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A writer's journal - Muay Thai, My Wife and Thailand


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This is going to be a big experiment, but I thought to myself: Isn't this the place to do it? For those that don't know me I kind of keep a low profile. I'm the one holding the camera, the one doing the film editing, or the digital heavylifting so that Sylvie can keep blogging at her crazy rate, and still train and fight full time in Thailand. I'm Sylvie's husband Kevin. I'm 51, and have been living here with my beautiful, brilliant wife in Thailand as she pursues her dream. I do write occasionally for her site, a few articles under A Husband's Point of View, and occasionally I jump into the internet stream to press a point or two on an issue I feel is especially important, but mostly I'm very happy keeping to myself in all this, while I watch with admiration as Sylvie climbs to places nobody really has gone before.

But...I am a writer, and in all this time I too have fallen quite in love with the Muay Thai of Thailand. I get to express my thoughts all the time with Sylvie - we think and talk a lot about a number of dimensions of Muay Thai, everything from gender, community, technique, and most importantly it's future. But I don't really give myself permission to just flow in things, to write as I once really did, when I was younger. So, I thought that maybe this is a good space for that, a little corner of this forum where I can journal some of my more loosely connected thoughts, things that arise as I experience this incredible country and culture. Feel free to throw in comments if you like (a comment will automatically subscribe you to the thread, via email - you can all follow this thread by clicking "follow" in the upper right corner), but I'm just going to go ahead without much organization or even intent. You'll see from what follows I write in a unique, not easy to read voice, but hey, that's just me.

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7-21

sylvie is a silver thread. I can't tell you how many times I've seen her glimmer through the light-and-dark of gym spaces, spaces that cut with wide blades of light, young men smashing themselves against the darkness, building sweat. She is faster than all of them, like an element largely unobservable by Muay Thai instruments, a thin, little sliver of metallic ribbon that just cuts and cuts as it sews through the padwork, through the clinch grind, through the heave of diaphrammic desire for air. She is quicksilver. An illusion. It just doesn't stop, just like light doesn't stop. Nothing matters but a supreme arc of desire, an unspoken desire to become.

That light at Petchrungruang is incredible. Especially when everything is still, when the boys have long emptied out and gone off to school, and nobody really wants to come to early work in the morning. It comes through enormous slats that are made of the rooves of various levels. This, in Thailand, is tin art. It's a geometry of stabbing incandescence as solar rays cut and cut and cut in huge swathes. It is powerful. You know the nature of the sun in this. Its wisdom is never direct. You can never truly look into the sun, it is always at eclipse. The bag is pounding like a heartbeat. Thud, thud, thud, like an arrhythmia, doctors told her once that she has a hole in her heart, that exercise is a risk, that it can choke on itself. She used to have huge pains that would hit her there, that would cramp her right in the center of her being. She used to run to get aspirin when it happens. It doesn't happen very often anymore. Thud, thud, thud. It's a heartbeat of the gym. The way it knows that it is awake. The wooden post that is made of huge beams that look like they've been hewn for a movie set of the inside of a med-evil boat with oar's men, they shake. The entire space shakes. I used to hear these beats, these incredible thuds, when I would walk down the street up in Chiang Mai, on that little soi that we lived on, when she was early to training. You could hear the heartbeat of the gym right down the street. There is something fantastic about it, like a marriage of mechanism to the organic. Pounding out Spirit.

It's enormous. It's very hard to describe if you haven't been here. The way these thuddings of bags cover the whole country, boy after boy after boy, and sometimes a girl, in little makeshift gyms of hanging dust and leather, shake the earth. They have been pounding this way, pounding the Earth, as long as they have been tilling it for rice it seems. There is an incredible humility to it all. Just bodies. No technique. Technique doesn't mean here what it means in the west. Technique just percolates from all the thudding, like an alchemy of what is darkest, most pure. Just bodies. Intent.

It's difficult to grasp what the gambler's hand means. To take the gambler's hand. The gambler's hand, half open like a moon, grasps at nothing. It is curled, relaxed, it snatches at nothing. It is covered in darkness...until there are odds. Then it moves. It gestures to the disappearing trace of karma, that golden line that sparkles at the edge of bodies, at the edge of pounding away. The gambler's hand is very patient, like a fish in murky water. It is weightless, and then it snatches at chance. This is the hidden, undefined beauty behind the vast cloth and endeavor of Muay Thai. Each and every fighting body has the gambler's hand lightly brushing at its edge, feeling for the glimmer, the trace of karma, the impression of the divine as it somehow miraculously covers like a dew in beams the aperture of the work...staring at the sun. These are huge machines of effort, the agonistic transformation that comes through the clash with space, and every hand is a gambler's hand, feeling for the edge of the blessed.

The Blessed. This is the progeny of the Art. This is the thing that makes its appearance when things are ascending. It comes out of the cataclysm of the effort. It cannot be controlled or even summoned. It can only be stroked by the gambler's hand, as if quietly fanning a flame. This is what Muay Thai is about. And when the shimmer moves off the body that seemed to produce it, catching onto some other darker form, it often leaves the thing where it lived and even seemed to thrive: cold, inert, still-born. It feels capricious. But it isn't. All sorts of mythology arise to explain why it moved, guessing where it might fall again, but these are mythologies, stories. It is not capricious. The gambler's hand knows. The beauty comes from its arc, the way it collaborates with bodies that thud the heartbeats of the spaces. You have to take the wide-view. Muay Thai is enormous. It ascends from the earth and lights upon royal memory. It is a vast tapestry of effort, and the only thing to do is to clan together in its midst, to work in unisons, in walls, in fortified gyms, around the organs of the bags and pads as the dust flies up.

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7-21b

There is an intense feature of the Greek epic Iliad, in the telling of what heroism is, that illuminates how karma and performance plays out in the sheen of victory in Muay Thai. The telling of that epic, especially in the action scenes of war, is largely mechanistic. It is of bodyparts moving in conjunction in the theater of war, there is a kind of absence of consciousness, or a disassociation of consciousness that some have made much about. But, what I want to think about here is how the divine impresses itself on a moment, on the battlefield. It shows itself in a glimmer. There is the flash of the eyes that make you realize something divine is happening here, or how holy armor shines on a ridge, catching the light. You see the god out of the corner of your eye, it's not quite a glimpse. It's more a shadow...but a luminous shadow. It is cast from somewhere else, from beyond. But as it falls on a man, on a face, in the midst of epic endeavor, it is startling. It is transcendent. Not as an idea, but as a phenomena. It is oft repeated in these epics that men fight for fame. They fight these terrible wars to be sung by the bard. The body will pass and wither, but if you are sung you have attained a kind of immortality, in that the gods too are sung. You continue to exist in a string of sounds. It is the nature of fight culture, where the body is perishable, and used to exhaustion in agonistic strain that you have this sense of the glimmer, the impression of the divine, as it falls across the body in a moment of victory, or less so, in the sum of one's armor afterwards, the attempt to make an impression of that light. This is something that exists thousands of years apart in the festival fights, in the bug-air swarming in frantic clouds under hanging bare bulbs above rings, as two strive and beat each other, and the gambler's hand is in the air. This is what people may not understand. It is a huge orchestration, a communal ascendency, guided by the gambler's hand, summoning the same sheen that fell across Achilles's arms, the eyes that blazed fire. But whereas those incandescences are reified and frozen into sounds and page-marks, these very same phenomena are summoned fight after fight, ring after ring, odds after odds. It is the pulsebeat of the recreation of the divine, causing it to shine on the body. 

And after the victor strides out of the ring, pushing through the pressing crowd. People reach out to touch it.

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Looking forward to reading more Kevin! I have always thought that after all this time getting to know Sylvie through her blogs it feels a bit strange that we don't hear too much from you.

 

Yeah, for me it is really just the Sylvie show. What she is saying and doing is so incredible and unique I don't want to mix it with my voice. I also am a behind the scenes kinda guy, and enjoy the light shining on others.

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7-24

The video just doesn't show it. Video has a way of flattening some kinds of reality, taking the air and urgency out, making it look like a mosaic, just tiles of dimension moving about. But that last fight was a war. There is something about Grand Boxing Stadium that is very "Fight Club". It's in this big airplane hanger of a space, and all the action is pushed to one end in the back where the ring is. There are folding chairs loosely about on one side and the ceiling is very high, but on one side is a very cramped and stack small "stands" of rising benches which is where all the Thai gamblers crowd in. This is a small venue, but that little one side is everything. Not more than 30 perhaps, but this makes up the Greek Chorus of the Tragedy that is playing out in the ring. I say "Tragedy" in the deepest sense here. Not: a sad story, but a drama that seeks to invoke what is most noble, raw and unnameable in all of us. Not every fight ascends to this level, maybe only a few, a handful, but that is what it is about. In Greek Tragedy the Chorus played a very specific role. It triangulates the action for the audience, it symbolizes, represents, expresses what is human in the face of the divine (and mundane). It performs humanity, juxtaposed, right next to the action, commenting on and living in connection to the action. It allows a neutral audience (objectivity), to see the action, and its consequence side by side. This side of the ring, where all the gamblers sit, is that Chorus. This is why gambling is so important to Muay Thai, from the smallest festival fight in a field to the huge National Stadiums. It creates a triangle. People decry that the gamblers have too much impact on the sport - and with high level mafia surely there are serious distortions - but there at the ring the gamblers are the second voice of the fight, they make it clear through all their bias.

