  a couple of years ago.  When Calista was still the young promising european junior, trying to make a carrieer as pro in Thailand, beginning with not too difficult matches.   (and yeah, she did managed just fine although a couple of setbacks).  I dont know what Calistas manager planned.  Did he thought Calista had now matured to meet a strong grandmaster, or did he thought it were nice for Calista to meet another good junior?? And Pheetjeeja, whom at this time abandoned Muay and become a boxer...  Pheetjeeja thus did made here a temporary come back. It was visible she didnt no longer care much about what others thought... Why, she was no longer a Muay fighter:   She did climbed in above the ropes!   And as Pheetjeejas transition into a boxer was now done and complete, she hardly kicked anything.   She just wore down poor Calista with series of heavy punches... Calista was brave, it was visible she was determined to endure whatever was coming... Whatever the costs... But after long and severe battering, enough was enough...  I do admire Calista she did continued and took other difficult matches, becoming even a specialist on Kard Chuek. Thus.  Well done punching and boxing does pays off in Muay too....    🙂   Ps.  Pheetjeeja returned to Muay.  Stronger and better than ever...  She continues her tradition of not using her patented horrible horse kicks against women, but she has become instead a master of elbows...  AND her hard punching, together with her fully mature physical strengh, AND all the technical skills she always had,  makes her a fearsome opponent to any grandmaster.  
    • Short Essay 3 Every Muay Thai fight fought in Thailand begins with an incantation. As much as the West, or even modernizing Thais might want to prevaricate over just what the Wai Kru and Ram Muay is (is it religious? is it just respect and tradition? is it animism?), antecedently, and one might say essentially, this is magic. It is actually magical combat. The battle has already begun, on the magical plane...if you hold the required beliefs and practices. You are not just thanking your teachers, I would argue, you are actively connecting to them. You are drawing into the ring the powers of the ones and things which created you, as a fighter. You are powering up, loading the chamber, in the Wai Kru. In the Ram Muay, even though you may not be aware of the full meanings of the figures you are impersonating, or the gestures you are repeating, these are magical in nature. To say that they are magical is not just to say that they represent supernatural powers, they are also the enacted devices to connect to those powers, those forces. And in this regard, they are wicha. In many respects the Thai concept of wicha is close to the Anglo suffix -ology. It denotes a field of study, a knowledge. You find it in the name of the fighter Yodwicha, supreme knowledge. But the Southeast Asian concept of knowledge, in these contexts, isn't so much a thing of dusty books, or theorems. It is, in a sense, much more grounded in a more physical way. It is embodied, often. It pervades the body of the knower, and it connects to real world forces. It composes a technique, a series of techniques that bridge the individual to the world, and back. What you are seeing in the Ram Muay (and the Wai Kru) is a wicha. Much of the intentional (magical) nature of these techniques, wicha, have eroded with the changes in culture, but it is still important for the understanding of the meaning of Muay Thai in traditional settings to appreciate that what is happening before the fight is a wicha, just as the techniques displayed in the fight are also a wicha.  When you take hold of what a wicha is in this contex, you can see how it draws a line between the two axes of Muay Thai performance, it brings together the reality of animality, and the esoteric art of divinity. It keeps animality from becoming blind and unguided, and it keeps divinity from becoming to ethereal, too unattached, too evaporated. It is the shoreline between animality and divinity, hopefully captured by the arrow in my illustration above.  There is a wonderful moment in an as-yet-unpublished interview we did with Krongsak, one of the great fighters of the late 1980s. We asked him "Who would win between Samart and Somrak?" (these two fighters are two of the most femeu, artful fighters of Muay Thai history, but of different generations). Krongsak smiled. "What promoter would put on such a fight?...Who would pay to go to sleep?" It makes me laugh every time I think of this answer. It brings out the reality that the great eras of Muay Thai were actually constructed through the matchups they made, pitting contrasting styles against each other, but it also brings out one of the great problems with the femeu axis of Muay Thai. As stylish fighters like Samart or Somrak perform these absolutely brilliant ho-hum, too-cool-for-school victories, the femeu style itself ever threatens to be too far above the fight, too detached, too unreal. For Krongsak putting these too matadors in the ring together would be the most boring thing in the world - noting that Krongsak is telling a playful joke here, though a joke with reality to it. It is enough to say that if there are indeed Girardian sacrificial dynamics operating in traditional Muay Thai, there is a certain sense in which the sacrifice has to be real. It requires an animality balast to the rite, for it to have its psycho-social effect of purging the unlocalized violence in a community. This animality can come in the presence of a "bull", let's say in the classic "Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu" matchups, or perhaps more evocatively, it can be present in the wicha of a particular fighter, their unique marriage of art and violence, in their technique and their style, fighters like Wangchannoi, Wichannoi, Namkabuan perhaps, that