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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Sylvie's Two Vlogs 11 Years Apart: The Drive to Expose Your Flaws To Everyone and the Heart of Muay Thai

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The above video is from almost 11 years ago. Sylvie is up the Hudson River where we lived, taking the train down to NYC to train in a Muay Thai gym in the city, more than an hour away from the small town we made our home. This video just gives me quiet tears, hearing her sincerity in response to some pretty harsh commentary coming through YouTube. One of the things Sylvie was exposed to was, from the beginning, being an outsider to "Muay Thai" proper. She was training with a 70 year old man in his basement in New Jersey, an hour and a half's drive away. She was putting up videos of her training because there was nobody like Master K, her first instructor, online anywhere. There was pretty much nothing of "Thai" Muay Thai online. A small community of interested people grew around her channel, but also came the criticism. From the beginning there was a who-do-you-think-you-are tone from many. You can hear it in her voice. She doesn't think she is anyone. She just loves Muay Thai. She's the girl who loves Muay Thai.

I cry in part because many of the themes in this video are actually still operating today. She's a huge name in the sport, but personally she is really still just the girl who loves Muay Thai, who takes the alternate path, doesn't ride with gyms, doesn't care about belts, doesn't want to fight Westernized Muay Thai. She's burned a path into Thailand's Muay Thai for many, but she's just replaced Master K - who to this day loves Muay Thai as much as anyone we've ever, ever met, with the possible exception of Dieselnoi - with legends of the sport. Karuhat, Dieselnoi, Yodkhunpon, Samson, Sagat. These are her fight family. And the same quiver is in her voice when she thinks about, actually yearns for, their muay. Wanting to be a part of it, to express it. From someone on the inside, it's just striking how little of this has changed, though like a spiral it has been every climbing higher, towards more ratified and accomplished feat, many of them feats that nobody will duplicate...simply because she's just The Girl Who Loves Muay Thai, and is taking the alternate path. She's running through the foothills of Thailand's greatness. And like then, when people in Muay Thai criticized her, today she has the same. The same unbelievers. And it's as pained today as it was on this day in the video. What's remarkable about her journey is that it necessarily has involved sharing, exposing, all of her flaws to everyone. She's likely the most documented fighter in history. We've put up video of every single fight and probably a 1,000 of hours of training. She has lived herself as exposed to everyone, as much as a fighter can be.

What I'm amazed by, watching this 11 years on, is her equipoise, her balance in holding the harshness of others, and her lack of ego in all that she was doing. One of the most difficult things she's encountered in developing as a fighter, reaching for the muay of yodmuay, is actually developing an ego, a pride or dignity, which is defended not only in the ring, but also in Life. How does one get from the above, to where one needs to be as a fighter? What internal transformations have to occur?

I happened upon the above video today, the same day Sylvie posted a new vlog talking about her experiences in training with some IFMA team teens at her gym. She was reflecting on how many of the lessons of growth she had not been ready for as a person years ago, especially lessons about frustration and even anger. You can hear the frustration in the video at the top. Mostly it falls behind a "I mean no harm" confession. She's just loving Muay Thai and sharing it. The impulse of those shared early videos of Master K eventually became the Muay Thai Library documentary project, likely the largest, most thorough documentation archive of a fighting art in history of the world. It's the same person doing the same thing. Even to this day, nothing of this has changed. But, what has changed is the depth of her experience, in over a decade of love for the sport, and in fighting an incredible 268 fights, and counting. Take a look at the vlog she put up today, and see what has changed. From the above has come one of the most impactful western Muay Thai fighters in history, both as a person and as a fighter. And the mountain is still being climbed:

 

 

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Two things may have persisted through all these years. Sylvie just has always patchworked her training approach. At the time of the the first video she's taking the train down from Fort Montgomery where we lived in a little rented house next to a National Park, to train in Manhattan. We were just piecing training together because there was no real path to where she wanted to get as a fighter, no "Point A to point B, just do all the work, listen to all the right people and you'll get there" path. 11 years on we are in the exact same place. There is no point A to point B path. She's much, much further down a path of her own invention, to be sure, tinkering steps forward up a rock wall, but everything unstable that she faced 11 years ago is still right there. She's training sometimes at her old gym, sometimes alone working on self-curation, daily in sparring at another gym, privately with Yodkhunpon, and all the intermittent training in filming legends and great krus in the Library. But, from at least my perception, nothing has changed at all in this. She is not being carried by a process, or by powerful others, and in this sense is exposed. There is no safe port. And because her process involves sharing her flaws with others - unlike every other fighter I've ever seen, where it is regular to hide your flaw and amplify your best qualities - this exposure is hard to carry. The other aspect that has persisted is that because she's a true disruptor in the sport, doing things outside of the expectations and ways of others who are invested quite differently, there is a constant social current she is swimming against. In the first video she's talking about YouTube criticism, but more this is just push back against who she is. So many have come to support her over the last decade, and lent their voices & resources to make the path possible, but still there is, and may always be a detractor audience, which in part comes from the fact that she's still doing things that nobody else does. In the second vlog she's matured into her place in the sport, taken root in herself...to some small degree, but personally the same pressures of resistance press upon her. The road is no easier at this point, than it was 11 years ago. In fact in many ways its even more difficult...but, what has changed and deepened is the richness of what she has built up inside, with 268 fights and a decade of sharing her flaws with others for over a decade. She has more substance and standing and belief in what she is doing. This is what I see.

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