And they were going off in this fight. Sylvie's opponent came with ill-intentions in such a beautiful way. I was just amazed by her. You can't see it in the film but she just had incredible spirit of violence about her. You don't always get that in a Thai opponent. Many times it is just about the art, making the art show under duress. That is a significant way in which female Thai fighters fight to win. If you can show the art when inflicted, if you can bring poise and balance, you generally win. But here, Nong Naen, she was fighting another way. Everything about her was about not being intimidated. It was the dignity of space. Every time she got hit, or bettered, she would escalate. Perhaps it the "Tom" sense of identity she was fighting from, but this fight got to a place where it was "who is going to back down". A lot of her elbows were also lost in the film. She let loose over and over. From inside clinch, on approach, at a variety of angles. They were just sudden spasms of violence.

What did I feel here? I'm ringside, trying to keep the camera steady for the Live Feed, and my hand is bloody shaking. I'm poking the camera through the ropes so the action does not get blocked, and the default zoom makes all the action very unsteady, squeezed into a tight box. I'm feeling this rush of "bring it bitch" coming at Sylvie in waves, and I'm sensing Sylvie feeding on it, growing bigger in her stance, her shoulders starting to roll, like when she gets serious. And Sylvie just starts pounding the space. The gamblers are on the opposite side of the ring, they are just a cloud of hands and faces and voices, totally incoherent, pulling mostly for the Thai it seems. The ref keeps jumping in to break the clinch every time Sylvie gets an advantage, he's protecting the Thai girl, perhaps unconsciously. Sylvie keeps slamming the space. That's her thing. She's not smashing the opponent, she's smashing the space between them, the force field that defensive Thai fighting is really good at generating, the small bubble of air that allows the fighter to breathe and recover. She just keep smashing it. And then the opponent starts to run. This is the sign that the fight has changed. It's the only tactic left once that air barrier is breached, and you can't keep it up. You go into full retreat and play a game of "catch me if you can". This does not work in many parts of the world, but in Thailand if you can expose your opponent as off balance, or charging out of control, a little bit foolish, you become the puppet master. And Sylvie has to chase. She has to catch and punish her. And she does.

What am I feeling? This fight was "Fight Club". We did not know this opponent, we had not heard of her when the fight was arranged. When she was sitting there a few hours before the fight, on a bench just 10 feet from us, and took off her sweatshirt she looked small. "Oh no, they've paired Sylvie with someone small". This hasn't happened for very long time, and even then it was rare - Sylvie's a 100 lb fighter, maybe out of her 140+ fights in Thailand she's faced 5 opponents who are smaller. Instead Sylvie is ever fighting opponents with significant weight on her, and only back when she fought for Frances and the Giatbundit Gym were there a couple of "bad" matchups, completely beyond our control, and then one arranged by Phetjee Jaa's father who was always on the search for the con and easy money. But these spare examples always haunt, there is that fear when an opponent is unknown. She looked kind of frail and sweet, not a lot of muscle in her arms. But then when she stepped into her shorts I saw how strong she was, maybe a kilo or so in advantage. And when she started to move in the ring, she was something else. It was total Fight Club, just a throw down.

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7-25

Scene 1: Today we drove over to Rambaa's gym after Sylvie's morning training, hoping to start the first day of an intensive clinch regime with him designed to get Sylvie to the next level. Better balance, better, faster recovery, an overall increase in reaction time - the small things that matter in clinch. All had been agreed upon last week but when we got there two Thai boys told Sylvie that Rambaa was in Japan. Clearly lines got crossed and whatever we thought was happening wasn't happening. This is pretty common in Thailand. Scene 2: Sylvie's sitting on the bench wrapped and ready for her gloves, her fight is up soon. When the gloves come they are incredible...as in not credible in the least. Two soaking leather socks with absolutely no structure to them. Big, wide, floppy gloves, like clown shoes. We remember these gloves, Sylvie broke her hand in gloves like these at this stadium a year ago, these are absolutely beat upon gloves. There are some newer gloves around, but they are all blue corner gloves. It will have to be these. So the plan is to just lace up, tie down, and then adhesive tap these gloves around the wrists. Like you are just binding loose leather to your skin. This is Thailand too. You just take what is there and pound in the ring, and think about ways around it later. Everything is Macgyvered in Thailand.

You'd think this is a big complaint, but it's just more of the beauty of the makeshift here. Something about the transposability of every element makes the Eternal show through, as if through the cracks. Atoms are not locked into place by unbendable Laws of physics instead every communication and execution is up for grabs. You're dancing between ice-flows, and it is beautiful.

This is not to say that there are not real forces and powers to deal with. There are. These are like forcefields of human aura. One is always moving through or towards a gravitation of personality, of those around which coalesce the material of things - events. Events cannot happen without these persona, these gravities. These are planetary principles. The art of Gravity. 

The weather is so flat. There is heat and humidity spread in an equality, a breeze running up along the motorbike's momentum. We are buzzing in the day's light, the concrete of shops and choked combustion engines. Sylvie weaves like a ribbon.

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7-24

 I'm feeling this rush of "bring it bitch" coming at Sylvie in waves, and I'm sensing Sylvie feeding on it, growing bigger in her stance, her shoulders starting to roll, like when she gets serious... It was total Fight Club, just a throw down.

So intense! I gotta watch that fight now!

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7-29

Tomorrow we are taking the day "off" to drive up to Bangkok. I love these drives with Sylvie and the dog. For me they are big breaks from the stultifying time I spend in front of the keyboard. We get to stop at Amazon coffee and get something nice for the road, and then the ribbon of concrete and asphalt just pulls the car forward while morlam music croons with the air-conditioner hum. These hours in the car are a kind of hermetic, sarcophagus, time travel for me. We enter in the car in some part of Thailand, and open the door to find another part of Thailand, something so different from where we were. And this time the planned for day is simply incredible. Sylvie's facing the best fighter in the world at 48 kg and under for the 4th time in 2 weeks time and I felt that we just needed something extra in her training, because this is mental challenge, so we decided that a visit to Dieselnoi (who is not always available) would be a huge injection of inspiration and correction that would really give Sylvie a push. She's been drilling herself in Dieselnoi's unique knee style for the two months that have passed since she first trained with him, and had a few knockouts because of it. Amazingly, Dieselnoi himself through some magical connection seemed to be thinking the same thing, and out of the blue wrote to Sylvie telling her to come and train with him before any fight because training with him would make her strong. This is just insane. To have Sylvie be embraced like this - and he was incredible with her the first time she trained with him - is mind-boggling. While internet voices at times try to have at it with Sylvie, people who actually get in the ring with her, train her, put their arms around her. And for the greatest Muay Khao fighter in history to do this while Sylvie is working endlessly on unlocking the Muay Khao fighting style, is like a blessing from the king, the King of Knees.

So, because trips like this are expensive we try to train (and possibly film) more than one session when we drive. So I'm like: how about Karuhat? Karuhat is Sylvie's Spirit Animal in Muay Thai. She met him through Kaensak when Kaensak was visiting Thailand and cornered for her, bringing Karuhat along. Frankly, we had no idea who he was at all. A living legend, and no idea at all. He's small (only a little larger than Sylvie), has a kind of sweet smile, and a twinkle in his eye like he might like playing practical jokes. There is just something about Karuhat that triggers Sylvie. He has a certain kind of swagger in the ring, a roll of the shoulders, the corner of his mouth upturned in a smirk, his eyes full of light. Sylvie literally wants to BE Karuhat. Like, no joke. She doesn't want to fight like him, or adopt some qualities. She wants to become Karuhat in the ring. When you see her impersonate him, it's hilarious. But beyond that, he somehow unlocks the nak leng quality for her that is essential to the complete Muay Thai masculinity. So, unbelieveably, after she trains with Dieselnoi tomorrow, we are going to drive over to Chatchai's gym and she'll spend an hour or so with Karuhat. She's trained with Karuhat once, and it was just a beautiful hour of instructional sparring, him moving her through his way around the ring, like being taught to dance by following the lead of a master dancer.

And then, out of the blue, two time Lumpinee Champion Hippy Singmanee contacted Sylvie. She had left a message for him about a month ago and somehow he only got it today. He's like: So you want to come and train with me? And Sylvie's like: Yes! So if all goes right...and it seldom does in Thailand, we'll end the day of Holy Mountain training with an hour with Hippy, shooting for Nak Muay Nation.

