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Effect of Marriage on Female Fighters


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I was wondering if this was strictly a Japanese phenomena or is it the case in Thailand or other countries that female fighters tend to retire upon marriage or motherhood?

In my observations, it used to be a seemingly set rule that if she wants to keep fighting, she can't get married. In essence, by fighting she was sacrificing having a family.

Actually, a more accurate explanation would be that what she is doing is seen as a hobby and that when real life begins, it is time to give that hobby up.

Examples:

- Erika Kamimura started dating, retired shortly afterwards. (cited medical reasons)

- Rena, has stated in blogs that she cannot date (especially around Valentines Day)

- Mika Nagano, retired upon marriage

- Megumi Fujii, married after retirement

- Miku Matsumoto, retired upon marriage

- Saya Ito, will probably retire upon high school graduation

 

 

Recently fighters have been returning to the ring though

- Saori Ishioka (Husband owns dojo)

- Satoko Shinashi (Husband owns dojo)

- Hisae Watanabe (Offered a lot of money)

 

Two thoughts are that women who marry fighters are more prone to return to the ring and that money may be playing a factor. Until recently, female fighters haven't been offered a lot of money and maybe them training was a luxury they couldn't afford to maintain. My main inclination though is that it is cultural.

This post is not meant to disparage women who choose to retire for whatever reason, I was just noticing a common occurrence. 

 

 

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From what my knowledge about Japanese culture is, you are totally right. And my knowledge comes mostly from animes, so bear with me - but I think it also reflects a kind of view on how "things should be". 

It's mostly that way that a woman works, but her "goal" should be to marry. And she's expected to quit her job after marriage. Still, I think this is starting to change as the culture gets "westernized".

I'm actually really curious on how it works in real life and if it's changing and how it is in Thailand.

From what I can say about Poland is that it's extremely rare that a female fighter is married and still active. There are exceptions from the rule and mostly it's when she earns a lot or has a fighter/ex-figher as a husband/boyfriend OR even bigger exception when the husband is really supportive of her. In Poland there is a big group of people caring for family bonds and family continuity religiously, so women are expected to get married and have children at a certain age ("what?! 30yo and single?! go make a baby right now! So what if you have no husband! You should have a baby, who's going to work for your pension?! when I was your age I already had 2/3 children!") - but I think that's similar everywhere. Of course there's also understanding and acceptance of being 25+ and single, but I think most of the society still thinks, something's wrong with you. So here's where the pressure of quitting martial arts and starting a family comes from, when you're "lucky" to find a husband.

I'd love to have more to tell about it, but from my personal experience my ex-partners were never supportive of me pursuing my martial arts dreams and when I try to date now, guys seem to dissapear when I tell them I do martial arts (or maybe it's because I'm fat and ugly and have a bad or childish personality, but I'm positive it's more about the martial arts part) :D On the other hand I also know girls who train and compete in martial arts and still date, so... it depends on the person, I think. The culture adds pressure to it for sure.

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Sounds like there are some similarities.

You see it in other aspects of Japanese culture, there is some kind of christmas cake joke they have, which essentially boils down to christmas cake is no good after the 25th (aka no one will marry you after 25)

Seeing certain fighters return to the ring has been uplifting, I agree that it seems that fighters who are returning either have spouses involved in martial arts or very understanding spouses. Plus with Ronda Rousey making waves as to how much female fighters can make, it seems that more women are interested in fighting.

It seems that in the U.S., fighters are able to keep fighting after they marry, but that may just be the minority that is fighting in major promotions.

On a positive note, so many famous fighters in Japan have recently had babies / will be having babies. I couldn't believe it when I was over there. It seemed like everyone I texted to meet up with was pregnant or had just had a kid. So, a lot of future badasses out there.

I am interested to see what Sylvie or someone with experience in Thailand can say about the matter

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I'm not completely sure it is specifically marriage in Thailand. Though most definitely there is a widespread ethic that women should not fight. You even see it among potential female western fighters who come and get a Thai fighter boyfriend. Anecdotally, we've seen potential or current fighters become less active as fighters, and some be strongly steered away from fighting, when a Thai ex-fighter boyfriend relationship starts. It does not seem to be the case that the men, because they are fighters, see fighting as something the female should do. In fact, quite the opposite. Because they are or have been fighters their female counterparts should not fight. Again, anecdotally.

To understand this though in almost all circumstances Muay Thai in Thailand is work. It's not glamorous, by and large, and most people think about females fighting: Why would you do that? And Sylvie's been asked many times why I would allow or want her to fight. It just makes little sense, even if you are talented in it. It is very rare for a female fighter to make any real money, and most women want to stop fighting before 20. They've been doing it, usually, since they were a kid, and if they didn't have to fight - due to circumstances - they wouldn't. There is almost none of the "martial arts for the beauty" or "personal glory" involved in the decision to be a fighter. It's just work. And it is work that isn't sustainable, not to mention work that can scar you.

