For the past three years Awakening Female Fighters has held awards, which are nominated and voted on by the public supporters of female combat sports – the female Muay Thai community. Last year I was thrilled to win Muay Thai Journalist of the Year, something I’m very proud of, and this year I was stunned to be named Female Muay Thai Fighter of the Year. I was driving through rural Thailand to a big fight in Mahasarakham when I got a message from Rew, asking if it would be too distracting for me to hear how I’d done in this year’s awards. It was a very nice consideration, followed by a jaw-dropping shot of inspiration for my fight.
So, to kick off the New Year we decided to interview each other to catch up on what’s going on. I’ll post the interviews separately, as I got to sit down and Skype with Rew – who is the founder of Awakening and with whom I’ve had communication for a few years now – and his partner Ashley, who does a great deal of work on data entry for the massive and ever-growing database of female fighters that Awakening maintains; I’ve spoken with Ashley in brief for clarification on names and preferred spelling when translating from Thai to English to help out with documenting female Thai fighters, but it was really lovely to actually see and speak with her in real time.
Ashley and Rew asked me a bit about my past three years in Thailand and my achievement and re-setting of goals as I go on. The data-entry for my fight rate alone is a lot of work, so we had a bit of fun talking about that. Among other things, Ashley asked me about my favorite fight settings and a for some clarification about sidebets, as well as what’s next for me in the next year and beyond. It was funny because she mentioned how hard it is to think of interview questions for me because I share so much online all the time, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was repeating myself at all by answering the questions posed to me. It was nice to think about the different venues in which I’ve fought and the levels of understanding I’ve gained (and how much more I have to learn) in my experiences of living, training and fighting in Thailand.
The last few minutes of the interview didn’t make it to our video recording – just technical glitches – so the video is most of the interview is below and the transcript includes most of the parts that were cut out by my camera recorder.
above, Rew and Ashley’s 13 minute interview of me…for those who would like to read instead of watch, the transcript is below
Awakening Female Muay Thai Fighter of the Year Interview
Awakening – Rew: First of all, congratulations on winning Fighter of the Year…I told you that, sort of, a day before it happened. I just wanted to, before Ashley goes into her questions, point out something with your Awakening Profile. And that is that your profile is the most demanding in the entire database…[laughter]
…On one hand it is really good because you list all your fights, so we just go there to take the information. But you just fight three, four times a month so by the time we’ve updated you and we are now working on other people, it’s like we are two fights behind. We’re always slightly behind on your profile, so we do apologize for that.
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: On mine as well! Just the other day Kevin and I freaked out because we thought we had miscounted my fights, so I’m used to that. [laughter]
Awakening – Ashley: I’ve done that before. I’ve done your record and I’ve changed your history and I think I’ve miscounted, and I have to go back and do the whole thing again. I’ve said it to you before. I love that you have all your info there…but the number of fights…[laughter]
Awakening – Rew: Have you seen your profile recently?
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: Not in a few months.
Awakening – Rew: We finally got around to changing your fight history into the new format. (Ashley: it took me a day and a half – laughter). But it looks so much better.
New Goals after 100 Fights
Awakening – Ashley: Speaking of which all of your fights, part of the reason why people have been following us, you hit your 100 fight mark this last year in 2015, which shows on your profile with everything. But do you have a new goal set in mind? What’s the next Sylvie –
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: Umm. I’m going to drive towards 200, which is yet another insane goal. When I pushed past 100 which is already a kind of insane thing, I kind of set my idea on being the non-Thai [male or female] foreigner who fought the most in Thailand…the most fights in Thailand. Because it seemed like the kind of thing that people be inspired by and gravitate towards. And that number kind of came and went really fast [The Foreigner Who Has Fought the Most in Thailand is a Woman]. But I feel like by moving towards these kind of insane numbers, people are like “I can do part of that” or “I can move towards that kind of thing” so, 200 seems crazy enough, but it also seems like if I can stay here for long enough I can accomplish it by doing as I’ve been doing, which is really exciting.
Awakening – Rew: And what’s the time scale on that?