It's an unspeakable day. And it doesn't matter if it even works out. Training with any one of these masters, tremendous fighters in their day, would be a lifetime honor. That Sylvie aims to be training with both Dieselnoi and Karuhat (first a war machine, then a wizard-trickster) a second time is an unbelieveable opportunity. Neither fighter has a gym. Neither are easy to find. Both are geniuses sui generis. That Hippy becomes a hat trick of greatness is almost too much. But this is what I think. Not only is Sylvie doing things that have never been done before in the ring, by western man or woman, and not only is she relentlessly training in the gym like has never been done before, she by virtue of her growing Thai, the way that Muay Thai legends generally respond to her, and just the luck of how things have worked out (which is more than luck, it's the support that so many have extended), she is regularly coming in touch with an entire history of Muay Thai greatness, many of whom are seldom trained with - across gym spaces, across Thai geography. It used to be, and perhaps it still is the case, that if you trained with a single, illustrious name from Thailand's past, you were blessed. There are hundreds and indeed thousands of very fine instructors in Thailand who did not reach the pinnacles of achievement, and in fact, some of Sylvie's very best and informative teachers are unknown Thai krus of this kind. But, coming in touch with the fighters of this other kind, those that scaled very high, does something to you as a fighter I think. There is a kind of transmission that occurs when fighters meet fighters.

As I'm standing outside of the ring, leaning on the ropes with camera in hand, and smiling heavily at the opportunity given to Sylvie, seeing her move through the ring space with someone who has made that ring so much their home, since childhood, and hawking every single detail, not wanting to miss anything that is being said, or is happening, there is something I just can't see. Like astronomers who can merely "detect" a star or astronomical body because of its gravitational pull, but not see its light, I can just see the slope of this effect between them. They I think see in her something uncommon, something only they can see because of who they are, beyond the fact that she is a woman (but also because of the fact she is a woman). And she can see into them, something only she can see, because of her 600+ rounds in the fight ring, and her grit in the gym. There is a dialogue between them that is so far below words, it is completely inaudible like a low frequency whale call, designed to travel great distances, across oceans. For all that is visible around Sylvie, a near cacophonous stream of videos, updates, blog posts and endless fight numbers, what it is really about are these long-wave invisible, inaudible things. These deeper communications that leave an imprint, not only on her, but on Muay Thai. We are all too close to see it. I certainly am too close. But no person in history has exposed themselves to this much intensive learning in Thailand, the sheer breadth, quality and variety of experiences, in so short a time. Out of love she has pressed herself right up against the bonfire edge and let its heat and light burn into her, to alter her. It really remains to be seen what the transformation is, the kind of fighter she can become (which really means the kind of person she can become). But there is serious communication and transmission going on.

This really is incalculable.

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7-29

Sylvie and Loma are gonna fight again! I'm more excited for this than McGregor vs Diaz! Also today I learned what cacophonous means  :laugh:

 

Excellent post Kevin, reading that made me feel bad for people who don't know Sylvie's incredible story. Hollywood really ought to make a movie about her one day.

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7-31

Dieseloi. Everything worked out yesterday, Sylvie was able to take 3 privates with 3 all-time legends, all in the space of a handful of hours. Pretty insane, slugging it out in Bangkok traffic, trying to get to various gyms across the sprawling city. But for me, everything was Dieselnoi. Karuhat...Hippy, incredible. Karuhat alone is such a pinnacle fighter, nobody moves or thinks like him. It's ridiculous. But every time I see Dieselnoi (and this is the second time he has trained Sylvie), I'm just slammed by the kind of human being he is. YouTube watchers, and other distant experts like to opine about how he was only dominant because of his height. It's not his height. He would have been what he was if he was 4'6". There is just nothing like him, as a man. How can I describe this?

We've been here 4+ years now, and met so many interesting Muay Thai men. And more than our share of elite former (and current) fighters. A lot of them have vast a generosity of heart, or a sweet boyishness carefully preserved. Some are sad, beat down by the churning forces of Muay Thai economics, or hierarchies that do not always afford the dignities that were won in the ring. Some have unfortunately been reduced by drug use, or pickled and dazed by alcohol. A very rare few have become egregiously bitter and brittle, authoritarians in their imaginary kingdom or fiefdom. All of them, and I do mean all of them, are remarkable men. If you love Muay Thai, you love the men who have lived through Muay Thai, and what Muay Thai has made of them, one way or another. But none of them are like Dieselnoi. None.

When you watch Dieselnoi instruct, moving around the ring, there is an intangible quality about him, something like an electricity. But it is not an electricity of his freedom, his liberty of movement, a sparking of something of grace or memorized muscular accomplishment. It's like an electricity that is actively shocking him. It is stinging him, and he just jolts forward and into the beautiful forms that keep him, with a savageness that comes straight out of that shock. It's how he trained, it's how he fought. His height just made him choose a certain set of strategies and tactics, but this shock, this painful jolt is where it all comes from. It's his engine. And it's like the starter is being turned over and over, while the engine is still running.

I tried to talk to Sylvie about it, because I could see that he wants this same thing in her. Some might call it a certain killer instinct, but it isn't an instinct. I called it ultraviolence yesterday. There is what I have to call a desperation to Dieselnoi's Muay Thai. It isn't the desperation of weakness or of self-preservation. It's the desperation of pain, and also I think of love. I think Muay Thai has hurt Dieselnoi. With uncommon openness he sat on the ring the first time he trained Sylvie and he showed her the scars on his arm where he tried to kill himself, he said out of the absolute pain of not having anyone who would fight him once he became undefeatable. He said when his arm was raised in victory, near that time, he knew that meant no more fights. Desperation. It had to be more than this, but Muay Thai is woven in a certain line of pain. Maybe he told this to Sylvie because he saw the scars on her own arm, from so long ago, when she was a sadder person. Perhaps he is just open about that time in his life, and he would tell anyone now. But the desperation, the incredible pain out of which all of it is born, and beautifully born, is still alive, in fact it is as alive as ever. When he grabs the bag he just rips forward with violence, unspeakable desperate violence. When he grabs Sylvie in the clinch, and starts to move into attack he is shaking her: "Wake up!" Sparking. Let the violence spark violence. Fight at this level. Train at this level.

There are certain things in this world that hurt. And Muay Thai hurts many people, not always in a good way. But when Dieselnoi took that burning ember in his hand, when it was forced into his hand, he squeezed it. And he has never stopped squeezing it. It's like he had no choice. When something is so hot, so hot that it sears the flesh right off, you either have to fling it away right away, or just clench down. That's what his Muay Thai is like to me. Like a man who clenches down on it with all his might. And he keeps it warm and burning right there in his hand.

There is also something about how he trains Sylvie that stuns me. He is not only very generous, open and kind. I can feel a certain communication, a connection between the desperate. There are so many ways to connect to Muay Thai. It is a tremendous art and heritage. It is full culture of becoming, a poem with infinite verses, a home with a thousand doors. But those that connect to it with desperation I think are few. I don't mean the desperation of poverty, or the must of life - these are their own intense road. It's a desperation of pain. For some incredible reason I feel that Dieselnoi sees Sylvie's desperation somehow, the thing beneath all the other very real and largely noble motivations that move her. He sees the desperation and he wants her to harness it, express it, give it form. Wake up.

He said to her: "You are strong. BE strong." Referring to the way she stands in the clinch strong up top, but somehow loose in the rest of her body, not on her toes. Every point of contact for Dieselnoi is a point of engagement. "Do not bring your weapons out" he says. "Wait." And then unleash. And you unleash with relentless wave upon wave of perfect, maddening form, incising the air, shredding the space that is trying to keep you. Even though you waited, you now do so with an urgency. You may never have a moment like this again. Dieselnoi's Muay Thai is a painful, unparalleled expression of an internal assault, arched up and out toward an absolute manifestation. It blooms and blooms like a reddening, spike-ridden flower in the soil of Thailand. I've never met anyone like him, in or out of Muay Thai. He is possessed by his art, by whatever desperation that the love of it engenders. What a man.

It's hard to say any of this, to speak about the electricity that shocks within, the ultraviolence that is put on anything in front of it, without in the end focusing on his huge heart, the way he opens himself up, and extends his stork reach to surround and include. There is something movingly protective about him. I wish there were words for this, but there is such a nurturing sense in which he approaches Sylvie, moving her towards a completion. In Thailand everything is clannish. Families, gyms, promotions, everything is overlapping clans, people bonded together in a protective circle. Dieselnoi is a living circle in himself, somehow. A circle of Muay Thai.

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8-1a

Today Sylvie went to go see Rambaa. He has a little gym next to Sor. Klinmee, about 15 minutes on the motorbike from Petchrungruang, and Sylvie has filmed a Nak Muay Nation private with him. The idea was to do something very concentrated with him, in preparation for the Loma fight. This is our way. Anytime it feels like there is potential for a shift in development we look for something new, a different way of doing things, something to trigger growth. In this case Rambaa seemed a great opportunity for clinch. He's "around" Sylvie's size in frame, though surely at least 10-12 kgs bigger, and vastly superior in technique. What we really were hoping for is that he'd just toss Sylvie around for 45 minutes and get her acclimated to falling, building up tolerances and awareness for tipping points, something Loma is very good at in the clinch. We wanted to do this for 10 days leading up to the fight and see what came of it, just adding it on top of her other training.