You can add to that that female Thai fighters really have no career path once they start becoming very good. Sylvie wrote about this in her Judging Youth article. When Thai boys start really excelling at around the age of 15 and are climbing top talent in the Bangkok stadia, Thai girls start running out of top opponents. Not only is the pool much smaller, but nobody wants to fight them because in order to fight you have to lay significant money down. There is no sense of "Hey, let's fight and see who the best for the good and glory of the sport". It's about money. There will be some high profile matchups, but there simply is no scene, no promotional structure, along which a very good 15 year old female fighter will grow into a great one. There are rare exceptions like with Sawsing and Chommanee, women who become national stars, but even they are probably not earning a significant living, very infrequently fight, and probably would prefer to just retire. I never get the feeling that any Thai female fighter around 20 wants to fight anymore, at least in the sense that is expressed in the west.

Sawsing is an interesting example of course, because she recently got married (to a fighter) and had a baby, and is having a comeback fight. This is a strong exception and it's interesting to watch. There are other examples of female fighters coming back to Muay Thai at or around after college. Zaza has been having a very slow comeback (she fought in Japan when young) - she is the girlfriend of one of the Pinto brothers - but does not really seem to want to fight. We've heard she asks such a high fee it is very hard to book her. I don't know if she has fought in many months after a few initial victories, and when she did fight she seemed to be facing girls she knew she could win against. It really appeared, at least to me, as if she was coming back to Muay Thai to maybe further a larger singing or acting career, which is pretty interesting, because to some degree being a top female fighter has become something of a marketable media image. This feels new.

So, given all this context I would imagine that if you add marriage into the mix it would definitely create a possible: Now it is time to move onto the next stage of your life. There is a feeling that female fighting is for when you are young (early and mid teens), but then because there is no future, you move on. Phetjee Jaa says that she wants to join the military, when we asked her. There doesn't seem to be a vision of future world greatness.

As a sidenote about culture, Tom and Dee-ism (a form of Thai lesbian relationship) is pretty common among female Thai fighters (at least it seems to be from what we've seen). It also is strongest in the demographic of youth. But unlike a more western concept of firm sexual identity, this too is often treated as a stage or a fad by families, who then at a certain point expect their daughters to stop experimenting, get married, and get on with their life. This can be very painful for women more committed to the life choice, as Dees leave and start a straight life, because its expected. I'm not drawing a complete connection here, but only to say that there is foundation for a "Now it is time to grow up" judgment from society directed towards women who have lived a life in their teens. This could tie into a similar "time to grow up" attitude towards fighting.

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Its funny to think Japan has a popular Christmas joke that the West has no equivalent for.

 

My first reaction to the topic is that it should be considered that it may be motherhood or potential motherhood that is the motivation for retirement, and not the marriage per se. To me working as a professional athlete doesn't seem any more or less befitting of a marriage than working any other job. However there is a difference in motherhood. If an athlete becomes pregnant they will have to stop or at least reduce training to ensure the safety of the child, and the extended period of reduced training will permanently affect the athletes ability to do their job. This also exists to an extent in some other job fields but for many jobs the mother can take a maternity leave and return to their job with no great loss in efficiency. My theory is that this either directly or indirectly causes the phenomenon.

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This is definitely a noted pattern among Thai women fighters. Part of it is that, as Kevin said, women don't have careers extending as late into their 20's as men do anyway. There's no "Lumpinee Champion Title" for women, so the road simply doesn't lead very far for a lot of women. So retiring or greatly slowing down in fighting at that age is not only linked to marriage, although it's not unrelated either because Thai women do marry pretty young and teen pregnancy is crazy high in Thailand as a whole. Sexual education here sucks

I reckon the culture about dating is similar to Japan. While there is much greater leniency toward boys in Thailand when it comes to being sexually active, a top-tier or even very active male fighter is discouraged from having a girlfriend because it's seen as a distraction and deleterious to his "power." As a married woman, I can't tell you how many times the more gregarious men at the gym have outright told me not to have sex with my husband before a fight, because they think it will drain my power. If a boy is struggling in the ring, looking tired, the jokes about how he's masturbating too much or it's because of a girlfriend are rampant. My own trainer was something of a playboy in his youth but he tells his 15-year-old son, "you can have a girlfriend later, but now you fight." And it's the same with 14-year-old Phetjee Jaa and her 15-year-old brother Mawin: their dad/coach said the Thai equivalent to "no fuckin' way," regarding either of them dating. Perhaps one of the reasons that the Tom/Dee relationships that Kevin mentioned are more prevalent among female fighters is that it's not seen as "real sex" between women - it's called having a "play friend" in Thai - and so it's not detrimental to training or the body and doesn't risk pregnancy; and because these relationships are largely regarded as temporary or phases, it also doesn't risk a woman's ultimate duty to become a wife and mother.