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: If I keep fighting the way that I have been it will take me another two years, which I’m really excited about because the way that I’m training now and the gym that I’m at, things are really coalescing. I think that in that time not only will I achieve this insane number, but I’ll have become a different kind of fighter; the kind of fighter that that amount of time can award when you keep doing it. It seems like such a let down to be like “I just want to be better”, but it’s actually an insanely hard thing to do.
Awakening – Ashley: Do you break that down in your head? The time scale, it is a massive time scale for meeting a goal. Do you have it broken down or do you go and truck along with each fight you do?
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: Umm. I’ve been averaging about 35 fights a year. Which, when I think back on it is crazy, but at the time it’s on average every 11 days kind of thing. So there will be clusters together, and then there will be a dry spell. So it feels like it kind of stretches and has clusters. But it’s been super enjoyable and manageable to have that fight rate – which has been a little bit difficult because people in Thailand know who I am now (laughter), it’s a little bit harder to get those fights without money backing it, but my gym is now backing me [my fights] with money, so it’s good.
Awakening – Ashley: So is this the – I’m still trying to understand – the sidebets and things –
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: – Yeah. There’s layers of Muay Thai in Thailand. So when I first got here and was fighting up in Chiang Mai, that’s kind of a stadium, work-horse Muay Thai. So you get paid to fight, so the Thai women I was fighting, they get paid either way [win or lose], it’s a job to go and fight, so fights are available a lot [in Chiang Mai]. But I wrote a blog post called The 80% Fight, which, because they are getting paid either way they are not going to go for broke and risk damage in those fights in the same way they would if there is a greater consequence like a belt or a title, or the honor of their gym…or, the sidebet. So, the sidebet is each gym putting money in the middle and winner-takes-all. So you definitely don’t want to lose money for your gym, and your gym is making money on you, so fights that have money on them are far more competitive than the cycling through you-are-just-getting-paid-your-fight-money kind of thing. Those [sidebet] fights can be in a field in the middle of nowhere, or they can be in pretty big televised stadiums. So, gambling makes Muay Thai go ‘round in Thailand [laughter].
Favorite Places to Fight
Awakening – Ashley: Do you have a preference of where you fight, you’ve fought so many times, so many places and crowds, is there favorite atmospheres that you like, some stadiums or kind of more obscure locations?
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: Festival fights. They are kind of set up in the middle of nowhere, and the ring tends to be in front of the sound stage so there will be like dancing and singing and lights everywhere, and food everywhere, and the gamblers are really into it, they come right to the ring, they’ll touch you while you are in the ring, they’ll tell you what to do, they’ll shake you [when in the corner]. It’s really alive, I really love the festival fights. It’s culturally mind-blowing and I tend to be the only westerner, besides my husband, when we are there. It’s very intense experience. But I also really like fighting here in Pattaya [which I don’t get to do very often], because it’s a five minute drive instead of a eight hour drive [laughter]…
Adding Karate to Muay Thai
Awakening – Ashley: And how’s it been – just one of the things I noticed in 2015 – is that you’ve started Karate as well into your training and incorporating that into your style. Did you ever intend to branch off Muay Thai and try other things, or that just came about and you wanted the opportunity?
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: I kind of supplement my training. So, if my gym is not meeting what I feel I need I’ll try to supplement at another gym; that is how I ended up at Phetjee Jaa’s gym [2014-2015], I needed more clinching and I needed more padwork. So when that fell apart, there’s this other gym I have a very good relationship with [WKO, in Pattaya] and the man who runs it, Sifu [McInnes] is a Karate instructor, so really I wanted to learn from him, rather than that I wanted Karate in particular, but what he teaches in his style of Karate [Shorin Kempo] has this amazing ability to graft onto what I’m trying to do in Muay Thai, so my overall balance and symmetry, and things like this, are definitely aided by that training, but I wouldn’t say that I’m talented in Karate [laughter]. It’s just that some of the things match up style-wise, so the things that I can practice in that context because they are being used for those forms graft really well onto Muay Thai. So the similarities are there, but the differences are there as well.
