Kevin and I pulled the car into a slot at a gas station on the way up to Mahasarakham for my 128th fight in Thailand. The phone pinged and I saw a message from Rew Mitchell of Awakenings, letting me know that he was going to release the results of this year’s Awakening Female Fighter Awards and, would it mess with my pre-fight head to know how I did in those. I’d been nominated in a few categories. My efforts on my website are to bring forward my own experiences here in Thailand as a female fighter, but also trying to spread awareness of other female fighters – it’s a great deal of work and really a full-time job in addition to my training – work that is now supported by my monthly Patreon pledges and my sponsors. So winning the Female Journalist of the Year last year meant a great deal to me and I’d hoped that I’d kept up that momentum for this year as well. But, seeing Rew’s question in print on my chat screen, I immediately felt that I’d lost that category this year. It was just a hunch, but I felt at once a bit sunken and at the same time resolved to do more this year, to really make 8limbs.us special.
Check out all the 2015 Female Muay Thai Award winners and results here.
But then Rew gave me the full picture. I had, in fact, not won the Journalist Award and had come in second in that category. He wouldn’t tell me who’d won; his message was only about this category that I had won: Female Fighter of the Year. Holy shit. Pardon my language, but holy shit! I’d seen the names that were nominated in that category and given the caliber of fighters and their visibility to western audiences (Jorina Baars; Anissa Mekson (who won last year); Valentina Shevchenko; et al) it just didn’t seem like I could win. I’m amazed, really. It’s also an honor to come in second place in several categories which people nominated and voted for me.
Video and Statistics
137 Fights – 127 Fights in Thailand (pro: 82-42-4; 52 T/KOs)
I fought 35 times in 2015….in 2014 it was 35 times and in 2013 it was 34, so in 2015 I was doing as I’ve done for the past three years. This is how I fight.
A Big Thank You
First and foremost, thank you to everyone who both nominated and voted for me. What’s so incredible about this unexpected award is that, while I’d been focusing on the Journalist Award because it’s a large part of what I do on my website, being a fighter is another huge part of what I do…it’s the core. I fought 35 times in 2015, which puts into perspective how big a part I’m talking about. In 2014 it was 35 times and in 2013 it was 34, so in 2015 I was doing as I’ve done for the past three years. This is how I fight. The Awakening Female Fighter Awards are divided into Muay Thai and MMA, and every category is filled by nominations offered by the public, and then once those nominations are organized and logged, votes are cast. The awards are brought about by asking the people who are part of, passionate about, and involved in the Female Fighter world. It’s Awakening’s mission to forward and promote women in combat sports and the organization has worked a great deal to create a database with fighter profiles, keeping track of fighters’ records and paths (they keep up-to-date with my record, which is a lot of work; it’s even hard for me to do!) and these awards are part of that. To illustrate how far there is to go in Awakening’s mission, my interest is pretty strongly in female fighters and I had a hard time filling in the categories for all the nominations – we just don’t get the kind of exposure that men do, or that we deserve. But it means a lot to me that I come to mind for people who are nominating and then casting their votes. It’s exactly the community that I come from, so it means a great deal to me to have this award come out of that same community. Again, thank you.
I thank my Patreon monthly pledgers that in fact keep this site up and running, for as little as a $1 a month, including my official sponsors Nak Muay Nation (Sean and Lawrence) and OnyxMMA (with the help of Sylvia).
9 Things that Defined My Year in 2015
This has allowed me to reflect back on my year, which has been a great one. It’s very easy to lose track of time in Thailand and not fully recognize the scope of what’s gone on in a given frame. It’s the same as a fight, really. If you’re flowing, sometimes you don’t know if something happened in the third round or the fifth round, so you have to step back and reassemble all these pieces that stand out and organize them into an order of how they came to be. That’s what it’s like for me looking back over a year; I remember it, I just maybe don’t remember it in order.
So here are a few of the standout things about this year, not in order:
1. Became the Foreigner Who Has Fought the Most In Thailand
Something that has defined my fighting is that I’ve used number totals to motivate me and keep me pushing for growth. The numbers aren’t all that important, they are just a tree or a hill to run to. First it was 50 fights, then 100 fights in Thailand. Each time I set it, it really does feel impossible or absurd to me. Now it’s 200 fights in Thailand. In the course of this all, I also like to write about sometimes forgotten others who have done big things, and somehow I came to discover that now with over 120 fights I’ve very likely fought more times in Thailand than any other foreigner, male or female. For me, noting this kind of achievement really is important for one reason, that it is a woman who has done it. After I’m forgotten, more or less, the fact that some woman, any woman, is the foreigner who has fought the most in this incredible country of Muay Thai, means something to the future of women as fighters. It changes the scale of what is possible.
