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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

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

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3-24

Was just reading this, a summary of a Kevin Ross Muay Thai Journey art film called "Oss". The title of the film is explained this way:

OSU is based upon Kevin’s study of the Muay Thai philosophy of ‘osu’ (pronounced ‘oossss’) – the training mantra by which a student steels themselves against any hardship, physical or mental...more here

I don't mean to rag on Kevin Ross - who is an American Muay Thai trailblazer, fighting when the sport was very undeveloped in the country and even to this day, practically becoming synonymous with the words "Muay Thai" for many less familiar with the Thai realities of the sport - or on the filmmakers who are admittedly artists and poets...for instance maybe they liked "Oss" because it is typographically like "Ross". But is it wrong to just say: Hey. This is not a Muay Thai philosophy, and that it is pretty stark that one would name a film centered on Muay Thai, Oss? Of all the Thai words available to you, you choose Oss? The problems with this are layered. The first of which is that Muay Thai doesn't really have "a philosophy", at least not one you study. It would take a pretty big stretch to frame one, if you wanted to, in fact what defines Muay Thai in so many ways is that it isn't esoteric, isn't "idea" driven (which is different than saying it has no ideas). Secondly of course, Oss is a Japanese term, one with very ambiguous origins. Read This. And its uses/meanings in Japanese are quite different than how they are used in gyms in the west. Yes, I understand that this term has really proliferated in western contexts, and maybe that is how it somehow got attached to a film about a journey in Muay Thai, but choosing a Japanese term to indicate a supposedly Thai concept is pretty far out there. Why? Well, for one the Japanese more or less tried to steal/appropriate Muay Thai through the invention of "Kickboxing" in the late 1960s and 1970s. Naming a Muay Thai related documentary 'Oss' really comes full circle on this, twisting the cultural knife in a little. To this day there are still tensions/ambitions across this cultural divide.

There are additional difficulties, for instance how we in the west tend to treat all things from Asia as the same, ignoring important differences that the peoples of cultures find vital. To flip the script: no, hockey is not the National Sport of the United States, no Ramon Dekkers was not a French Kickboxer. Or one can think about how a lot of how Muay Thai, or other Asia martial arts, are taught in the west involves a sometimes very orientalizing tendency of imitation (for instance, this seems to have been involved in the indiscriminate spread of the term "Oss" itself). Imitation, but without understanding. On one level, none of this really seems to matter. These are very well-meaning creative people doing things that are often quite worthy, and meaningful to themselves and others, helping spread the art/s - and in this particular case exploring the relationship between addiction and authenticity. But hey, on another level preserving the differences between arts is pretty damn important to preserving the arts themselves. You can't just make up the idea that a certain way of thinking is Thai, when in fact it's Japanese, and not lose something. I really have no clue at what level this kind of cross-wiring is occurring. My issue isn't really with this particular confusion, but maybe with the way that Muay Thai is being digested in the west, especially in the all-consuming maw of the UFC which swallows every fighting art it can. And it may very well be that in some American gyms "Oss" pretty much functions as a "Thai" term, said along with a wai, or what not. But at a certain point don't we have to make a correction? Put people on the right track of the culture they believe they are studying when they devote themselves to an art form? Oss is not Thai. In fact, in someways arguably it's very un-Thai.

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I find it fascinating to gaze into the fish bowl that is American kickfighting culture as it develops via foreign influence and local interaction. The way it went from Bruce Lee movies, to Karate class, to long pants fighting, to a subset of the UFC. The strict dividing lines drawn in the progenitor cultures never really existed. However, there are also those like us; an esoteric clique that has reached into the murky waters to reveal the underlying origins in their pure form. And I suspect that thanks to the internet, the social prestige we hold will lead to the permeation of Thai culture into more general "striking" culture. With this progression in mind, an American Muay Thai pioneer being intimately linked to a term spread through Japanese Karate is oddly fitting. A symbol of the 2010 trendy blend. Perhaps one day a curious relic for a purified future.

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3-25

I have to say I find myself torn in two very different directions when thinking about western ambitions and appropriations of Muay Thai. On one end we have very sincere, heart-felt, sometimes heart-aching reach toward an art that is perceived as beautiful, if violent, from the framework of the west. People yearn for "World Championship" belts, none of which are such, and cross great distances (both physical and mental) to achieve them, they learn all sorts of "Thai" things, get sak yant (I have them), and across gyms throughout the Land imitate what their coaches learned in the few months, or even years, they spent in the country. There is a great arcing towards "legitimacy" in the sport, almost a desperate need for it. And this has to be respected. This is the human condition. This is a beautiful thing. This is amazing. But, on the other hand almost all of this is fraudulent to some degree. There are no World Championship belts (no rankings), no, Max Muay Thai is not a legitimate, or perhaps one should say authentic Muay Thai fight promotion (it bills itself as "extreme entertainment" I believe). So much of encountering the "Thai" involves hiding film, or bullshitting away, showing "moves" you learned like parlor tricks, it feels like there is a great cabal of deception. And it feels like this has been going on for decades, as if Thailand were Las Vegas...what happens there, stays there.

If anything we've learned in our 5 years here, and Sylvie's endless fighting, its that we are JUST learning about what Muay Thai is. We are still reaching toward and peeling back layers. And its fucking incredible. It feels bizarre to see claims or even ambitions to authenticity so far outside the country, when even in the country there is so much more to learn. I used to be much more against these faux World belts, or the use of Kru or Arjan by westerners (that once felt like a big deal, no longer), but following along it feels like a far shore that is absorbed in the distance by fog. That shore is just so proliferate, so wide and long. So many belts, so many truly yearning, leaning into achievement. You can't disparage it. All I can say is: Keep on going! But, in this way, it feels like we are heading for a different shore, one we cannot see at all, and only heard rumor of. Something less exotic, more mundane...something like: just the fight.

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3-24

Was just reading this, a summary of a Kevin Ross Muay Thai Journey art film called "Oss". The title of the film is explained this way:

OSU is based upon Kevin’s study of the Muay Thai philosophy of ‘osu’ (pronounced ‘oossss’) – the training mantra by which a student steels themselves against any hardship, physical or mental...more here

I don't mean to rag on Kevin Ross - who is an American Muay Thai trailblazer, fighting when the sport was very undeveloped in the country and even to this day, practically becoming synonymous with the words "Muay Thai" for many less familiar with the Thai realities of the sport - or on the filmmakers who are admittedly artists and poets...for instance maybe they liked "Oss" because it is typographically like "Ross". But is it wrong to just say: Hey. This is not a Muay Thai philosophy, and that it is pretty stark that one would name a film centered on Muay Thai, Oss? Of all the Thai words available to you, you choose Oss? The problems with this are layered. The first of which is that Muay Thai doesn't really have "a philosophy", at least not one you study. It would take a pretty big stretch to frame one, if you wanted to, in fact what defines Muay Thai in so many ways is that it isn't esoteric, isn't "idea" driven (which is different than saying it has no ideas). Secondly of course, Oss is a Japanese term, one with very ambiguous origins. Read This. And its uses/meanings in Japanese are quite different than how they are used in gyms in the west. Yes, I understand that this term has really proliferated in western contexts, and maybe that is how it somehow got attached to a film about a journey in Muay Thai, but choosing a Japanese term to indicate a supposedly Thai concept is pretty far out there. Why? Well, for one the Japanese more or less tried to steal/appropriate Muay Thai through the invention of "Kickboxing" in the late 1960s and 1970s. Naming a Muay Thai related documentary 'Oss' really comes full circle on this, twisting the cultural knife in a little. To this day there are still tensions/ambitions across this cultural divide.

