Last week I noticed that my YouTube Channel had hit over 1.5 million views, which is an astounding number given where I started and what my intentions are. It provides a time to reflect a little on what this channel has meant to me and what it might mean to others.
Lessons of YouTube
There is so much to learn from my experiences on YouTube. For those who have not been following, the channel really began as a way to document my training sessions for myself, as well as share and preserve the amazing technique and teaching of Master K. In fact, we originally intended to show Master K how to make it his own channel (he puts up clips of himself being amazing in his own basement on his website) but that proved a little difficult, so I just kept posting. It became a space for me to post raw, unedited portions of my one-on-one training with Master K in his basement in New Jersey, but it gradually developed into something more as people began to view the videos and respond to them, which led me to want to share more of these experiences – at greater length and frequency. At first the number of views were very small, but even that was alarming as I am a private and reserved person, shy even; but the channel developed despite that because, as I said before, it started as a way to share Master K and has grown into something even larger because of what this whole experience has become.
1. Share your techniques – perhaps the thing that fed the channel more than anything was sharing Master K’s techniques, his particular teaching. This is more common now on YouTube than it was a few years ago when I began, but this sharing goes against an old gym/teacher ethic that techniques are private means of gaining an edge over one’s opponents and guarding a gym or trainer’s “secrets” – almost like tricks. Some post techniques now to show how much they know, to play the coach, but the majority of us realize that if Muay Thai is going to grow and be preserved, techniques need to be shared. We use the word “share” a lot now days in the world of online social media, but the word is rooted in something precious in that it comes from giving from limited resources. Not everyone can actually be in Master K’s basement and experiencing him first-hand, just as not everyone can move to Thailand to train and fight full-time. So from this rare opportunity I look to share as much of it as I can with as much generosity as Master K has shown in how he shares his wealth of knowledge from over 60 years of practicing and perfecting his Muay Thai. If we don’t record and share them they risk dying out or being changed by new influences and forces. Also, I cannot tell you how many people I’ve heard from that use Master K’s videos to train and correct themselves as they work in relative isolation or to add to what their coaches are teaching. There was at one point a Swedish team training themselves entirely from videos posted to MasterKMuayThai. This means a lot to me.
2. Don’t hide your flaws – this was a big point of contention between Master K and myself in the very beginning of the channel. It is very Thai to put your best, most polished face forward. The Thai culture is a performance culture and places great importance on appearances. You don’t show yourself stumbling, struggling or erring. Again and again he urged me to make sharp, snappy edits and only include the good moments that demonstrated the technique correctly (if you look back you’ll see some of the earliest videos were like this), like a “highlight reel.” But it became much more apparent that by showing my struggles to learn these detailed techniques, the videos and his teaching were much more informative. You can see the difficulties and the progression, the path to learning and training. Additionally, letting the camera run also lets the viewer see Master K’s amazing personality and sense of humor as he responded to my inability to quite get it – and some things I struggle with to this day. (Showing Master K’s technique is one thing because it’s so beautiful and in many ways “old school,” but showing Master K himself allows viewers to also witness how he has planted himself in my heart and become family to me.) Further, revealing flaws and imperfections along the way gives others who aren’t perfect (because who is?!) something to identify with; a map that starts in the rough but progresses steadily toward the beautiful movements perfomred by Master K. Viewers can progress along with you. This is a very difficult thing to do, I’ll admit. It sucks to have your failings broadcast to tens of thousands, some of whom are self-appointed “keyboard warriors”, YouTube “experts” and “nay-sayers;” these commenters aren’t the greatest. (But for every irritating or downright horrible comment there are dozens of inspirational, positive and gracious viewers.) But showing one’s struggle makes makes all the difference. There is just too much expert attitude stuff on YouTube. We need to share more wholly. Be real. Be sincere. Be vulnerable and brave.
3. Film and share your fights – This is another big one and goes along with showing your flaws. It seems petty to me to see amateur fighters hiding their videos because they feel like it provides some amazing edge on another potential low-level local fighter, all while their coach breaks down that other fighter’s film, making themselves seem indispensable. I’ve heard the reasoning – I get it, though I don’t appreciate it – and the hiding tactic may help a fighter get some wins through being “unknown” (which isn’t a skill), but ultimately whatever is gained through that process is far less that what is lost. Especially for female fighters, our community is small. Visibility of the sport and the persons who love it is the only way in which it will grow and simply by being visible you can reach out to someone in a gym or in their own garage somewhere and inspire them, connect to them, motivate them, or just let them know that there’s an “us” rather than just “me.”
Share your fights. Let people see who you are and how you have developed. I lost 7 fights in a row early on and put every one of those up. It is painful to do and it opens you up to critics, but it is part of owning up to who you are and taking responsibility for it. And I probably have lost fights due to my film being up because it exposes my flaws – but losing because of known weaknesses can make you a stronger fighter, much more mentally strong than if you won because you hid yours. I know practically every Western gym is probably against this as they seek whatever edge, or grooming a record and chasing whatever belt. The point is to deepen your relationship to Muay Thai, to welcome the struggle to overcome your limitations, not just to stand on top of a heap. Especially starting out I believe much more is to be gained in the inspiration that comes from the community you make in sharing, rather than in a carefully guarded win-loss record.
all my fights are here
4. Vlog, show people who you are – Grab the camera and just talk. I’m a pretty quiet person. It takes a comfort level to be reached before I’ll talk to someone I don’t know…unless I push myself. But just making a video journal changes your perspective on what you are going through, and it invites support from others. I met one of my best friends Robyn Klenk through an early video journal I put up when I was catching some flack, and that opened up incredible opportunities that included me finding new trainers at the time (Ray Velez), not to mention a lifelong friend. Robyn even came to Thailand to train with me and fight this year, something I doubt she would have done had we not met. More than anything, she has been a constant support. You can read her guest post on the experience: Stretched Thin and Growing in Thailand. So many others have come to me in support, too many to name. You honestly don’t know what will happen until you put it out there. It doesn’t matter if 10 people see it, or several thousand. Bring your world to them and they will add to yours.