2. A Variety of New Promoters – Fighting Everywhere in Thailand
A big challenge in trying to fight a great deal in Thailand, as a woman, is actually booking the fights. In 2015 I started traveling for fights with a handful of different promoters, who I would regularly contact in bulk and ask for fights, hoping a few of them would pan out. The method is shotgun. You take pretty much any fight offered (that you can afford to), even if they are bunched together. With Rung, I got to touch the border with Cambodia for a few fights against larger opponents but really good fights. And Yo brought me farther north into Khon Kaen; I started going down to Hua Hin from a connection there; “Small Man,” brought me into Khorat. I returned to Chiang Mai for a number of fights through my old gym, Lanna Muay Thai, returning to the same promoters who’d been booking me for years when I was there, but really re-establishing myself with the new stadium in the last months of the year. I traveled with just one man as my corner, Mod Ek, or with the men who booked the fight as my corner; or in the last part of the year with no corner at all and just asking someone at the ring to help me. That was awesome, actually.
3. Leaving O. Meekhun Gym
My breakup with O. Meekhun Gym, the gym I’d been training at as my “third session” in the late-afternoons, early-evenings for over a year, was difficult. I wrote about it here: The Toxicity of Talk. This is Phetjee Jaa‘s family gym and I’d go after my regular afternoon session to get more padwork, and clinch with Jee Jaa and her brother Mawin. In 2014 I’d fought through that gym regularly, but looking at the fights for 2015 I realize the extent to which they weren’t booking me anymore. My relationship with that gym was a slow deterioration but actually deciding to leave and break ties was still painful. It was important for me to leave such a toxic environment and I think it’s done wonders for me and my growth as a fighter; I left them in October and of my 35 fights throughout the year only maybe 3 were with them – I was surprised to see when looking back.
At the time that I broke the hand, I was all about an overhand right. Now I’ve found my left hook. I very likely re-fractured it a bit in a few fights, when by instinct I could not help but throw it, which caused it to be slow to heal, but having the lack of use of this hand was a big part of my development as a fighter in 2015.
3. My Broken Right Hand
In August I broke my right hand in a fight down in Hua Hin. In the fight I felt something odd going on with my hand, which I actually attributed to my glove being too loose. I’d strained my hand once before in training, clinching with gloves on that were too loose, but this felt way different when I actually tried to peel the tape off of my hands after the fight. I was determined to not say my hand was broken because I didn’t want to acknowledge it or dwell on it, or something, but my hand was broken. And I’m fairly certain now that I broke it on some poorly delivered overhand right slugger-punch. But I didn’t have time to think about it because we left directly from the stadium in Hua Hin and drove up to Chiang Mai, where I’d be fighting again two days later. Against the formidable “falang smasher,” Nong Ying Pettonpung. I’d fought her twice before and won by TKO both times, but Nong Ying is much bigger than I am (+6 kg) and when she turns on her aggression she’s scary as hell. I was afraid of her, for sure, and it got the better of me. My broken hand could have played a part in how “off” I was in that fight, but I think it was mental more than anything and I got absolutely smashed. My eyebrow split open, I had a huge egg above that, which slowly drained into my eye over the next week, and my confidence was in the gutter. It was a defining fight in terms of figuring out how to better myself.
I continued to fight full time, and train full time with my hand fracture, negotiating the pain and discomfort as I could. I simply didn’t throw my right in training at all for several months, worked on a right elbow instead, and really tightened up my left side and my guard, something that is paying off now. At the time that I broke the hand, I was all about an overhand right. Now I’ve found my left hook. I very likely re-fractured it a bit in a few fights, when by instinct I could not help but throw it, which caused it to be slow to heal, but having the lack of use of this hand was a big part of my development as a fighter in 2015.
4. I Got Cut A Lot
When I look at this past year, of my ~84 total stitches so far, maybe 40 of them came between April and August of this year. A few times it was cuts re-opening because I fight so frequently, but it was definitely a few months of just constantly having stitches or very fresh scars. I felt divided on this: on the one hand, I don’t care; it’s just part of my style of fighting, combined with fighting bigger opponents quite frequently, who have reach and angles that can turn guards into cuts, or head-clashes into cuts. On the other hand, it sucks to be “healing” all the time. It is absolutely a recurring injury, can threaten the end of a fight at anytime, and with the threat of infection and different complications involved in that healing process it can feel like you’re trying to charge up a sand dune and just slipping back to the same starting spot all the time. At the start of December I received a constellation of protective Yant from Arjan Pi, with the focus being protection in my fights.
me and my stitched up forehead at Arjan Pi’s, above
5. Sak Yant – a Spiritual Dimension of Muay Thai
Sak Yant are cultural magical, protective and lucky tattoos. It is very much like an amulet, rosary, or talisman worn in the skin. What I find so powerful about them is that they are a physical manifestation and visual meditation on what qualities you want to express, based on the values you already have. The process of receiving the Yant is the first step, in enduring and meditating on the fact that you want this change and that you want to manifest these qualities; when the pain is gone it becomes a softer process but one that, like the ink, is permanent. Sak Yant have featured heavily in this year. After receiving a cut in April at the very end of a fight (which I won), my 99th fight in Thailand, that I should see Arjan Pi. He just happened to be available and it felt like providence. I’d received two Yant from him before, on my elbow and almost exactly one year prior to this visit, my Sangwan Rahu. It felt like providence to be able to go see him after this fight. I sat for a 4 hour tiger and takroh sak yant on my back. A pair of backward-looking tigers and a takroh in the center. It was intense. I thought that my chest was the most painful tattoo experience I’d experienced, given the time and having to be stoic and all that. But receiving my tigers – pounding the amnat into my back – throws every other tattoo experience into a blur, compared to the sharp focus of that pain. But pain is growth; pain is learning. That’s why it was so intense; not because it “hurt a lot,” but because the level of that pain and the prolonged experience of it was transformative. You can read about the experience here: Transformation and Belief.