There are additional difficulties, for instance how we in the west tend to treat all things from Asia as the same, ignoring important differences that the peoples of cultures find vital. To flip the script: no, hockey is not the National Sport of the United States, no Ramon Dekkers was not a French Kickboxer. Or one can think about how a lot of how Muay Thai, or other Asia martial arts, are taught in the west involves a sometimes very orientalizing tendency of imitation (for instance, this seems to have been involved in the indiscriminate spread of the term "Oss" itself). Imitation, but without understanding. On one level, none of this really seems to matter. These are very well-meaning creative people doing things that are often quite worthy, and meaningful to themselves and others, helping spread the art/s - and in this particular case exploring the relationship between addiction and authenticity. But hey, on another level preserving the differences between arts is pretty damn important to preserving the arts themselves. You can't just make up the idea that a certain way of thinking is Thai, when in fact it's Japanese, and not lose something. I really have no clue at what level this kind of cross-wiring is occurring. My issue isn't really with this particular confusion, but maybe with the way that Muay Thai is being digested in the west, especially in the all-consuming maw of the UFC which swallows every fighting art it can. And it may very well be that in some American gyms "Oss" pretty much functions as a "Thai" term, said along with a wai, or what not. But at a certain point don't we have to make a correction? Put people on the right track of the culture they believe they are studying when they devote themselves to an art form? Oss is not Thai. In fact, in someways arguably it's very un-Thai.

Those guys (Ross and his coach) should have never taken shots at Sylvie's fund-raising; I love how you two consistently clap back.  These seem like very legitimate objections given your superior immersion in Thai fighting, and I abhor sloppy cultural appropriation as well.  At the same time, I fear purists because over time, very little seems original to its place.  Mixing in the long run is healthy.  As a visual artist, I've had my work appropriated and people make money off my ideas and vision (early on).  I do understand the pain of some being elevated due to their pr skills and general fame-friendliness (not Kevin per se but Western "kickboxers" for example, who are tied to a bigger global press machine). But I've found in the end that nothing matters when it comes to public attention; all that matters is the work.  I am speaking on an individual level of course, rather than cultural but I think there is some analogy.  You seem to allude to a greater acceptance of this natural mixing in saying you've become relaxed about Western teachers using the term "Ajarn" and "Kru".  Other thing I would add is that in my efforts to bring martial arts into the museum setting DAMN its been hard not to have any description of fighting forms not sound stupid and corny and just.. wrong.  Once you use the words "martial arts philosophy" (which the most recent museum press dept did despite my efforts), its all downhill lol.  I have to relax and let people communicate to the uninterested though, which I reckon is what these filmmakers have to do in conveying their piece in one short paragraph.  Anyhow I look forward to this film although also, I am not a fan of addiction narratives in film or otherwise.  Meh.  Don't like romanticizing that stuff but we'll see how they handle it.

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Those guys (Ross and his coach) should have never taken shots at Sylvie's fund-raising; I love how you two consistently clap back.  These seem like very legitimate objections given your superior immersion in Thai fighting, and I abhor sloppy cultural appropriation as well.  At the same time, I fear purists because over time, very little seems original to its place.  Mixing in the long run is healthy.  As a visual artist, I've had my work appropriated and people make money off my ideas and vision (early on).  I do understand the pain of some being elevated due to their pr skills and general fame-friendliness (not Kevin per se but Western "kickboxers" for example, who are tied to a bigger global press machine). But I've found in the end that nothing matters when it comes to public attention; all that matters is the work.  I am speaking on an individual level of course, rather than cultural but I think there is some analogy.  You seem to allude to a greater acceptance of this natural mixing in saying you've become relaxed about Western teachers using the term "Ajarn" and "Kru".  Other thing I would add is that in my efforts to bring martial arts into the museum setting DAMN its been hard not to have any description of fighting forms not sound stupid and corny and just.. wrong.  Once you use the words "martial arts philosophy" (which the most recent museum press dept did despite my efforts), its all downhill lol.  I have to relax and let people communicate to the uninterested though, which I reckon is what these filmmakers have to do in conveying their piece in one short paragraph.  Anyhow I look forward to this film although also, I am not a fan of addiction narratives in film or otherwise.  Meh.  Don't like romanticizing that stuff but we'll see how they handle it.

 

Hey Dana, honestly I'm not even aware of their attacks on Sylvie - or, if I was at some point aware I certainly have forgotten. I don't follow them, and I hardly follow people that follow them. But I guess it doesn't surprise me that they were part of that crew. So this isn't really clapping back. If it was I certainly would have published this as a guest post on Sylvie's blog, instead of keeping it here in my little corner of the internet read by 5 or 6 people. There's a lot one could say in that direction, but I really choose not to get involved. What is involved here are ideas. These things are really important to me, and I think about these things a great deal.

I do have to say that the notion that my critique comes from that of being a "purist", I can't really identity with. Purists tend to be removed from their source, romanticizing the distance, preserving something they themselves are detached from. It isn't really "purist" to say: Hey, that Thai word you are using, that isn't a Thai word. In fact, it's not even close. Really, my issue wasn't even with the short film, which you can see here. If I had watched only this I would have perhaps chuckled a little to myself. It was really the quoted description itself that triggered me: OSU is based upon Kevin’s study of the Muay Thai philosophy of ‘osu’ (pronounced ‘oossss’) – the training mantra by which a student steels themselves against any hardship, physical or mental Here you not only have misstatement of fact, its a misstatement in the tone of trying to educate someone (here is how this esoteric word is pronounced), and not only that, but that the film's deep character apparently came out of Kevin's "study" of this concept/principle, a study which may not even have involved knowing where it came from. I'm sorry, this does more than make me shake my head. It makes me say WTF? Now maybe none of this came form Kevin Ross, or even the film makers. Maybe it's this MMA writer's creation, but come on now. If you are going to take up an authoritative tone, and look like you are passing on some knowledge of Muay Thai and it's culture, please have some grasp of reality? 

re: "But I've found in the end that nothing matters when it comes to public attention; all that matters is the work."

I have to say that I disagree with this at the cultural end. Yes, as an artist (which you are), yes!, all that matters is the work. But the artist exchanges something with society when she/he purchases such expressive freedom. Yeah, you can say or do whatever you feel provokes or inspires meaning. But everything you say or do gets placed under critique and criticism. And no, if they had painted Kevin Ross's eyes to be slanted so he looked more "Asian" that would be problem...or at least problematic, not to mention humorous in the wrong way. And yeah, if you are going to create some kind of pan-Asian homage to Muay Thai, that too is going to be subject to an Orientalism charge. It's not a light thing. Yes, we may think it is a light thing because as white folks from the west it doesn't affect us (directly), but it isn't cool. No, not all Asians look alike. No, not all Asian fighting arts are the same art (as much as MMA tries to turn them into one). You don't have to be a purist to say: Hey, wait a minute.

Just because it is hard to put words properly, effectively to martial art subjects, doesn't mean that it doesn't matter how we do so. In fact the very difficulty suggests to me the opposite. It means that we should be more careful, more exact, more informative. We don't just free associate, and bring in every sort of unconscious ideological baggage...that is, unless we don't really care about serious critique.

As to Arjan and Kru in the west, I just find it silly in most instances, the Fist Foot Way kind of way. Part of the fantasy. Not worth fighting about in my daily go-about. Okay, so you call yourself Arjan. Hmm. No big deal.  But it too is worthy of critique.

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3-25b

...I should add. One of the most amazing things about Muay Thai that you discover when you spend a long time in Thailand is how mundane it is. It is not some exotic, delicate flower. It's living in 1000s of dusty, tiny gyms. In the minds of 1000s of two-bit fighters turned trainers. There isn't anything purist about it. It would be like being a purist about western boxing in the US in the 1950s. There is no "Muay Thai", there are just thousands and thousands of Muay Thai expressions. This doesn't mean that Muay Thai doesn't have definable characteristics, or that it isn't intimately "Thai", come right from the soil of Thai culture and belief. But there is nothing really to be purist about. It's an incredible every-day thing. It's like being a purist about how a newpaper is read in New York. Okay, there is the whole subway fold. There is the cafe lean back and flap of the pages. But it really is just rather mundane. Or, at least it strikes me that way. One really only becomes a purist of newspaper reading when people no longer read newspapers, seeking to preserve a lost thing, or it's a thing you are cut off from by time or distance. You can imagine former German exchange students arguing about real NYC newspaper reading back in Berlin. Muay Thai isn't really there, at least in Thailand.