combined both art and violence in a single form. In any case, what is important here is that the ring is a place of grounded art. It begins with magical, ritualized combat, and conducts itself with the techniques of power and art, as they have been taught by local knowledge. This is something I'll return to later, the way in which the wicha that is expressed come out of local wisdoms. The wichas are reflections of particular lineages, families, communities and regions. Wichas of technique not only ground divinity, but they also historicize it, and personalize it. This historicization is really important because it plays into the performative meaning of the display of wichas, especially when on the stage of the fighting ring. Just what is Magic? I believe, to understand wicha one is only aided by understanding what magic is. To this aim it's instructive to follow up where anthropology has been. Anthropology has long had this problem: How to study other cultures and their beliefs without imposing bias, especially the bias that one's own culture is superior. With magical practices and beliefs it was quite difficult to avoid the instinctive conclusion that magic was just underdeveloped, primitive "Science". It was just "wrong" Science that didn't get how the world worked, but nonetheless attempted to control and harness it. To this aim Anthropology, in examining otherwise exotic and primitive cultures attempted to work out the differences between magic and belief, or at the very least to see how they may be different. If its not too far afield, I want to quote this graphic from the essay Science & Religion, Magic & Technique, from "Malinowski's Magic: The Riddle of the Empty Cell" (1976). It outlines the ways in which rite, ceremony, magic and technique intersect:   My reason for including the above is in a certain respect a way of complexifying just what we think we see when we look at the fighting arts (the wichas) of Thailand, and the rituals of the Wai Kru and Ram Muay. In a certain respect, both the fighting arts and the magical arts are ways in which the individual, and the community, deal with and give meaning to unknowable circumstances. Wichas, traditionally, draw on all four quadrants of the above, and when they do so they historicize the agent in a lineage of knowers. Referring to the diagram I started with short essay with, they bind together the animality of reality, and the rarity of the divine, and most importantly, they do this in the context of performed battle. It is a battle of wichas. I'm not going to go too much further into this - there is a great deal to be discussed under the Anthropology of magic - a great entry on Magic and Anthropology is found here - it is enough to simply understand that traditional Muay Thai, its performance, is a battle of wichas (composed of techniques) and that these wichas work to weave together the two axes of animality and divinity, contesting that new reality in a ritualistic, socially defined entertainment space, a space ultimately I hope to inform and define within Girard's sacrificial dynamics. (Don't worry we'll get there!) I want to end this portion of my series with the thoughts on magic from the book Magic’s Reason An Anthropology of Analogy by Graham M. Jones. Jones is particularly interested in the magic of illusion, slight of hand, often in the western sense of magical entertainment. In this passage though he talks about the deeper meanings behind the techniques and display. For him the veritable skill of the magician performs something transcendent: And added to this I'd like to end with a modified graphic of 3 different kinds, or ends of magic, knowing that we can also apply these same categories and purposes to the technical displays of fighters in the traditional ring.    
    • Think we've all seen variations of this issue play out, it's not an uncommon concern at all. On western Thai gyms, it's not usually my instinct to defend or sympathise with them, given some batshit crazy practices that unfolded before my eyes. Like one time in the early days, a trainer got pissed during training and screamed at a dude, then made him go down the street and buy him a hamburger. And he did. After meeting an American gym owner who was travelling, he explained something after being asked about his job. He said, 'Everybody's got a question'. That all day long, every day, every single person who talks to him does so because they want something. They dissect everything he says, wanna know why this, why that, well what about this situation, what about that, how about this other technique, etc. Nobody asks him how his kids are doing, or if he saw his basketball team play the other night etc. We can easily forget that for us, the gym is a place we go after work, but for him it is his work. When we're at work, we don't talk like that to our boss (most of us). If you've ever done a day job that you ended up getting real good at, especially something involving craft of some kind, it tends to happen because you follow orders.  Might be a silly, extreme example to use, and you could justifiably think, 'Yeah but it's not my place of work, he's not paying my salary, in fact I'm paying a lot just to be there'. Well yeah, but on the ground, it never plays out as a customer service type relationship, it's just way too personal a business for that. Plus, that monthly membership fee isn't what actually pays his bills, nor is it the people who fight for his gym. So we can misconstrue our relationship with the trainer, usually as either too close or too distant. A more accurate way of reading that vibe is somewhere between being an employee and a guest in his house, even if the facts don't support that.  Then again, any toxic shit happens, or if he turns out to be a plan charlatan teaching nonsense, of course do the right thing and leave - don't listen to me. 