Then, 8 months later, Ajarn called me in to receive a constellation of 8 Yant for greater protection and stronger direction in my path.
6. I Fought in Laos and on Max
I also fought in Laos in 2015. That was crazy. I’ve been living and fighting in Thailand for 3+ years and I never leave the country unless it’s for a “border run” regarding my visa. But I was invited to a 4-woman, 50 kg tournament in Laos and accidentally got my visa cancelled in the process. That was a nightmare, but getting to fight Cherry Gor. Twin again, one of the very best fighters in Thailand who is a real challenge as she’s always carrying a few more kilos than me. It was worth the adventure. My very first fight of the year was also at Max Muay Thai stadium in Pattaya, which was a brand new stadium at the time. To my knowledge, me and Muangsingjiew, who I fought on that card, are the only women to have fought in that new stadium. They no longer accept female fighters.
7. I Began Training in Karate – Bare-fisted Training and Balance
As a result of leaving O. Meekhun I had to find a new way to supplement my training, so I ended up back at WKO. That had a lot of changes right at the start of it, but when the dust settled I became very happy with my padwork and working with Pi Mutt and the instruction I receive from Sifu in Karate classes. That’s what began my bare-fist training, which is an interesting development after my broken hand. I had to adjust my training and pretty much not use my right punch for 3 months, but Sifu’s bare-fist methods have brought that hand back with a vengeance. In addition to the stabilizing of the hand with the bare-fist training, I’ve also adopted his technique using balancing on top of balls while striking for overall balance and stability. It’s been fantastic. Pi Nu thought I was crazy and made fun of me for lugging basketballs out to stand on every morning, but then he saw one of the kids try to do what I was doing, totally not be able to stand on the balls for even two seconds, and now he’s okay with it. I think he didn’t know it was difficult. Now I’m entirely bare-fist on all my bag round, and it has done wonders not only for my confidence, but really stabilized my formerly broken hand. This has been a big change in my training, and I love it as it is starting to bring my hands more into play in my fights.
8. Pi Nu Finally “Gets” Me
And Pi Nu… what a world of difference this year has brought with his acceptance and advocating of me. One of the reasons I go all over the place for my fights is that there aren’t many female fighters in Pattaya, so fighting here just isn’t a frequent opportunity. Another reason is that Pi Nu insisted on me only fighting at my cut-weight for a long time, which is 45-46 kg, making my pool of possible opponents even less – in my time in Thailand 3/4 of my opponents have been larger than me, sometimes substantially. But, gradually, this year he’s let go of that. I still reach out to contacts outside of Pattaya so that I can fight as often as I need to – I see frequent fighting as essential to my growth – but Pi Nu is actively booking me fights in the last few months. He’ll book me three at a time. When I was cut he would say, “no problem, you fight in two weeks.” This is a huge development and it means that he sees what I am and embraces what I want as a good thing, rather than only trying to protect me as he did when he first was getting to know me. He even pushes me on the pads the day after a fight, when I come back to the gym. He went from the “I’m going to force you to rest,” camp to the, “if you’re here, you’re working” camp and it makes me feel supported in a way that’s very new. And very earned, which is nice.
Sum Up – A Big Year
This is just a rough attempt to sum up my year as a fighter. I fought a ton, and grew a lot, and feel like I’m on the precipice of doing very unique things. I’m starting to get comfortable in the ring in a new way, and I’m surrounded by a lot of positive support. This is to not even touch on all the things that have happened on 8limbs.us, the tremendous generosity of people from all over the world pledging to help keep this site and its journalism going. Or that this was the year when I’ve become Officially sponsored by Nak Muay Nation and OnyxMMA. I can’t say enough thank yous for this. People think fighting is a solo sport, it’s just you and another person, face to face. But it’s not. It’s a team sport, and I think every person who has been a part of my team, from words of encouragement offered me, to commitment and belief, the thing that makes opportunity happen.
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As a final thought, for those that love female Muay Thai, even if you are a causal fan and have made it this far down the article, do check out the full results of the Awards. These are the names of the fighters, the people, the promotions, the photographers and businesses that make up the sport across the world. Awakening through their awards provides the closest thing to a snap shot of the state of Female Muay Thai as there is, and their female fighter database is the best female fighter resource on the net.