In Thailand though of course there are ideological battles that surround Muay Thai, and how it portrays or demonstrates Thai history, and National character. These are different kinds of questions, questions important to Thais.

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Hey Dana, honestly I'm not even aware of their attacks on Sylvie - or, if I was at some point aware I certainly have forgotten. I don't follow them, and I hardly follow people that follow them. But I guess it doesn't surprise me that they were part of that crew. So this isn't really clapping back. If it was I certainly would have published this as a guest post on Sylvie's blog, instead of keeping it here in my little corner of the internet read by 5 or 6 people. There's a lot one could say in that direction, but I really choose not to get involved. What is involved here are ideas. These things are really important to me, and I think about these things a great deal.

I do have to say that the notion that my critique comes from that of being a "purist", I can't really identity with. Purists tend to be removed from their source, romanticizing the distance, preserving something they themselves are detached from. It isn't really "purist" to say: Hey, that Thai word you are using, that isn't a Thai word. In fact, it's not even close. Really, my issue wasn't even with the short film, which you can see here. If I had watched only this I would have perhaps chuckled a little to myself. It was really the quoted description itself that triggered me: OSU is based upon Kevin’s study of the Muay Thai philosophy of ‘osu’ (pronounced ‘oossss’) – the training mantra by which a student steels themselves against any hardship, physical or mental << Here you not only have misstatement of fact, its a misstatement in the tone of trying to educate someone (here is how this esoteric word is pronounced), and not only that, but that the film's deep character apparently came out of Kevin's "study" of this concept/principle, a study which may not even have involved knowing where it came from. I'm sorry, this does more than make me shake my head. It makes me say WTF? Now maybe none of this came form Kevin Ross, or even the film makers. Maybe it's this MMA writer's creation, but come on now. If you are going to take up an authoritative tone, and look like you are passing on some knowledge of Muay Thai and it's culture, please have some grasp of reality? 

re: "But I've found in the end that nothing matters when it comes to public attention; all that matters is the work."

I have to say that I disagree with this at the cultural end. Yes, as an artist (which you are), yes!, all that matters is the work. But the artist exchanges something with society when she/he purchases such expressive freedom. Yeah, you can say or do whatever you feel provokes or inspires meaning. But everything you say or do gets placed under critique and criticism. And no, if they had painted Kevin Ross's eyes to be slanted so he looked more "Asian" that would be problem...or at least problematic, not to mention humorous in the wrong way. And yeah, if you are going to create some kind of pan-Asian homage to Muay Thai, that too is going to be subject to an Orientalism charge. It's not a light thing. Yes, we may think it is a light thing because as white folks from the west it doesn't affect us (directly), but it isn't cool. No, not all Asians look alike. No, not all Asian fighting arts are the same art (as much as MMA tries to turn them into one). You don't have to be a purist to say: Hey, wait a minute.

Just because it is hard to put words properly, effectively to martial art subjects, doesn't mean that it doesn't matter how we do so. In fact the very difficulty suggests to me the opposite. It means that we should be more careful, more exact, more informative. We don't just free associate, and bring in every sort of unconscious ideological baggage...that is, unless we don't really care about serious critique.

As to Arjan and Kru in the west, I just find it silly in most instances, the Fist Foot Way kind of way. Part of the fantasy. Not worth fighting about in my daily go-about. Okay, so you call yourself Arjan. Hmm. No big deal.  But it too is worthy of critique.

Duly schooled and corrected.  I figured when I wrote my paragraph, you might have an excellent response and you did.  Also I should say that it may not have been Kevin who was a pill about crowd-sourcing; by all accounts he is a generous guy and of course an exciting fighter.  I just remember some douchey remark his coach made (in the context of many douchey remarks).  Little protective here.  But he was probably just being protective of someone, as I have been here.  Its an endless cycle and one that I, as mainly a fan, ought not to participate in.  Thank you.

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Duly schooled and corrected.  I figured when I wrote my paragraph, you might have an excellent response and you did.  Also I should say that it may not have been Kevin who was a pill about crowd-sourcing; by all accounts he is a generous guy and of course an exciting fighter.  I just remember some douchey remark his coach made (in the context of many douchey remarks).  Little protective here.  Thank you.

 

Ha. No need to school you, you are school unto yourself, and I'm always glad to hear your perspective. I'm sorry I'm a little passionate about this stuff.

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Some very cool and fun discussions going on here!

 

3-25

I have to say I find myself torn in two very different directions when thinking about western ambitions and appropriations of Muay Thai. On one end we have very sincere, heart-felt, sometimes heart-aching reach toward an art that is perceived as beautiful, if violent, from the framework of the west. People yearn for "World Championship" belts, none of which are such, and cross great distances (both physical and mental) to achieve them, they learn all sorts of "Thai" things, get sak yant (I have them), and across gyms throughout the Land imitate what their coaches learned in the few months, or even years, they spent in the country. There is a great arcing towards "legitimacy" in the sport, almost a desperate need for it. And this has to be respected. This is the human condition. This is a beautiful thing. This is amazing. But, on the other hand almost all of this is fraudulent to some degree. There are no World Championship belts (no rankings), no, Max Muay Thai is not a legitimate, or perhaps one should say authentic Muay Thai fight promotion (it bills itself as "extreme entertainment" I believe). So much of encountering the "Thai" involves hiding film, or bullshitting away, showing "moves" you learned like parlor tricks, it feels like there is a great cabal of deception. And it feels like this has been going on for decades, as if Thailand were Las Vegas...what happens there, stays there.

If anything we've learned in our 5 years here, and Sylvie's endless fighting, its that we are JUST learning about what Muay Thai is. We are still reaching toward and peeling back layers. And its fucking incredible. It feels bizarre to see claims or even ambitions to authenticity so far outside the country, when even in the country there is so much more to learn. I used to be much more against these faux World belts, or the use of Kru or Arjan by westerners (that once felt like a big deal, no longer), but following along it feels like a far shore that is absorbed in the distance by fog. That shore is just so proliferate, so wide and long. So many belts, so many truly yearning, leaning into achievement. You can't disparage it. All I can say is: Keep on going! But, in this way, it feels like we are heading for a different shore, one we cannot see at all, and only heard rumor of. Something less exotic, more mundane...something like: just the fight.

 

Very good way of putting it! The argo sails ever onward.

Hey Dana, honestly I'm not even aware of their attacks on Sylvie - or, if I was at some point aware I certainly have forgotten. I don't follow them, and I hardly follow people that follow them. But I guess it doesn't surprise me that they were part of that crew. So this isn't really clapping back. If it was I certainly would have published this as a guest post on Sylvie's blog, instead of keeping it here in my little corner of the internet read by 5 or 6 people.

 

 

 

In my experience forums will have 10-20 lurkers for every active member. We're bigger than we think!

 

 

 It was really the quoted description itself that triggered me: OSU is based upon Kevin’s study of the Muay Thai philosophy of ‘osu’ (pronounced ‘oossss’) – the training mantra by which a student steels themselves against any hardship, physical or mental << Here you not only have misstatement of fact, its a misstatement in the tone of trying to educate someone (here is how this esoteric word is pronounced), and not only that, but that the film's deep character apparently came out of Kevin's "study" of this concept/principle, a study which may not even have involved knowing where it came from. I'm sorry, this does more than make me shake my head. It makes me say WTF? Now maybe none of this came form Kevin Ross, or even the film makers. Maybe it's this MMA writer's creation, but come on now. If you are going to take up an authoritative tone, and look like you are passing on some knowledge of Muay Thai and it's culture, please have some grasp of reality? 

 

The comedy writes itself.  :laugh: Its a common theme when I see Westerners try and step into the cultural realm of Muay Thai. The fishbowl swirls on. Kinda reminds me of that time the Thai girl had to pretend to be French and they named her Steven or something lol

 

if they had painted Kevin Ross's eyes to be slanted so he looked more "Asian" that would be problem...or at least problematic, not to mention humorous in the wrong way. 