What happened was something entirely different. And it was incredible. Incredible and horrible. Rambaa locked up with Sylvie and really felt how strong she was physically and clinched for a short time with her, but then he just backed off and started brutalizing her legs. No matter the distance Sylvie took he would just whack her legs. When back in the clinch he would knee her thighs from every angle, and when there was any space he would more or less bludgeon/slap her at will, stinging her over and over. It was a complete beatdown, from the waist down. He was trying to make her quit. And when Sylvie instinctively backed off he would just escalate, tagging her over and over until she crumpled over. She has an upper limit pain tolerance and he was pushing her way past it. But more than this, he was beating her down emotionally, never letting her "back out" into a "time out". There was very little clinch going on (and when they did clinch he would crush her in a lock).

Sylvie would stand up again, straighten herself, and resolve herself to attack. She would teep, teep and whack his legs, and he would come back harder, punishing any audacious attack. It was basically damned if you do, damned if you don't. You choose. But Sylvie kept steeling herself, straightening herself, fighting for clinch proximity, and on and on it went, Sylvie crumpling, Sylvie getting up. It was intense. I could tell he was trying to make her quit, maybe make her quit the whole idea of doing this for 10 days, but he was doing something else. You want to play with the big boys? This is what it is.

My guess is that this is going to go like this for 3 days, and if Sylvie survives it the rest of the work might look different. But there really is the chance that this could go on like this for 10 days, right up to the fight. She said she could feel all the ways in which she responded that were weak. Dieselnoi complained that she had weakness in the clinch below, what Sylvie now calls "fish body", when changing position. She said she could feel that. For about 45 seconds she managed to summon "Karuhat" fight energy, and this seemed to change the dynamic for a moment, but he then beat that out of her. I asked her what she thought Rambaa wanted, and she said: "the energy". I'll tell you, I've watched a lot of training in Thailand, I've never seen anything like this. Nothing was calculated to damage her, but it was about delivering a lot of pain. And it never stopped. Well...it did stop for about a minute, after about 20 minutes of onslaught, and Rambaa explained to her that he's waiting for her leg to land, and as soon as it touches ground he whacks it. It helped a tiny bit with the last ten minutes, but this was really more of a test of her mind and ultimately her heart, putting it through fire. There is no way Sylvie makes it through this 6 months ago. She has grown that much. She has changed that much.

Rambaa himself is such a light person, full of laughter, a huge smile. But his mascot animal is the bee. It was like being stung by a bee 1,000s of times, in the journey to become immune to bee poison, and to learn perhaps how to be a bee yourself. Sylvie says: This is what happens when I tell him that I've lost to this person 3 times. No more bullshit.

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8-1b

The thing that solidified Sylvie and me was language. From the very beginning it was words. I met her in college - I was returning late in life - and she was working in the gym, passing out equipment in the cage. She was reading a fat book of 17th century drama, bored out of her mind, and somehow through repeated and initially very short conversations I let it be known that I was attempting an experimental translation of the German poet Holderlin, who himself had attempted his own experimental translations from Ancient Greek. I was enthralled by Ancient Greek, and coming in touch with Holderlin (perhaps a mild schizophrenic, and Romantic poet) was my way of working my way towards the Greek itself. Sometimes you don't move towards the thing of study, but you move towards something else which is very close to that thing. You see it pass through, distorted, as if through a crystal prism, and you uncover elements that are otherwise unseen from our place and time. None of us are Ancient Greeks. The problem was, I knew no German, though I was studying Ancient Greek. Instead I had struggled through this poem ("Mnemosyne") with a dictionary for hours and for months, honing the very precise translation that treated words like literalisms, atoms like bricks of construction. I was attempting to translate Holderlin how Holderlin had translated Greek...foreignly. So I asked her if she would take a look at my translation...as she is fluent in German...and the rest is history.

Well, not so much history, as the initiation of an incandescent start point. As it turns out, and readers here you already know what I mean, I write in an unusual fashion. Too many commas, too much dependency on cadence and rhythm - I write favoring delays, repetitions. These are fundamentally flaws that given enough time and will become one's own style, and as style, become the way in which one sees the world, sings the world. What was bizarre to me was that Sylvie wrote very much like me. She not only used commas almost musically, she switched tenses without accident so much as with intension [sic], much as I seemed to. It was like looking in a mirror, but within words. I didn't know what to make of this, other than to surmise that somehow deep in the weave of who we are, we are made of the same stuff. Our coming together came out of that.

There's a long story, something I'll not repeat here, but it's enough to say that when she took my (unpublished) experimental novel with her to Germany, my long-coded words therein somehow spoke to her too, and when she returned a few weeks later we were in a very different place. We were...together. And have been together since.

Throughout all this none of it could be imagined. There were glimpses of course, threads of gold you could trace backwards in time from now til then and see what the staircase was built from, but there was not vantage point then where you could even imagine what this is, and what it has become. There was one small thing, a keyhole of light, a passage from a favorite play that we read to each other then, which described an Amazon Queen as she attempted to scale a cliff face she had fallen from, on her horse, that echos forward in time from then all the way up til here. The author von Kleist had somehow presaged something in Sylvie I even now only glimpse, in his work "Penthesilea". I thought I was Achilles then, and she...words. But I didn't even know what was inside her.

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8-2

I'd love in this journal to paint several pictures of Pattaya. It's a city we never thought we would ever be in, even for a minute. We imagined it to be a kind of older, rundown Phuket, full of tourists, sex bars, dirty beaches. Even when we pulled down Pattaya Klang (a main, center road of the city), we were gritting our teeth. It was incredibly urban, loud with motorbikes, dirty concrete and glass, in fact it felt pretty industrial. But somehow we have fallen in love with it. Well, not really with "it", but with living here. There are no real fights to be had here for Sylvie, almost no opponents, and the main stadium that gives endless fights to westerners no matter their skill level, MAX, does not allow women to fight. But midst the grime of beach tourism there are incredible pockets, and as you move away from those narrow centers, back into the town, it becomes very, very Thai. English is not spoken on the sidestreets or in shops, neighborhoods resemble those of any town in Thailand, and the whole city hums.

Mostly though its the relationships Sylvie has made with families and gyms in the Muay Thai community. Petchrungruang is wonderful, an expression of a man (Pi Nu), his family, and all the Muay Thai that has gathered there, bubbling up out of the gym through the people that are part of the extended family. Small family gyms like this are like coral reefs. Their structure and pulse draws others from the community - gamblers, trainers, ex-fighters, kids, parents, and those that really resonate with the values of the gym remain as part of the fabric of it. Others pass through, return, pass through, and still others are only seldom seen. There is an aura of people who create the Muay Thai of Petchrungruang.

But it is more than this, Petchrungruang has relationships with Sor. Klinmee (Sudsakorn Gym), it is a kind of cousin gym, and Sor. Klinmee has them with Rambaa's gym, so there is a kind of loose community of gyms that are more or less in concert. It's allowed Sylvie to piece together a program of work (and relations) that is really extensive. Sylvie kind of trains across Pattaya, scooting around on her motorbike. And this isn't even to mention the benefaction of Sifu McInnes of WKO, our original gym here. Sifu has been really very generous with Sylvie, as has Pi Mutt who has been holding for her for the last year. Beneath everything there is a network here of Muay Thai. It isn't always stable, and there are shifts within it, but Sylvie has somehow worked her way into a fabric of local Muay Thai, without really fighting here, which is a little amazing.

So our world consists of the apartment, where I usually am working on things digital, and the nodes of several gyms and families that hold together. All of it works like a solar system of planets, each with their gravities, each with their orbits. With the sun of Pattaya Muay Thai burning.

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Good luck Sylvie! The training sounds very intense. Remember the words of Ali, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. 

 

Also glad to know I am among fellow language nerds  :lol: Personally I didn't really enjoy German class. I liked that I was legitimately learning it and starting to think in German, mostly because of the similarities with English I think, but we very quickly arrived at the point where the grammar was done and the class was basically memorize a new 80 or so words a week.