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    • A little aside note re punching / boxing moments in Muay.  Im thinking on the match between Calista and Pheetjeeja  a couple of years ago.  When Calista was still the young promising european junior, trying to make a carrieer as pro in Thailand, beginning with not too difficult matches.   (and yeah, she did managed just fine although a couple of setbacks).  I dont know what Calistas manager planned.  Did he thought Calista had now matured to meet a strong grandmaster, or did he thought it were nice for Calista to meet another good junior?? And Pheetjeeja, whom at this time abandoned Muay and become a boxer...  Pheetjeeja thus did made here a temporary come back. It was visible she didnt no longer care much about what others thought... Why, she was no longer a Muay fighter:   She did climbed in above the ropes!   And as Pheetjeejas transition into a boxer was now done and complete, she hardly kicked anything.   She just wore down poor Calista with series of heavy punches... Calista was brave, it was visible she was determined to endure whatever was coming... Whatever the costs... But after long and severe battering, enough was enough...  I do admire Calista she did continued and took other difficult matches, becoming even a specialist on Kard Chuek. Thus.  Well done punching and boxing does pays off in Muay too....    🙂   Ps.  Pheetjeeja returned to Muay.  Stronger and better than ever...  She continues her tradition of not using her patented horrible horse kicks against women, but she has become instead a master of elbows...  AND her hard punching, together with her fully mature physical strengh, AND all the technical skills she always had,  makes her a fearsome opponent to any grandmaster.  
    • From your description, my personal advice would be to just use your hands to stress your opponent. Just keep on them, keep touching them, bring the power down, get them holding their breath...and then go for finishes later in the fight with hard weapons (kicks, knees or a power shot). If you are that superior to your opponent. Hands are great stressors. This kind of crescendoing tempo is very "Thai". Touch, touch, touch, touch...damage. Touch, touch, touch, touch...finish.
    • Thank you @Kevin von Duuglas-Ittuthis is helpful.  As I have a lot of respect for traditional muay thai rules, these would always be my goal. I hate to be the farang going for KO to avoid dealing with the intricacies of muay thai scoring. To show understanding of the rules, is to me to respect the art. I'm not sure you would agree, but when Alyssia fought Stamp and won I saw the power of the strong basics of maintaining posture and using kicks as first weapon. I loved it. She didn't use much technique. Just basic muay thai and won.  Newer kind of lethwei is very hand focused and their kicks are of the "stabbing version". Straight butterfly knife stab kicks. Older fights are more similar to muay thai. Exchange of beautiful kicks and only headbutt when it actually serves a purpose. I'm trying to learn this. Rather than the brutal: go forward and attack with no plan and full aggression.  My desire would always be to go for technique. Sadly, seems like my hands are now, when I actually learnt how to transfer power from hip through shoulder to hands, my strongest weapons. But my preference would always be muay thai. I'm not sure, but the refinement Thailand managed to do and the national ownership of the sport is something neighbouring countries could learn from. I also believe, it benefits women fighters.  It's good advice on the 3 round "sensational fights". I just don't like them. But beggars can't be choosers. I'd take any fight if even possible this year.  Fighting under traditional muay thai rules to me are what would benefit me the most in terms of learning. Learning patience, calmness, non-aggresive violence and simply technique.  To be honest, after this exchange I'll work on checking kicks and combine landing kicks following up with punches.  Thank you. Not much in the public space on muay thai scoring. So it's appreciated.   
    • I should add to the above, in case it isn't obvious: You cannot trade landed punches for landed kicks, all other things being equal, in Thailand's traditional Muay Thai. Punching fighters have an additional burden of evidence. I'll also add this. As a female fighter, while the traditional Muay Thai scoring system does not favor you as a punching fighter, you are favored in another way, at least when fighting Thai female fighters. Because they grew into the sport organized around the high scores of kicks (and to a lessor extent knees), they are much more adept at defending them, and much less adept at defending punches (to be very general about it). What you are throwing has an additional burden for scoring, but maybe has a higher chance of landing. You see this play out in the very different 3 round entertainment Muay Thai fights where Thai female fighters are asked to fight well out of their element. They are punch-heavy, no-retreat allowed promotions.
    • A couple of things here. 1. In Thailand's Muay Thai  you can't just "appear unphased" by kicks and knees, and nullify points. Kicks and knees to the body hold the additional "score" of showing control over the body center, just by landing. This is different than punches, which require the physical and psychological effect for score. Yes, by bluffing no impact from kicks and knees you minimize the score, but these are still points against you. 2. It really depends on what you mean by "passive". You need to know what the score is to read the behaviors of both fighters. Thais, traditionally, once they have the lead, retreat and "protect" the lead. This can be read as lacking in aggression by westerners, when in fact this is often pulling away in the fight. If a fighter who is behind in the fight starts marching forward, and throwing a lot...but not having a lot of impact, this fighter would be seen as actually falling further and further behind. They are "chasing". Sharpness in technique does really matter though. It shows self-control, control over the fight space, balance, timing. If you are truly displaying dominance over the fight space, then this will score. I can't quite picture the fight engagement you have in your mind here, but if you are checking kicks and avoiding knees, and landing impactful shots, you should be winning the fight...though that also has to be put in the context of who is advancing, who is retreating, and what the score of the fight is.
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