 

I dunno man, Gilbert and Sullivan pulled it off:

 

 

3-25b

...I should add. One of the most amazing things about Muay Thai that you discover when you spend a long time in Thailand is how mundane it is. It is not some exotic, delicate flower. It's living in 1000s of dusty, tiny gyms. In the minds of 1000s of two-bit fighters turned trainers. There isn't anything purist about it. It would be like being a purist about western boxing in the US in the 1950s. There is no "Muay Thai", there are just thousands and thousands of Muay Thai expressions. This doesn't mean that Muay Thai doesn't have definable characteristics, or that it isn't intimately "Thai", come right from the soil of Thai culture and belief. But there is nothing really to be purist about. It's an incredible every-day thing. It's like being a purist about how a newpaper is read in New York. Okay, there is the whole subway fold. There is the cafe lean back and flap of the pages. But it really is just rather mundane. Or, at least it strikes me that way. One really only becomes a purist of newspaper reading when people no longer read newspapers, seeking to preserve a lost thing, or it's a thing you are cut off from by time or distance. You can imagine former German exchange students arguing about real NYC newspaper reading back in Berlin. Muay Thai isn't really there, at least in Thailand.

In Thailand though of course there are ideological battles that surround Muay Thai, and how it portrays or demonstrates Thai history, and National character. These are different kinds of questions, questions important to Thais.

This is a great analogy that really shows how silly the exoticism can be. I have a crystal clear image of that German guy in my head  :laugh:

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I dunno man, Gilbert and Sullivan pulled it off:

 

When I wrote that I actually had in mind Mickey Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's, which is cut from the same cloth of Time:

mickey-rooney-breakfast-at-tiffanys-last

 

Hey, I don't know how closely Mickey Rooney's character and the use of the term Osu are connected, but there do seem to be similarities. One could say that this too is "broadly exotic"...one in the mode of comedy, one in the mode of respect.

Kevin-Ross-Osu.png

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I don't think I've ever watched the movie through, but I've seen those iconic pictures of Audrey a thousand times:

 

41wnnT%2B4OzL._AC_UL320_SR214,320_.jpg

 

When trying to find a non-massive version of that picture to post, I was amused when I somewhat ironically came across this:

 

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5/28

I guess this is a strange follow up to the above entry, and I'm hesitant to even bring this forward. But this is my semi-private space where I just get to talk about things that preoccupy or fascinate me, and this is one of those. And really I write this because I care about Muay Thai, the Muay Thai that we all love, the Muay Thai of the big stadia in Thailand, especially those marvelous fighters of the Golden Age. It's already said by many that Lumpinee belts don't mean anything much when compared to the fights of those eras when the best fought the very best, over and over, sometimes even across weight classes. Now Lumpinee belts feel much more arranged or managed, big mega gyms purchasing lots and lots of talent from around the country, and top talent often kept from other top talent. I honestly don't know enough about the history of the sport and the inner machinations of current Thai arrangements to be firm about this, but you do hear legends just shake their head at the current state of top fighting. This could simply be Old School fighters dismissing modern developments, something you always see in sport. But it's enough to say that at the highest level of Muay Thai, the level at which we all aim our eyes, there have been stories of serious and significant slippage.

Why does this matter? Well, what I have in mind isn't so much Lumpinee or other Thai belts, but the way that we in the west represent our own Muay Thai development and achievement. I read the achievement list of a very well known YouTube fight technique purveyor who describes himself as an International Pro Muay Thai fighter. I'm not sure about this, but I believe he's had only one Muay Thai fight ever (many years ago), in Thailand against a windmilling Thai opponent of very questionable skill, and that is the anchor of the title: "International Pro Muay Thai Fighter". I'm just shaking my head. Ok, I get it. Everyone has to market themselves. There is a kind of built in bloat to achievement claims, and for people who want to make a living instructing others there is a need to establish authority. I'm sensitive to this. But there has to be a limit.

The above is an extreme example. But there are two other conflations that each time I hear them I cringe a little. The first is the claim "Muay Thai at Madison Square Garden". This is such a tricky thing. When Muay Thai fights happen at MSG this really raises the prestige of ALL of American Muay Thai, and maybe a little bit of western Muay Thai. Madison Square Garden is a famed name in the history of western fighting. The greatest of the greats of boxing fought there. This is just hallowed ground. The idea that people are fighting Muay Thai, where the legends of boxing were formed, is just a huge feather in the cap of Muay Thai. But...and everyone who goes to these shows knows, these are not Madison Square Garden fights, in the sense that a casual listener would imagine. These are MSG "Theater" events, in a separate space. Not the Arena. But still they are sometimes billed as "at the Mecca" of fighting.

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I'm not sure why this bothers me. Hype is a big part of the fighting game, and if I were running promotions for a show at MSG Theater I would definitely want to draw heavily on the name, and its history - and even the theater itself is a huge achievement for Muay Thai. It's a big venue right in the middle of Manhattan. But there is something beyond the mere event that sticks in my throat a little. Fighters themselves, and really all of us, try to blur the lines between these kinds of achievements and the hallowed events of the 1960s and 1970s, we participate in the wink and the nod. Something of the same thing was going on when westerners, of almost any skill level, found that they could fight on pre-shows at Lumpinee and Rajadamnern. This is something that still happens, though it seems to a lessor degree in the last year. Fighting at Lumpinnee or Rajadamnern in many of these cases was a bit like having your little league team play at Yankee Stadium in the off-season. These largely were not fights involving ranked fighters. A young western kid from our gym here in Pattaya just fought at Lumpinee, yes Lumpinee, someone with almost no real fighting skill to speak of, in the pre-card. This is not "fought at Lumpinee Stadium" in any real sense of the phrase.

Somewhat in the same vein, I've seen Muay Thai fighters I really like, I mean people I really like, winning a WBC belt of some kind. And then the excitement flows naturally into celebration for the "Green Belt", a belt that is famous the world over for how it stands for boxing excellence. Muhammad Ali wore the Green belt in his victory in 1974, the Rumble in the Jungle:

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I'm just really torn about this. Fighters find themselves such a precarious position. They fight for promotions, and in a certain way when winning belts of any kind they have a responsibility to respect and promote the achievement. And, there is an overall responsibility to Muay Thai itself to represent it as having champions that have achieved something notable, even something great. You have to rise to the hype in a way. But there is just something fundamentally wrong about this. You - or really with perhaps rare exception, most any Muay Thai fighters - don't have The Green Belt even though the WBC itself pushes the "green belt" phrase in its instagram and twitter accounts. I say this as someone who stared at Chatchai Sasakul's WBC belt as he held it in front of me, somewhat in awe. Even though you might be an awesome fighter and human being Muay Thai itself just isn't there. We can't just be giving out belts left and right, belts with the right letters on them, and pretend that we are simply forwarding Muay Thai by doing so. This is an incredibly inflationary exercise. And it is not just the WBC, its all the sanctioning bodies. Why I'm writing this is that it feels like someone, or some people, have to at least talk about it because sometimes it feels like everyone is forced to be "in" on the deception. We become bad folks who aren't team players, tearing down fighters if we put question marks next to achievement descriptions. We all have to pretend that a "World Title" is because of its name some amazing feat. We all have to pretend that the MSG Theater is more or less where Ali fought. We all have to pretend that fighting at Lumpinee is an epic achievement, no matter your opponent. Everyone in these events, even making these achievements, knows in the back of their mind it isn't the case. Keeping silent creates a kind of group shared guilt I think, which just pushes everyone onto the next hyped up achievement. It's not "The Emperor has No Clothes", it's "We All Have No Clothes". It's only going to stop when fighters themselves speak more soberly about their achievements, for the sake of Muay Thai itself. 

I think something of this same shared guilt is what kept so much of "fighting in Thailand" under wraps. People would come here and be totally unprepared for how dubious, or how haphazard the fight scene was. Some of them would fight only a few fights (no video) and be kind of embarrassed at their opponent, who perhaps they visibly outweigh. For decades "fighting in Thailand" was the mark of authenticity, but many, many fighters did so under the cloak of "what happens in Thailand stays in Thailand". Much of this was fueled by the Phuket scene (which I have no first hand account of, but which I've read about). Fighters would come back from a handful of fights, several months in Thailand, and open gyms, or become instructors, often with that as the rock of their authority. There would be no talk of the quality of those fights. No video. Instead, everyone kind of shared a group shame or responsibility to the image of fighting in Thailand. You could not speak the truth about it without taking away from your own credibility. It feels like it was a similar dynamic to the one we have with belts and world titles. It's just best not talked about, for everyone. There indeed were very hard fights being fought in the country, but nobody really would speak to the reality that very often there were mismatches.