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8-3

Many things we think are new, or that we discover in Muay Thai are actually old. There is a sense in which the past of the art feels like it has 100s of buried techniques, things that have fallen out of favor because of the sport, or aesthetics, or because the line of teachers and schools which may have taught them have just died out. But today Rambaa M16, who was a pretty unconventional fighter, showed Sylvie a technique that we had never seen before. He was just nonchalantly going through all the elbows you can do, the usual set, and then he added another one. Then he dropped the bomb when asked who had taught him this, he said he invented it himself. I'll leave the elbow up to Sylvie to share, it's deceptively simple, in fact so much so that it feels shocking that there even could be such a simple elbow that wasn't commonly known - but there it was staring us in the face, an elbow thrown like no other. And what was even more interesting is that it fits so perfectly into context: clinch. It's like wandering in the shadow-dappled woods and seeing all the generic species you've come to expect flitting and hopping around, almost banally, and then out walks a new species. You have to rub your eyes. What? Perhaps this elbows comes from long ago, and it only resurfaced with Rambaa out of accidents of forgotten transmission. Perhaps indeed he did invent it, as he says, because he is a small fighter, and it was part of his ingenuity. He says there is video of him using it in fights to knock people out. He says he has taught it to people but nobody he knows has used it in a fight other than him. But there is something just internally brilliant about the event, that an elbow can just come out of nowhere, sneak into existence, and that it's creator, Rambaa, thinks nothing of it. All the elbows are the same, he says, just very little differences, "nit noi" pinching his figures close together. This is what is beautiful about Muay Thai in Thailand. Here we are in a little sun-baked alley, with no noteable traffic other than just those of the neighborhood, most of whom are probably related to each other in one way or another. Lazy dogs fall over in the sun, in the middle of the soi as if drunk, there are huge speed bumps of concrete, as if anyone would speed through here. We are with a legendary fighter who has opened his gym not long ago, a ring, a cage, canvases emblazoned with his trademark stinging bee. Nobody really comes to this gym, other than a few Thai boys. And he is training Sylvie almost as a lark. He's given us no price for these daily beatdowns and instructions, it's just part of a diversion of what 11 am might hold. And out of his pocket rolls a nugget of gold. Not because this is some mysterious technique that will unstoppably win fights. Not because it's soooo cool (and it is). But because it just comes out of the life of a fighter, a fighter raised in and through Muay Thai, so thoroughly, so inescapably, that new Muay Thai just creates itself. Not out of any purposive: "wouldn't that be interesting?" exploration, but out of the only thing that genuinely grows a combat art, actual fights. This elbow was born humbly out of clinch positions, real and repeated agonstic clashes over and over, since childhood, performed in a program of tens of thousands of bodies. It was born or reborn out of Rambaa.

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7-29

Tomorrow we are taking the day "off" to drive up to Bangkok. I love these drives with Sylvie and the dog. For me they are big breaks from the stultifying time I spend in front of the keyboard. We get to stop at Amazon coffee and get something nice for the road, and then the ribbon of concrete and asphalt just pulls the car forward while morlam music croons with the air-conditioner hum. These hours in the car are a kind of hermetic, sarcophagus, time travel for me. We enter in the car in some part of Thailand, and open the door to find another part of Thailand, something so different from where we were. And this time the planned for day is simply incredible. Sylvie's facing the best fighter in the world at 48 kg and under for the 4th time in 2 weeks time and I felt that we just needed something extra in her training, because this is mental challenge, so we decided that a visit to Dieselnoi (who is not always available) would be a huge injection of inspiration and correction that would really give Sylvie a push. She's been drilling herself in Dieselnoi's unique knee style for the two months that have passed since she first trained with him, and had a few knockouts because of it. Amazingly, Dieselnoi himself through some magical connection seemed to be thinking the same thing, and out of the blue wrote to Sylvie telling her to come and train with him before any fight because training with him would make her strong. This is just insane. To have Sylvie be embraced like this - and he was incredible with her the first time she trained with him - is mind-boggling. While internet voices at times try to have at it with Sylvie, people who actually get in the ring with her, train her, put their arms around her. And for the greatest Muay Khao fighter in history to do this while Sylvie is working endlessly on unlocking the Muay Khao fighting style, is like a blessing from the king, the King of Knees.

So, because trips like this are expensive we try to train (and possibly film) more than one session when we drive. So I'm like: how about Karuhat? Karuhat is Sylvie's Spirit Animal in Muay Thai. She met him through Kaensak when Kaensak was visiting Thailand and cornered for her, bringing Karuhat along. Frankly, we had no idea who he was at all. A living legend, and no idea at all. He's small (only a little larger than Sylvie), has a kind of sweet smile, and a twinkle in his eye like he might like playing practical jokes. There is just something about Karuhat that triggers Sylvie. He has a certain kind of swagger in the ring, a roll of the shoulders, the corner of his mouth upturned in a smirk, his eyes full of light. Sylvie literally wants to BE Karuhat. Like, no joke. She doesn't want to fight like him, or adopt some qualities. She wants to become Karuhat in the ring. When you see her impersonate him, it's hilarious. But beyond that, he somehow unlocks the nak leng quality for her that is essential to the complete Muay Thai masculinity. So, unbelieveably, after she trains with Dieselnoi tomorrow, we are going to drive over to Chatchai's gym and she'll spend an hour or so with Karuhat. She's trained with Karuhat once, and it was just a beautiful hour of instructional sparring, him moving her through his way around the ring, like being taught to dance by following the lead of a master dancer.

And then, out of the blue, two time Lumpinee Champion Hippy Singmanee contacted Sylvie. She had left a message for him about a month ago and somehow he only got it today. He's like: So you want to come and train with me? And Sylvie's like: Yes! So if all goes right...and it seldom does in Thailand, we'll end the day of Holy Mountain training with an hour with Hippy, shooting for Nak Muay Nation.

It's an unspeakable day. And it doesn't matter if it even works out. Training with any one of these masters, tremendous fighters in their day, would be a lifetime honor. That Sylvie aims to be training with both Dieselnoi and Karuhat (first a war machine, then a wizard-trickster) a second time is an unbelieveable opportunity. Neither fighter has a gym. Neither are easy to find. Both are geniuses sui generis. That Hippy becomes a hat trick of greatness is almost too much. But this is what I think. Not only is Sylvie doing things that have never been done before in the ring, by western man or woman, and not only is she relentlessly training in the gym like has never been done before, she by virtue of her growing Thai, the way that Muay Thai legends generally respond to her, and just the luck of how things have worked out (which is more than luck, it's the support that so many have extended), she is regularly coming in touch with an entire history of Muay Thai greatness, many of whom are seldom trained with - across gym spaces, across Thai geography. It used to be, and perhaps it still is the case, that if you trained with a single, illustrious name from Thailand's past, you were blessed. There are hundreds and indeed thousands of very fine instructors in Thailand who did not reach the pinnacles of achievement, and in fact, some of Sylvie's very best and informative teachers are unknown Thai krus of this kind. But, coming in touch with the fighters of this other kind, those that scaled very high, does something to you as a fighter I think. There is a kind of transmission that occurs when fighters meet fighters.

As I'm standing outside of the ring, leaning on the ropes with camera in hand, and smiling heavily at the opportunity given to Sylvie, seeing her move through the ring space with someone who has made that ring so much their home, since childhood, and hawking every single detail, not wanting to miss anything that is being said, or is happening, there is something I just can't see. Like astronomers who can merely "detect" a star or astronomical body because of its gravitational pull, but not see its light, I can just see the slope of this effect between them. They I think see in her something uncommon, something only they can see because of who they are, beyond the fact that she is a woman (but also because of the fact she is a woman). And she can see into them, something only she can see, because of her 600+ rounds in the fight ring, and her grit in the gym. There is a dialogue between them that is so far below words, it is completely inaudible like a low frequency whale call, designed to travel great distances, across oceans. For all that is visible around Sylvie, a near cacophonous stream of videos, updates, blog posts and endless fight numbers, what it is really about are these long-wave invisible, inaudible things. These deeper communications that leave an imprint, not only on her, but on Muay Thai. We are all too close to see it. I certainly am too close. But no person in history has exposed themselves to this much intensive learning in Thailand, the sheer breadth, quality and variety of experiences, in so short a time. Out of love she has pressed herself right up against the bonfire edge and let its heat and light burn into her, to alter her. It really remains to be seen what the transformation is, the kind of fighter she can become (which really means the kind of person she can become). But there is serious communication and transmission going on.

This really is incalculable.

Crazy inspiring.

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7-31

Dieseloi. Everything worked out yesterday, Sylvie was able to take 3 privates with 3 all-time legends, all in the space of a handful of hours. Pretty insane, slugging it out in Bangkok traffic, trying to get to various gyms across the sprawling city. But for me, everything was Dieselnoi. Karuhat...Hippy, incredible. Karuhat alone is such a pinnacle fighter, nobody moves or thinks like him. It's ridiculous. But every time I see Dieselnoi (and this is the second time he has trained Sylvie), I'm just slammed by the kind of human being he is. YouTube watchers, and other distant experts like to opine about how he was only dominant because of his height. It's not his height. He would have been what he was if he was 4'6". There is just nothing like him, as a man. How can I describe this?

We've been here 4+ years now, and met so many interesting Muay Thai men. And more than our share of elite former (and current) fighters. A lot of them have vast a generosity of heart, or a sweet boyishness carefully preserved. Some are sad, beat down by the churning forces of Muay Thai economics, or hierarchies that do not always afford the dignities that were won in the ring. Some have unfortunately been reduced by drug use, or pickled and dazed by alcohol. A very rare few have become egregiously bitter and brittle, authoritarians in their imaginary kingdom or fiefdom. All of them, and I do mean all of them, are remarkable men. If you love Muay Thai, you love the men who have lived through Muay Thai, and what Muay Thai has made of them, one way or another. But none of them are like Dieselnoi. None.

When you watch Dieselnoi instruct, moving around the ring, there is an intangible quality about him, something like an electricity. But it is not an electricity of his freedom, his liberty of movement, a sparking of something of grace or memorized muscular accomplishment. It's like an electricity that is actively shocking him. It is stinging him, and he just jolts forward and into the beautiful forms that keep him, with a savageness that comes straight out of that shock. It's how he trained, it's how he fought. His height just made him choose a certain set of strategies and tactics, but this shock, this painful jolt is where it all comes from. It's his engine. And it's like the starter is being turned over and over, while the engine is still running.