Robyn and me geeking out with the elephants; we could not behave.
This is a very early, or perhaps very first Vlog from 4 years ago. There are no rules, you just start it. Happily, you can talk to millions of persons while sitting alone with a camera. Those damn teenagers do it all the time.
Here is a playlist of all my vlogs (over 80 at this point).
5. Keep sharing – I’ve put up over 1,000 videos. It isn’t about making the one viral hit, or the highlight reel with great music (although those can be included, too). It’s about building a picture of what you are doing, and doing it piece by piece. My husband is fond of saying that I may be the most documented fighter in history because of the extent of my training shares and because my fights have been up since the beginning of the beginning. It’s an odd thing to say and even more mind-bending to consider, but it’s not because I’m so important or because of anything I’ve done other than committing to sharing it. And who knows what this kind of sharing will ultimately amount to in the future. We know things about the Roman Empire, or about Chinese dynasties because someone took the effort to write things down. Sometimes even insignificant lives echo out across history simply because they were recorded. Anne Frank wasn’t written about because of her accomplishments, she is instead cemented in history and remembered with honor because of what she wrote herself – through extraordinary circumstances. Because of her experience. The old saying is that “history is written by the victors,” but history is also simply written by those who take the care to grab a pen. If you are indeed serious about your passion for Muay Thai (or whatever you are doing) you owe it to the record to write it down…or these digital days, film it, blog it.
And it’s not just self-aggrandizing. Rosy Hayward on the Female Muay Thai on Facebook tries to piece together the history and memory of great female Muay Thai fighters from only a generation or two before this one, fighters like the incomparable Anne Quinlan, who I interviewed recently but did not even know of a year ago. These stories will be lost, these wonderful and fantastic lives; in so, female fighting and fighters lose their part in this heritage. (My main trainer, Den, grew up in Chiang Mai and has over 300 fights to his name. Recently we’ve been helping him move the few DVD’s he has of his last fights onto YouTube for archiving and preservation purposes. Den is only 39 years old and he has barely any record of his fights, photos or video – something we take for granted now that we can capture every moment on a phone camera.)
But the heritage of female Muay Thai’s history and recent past is not just filled with belt-holders and highlight-reel-makers. It is filled with every woman who dared to put on boxing gloves and carve out of herself a potential in the art and sport that inspired her. We don’t really know who will matter 50 years from now, who will inspire whom, but if you love female Muay Thai you owe it to make what you are doing last – so future generations know where they came from, where they’re going. None of us is the first and we ought to be making efforts to be sure we are not the last, or even the only. Even my current quest of 100 fights (aiming for May 2015), and my journey to Thailand, was borne out of the original brief digital connection I made with Sylvie Charbonneau as she came onto 50 fights in Thailand (recorded through win/loss updates on her Facebook), a number I hardly dared dream. I wish she’d kept a blog. I have so many questions about her experiences here before me every time I come up against some deep challenge and I would be happy just to hear “me too” from another fighter.
6. Showcase others – my channel was initially about Master K. It was trying to bring Master K to people around the world. And since then I’ve tried to bring others to my viewers, shining a light on people who might not otherwise be found. I’ve done a few interviews of female fighters and I’ve continued to try and share techniques taught by my trainers here in Thailand. Honestly, this is something that I really should do more of. The truth is that I always feel like I’m intruding when I point the camera, and by nature I’m quite shy, but I keep feeling like each time I do it a good thing has happened. The price of being pushy or self-exposed is nothing compared to the reward of sharing these moments or this knowledge I have access to. So I push myself. I would say to you: try to share your world, and the world of those around you.
Master K’s videos remind me of what I’ve learned already, what I’ve come from and why I started in the first place. I watch them now to feel the presence of Master K, to remember what he taught me, to brush up on techniques – it’s like a digital letter that I can return to when I need it, a message from the past to the present and the future. And it’s hard to know where you are at any given moment without reference points. I can see the progress I’ve made when I look at old fight videos – and more importantly, I can see the progress we’ve made in Muay Thai when I see more videos and blogs from others who share this passion and love for the sport.
It seems safe to say that if I never started filming my training sessions and sharing them I may never have found myself here in Thailand, experiencing this remarkable ambition and very difficult climb. I thank everyone who has added to my channel and inspired me to do more. I encourage you to do more. And I’d like to thank my husband Kevin who is brilliant about this stuff and has a philosophy about what social media means to the lives of others, for always reminding me of it and pushing me just constantly and gently enough that I keep moving without too much push-back. He keeps me honest and keeps me generous. He is the mirror by which I can find the means to admire myself.