In the last 5 years, or even 10 some of this spell of silence was broken. The image of the "tuk-tuk driver" fight rose up, and in certain sectors fighting in Thailand became quite dubious. People, especially in hearing stories out of Phuket (but also elsewhere), started coming to Thailand fearing a mismatch. We've gotten to I think a mix of feelings about fighting here, especially as fighters have started putting up video of their fights, and western vs Thai matchups have gotten more exposure in the age of social media. This is also why Sylvie has made it a principle to put video of every single fight she's fought. She's had the distinct fortune of being very small, so the usual guilt of being given a big size advantage is something she's very lucky to have not faced. The video is not there to say: "Hey! Look how great I am.", it's to say "Hey, this is what it is really like, fighting a ton in a commercial center like Chiang Mai, or in festival fights, or on tv cards, as a female". All the fight video is deflationary. We have to ground where Muay Thai is, and a lot of what Sylvie has done in her writing and fighting and filming is to sober things up.

Sylvie's also been lucky in the sense that she doesn't have to be part of a western fight promotional world, she does not depend on a system of achievement-marking that reinforces itself. She is not fighting for or winning belts in an ecosystem of inter-related events and promoters. She's just flying out on her own arc. This makes the ethics simpler. She also is not an instructor, or a gym owner that needs to qualify her authority. These kinds of pressures are real financial burdens. It is not easy to make a living as an instructor/gym owner, and so inflating or at the very least self-celebrating becomes a real and serious requirement. If you don't celebrate yourself, especially as a woman in sport, no-one will.

But what I really call for is that we all try to come together in our appreciation of some sort of real Gold Standard. You can't have everything representing "Gold". It is great for business as people strive for intra-gym prajet, or shorts, or for regional belts of every kind. But ultimately this the slippage of meaning is not good for Muay Thai itself. We cannot be blurring the line so badly that an "International Pro Muay Thai Fighter" (with one fight in Thailand) is the same as a "Lumpinee Fighter" (fighting on pre-cards, sometimes with almost no experience), as a "Madison Square Garden" fighter, as a WBC Champion. We have to create a bottom to all this, otherwise we are just making up and printing money. It becomes meaningless.

Right now, in the pro female Muay Thai world, let's just admit that there is no such thing as a World Champion. The reason for this is that there are no rigorous, regularly updated rankings that reflect quality fighters from around the world. It does not exist. World Championship belt fights, at least in Thailand, are pretty much "another hard fight" between two good opponents. Nothing more. And that isn't even always the case. These are really nice promotional bobbles. No ranking system, or string of victories has produced this matchup. At least in Thailand "World Champion" among women just means: Is probably a good fighter in the pool of fighters around at the time. It also tends to mean: trains at a gym with strong promotional contacts. Let's start with the sober view. That is the only way to get Muay Thai to actually develop beyond the "let's hype the next promotion as much as we can" stage. If we are representing things in a way that confuses others, and make Muay Thai seem far more progressed than it is, let's try to deflate it a little, just so we keep our feet on the ground. No, the fight was not at the Madison Square Garden Arena where Ali fought, but it was at the Theater which is pretty fucking good! No, this isn't a WBC green strap anywhere near the famed green straps of historic boxing, but it was against a very good opponent at a wonderful WBC promoted event. Hey, it was just a pre-card Lumpinee fight, not a very big deal, but it was super cool to even fight where the best fighters in the world fight. Let's speak our experiences. Why do this? We do this for the next generation of female fighters (and maybe all fighters), and then the generation after that too. By refusing to blur the hype we might get to a point where real and rigorous professional rankings become a marketable, significant thing to create. Only when we start to want, and really need rankings are they going to develop. If we keep over-hyping our achievements then there is no need for rankings, no way to create a landscape for real, generational greatness. It means we are depriving the next ladies (and men) of what they can achieve.

Now let me be clear, I'm not calling anyone "out". In fact some of the fighters that triggered this entry are people I really respect, and in fact I have great sensitivity to the pressures or even pleasures that lead to a certain way of talking. It's not even always talk by the fighter, but talk of their passionate supporters, or by earnest promoters. But I also say: Let's be secure in ourselves enough that we can go forward with less a need to hype, or blur the boundary between where we are and where we would dream to be. Let's not make "Gold" every shiny thing. Let's keep it what it is, Gold. Lets keep it remote and seldom reachable. And let's keep our feet on the ground so we can get somewhere.

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An example from my life. Above are 3 belts that we keep in the apartment. Belts in Thailand, generally, when won are not kept, so you have to pay to have them made for you by official sources, and are pretty expensive. These are a belt given by Master K, Sylvie's original teacher in the US, a belt that he had hung on his wall for many years, representing his gym team, Suriyasak. He had a student bring it to Sylvie, all the way to Thailand, a special moment for her. There is also a Chonburi Buffalo Race annual festival belt, the first "belt" she ever won in Thailand, bench-marking that experience. And then there is the Muay Siam Northern 105 lb belt, which she won, and then was stripped of because she is a westerner, in a bit of politics. The only western fighter to fight for and win such a belt. These are three special belts. Not because they indicate greatness, but rather because they reflect relationships. They are indicators of times in Sylvie's life. They are incredibly valuable, because of all they represent beyond their official titles. Sometimes Sylvie has to send a photo of herself with a belt to a promoter in Thailand because they crave these kinds of images, but mostly these belts just stay hidden. Maybe because they are kind of personal. For me at least there is a slight kind of shame or embarrassment about these belts, because they are somewhat generally shaped like the Lumipnee (or Rajadamnern) belt - a shiny, silver engraved shield with a colorful cloth band. These are NOT Lumpinee or Raja belts. The very proximity to the Lumpinee or Raja belts doesn't really feel right to me somehow.

Below is Namphon Nongkipahuyut's Lumpinee belt. We took this photograph of it while visiting Arjan Pramod, Namphon's old coach and kru, a few weeks after Namphon sadly died very likely of tuberculosis. That is a Lumpinee belt. The two should not be confused. The belts above, and this belt. To illustrate the vast distance between the two, consider this: We asked Arjan Pramod "Who is your favorite fighter of today?". He smiled wryly, his lion-face looking off in the distance. "Namkabuan" he said, letting his smile linger. No, he didn't misunderstand. Namphon's younger brother Namkabuan, one of the very best fighters ever, long now retired. In only one word Arjan Pramuk had said: "There are no great fighters anymore, Namkabuan was the last." He was standing there in the Nongkipahuyut "Hall of Fame". The Hall of Fame is really only a largely lost and forgotten room adjacent to the gym that no longer really trains fighters, part of the house where Arjan Pramuk lives. Its glass cases that haven't been dusted in quite a while still hold silent treasures like this belt, with its waist band tucked behind it to protect it from the dust:

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The distinction I feel must be maintained, even while Sylvie and others strive for historical accomplishments. We must not lose our place on the mountain, if we want to really climb the mountain. It is up to fighters themselves to express the relationships that make make certain belts or events special, but also to constantly set the distinction between what they have achieved and what there is in the world. It is up to fighters, I believe, to maintain "Gold".