I tried to talk to Sylvie about it, because I could see that he wants this same thing in her. Some might call it a certain killer instinct, but it isn't an instinct. I called it ultraviolence yesterday. There is what I have to call a desperation to Dieselnoi's Muay Thai. It isn't the desperation of weakness or of self-preservation. It's the desperation of pain, and also I think of love. I think Muay Thai has hurt Dieselnoi. With uncommon openness he sat on the ring the first time he trained Sylvie and he showed her the scars on his arm where he tried to kill himself, he said out of the absolute pain of not having anyone who would fight him once he became undefeatable. He said when his arm was raised in victory, near that time, he knew that meant no more fights. Desperation. It had to be more than this, but Muay Thai is woven in a certain line of pain. Maybe he told this to Sylvie because she saw the scars on her own arm, from so long ago, when she was a sadder person. Perhaps he is just open about that time in his life, and he would tell anyone now. But the desperation, the incredible pain out of which all of it is born, and beautifully born, is still alive, in fact it is as alive as ever. When he grabs the bag he just rips forward with violence, unspeakable desperate violence. When he grabs Sylvie in the clinch, and starts to move into attack he is shaking her: "Wake up!" Sparking. Let the violence spark violence. Fight at this level. Train at this level.

There are certain things in this world that hurt. And Muay Thai hurts many people, not always in a good way. But when Dieselnoi took that burning ember in his hand, when it was forced into his hand, he squeezed it. And he has never stopped squeezing it. It's like he had no choice. When something is so hot, so hot that it sears the flesh right off, you either have to fling it away right away, or just clench down. That's what his Muay Thai is like to me. Like a man who clenches down on it with all his might. And he keeps it warm and burning right there in his hand.

There is also something about how he trains Sylvie that stuns me. He is not only very generous, open and kind. I can feel a certain communication, a connection between the desperate. There are so many ways to connect to Muay Thai. It is a tremendous art and heritage. It is full culture of becoming, a poem with infinite verses, a home with a thousand doors. But those that connect to it with desperation I think are few. I don't mean the desperation of poverty, or the must of life - these are their own intense road. It's a desperation of pain. For some incredible reason I feel that Dieselnoi sees Sylvie's desperation somehow, the thing beneath all the other very real and largely noble motivations that move her. He sees the desperation and he wants her to harness it, express it, give it form. Wake up.

He said to her: "You are strong. BE strong." Referring to the way she stands in the clinch strong up top, but somehow loose in the rest of her body, not on her toes. Every point of contact for Dieselnoi is a point of engagement. "Do not bring your weapons out" he says. "Wait." And then unleash. And you unleash with relentless wave upon wave of perfect, maddening form, incising the air, shredding the space that is trying to keep you. Even though you waited, you now do so with an urgency. You may never have a moment like this again. Dieselnoi's Muay Thai is a painful, unparalleled expression of an internal assault, arched up and out toward an absolute manifestation. It blooms and blooms like a reddening, spike-ridden flower in the soil of Thailand. I've never met anyone like him, in or out of Muay Thai. He is possessed by his art, by whatever desperation that the love of it engenders. What a man.

It's hard to say any of this, to speak about the electricity that shocks within, the ultraviolence that is put on anything in front of it, without in the end focusing on his huge heart, the way he opens himself up, and extends his stork reach to surround and include. There is something movingly protective about him. I wish there were words for this, but there is such a nurturing sense in which he approaches Sylvie, moving her towards a completion. In Thailand everything is clannish. Families, gyms, promotions, everything is overlapping clans, people bonded together in a protective circle. Dieselnoi is a living circle in himself, somehow. A circle of Muay Thai.

I am so happy to read this.  I have watched his fights and loved Dieselnoi the most (from this distance even).  I almost suspected myself of liking him for his height (because of mine), but not really.  Glad to read this beautiful statement about him and to know my feelings are real.

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Good luck Sylvie! The training sounds very intense. Remember the words of Ali, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. 

 

Also glad to know I am among fellow language nerds  :lol: Personally I didn't really enjoy German class. I liked that I was legitimately learning it and starting to think in German, mostly because of the similarities with English I think, but we very quickly arrived at the point where the grammar was done and the class was basically memorize a new 80 or so words a week.

I re-fell in love with German when I moved there and was forced to really use it. My roommate was great in that he refused to speak English with me, even though he's fluent. So it forced me to really think in German. But the true beauty was reading. The different structure, the separation and long wait for the verb... I love it. Goethe in German is perfection; Goethe in English is a shitty dubbed over movie.

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8-10 - what I was going to write about follows very nicely on what Sylvie said above

Muay Thai is a language. To call it a set of techniques would be like calling Italian or Farsi a set of linguistic techniques. It's has a tremendous vocabulary and grammar of techniques, yes, but it is so much more. Learning a technique in Muay Thai is like learning how to say "Where is the bathroom?" or "How much does a ticket cost?". It gets you from here to there, but that is about it. You learn and learn the various structures of Muay Thai, some of which are like "kickboxing" or "boxing" or some other martial art, but most of them are not quite that. And eventually you come to rest on a set of techniques (a grammar of "moves", a vocabulary of actions, organized around the human body) that can get you through a fight in the ring, but really you have barely learned anything. You can basically function in Muay Thai, using memorized dependables, occasionally flipping through a mental dictionary. Maybe you knew a different fighting style first, and many of the words are cognate, some of the grammar the same, so you can more or less mimic your way through Muay Thai. But it is not Muay Thai. Then there are those in foreign countries that LOVE Muay Thai, the language, but are not intimately connected to it in a living, cultural way. They can perform exquisitely executed moves on the bag, or in shadow, or even in a fight, e-nun-ci-at-ing every syllable with the utmost care, out of a love for the technique, sounding like a foreigner who speaks with absolutely zero accent...but with a limited vocabulary. Perhaps you can say "But, how do you find the weather?" with impeccable pronunciation...but this does not mean that you know English. The reason for all this is that Muay Thai is a language. It's a Language (capital L). It is born from and lives in Thai culture. It, in real time, expresses and shapes Thai Culture. This does not mean that all the non-native Muay Thai coaches in the world who teach Muay Thai don't know anything substantive, in fact they might be brilliant observers and preservers of aspects of Muay Thai language. This does not mean that the 1,000s of non-native Muay Thai fighters are poor fighters, or not "real" Muay Thai fighters, it just means that they do not truly speak the language, in the context of its continual birth. There is not in my opinion "Dutch" Muay Thai, or "Brazilian" Muay Thai. These are variations of kickboxing heavily influenced by Muay Thai. There is only one Muay Thai, the living Muay Thai of Thailand. This means that there are 1,000s of less talented Thai fighters and non-fighters in Thailand who might get their ass kicked in a "Muay Thai" fight, under full rules, that know Muay Thai better than countless fighters that may be able to do so. The reason for this is that Muay Thai is a language. It is a language of Thailand. It is not an ass-kicking technique.

Once you know a fair amount of "words" and a pretty familiar with the "grammar", within the World of Thailand's fighting you can then start speaking Muay Thai. But that is just the start of it. If you are non-native you can say "hey, I can get around in Muay Thai". But then it comes down to "Well, what can you say with it?" Just as with English, there are an infinite number of ways you can use it. You can use it like Shakespeare, you can use it like Elliot or Cummings, like London, or James or Faulkner, like K. Dick or Shaw or Blake, or a myriad of nameless others who stretched the language in a unique fashion. And many, or even the great preponderance do not use it very well at all, in the sense of "What can you do with it?", even though fluency itself is a great use of any language. Once you can move in the language you can start to look to those who exercise a unique liberty within it, who have explored it's boundaries and raised it's possibilities. Then, you start to communicate, and express yourself.

"Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt" (The boundaries of my language are the boundaries of my world) - Ludwig Wittgenstein

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    • Hi guys! I was thinking about creating setups. What's your single biggest problem when it comes to using your hands (or boxing) to create setups and openings to land your knees, elbows or kicks?
    • #deleuze #muaythai #warfare #philosophy #chess #sociology #thailand TLTR: discussing the unique historical and cultural influences on Thailand's Muay Thai as a traditional martial art and sport. Highlighting the deep-rooted history of Muay Thai, its ties to state warfare, influences from various cultures, including its unwritten provincial history, a comparison between Muay Thai, the games of Chess and Go is drawn as to the different philosophies and strategies inherent in each form of gamed combat. Additionally, it delves into the concept of warfare, power dynamics, spiritual aspects, and societal hierarchies reflected in the practices of Muay Thai as they relate to the Deleuze and Guattari's theories of nomadology, smooth space and war. Overall, a contrast between centralized, advance-forward, territory capture and more fluid edge-control, labor-capture warfare provides insight into what has shaped Thailand's Muay Thai into a distinct and formidable fighting art. (if it's TLTR, you get this summation) This is an on-going draft that will be edited over time   As internationalizing pressures push Muay Thai toward Western-friendly viewership, its worth considering the fundamental ways in which Thai and Western perceptions of conflict differ, and the manor in which this difference is preserved and expressed as Thai, in Thailand's traditional Muay Thai, a sport which achieved its acme-form in it's Golden Age (1980-1994). It's the contention of this article that there are governing, different and possibly quite opposed Martial Logics that structure many Western combat sport perceptions and the art of Thailand's Muay Thai, and these can be seen in the two graphics above, showing the games of Chess and Go. Now combat sports are quite diverse, even in the West, and each has its own history and audience. Each is shaped by its rules. The discussion here is more about the dominant image of thought as might be traced in Western and Southeast Asian regions of the world, despite rich variance, and even cross-influences. Thailand's Muay Thai, despite its violence, more maybe even because of it, is noted for its defensive excellence. It historically has been a close-fought sport that unlike some Western ring aesthetics, actually gravitates toward the ropes and corners, which are notoriously more difficult topographic ground. Because fighting is draw to this edge and corner emphasis, it requires even higher levels of defensive prowess to thrive at these edges. While the dominant image of Western ring fighting is much more clash-conscious, force meeting force in the middle of the ring (like two knight champions meeting at the center of a battlefield), in Thailand's Muay Thai it is the dextrousness along the ropes, the escapability, which wins the highest esteem. This piece offers explanations for what that is so and points to other studies of Muay Thai that underpin this. Largely though, it likely relates to the way in which violence and aggression is thought of in a traditionally Buddhist society, and Thailand's long history of a warfare of encirclement and capture. Examples of Thailand's Muay Thai Most Praised Edge Fighting Thailand is not alone in esteeming edge mastery. Western Boxing has very famous rope work, much of which constitutes the highest forms of fighting of its greatest fighters. But it does have a differing dominant image of thought than in the West, one which elevates rope and corner work into its own purposeful artform. Some of this can be read as a direct result of nearly opposite generalized scoring criteria. In the West, being very broad about it, forward aggression is a positive signature. All things being equal the forward fighter is seen as imposing themselves on their opponent. In Thailand's Muay Thai it is the opposite. This fundamental criteria reversal leads to a lot of Western viewers being confused over how fights are scored. Just being very broad about it, when a Thai fighter takes the lead in a fight - something that they know because audience gambling odds have changed in their favor - they begin to retreat. The retreating, defensive fighter is seen as protecting their lead. Their defense becomes their path to victory, which is why historically Thai fighters became the best defensive fighters in the world. Defense takes the spotlight in almost any lead, all other things being equal. A fighter going to the ropes in the broad Western conception is a fighter who has been forced there. A fighter who goes to the ropes in Muay Thai is in the dominant picture of thought signalling that they are in the lead. It's an upside down world for the Westerner and leads to a lot of miscomprehension. It's best to continually return to the note that these are broad, image-of-thought pictures of aggression and ring space. Judging a fight is much more complex than this. Over the years there are pendulum swings in how aggressive or active the retreating fighter has to be, and this is something that has differed even between the National Stadia of the sport, each with their own scoring aesthetics. Broadly though, the way that the edges and corners are semiotically coded, what they signify, is areas of control where fights are won and lost. And, because fighters in the lead retreat and defend, a lot of fights head to the edges, especially in the traditional, high-scoring later rounds. If you want to see the highest levels of this edge-excellence, I recommend this fight between two legends of the sport. Somrak in red, Boonlai in blue. Noteworthy in this fight is that Somrak at this time was one of the best Western Boxers all of Thailand. In a few years he would go onto win Gold at the 1996 Olympics in Mayweather's division. In this fight he hardly throws a punch until the fight is well in hand. It's footwork, interception, movement and countering, a great deal of it at the edge. At the edge because he is winning, and he is signalling his superiority. watch Boonlai vs Somrak here Another classic example is this study of Samart Payakaroon, widely thought to be the GOAT of Muay Thai, fighting the forward knee-fighter Namphon Nongkipahayuth (below). Watch the entire fight, but also look at the study of how Samart, almost always on the ropes, command and controls Namphon's knee and clinch attack through interception and movement. In a manner different than much of Western symbology, Samart is signaling his dominance through rope work, interception and evasion. watch this study of Samart's defense along the ropes in his Golden Age rematch vs Namphon   In a general way, just at the level of style, watch this highlight compilation of the switching footwork of possibly the most artful fighter of Thailand's Golden Age, the great Karuhat Sor Supawan (below). You will see his deft switching in both attack and defense at the ropes featured here, but when in the lead and he performs his best magic, his back is to the rope. Back to the rope signals dominance. watch Muay Thai Scholar's study of the legend Karuhat's switching footwork   Dipping into Thai History and the Games of Go and Chess Thailand's Muay Thai is a fighting art and combat sport of extraordinary uniqueness. Fashioned as it has been from at least 100+ years of continuous provincial fighting deep in its countryside custom - something that may stretch back multiple centuries - fortified and shaped by Royal and State warfare, itself composed of worldwide mercenary influences, from Japanese & Javanese merchant pirates to Persian & Portuguese regimented manpower, it stands as both a cosmopolitan fighting art, and still one which has been richly woven together as wholly Buddhistic Siamese and then Thai continuity. Channeled and informed by British Boxing's colonialist, pressuring example in its modernizing period (1920-1950s), what remains most valuable in Muay Thai are the ways it is like no other fighting art. It's a purity of difference. Both lab-tested in 100,000s of full-contact ring fights multiplied by generations, and expressive of wool-dyed Buddhistic principles, this is a synergy of provincial and the Capital fight knowledge, both martial and sport, like no other in the world. They just fight differently...and have arguably been the best ring fighters in the world. The at-top diagram juxtaposing two combat inspired board games, Chess and the game of Go, aims to draw out some of the deeper philosophical and conceptual differences between Thailand's Southeast Asian fighting art and many of Western conceptions of combat, especially at the dominant image of thought level. Chess is a game of some disputed origin approximately 1,500 years ago. It was not a Western game. It's largely believed to have come from India by way of Persia. The Western Chess vocabulary is etymologically Persian, and the Persian version of the game is closest to the one adopted in Europe. Interestingly enough, the birth of Chess and its dissemination throughout the world across tradewinds corresponds roughly to the period, 3rd-6th century AD, during which Southeast Asia underwent Indianization. Indian culture became powerfully adopted throughout mainland Southeast Asia, and importantly in the history of Siam significantly informed Khmer Empire (today's Cambodia) royalty warfare and statecraft, much of which would be adopted by Siamese kings to the West. Royal, court and State culture was Indianized, bearing qualities (language, social forms, knowledges) which were not shared by the common populace. The Indianization of Southeast Asia has been culturally compared to the Roman Empire's Romanization in of Europe. And to this day Thai Royalty, its Brahmin customs and practices, the common worship of Hindu gods within a Buddhist context reflects this 1,500 years of influence of Indian culture. This is to say, when comparing Thailand's Muay Thai to the West via the game of Chess, we are speaking of a game that was of Indian and Persian origin, something quite closely braided within Siamese history. For instance, King Narai of Ayutthaya in 17th century had 200 Persian warriors as his personal guard. The influence of India and Persia is profound. What I want you to see is that Muay Thai's historical past is likely quite imbricated. There are layers upon layers of historical segmentation. Within this history the Royal form in particular had a distinctly Indianized history, and Thailand's Muay Thai has had a robust Royal history surrounding the raising of armies, large scale wars at times with armies (perhaps fancifully) rumored to approach 1,000,000 men. This Statecraft heritage is likely something we can see reflected in the game of Chess itself, the game of Kings, castles and queens. And, the history that we have of Thailand's Muay Thai is almost entirely composed of this Royal-State story, as royal record and foreign visitors to Siam's kingdoms comprises our written history. The possible story of Muay Thai that involves provincial, rural, village, regional martial and sport practices has vanished seemingly just as much as houses of wood or bamboo will not be preserved. Yet, in the nature of Southeast Asian and Siamese fighting arts we very well may see the martial contrastive martial logic of the Siamese people, especially when compared to the visions of the West. Chess, Go, Striated and Smooth Spaces In this we turn to the 4,000 year old Chinese and then Japanese game of Go (the game of surrounding). wikipedia: Japanese word igo (囲碁; いご), which derives from earlier wigo (ゐご), in turn from Middle Chinese ɦʉi gi (圍棋, Mandarin: wéiqí, lit. 