So, heterosexual dating and fighting don't mix, culturally. As such, it makes sense that you have to pick one and because men can do both - because they don't have to carry a pregnancy and culturally are far less responsible for the daily care of infants and children - you'll see 20-something or older fighters with families. In the west, I do see married women who are fighting, but the most prominent of these have a spouse who is somehow involved in their training/fighting. I think even in the west, our own sexism and expectations for women and their maternal responsibilities are too far away from having loads of women fighters who are married to men who have nothing to do with the gym. I don't know if that applies to non-hetero couples.

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This is definitely a noted pattern among Thai women fighters. Part of it is that, as Kevin said, women don't have careers extending as late into their 20's as men do anyway. There's no "Lumpinee Champion Title" for women, so the road simply doesn't lead very far for a lot of women. .

 

One aspect of Muay Thai that interests me is that winning titles doesn't always directly correlate to supreme glory. For example, Somrak Khamsing never won a stadium title but is considered among the greatest nakmuays of all time. I remember reading one of your blogs that said to a similar effect that you don't care if you win belts as long as you get wins against the best fighters in the world. Perhaps it is not the regalia of Luminee that drives men further into their fighting careers, but a social condition which makes male success in Muay Thai more valuable than female success, both in terms of prestige and wealth. If all the major stadiums created female title but society placed the same importance on female Muay Thai as they currently do, I think the stadium titles would just play similar roles that the WPMF, IFMA, WBC, etc. titles currently do. Something very similar happens currently with the highest weight classes among male Lumpinee fighter. They're not viewed with the same prestige as the 135 and under weight classes.

 

 

I reckon the culture about dating is similar to Japan. While there is much greater leniency toward boys in Thailand when it comes to being sexually active, a top-tier or even very active male fighter is discouraged from having a girlfriend because it's seen as a distraction and deleterious to his "power." As a married woman, I can't tell you how many times the more gregarious men at the gym have outright told me not to have sex with my husband before a fight, because they think it will drain my power. If a boy is struggling in the ring, looking tired, the jokes about how he's masturbating too much or it's because of a girlfriend are rampant. My own trainer was something of a playboy in his youth but he tells his 15-year-old son, "you can have a girlfriend later, but now you fight." And it's the same with 14-year-old Phetjee Jaa and her 15-year-old brother Mawin: their dad/coach said the Thai equivalent to "no fuckin' way," regarding either of them dating. 

 

I saw a scientific article a few years ago that actually studied this bit of bro science by testing how sex or lack of sex changes testosterone in people. Long story short abstinence only has higher levels if a period of ~7 days is waited. Before and after the 7 day peak the levels were lower than the stable levels of the people who had regular sex.

 

 

Perhaps one of the reasons that the Tom/Dee relationships that Kevin mentioned are more prevalent among female fighters is that it's not seen as "real sex" between women - it's called having a "play friend" in Thai - and so it's not detrimental to training or the body and doesn't risk pregnancy; and because these relationships are largely regarded as temporary or phases, it also doesn't risk a woman's ultimate duty to become a wife and mother.

 

I'm a big fan of ancient history and I remember reading an ancient Pagan text which expressed the same idea. It was a father basically telling his son there is no problem with fooling around with men as long as he marries a woman and has children with her. I get the impression that the Abrahamic religions are largely responsible for the view of pure heterosexuality as "real" and everything else as this completely separate thing. Of course any traditionalist society will still have social pressures to encourage parenthood. 

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One aspect of Muay Thai that interests me is that winning titles doesn't always directly correlate to supreme glory. For example, Somrak Khamsing never won a stadium title but is considered among the greatest nakmuays of all time.

He didn't win a stadium title but he was the first Thai to win a gold medal at the Olympics, which could be perceived as a greater achievement than a stadium title(?). Not to mention the time period he won it in, which just propelled his fame. 

Though, Sudsakorn is quite famous and he was never a major stadium champion, so it doesn't directly correlate I agree.

 

Sorry for going off-topic OP.

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He didn't win a stadium title but he was the first Thai to win a gold medal at the Olympics, which could be perceived as a greater achievement than a stadium title(?). Not to mention the time period he won it in, which just propelled his fame. 

 

Not to go too far off topic, but I would say definitely the case. There are many, many Lumpinee titles and very few Olympic golds. Winning that gold made him a superstar and from what I've heard financially set for life. There is also something very alluring to Thais about western boxing victories. It proves Thai greatness on the international stage. Thai western boxing champions are very well regarded. I've heard that even a bronze medal for boxing in the Olympics changed a fighter's life.

Back to female Thai Muay Thai fighters, there is no achievement out there that really changes your future. There is just long term presence in the media and then not. It could be that some of the things that the IFMA is reaching for can change some of that - with international prestige at stake - I'm not sure though.

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