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5/30

Foreign gods. I think a great deal about the gods and dieties of Thailand. Not only do they multiple and crest across every commercial incrustation, appearing like ghosts to offerings to every Capital manifestation, from 7-11s (which can have both sleeping dogs in doorways, and food notables to the invisible on the corner) to enormous banks. There is something special about this complete and every expanding panoply. And there is something to bowing to it. Worship to a foreign god invites the foreign within you, it cracks open the hard shell of self-conception, and it also puts you in metronomic tune with the affective consciousness of so many others, with whom you do not share a language, at least to a degree. But there is a shell to these beings, a difficult lacquer to get through. Does one have to dig deep, or skate faster on the surface? They are silent, somewhat cartooned or exaggerated. They contain scripts and turns that have embedded themselves in the minds of childhood, the childhoods of others who are not foreign to them. I cannot - yet - permeate myself to their degree. There is something to the Thai mind that takes on the surface reflection, not as a superficiality, but along the lines of the comic book silhouette test. A super hero or villain has to pass the recognition by readers, even if no light is shining upon them, revealing all the internal detail. The gods and dieties of Thailand are like this. Much of social discourse is like this. It is two dimensional truth telling. We of our excited 3D mappables are missing something in this. And I suspect that I'm missing something here too. It's what keeps the lacquer, lacquer. We must flatten ourselves out for these gods.

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7/4

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This really caught my eye, "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Ambassador" Anthony Bourdain explaining some months ago that he was relieved to stop pretending he was in a relationship with his wife, throwing out the complaint/explanation in an email about their separation that “She’s an interesting woman. I admire her choices. But I married Sophia Loren. She turned into Jean-Claude Van Damme.”

“Date night is pretty much going to a fight,” Bourdain joked to Ottavia in a 2013 column for Vice’s MMA section Fightland. “In between we watch tapes of guys wrestling each other. Romantic? Not.”

What is interesting is how softly it was Anthony Bordain who became the "ambassador" of BJJ, and not his wife, though Fightland did a very nice piece on his wife. Notably, she points out that her husband did not like how muscular her body had become:

It was Bordain, who I'll admit I'm not a fan of as a food show personality, who received the unofficial ambassadorship honor. He was a famous man, well into his 50s, starting BJJ. In this Charlie Rose segment, he talked about it, briefly:

I'm not really to judge the relationship but rather to talk from quite afar. This wasn't a story I was even following closely. It is more that in my media consumption and conversation I was somehow kind of struck by how the aura around Bourdain was of this late-in-life discovered male love of BJJ. Yes, I had heard that his wife had gotten him into it, but what really seemed to resonate with everyone was his story. When Sylvie shot a segment with food maven Andrew Zimmern people would say, wrongly: "Yeah, that BJJ guy."

Bourdain's the famous one, the one with his face on television, and the demographic skews way toward the aging Baby Boomer male, but there is something that feels just not right about the "ambassador of BJJ" saying something like: "I married Sophia Loren. She turned into Jean-Claude Van Damme."

Just as a story being told, looking back on all his video'd statements about how proud he was that his wife or his daughter (one day) could "kick everyone's ass in a bar they walk into" or "fuck someone up" (sorry, insert my eye-roll here), behind it all it feels like..."not Sophia Loren", a joke he apparently repeats and finds perhaps pleasurable irony or humor in. In her words before their separation:

It has been a transformation. My body has changed, dramatically. I have changed. My husband half-jokes that he married Sophia Loren but ended up with Jean-Claude Van Damme. But there's something to that. I'm not the same person. I'm hard now, physically and mentally. The confidence I gained is something I'm proud to share with my daughter, who, like me, has been training jujitsu for some time.

This is what I'm interested in. Bourdain was an ambassador because indeed it was a country of men, older men, that perhaps needed an ambassador, someone to translate things to make them understandable, to open up the door to an art and movement. It seems, he wasn't so much an ambassador OF Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so much as the older "still virile" Man Ambassador TO Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Yes. And MMA, which seems as if it caught fire in the world because it inexplicably wove artfulness and male rage into a single thing, like a living Kung Fu movie. What I wonder is if the aged powers that found Sophia Lorens growing into JCVDs so interesting (to a degree), with female fighting taking more and more market share and media, will sour on the real powers that female fighting is embodying...the real changes in confidence that reflect that women are not the "same person" they were 15 or 20 years ago, no longer Sophia Lorens.

I think my point here is that these are real transformations. It's important to note that in his humor Bourdain is just passing between one fantasy and another. For his generation Sophia Loren was pretty much THE quintessential beautiful woman, exotic enough as European to Americans, full of temper and emotion, and rich romantic love. And JCVD also occupies a powerful pole to that, the man who brings his manliness to exotic lands, learns exotic arts, defeats exotic enemies, dances...exotically. What happens when, lost in your fantasy space the person you grafted your desire fantasy onto (Sophia), starts to effect the fantasy of what you want to be yourself (JCVD)? When speaking of real female power (confidence, capability, vectors of choice), it seems that that power has found a secret crease in the male fantasy space, that it slipped between the allure of Loren, and the elements that surround JCVD. It has taken advantage of the confusion it produces by its juxtaposition. Yes, rightfully women of the arts and fighting complain about the sexualization of their roles, the repeated re-territorialization of their remarkable flights, but it really is in the confusion that is produced by the juxtaposition that inroads were made. All the virtues (Latin, look it up) of the male fighter became detached properties, qualities that could adhere to other things, effecting a displacement. Lorens could suddenly produce virility, almost by its definition. You see this in sci-fi films all the time when the "hot" android suddenly shows inhuman strength...but always with the warning/fear that the android has its own programming, its own mission...almost insect like. It was this crease between Loren and Jean, into which female power began to express itself, taking on more and more of the attributes of Jean, and leaving Loren more and more behind. But it is really into this crease that female fighting still remains. It's con-fusion.

What is important here is that the qualities of "Jean" are the attributes of power, or at least of those "in" power. They are necessary to signify and also, importantly, to trigger the experiences of power in its cultural braid of meaning and instinct. They are the vestments that in a certain sense need to be put on. But this is no fantasy experiment. These are a program of affective transformation. The symbols act as vessels for a kind of transport. But you must keep your eye on the real thing. The real power. The real freedoms that are being signified and assembled. Love. 

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7/24

I'm particularly fascinated with the MMA story of Kadyrov, the brutal dictator, Islamic ideologue, war-crime-ish cuddly Instagrammer who has embraced MMA for what it really seems to be, in the form of an absolute purity as extreme. I first ran into the story on Sherdog and here is a cleaner presentation of it on MMAfighting.com  or on Deadspin. I remember my mother, who was a Philosophy major before she became a prosecuting attorney, giving the advisement: If you want to understand the verity of an argument take it to its extreme. I was pretty young then and I wrestled with whether or not this was indeed true. I'm much older now and can see something of that taken up in this example. MMA - not the sport, but perhaps we could say the cultural phenomena - is largely revealed in its purity in Kadyrov. The outlandish fantasy of underground brutal fighting tournaments in martial arts cinema, some of my favorite films, paired with ethnic rage (it's dignity) and ultra-Nationalism, and vast resources of wealth (likely derived from elicit, widespread money-laundering activities) becomes acme'd in the arch-warrior type. Coupled to a carefully sculpted social media persona, and the west finds itself staring into a mirror reflection of itself: "Who is the fairest in all the land....?" It is mind-boggling how many threads of MMA absolutism are drawn together and amplified in Kadyrov who is simultaneously Bond villain and Mixed Martial Artist everyman, seemingly straddling the complete spectrum of the male possible. If I thought Trump was the grotesque but still utterly transfigured apogee of Capital, he is but a demi-urge to this example of manly racial rage and its proposed redemption. And what is even more incredible, the ideology of MMA (beknighted UFC fighters of the commercialized west) will be facing Kadyrov's fighter/warriors, their own hypostasis, in a real cage, in real fights. Not since Jessie Owens torched the field in the Berlin Olympics will there be such a meeting of ideology, political brutality and fantasy as athletic contest. But in this case there is no opposition, there is no nemesis. There is only a question: How deep will you go?