'encirclement board game' or 'board game of surrounding'). I have written about the historical origins of Thailand's Muay Thai that particularly bring out its logic of surrounding and capture, a martial logic that is quite embodied in the game of Go (The Historical Foundations of Thailand's Retreating Style, or How They Became the Best Defensive Fighters In the World). In short, historians of Southeast Asia point out that unlike in Europe where land was scarce (and therefore the anchor of wealth), and manpower plentiful, conquering land and killing occupying enemies formed a basic martial logic in warfare. In Southeast Asia where fecund land was everywhere, but population sparse (especially in Siam which had been one of the least populated regions of Southasia), warfare was focused on capture and enslavement. Enemy land capture was at a minimum, and even in the case of the famed and ruinous sackings of the Siamese Capital of Ayutthaya by the Burmese, the captured territory was not held. These are just very different spatial and aim-oriented logics, in fact opposite logics. I'm using the game of Go, which expresses a fluid rationality of edge control and reversible enemy capture (captured stones add to your wealth, and don't only subtract from one's enemy), opposed to the more centric, land-control logic of Chess. A Chess of Indian-Persian statecraft which resonated with European political and warfare realities. This juxtaposition between games is not mine, though I'm probably the first to use it to illuminate combat sport perceptions in today's ring fighting. It comes from the sociologically oriented philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. A notoriously difficult work due to its heavy reliance on invented vocabularies, and its opaque, keyed-in references to specific philosophical traditions, psychoanalysis and their theoretical problems, it still provides rich analysis of buried trends in Western social organization, and a metaphysics for thinking about the history of the world as a whole. What Deleuze and Guattari want to do in contrasting Go with Chess is to think about the different ways that Space is organized and traversed by political powers and regimes of meaning. They propose that Chess is a striated (divided, segmented, hierarchical) Space, And Go more of a smooth space. This blogged description is a good summary of the two kinds of Space: The much older game of Go is a strategy of surround and capture, wherein you turn an enemy's wealth - by our analogy labor-power - into your own. This is mirrored in Siamese warfare as reported in 1688 by an Iranian vistor, "...the struggle is wholly confined to trickery and deception. They have no intention of killing each other or of inflicting any great slaughter because if a general gained a real conquest, he would be shedding his own blood so to speak" (context, Ibrahim), full quote here. We have at surface a strong homology between foreign reports and the structural nature of the game of Go. More can be understood of my position and the role of evasion, surround-and-capture principles in this extended thread here. Diving down into the more philosophical ramifications I provide the extended Deleuze & Guattari quotation comparing the game of Chess vs the game of Go: Rather, he is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, the pack, an irruption of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphosis. He unties the bond just as he betrays the pact. He brings a furor to bear against sovereignty, a celerity against gravity, secrecy against the public, a power (puissance) against sovereignty, a machine against the apparatus. He bears witness to another kind of justice, one of incomprehensible cruelty at times, but at others of unequaled pity as well (because he unties bonds.. .). He bears witness, above all, to other relations with women, with animals, because he sees all things in relations of becoming, rather than implementing binary distributions between "states": a veritable becoming-animal of the warrior, a becoming-woman, which lies outside. Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game's form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary's pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology. Finally, the space is not at all the same: in chess, it is a question of arranging a closed space for oneself, thus of going from one point to another, of occupying the maximum number of squares with the minimum number of pieces. In Go, it is a question of arraying oneself in an open space, of holding space, of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, with out departure or arrival. The "smooth" space of Go, as against the "striated" space of chess. The nomos of Go against the State of chess, nomos against polis. The difference is that chess codes and decodes space, whereas Go proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space; consolidate that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent territory; deterritorialize the enemy by shattering his territory from within; deterritorialize oneself by renouncing, by going elsewhere . ..). Another justice, another movement, another space-time. Deleuze & Guattari, "1227: TREATISE ON NOMADOLOGY—THE WAR MACHINE", A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia   Becoming and A Warfare of Capture What Deleuze and Guattari are invoking is a conception of warfare which is much more fully potentiated. Not locked into rigid hierarchies and roles of figures of power, it is a much more metaphysical battle that reflects aspects of what I have argued is the spiritual foundation of Thailand's Muay Thai, an animism of powers within the history of the culture that predates the arrival of Buddhism (Toward a Theory of the Spirituality of Thailand's Muay Thai). This logic of an animism of powers contains an essential aspect of captured power, the incorporated power of a captured enemy, founded on what historians of Southeast Asia have called "Soul Stuff", roughly equivalent of Hindu shakti (strength). This can be manifested in captured slave labor, or perhaps even in the prehistoric rites of cannibalism through which one consumed the soul stuff of an enemy. You can find a logic of Soul Stuff here, this graphic below helps represent the animism of contest. A primary source on soul stuff and a fusion of military and spiritual prowess can be found with historian O.W. Walters here. Thus, within the cultural origins of Siamese culture, even that which pre-dates the Indianization of the region, we have essential aspects of a smooth, tactical space in a Deleuze & Guattari sense, which potentially maps quite well into the game of Go, especially as it is contrasted to Chess.   Further in concordance with Deleuze & Guattari's philosophical concept of liberty is the way in which Thailand's Muay Thai can be understood as revolutionary in their terms. Deleuze & Guattari write of becoming-animal, becoming-child, becoming-woman, deterritorializing flights inimitable to human freedom. Thailand's Muay Thai (& broader Thai agonism) de-privileges these categories, along a continuous spectrum of thymotic struggle, which runs thru the social hierarchies of low to high, sewing them together. One could say a smooth thymotic space of trajectories. Thailand known for its (ethically criticized) child fighting, women have fought for 100+ yrs, and beetle fighting embodies much of the Muay Thai gambled form. In many important ways Thailand's Muay Thai avoids the stacked arboreal structure of Western Man (& its contrastive Others), favoring a continuity agonistic spectrum within its (Indianized) hierarchies. It has strongly weighted traditional hierarchies, but within this a thymotic line-of-becoming that runs between divinity and animality. see Beetle Fighting, Muay Thai and the Health of the Culture of Thailand - The Ecology of Fighting more on the division of divinity and animality by wicha here: Muay Thai Seen as a Rite: Sacrifice, Combat Sports, Loser as Sacred Victim Knowing-as-doing, the wicha of technical knowledge of how to do, runs between the axes of divinity and animality in a way that supports a mutuality of any figure's becoming, from the insect up to the heightened champion fighter, in a line of flight shared by others. Most Deleuzian becoming-animal, -child, -woman examples come from the arts (sometimes the bedroom), but instead in Thai, gambled agonism we have the becoming of actual animals, children, women & the projective affects of an equally agonistic audience undergoing its own becoming-as. When I say revolutionary, I say "Thailand's Muay Thai has something to teach the world about the nature of violence and its meaning." Learning From Chess in How to See Thailand's Muay Thai Keep in mind, this isn't an direct one-for-one comparison of the contemporary game of Chess (and Chess Theory) and the ring sport of Muay Thai. It compares the dominant image of thought in the conceptual trend. Some have pointed out that my gross picture of Chess leaves out its post-1920s modern Chess Theory development, which often eschews central forward advancement. What is important in the Chess example isn't how Chess was played in 1960s, say, but rather that Chess over the sweep of its history allows us to see how it expressed the martial logic from which it came, ie, how some battles were fought in the field, with advancing lines, and a central capture of territory focus. Chess I would argue contains a martial logic fingerprint in its organizational structure, just as the real life political powers of Kings, Queens, knights and bishops made their impact on its rules & formation, the increased power of the Queen on the board said to be a fine example of this (see: A Queen in Any Other Language). Even in the Hypermodernism of Chess one might say that the center still holds importance, as there are just other ways of controlling or managing it.  Hypermodernism for instance may have reflected the increased use of cannon & then WW1 artillery. Between the two games of Chess and Go are differing Martial Logics. It doesn't mean that there is zero fighting for the center in Muay Thai (or in Southeast Asian warfare...siege warfare is prominent in Ayutthaya history for instance, though with influence from the Portuguese, etc), or that there is zero edge or flank control in Western European warfare or Chess (flank maneuvers are numerous in European warfare). The contrast is really meant to exposed how we perceive conflict spatially, and that these are things we've culturally inherited. You see these inherited concepts, for instance the centrality of territory capture in common Western scoring criteria like "ring control". Centralized conflict is part of our past and informs how we judge fighting styles, just as edge conflict is part of Southeast Asia's past. And importantly this also informs our ideas of violence, with a European tendency toward "kill" (to control land, ie the center) and a SEA tendency toward "capture"(to control labor, ie the edge).  
    • Hey so im an ammateur fighting in europe mostly at DIY events. The thing is even though every fight I improve I am never able to win and its starting to get to me.  I have 5 fights in total 2 k1 and 3 muay thai and iv never won a muay thai, won 1 k1 cos my cardio was better than the other girl and I just out brawld her.  People say wow your technique is so much better than the fight I saw you in last year etc but it still feels bitter to constantly lose. I know i am improving but feel that I always just get tougher and tougher matches, the last 3 fights I lost have all been very close fights. One I lost cos my opponent got injured and broke her ankle when I bloked with a knee but she was able to hide it, another one I lost cos she was using more clean techniques and I was brawling (this one I agree with 100% cos I was landing but it was sloppy.)  The last one I lost cos my cardio was bad which is also fine. I am fine with losing, its just starting to get to me that I never win. It also kinda annoys me that the only fight I ever won was one that I just outbrawled the other girl. Feels like my improvements havnt really helped me cos I just get matched with tougher and tougher opponents each time.  Im wondering if I should give up on decision fights for a while and just do non decisions to get my condifence back up or whether I will eventually break through and be able to win. I am also kinda old at 32 so even though my technique is improving my strength, reflexes and reactions will begin to fade soon. 
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