This is the fascinating thing. As Kadyrov harnesses the image and ethos of MMA to fuel the warrior caste fantasy, and thus his own political objectives -- and he is not the only power in the world doing so, perhaps most notably the recent rise of fighting spectacle in China, seeking a performance counterpart to real world potency - what it makes clear is that sports matter...that what is being done in the ring, the cage, the field, is not just distraction or pastime, but it draws on and banks affective powers and meanings for change. As otherwise fairly sage observers have wrongly guessed, they are not just bread and circus designed to keep the eyes of the People off of the real mechanisms of power. They are also the stuff of political meaning. It is theatricized but socially proven Good. And the Good is always tested withing the agora, both by speech and by price. To switch gears just a bit this is, in my view, what makes what Sylvie is doing in Muay Thai far more combustive than many if not all realize. There is a groundwork here, a bedrock built in gym spaces, in rings across Thailand, in digital sedimentation that goes very deep, that supposes a possibility far beyond sport in the typical sense. Fighting is where art meets flesh. And in the case of gender - and let's not lose track of how the greatest recent western outcry against Kadyrov has not been against the wider spread accusations of human atrocities, but rather specifically against his anti-gay "purifications" and denials of sexuality - fighting is where art meets flesh meets caste. Values are fighting.

Here is a good Vox video piece on Kadyrov:

The HBO experience of covering his story.

A very good 20+ minute radio interview of the Kadyrov MMA story, Karim Zidan:

And a 20+ minute radio interview of the Kadyrov MMA story, David Scott:

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8-31

I finally have done it - I have given into my love of Muay Thai. I'm not young. I'm 50+ (you would not believe it, but I actually do not know my age...I started calculating it out and got flustered for a minute and just gave up, because it doesn't matter)...but I've finally given into my absolute love of the sport. To talk about why it's taken me so long - my Lord, I've lived here in Thailand the motherland of the art, for 5 years! - borders on criminal, if you could commit crimes against yourself, but it's an intricate weave of problems and carefulness that is telling in its own right. What this really is about, what it has to be about, is my weight. For these 5 years I've lived an almost complete and total expat's life, locked in rooms with a keyboard, making sure that we can survive financially, with clients, and with Sylvie's own social media roots growing, just pushing for new vistas in that draining world, my mental acuity, my attention span, the circuit of my creativity growing tighter and tighter, living on refresh cycles and experimentation as a consultant, all as my body ballooned, and I lost awareness of my flesh. All while I watched one of the most incredible devotions to the sport that is possible, my 100 lb wife beat her way towards 200 fights. Jesus. It's incredible. At first I cocooned myself in the apartment because I just did not want to impact Sylvie's training experiences in a Thai gym. The trainers would speak to me, not to her, when I was around. And honestly I was a very harsh influence on Sylvie herself, as she attempted to ascend in her art. It felt best that I stayed away, and let the culture of the gym, the constellation of trainers just make the most of what her heart was. I did pad Muay Thai work maybe 3 or 4 times in our first 2 years at Lanna. I took maybe a month of boxing lessons, scheduled when the gym was empty and full of heat, in the early afternoons. But mostly I just languished, and grew more and more stagnant. More and more unhealthy. Examining a digital world, as westerners feasted on the beautiful training that was only 5 minutes walk from my door.

When we moved to Pattaya, it was more of the same. It just seemed best that I let Sylvie evolve in the cultures of her gyms. I'm a strong force, I send things into orbit, so largely I have just stayed away. And cost too was a reason/excuse. I didn't want to upset the delicate balance of friendship that long term stays, and what money can mean for Thais, by including myself in that relationship. And in truth, I just became frozen. I say it was my weight, which had swelled to an incredible 278 lbs (126 kg) in these 5 years, that drove me to finally give in. But it really was my health. There is a saying: You don't see many seriously overweight old people. In the last 6 months my eyesight began to dim. My circulation grew sluggish. The climb up the stairs to our 4th floor left me breathing hard for 10 minutes or more. I was literally starting to fall apart. It could see the future. I could see that as Sylvie just now is breaking into truly uncharted territory, as a human being and a fighter, as she was poised to just rocket ship to a level that people can't even see, the foundation of these 5 years of self discovery having been laid...I simply was not going to be alive to see it. I wasn't going to be there. I wasn't going to see the person I love really doing the thing she loved, at an incredibly high level. All the excuses (nerve damage in my leg), all the reasons (what would it cost!?) they just suddenly melted away. They were but whiffs of thoughts, not even real thoughts. I was going to die, and probably sooner than anyone else thought. It was time.

Kevin-and-Sylvie-day-1-e1504173046161.jp

278 lb ginormous me, with my lovely, incredible wife Sylvie, first day in the gym on Monday, above

I'm going to say this. The first day in the gym, just standing there in the weight room, kind of milling back and forth waiting for Pi Nu get his things together for my first pad work with him, I started to cry. The tears came, exactly as they are coming as I am writing this in recollection, out of happiness. I was finally there. I was finally going to touch Muay Thai myself, seriously. The stated aim really was to lose weight, to save myself and by time, maybe even decades, to be with my wife, but right then and there it felt like something else. The real reason I'm doing this felt like it was because I love Muay Thai, and I was finally giving myself permission to touch it myself. With my own hand. It didn't matter if I was good, if I ever was going to be good. But I was going to walk up and touch it, like how you've seen an elephant 1,000 times, images of elephants, but it isn't until you touch that dusty, leathery, hair-prickle of skin, you don't know what an elephant is, or feels like. My tears maybe would make more sense if you knew that for these 5 years I've projected myself, physically ---- I say "physically", but I really mean affectively ---- into an incredible amount of Muay Thai. Not only have I been ringside for Sylvie 190 or so fights, and seen all the associated fights surrounding those events, and all the tv and youtube we have watched, so the two of us could get a handle on this incredible art, I also have affectively imagined, and recorded, endless virtual movements, affectively, in my heart, watching all of that, so I could feel my way closer to it. I've been with Sylvie when she has been with the incredible legends she has been filming with, one of a kind human beings and fighters, and I have been silently, and adoringly been downloading the shapes and forms of everything I witnessed. I put it in me. Now, this is going to sound perhaps a little strange, but despite being a very verbal, abstract philosophical, systems oriented person, everything starts for me with the body. So while I've been putting on the endless pounds, stuck behind screens, I've also been processing everything affectively....physically. Ostensibly, I've been doing this for Sylvie's good, so to find out innovative ways around the unique roadblocks she's encountered, but viscerally, and honestly, I've been doing it for love...a love of Muay Thai. I've been kind of locked away, by a screen of sorts, from something I really loved, and which I've seen my wife love, first hand. So I cried, just a few joyous sobs, before that pad work would begin.

And the pad work is amazing. Pi Nu is incredibly patient, incredibly intelligent as he starts to build you, and with me he was working with a body that was badly broken, like an old pick up totally rusted out in the field with the grass growing 6 ft in all directions. But, because my mind was so attuned to everything Sylvie had been learning, and doing, and watched the legends of her instruction so closely myself, I had and have a kind of deep understanding of what the art is supposed to be, or can be. A virtual understanding. So, here I was, a non-functioning body, a very active mind, being escorted through the powers of the art, through their forms...the very BASIC forms, seeking balance like a ship taking on water and that wants to turn and sink, the captain carefully turning its wheel to keep the course, letting the steel work its structural magic. And that was the first day. Fuck. It was unbelievable. And still is. I'm actually touching the thing I love. First week is over and my mind is blowing up. It's just the mornings, I'm making sure I don't injure myself and set myself back, but I'm moving through the gym, as a person. As a human being. Not only as a mind. All the parts are there. And it means a terrible lot.

above, a little video essay on the upper corner of the gym

So, there's a just elating romance about this. The Petchrungruang Gym is...it's hard to describe...it's just about the truest "Thai" gym that there is, that fundamentally allows and includes westerners. But, I think you'd have to know Thailand, and Thai gyms, to see why that's the case. The video above, from this morning, maybe gives a clue to how I think about the gym, this beautiful ad hoc architectures that physically grow out of a house, a family, to explode (the opposite of 'implode') in the slowest of motions around the possibilities that Thai boys might one day be stadium fighters. And, I'm in this space, right in the middle of it. I feel like as I've finally made a motion toward saving my life, I've gifted myself something unexpected. The indulgence and necessity that I touch this art. And I wish I could send it to you, whatever reader who may find this, this bottled emotion that is come from now many years of neglect, an elixir of belief, that makes the art, any art, possible. And I truly feel I could not have done this at any time prior. The stagnation, the stasis really, was a part of the love, as I just watched on, projecting myself into it. Not that what I chose was right, but it was right for this path, this creation, this possibility. Let's see what happens...

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9/1

I've added the Farmer's Walk to my basic Muay Thai development. I've never been a "work out" guy, even when I was very athletic in my youth, but there is something very reassuring in the Farmer's Walk, the core naturalness of the movement, that just speaks to me. It has to do with something that I love in Muay Thai, and in particular the Muay Thai Pi Nu teaches. Very basic, balanced, efficient moves that come out of a frame. This is something I really, really love, and it feels nice to add an easy movement that has global strengthening elements that somehow mirror the ethos (please, no recommendations :).

In an odd contrast to all of this, I've already begun developing my own fighting system/style, principally on the bag, but mostly in my mind through experimentation. I know this probably sounds ridiculous, but I've been thinking theoretically about Muay Thai tactics and styles for about 7 years now, and it just tickles my brain to start building something I've been imagining out of my own un-trained flesh. So, there is a complete fascination with the pure simplicity of efficient responses contained in Pi Nu's Muay Thai, and really the Muay Thai of pretty much any fighter-oriented gym, AND also already a kind of rigorous experimentation, a creation of something that might really be new, at least to Muay Thai. What I'm working on his a ground up application of what Sylvie is calling The Armadillo Guard, a boxing guard used by some legends. Because of Thai clinch, I think the potentials in this boxing guard are quite undeveloped in Muay Thai, because at closer range a host of latches and strikes contained in it become suddenly available (against the rules of boxing).

You can see the Armadillo Guard here, in Kaensak's example:

I don't know if Sylvie will follow me on this, though she does like the guard just for what it is, a max protect flash position. But...for me it is the introduction of pure enjoyment, just spinning my mind through new angles that are not often common in Muay Thai (and some that are). It makes me really happy to play with this on the bag, and maybe it will become something one day. In research I have found some of the positions to be similar to Muay Chaiya defenses, but just a little bit.

What is interesting is that the play gives me respite for the ways my body feels weak or un-controllable as yet. My mind can play along a line of possibilities that really haven't been explored much before, in parallel to my earnest efforts to just get the basics in my body at the same time.

And Pi Nu has been incredible.

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Kevin, I replied briefly on facebook but really felt like I needed to say more, because I think I can relate in a way that many of the younger folks maybe cannot. I think I can understand how hard this is, not just physically but maybe emotionally as well.

I started training when I was 45 and dropped around 35 pounds over the years, and have even fought a bit. Sylvie has provided me a lot of inspiration to try to do this because it seemed doable to me (and frankly not doable in the opinion of many others in my life), her Everest-quest for 200 was crazy 100 fights ago and now its within reach. I am fighting at 50, which is great. But the flip side of drawing that kind of inspiration is that its an impossible standard to live up to, my handful of fights at a relatively low level are slightly embarrassing to even mention in something she might read. Even in comparison to my youthful buddies, my "fight career" seems somewhat quixotic, so my mental game is about my mental game, about my Muay. Staying focused is my goal, no matter how tempting it is to dwell on the desire to be younger or to have started earlier or on some other externality. And I think a lot about something Pema Chodron wrote:

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

I take this to mean, be real with myself but don't be cruel with myself. Hang tough, work hard. There is only your road ahead. This old guy is cheering for you. 

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9/2

Today in pad work I figured out a little trick after getting the pads smashed down onto my cross, sometimes twisting my wrist a little. I know pad holders do this just to counteract the force, and build strength, especially with big guys...and I'm a big guy...but I gotta keep my wrists going. So I just started targeting the top part of the pad, where the logo happened to be. End of pad smash, and it gave me a nice refined target to sharpen my eyes. For me, what I'm really trying to do, as my body fails me in so many ways, it's about trying to control my space, my environment. Checking the smash down was just part of that.  Mostly it is pace. Pi Nu is incredible at just drawing you into a cardio world where you cannot recover, or breathe. I've watched him do it to Sylvie so many times, and she is a cardio monster. I do know this is good for me, health wise, but I want to from the beginning be measuredly focused on controlling small elements. This is fighting. Taking control of all the small things. So I do not jump for bait when strikes are called for, I take the extra beat to be more on balanced.

But I'm in love with the ways Pi Nu is pairing strikes, how he is already teaching me the flow between natural knees and elbows, on the same side. And I'm loving the cross grab on those knees, so the elbows just right out of a very protected position, the subtle way that you can either claw down or push, as you knee, and how that becomes an elbow. Just love.

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9/29

Me-and-Sylvie-1-month-in-e1506669024657.

above, me down to 269 lbs, with my sweet

Okay, I'm resolved to not turn this into a weight loss journal, though of course it can risk becoming that. This part of my writing is really about my love of Muay Thai and that I finally have a portal to it, even though I've lived in Thailand for 5 years and have always been close to it. This month, my first, was pretty difficult. Not in terms of work, but non-work. I was coasting along really nicely in the first week. There was a real sense of groove where Pi Nu was pushing me, but not just physically. He was beginning to shape my rather crude and off-balance Muay Thai. The way he works in rounds is that he just keep drawing you out, like putting threads. A knee naturally in followed by a same side elbow, a teep follows a jab. He works his rounds pulling you through natural Muay Thai strike pathways, but also trying to drain you. If you start jumping to his next called strike you'll find yourself in Cardio Hell. I noticed this a long time ago, watching Sylvie on pads. So for me that week was just feeling those progressions, like trying to hum a tune that someone else is humming, but also staying on the right side of cardio, making sure I had my balance before striking, making sure I wasn't busting myself too far from center. Yeah, it would be great if I was an animal right off, but I was nearly 280 and not used to movement. Plus, I feel like part of being a fighter is finding your tempo sweet spot, imposing your rhythm a little. If you just chase your padholder you are mirroring. I'm not sure that is a great habit to build. So, that week was awesome. Burning my lungs a little, finding/feeling Muay Thai (I was loving the cross arm neck grab on knees, and the feel of how that connects to elbows). It was good. Then we had to go. One of the difficulties of this mission is that Sylvie and I hit the road for at least one week out of the month. This time it was 4 fights in 2 weeks, so there was a real sense of disruption. Honestly, one of my difficulties is that I'm kind of OCD about regularity. If I'm set to do something everyday, over and over at the same time I have relentless energy and commitment. A juggled schedule fucks me. I'm going to have to figure out how to work this out at a personal level (no suggestions necessary). My joy is working with Pi Nu. It makes me go.

So, there was a lot of disruption this month, and I really didn't get right back on the horse until today. We have maybe 6 more days of uninterrupted Muay Thai before Sylvie's next fight so I'm set for more digging in. I'll make this work, it's just a matter of focus, preparation and planning. The good news is that this month I did lose at least 4 kilos to find myself below 270! (122 kg, 269 lbs). Hey, that's pretty awesome. A big part of this was not only the first big week of training, it was also that Sylvie and I both took a big turn in our diets. No processed carbs, no big GI Index carbs. We noticed that carbs of all sorts were putting Sylvie in a bad frame of mind, and it made perfect sense that I should follow along with this as I'm probably per-diabetic. Yeah, it was hard to reformulate our menus, and sometimes it feels like there is nothing I want to eat, but it certainly has helped with the weight loss. Now if I can just buckle down and put my Muay Thai right along side my diet change, we'll be getting there.

As for my Muay Thai I need to get into bag work way more. I'm lacking focus (and joy) there. I gave up playing with the Amardillo Guard, which I'm still theoretically way excited about - I believe there is a whole Muay Thai fighting system buried in that guard, something no one has thought to work out because it's a boxing guard. But I also have to work on my lead leg teep which is horrendous and comical at the same time. Geez. That teep says a lot of where I'm at physically. I should make it a mission to take that teep as a symbol of my possible transformation toward the love of Muay Thai that I have. Maybe in a year I'll be writing about how incredibly my lead leg teep is. I like that idea.

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Love reading about your journey, Kevin. You really capture that "everything is amazing but SO hard" feeling you get when you start muay thai, learn something new or when you work with a new padholder who challenges you.

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