Awakening – Ashley: That makes sense. I’ve always been curious about that because Sylvie is just “Muay Thai” [laughter], that’s just the way it is. I always find it interesting to merge the idea of you doing something else –
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: Yeah. I’ve had people come through the gym who I’m trying to help with clinch and they are so tense they are just getting exhausted within a couple of minutes and a lot of them have tried Jiu jitsu before, so I’m like “It’s the same as Jiu jitsu, you need to calm down and just breathe and relax, and then move, suddenly. Don’t be like trying to wrestle me, don’t use all your strength”. And they are like “Oh, alright.” So there are ways to take other sports and put them together. Stepping over on the kick is like swinging a bat. I’ve swung a bat like twice in my life, but I’ve seen it…
The Muay Thai Roundtable Forum
Awakening – Ashley: I want to ask you, to branch off onto a completely different topic. You’ve opened up your own forum [Muay Thai Roundtable], we were chatting about that earlier today, how’s that going, what are you looking at next for that?
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: It’s been amazing, it’s been really, really good. Because I have the Roundtable forum which is [for] men and women, and inside of that we have a semi- more private section that is just for women – which I was kind of afraid we were going to get a lot of flack for, [but] people have really been great about it. When it was clear that we were not using it to “talk about men” really, it’s just that we have things to discuss that in mixed company it’s much harder to talk about, people just totally accept it. The women who want to talk about something that is particular to women will just put it in that section, and if it’s not particular to women they’ll put it in the main section. I feel like the flow of it and what people are using it for and understanding it for and the freedom and kind of relief that women have been expressing in being able to talk about these things, because so often there is like one or two in a gym, and you may or may not have a relationship with those one or two other women so that you would even be talking about this at your gym, or the politics at your gym, you can’t talk about how your trainer is kind of bothering you or harassing you, or something like that, because its difficult. So weirdly, the way we are all over the world and have this semi-anonymity to each other actually allows us to be open and supportive of each other, so it’s actually been really fantastic.
Fighting Frequently and Injury
Awakening – Rew: I’ve got two questions. You fight so often, surely you are never healed. You are going to fight with a sore wrist, a broken hand…what is it like fighting that amount with injuries you’ve ever taken into a fight.
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: I’ve fought with a broken nose, that was the thing that I was most conscious of. I’ve fought with a broken hand, but then I just have to think about not throwing the hand, whereas your face is your face, you just have to try to block it. But I think because I train with injuries it feels natural to fight with injuries. I don’t feel like fights are a more intense experience really than the training that I’m doing, because of the kind of way that I train. So, I don’t think about it that much. I don’t think I’ve been 100% for a fight ever, including my first fight in America with pads. So I think that rather than having this idea of what the perfect state is, it’s just being comfortable and aware of and content with whatever I’m going in with. As much as a broken nose or a broken hand sounds like a horrendous thing to fight with – I remember Caley Reece said she fought with a broken rib, and I was like, that’s crazy – the things I really remember, like “I can’t believe I did that” is like when you are fighting when you’ve got the flue and you are popping Imodium before you go in the ring, those are the ones that really stand out. Or when you get badly leg kicked and you have to use a squat toilet, like things that totally don’t matter, those are the things I remember [laughter].
How About Your Husband
Awakening – Ashley: This is one of those things I always wanted to ask you, because you share so much, you’re always updating, you’ve broached so many topics with your blog – and if you haven’t checked out the blog, please do – your husband Kevin, he was involved in it a bit before you, my understanding was, how has he found your involvement and your progression over the last few years, what’s it like for him watching you achieve so much?
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu: He’s so involved in the whole thing. He doesn’t come with me to the gym anymore because of the work he has to do, but when I was training in Master K’s basement in Jersey he would come to every single session, so he’s seen 100s and 100s of hours of my training. He’s been to every single fight except for one I fought in Laos that he couldn’t come to. His work is with consultation for Social Media with companies, and things like this, so he understands a lot of these things and helps me a lot, so I feel that it is very much his process as well. So even though I’m the one getting in the ring, he’s the one filming it and cheering for me, telling me to stop being a brat when I get out and I’m feeling bad or whatever. I think that because we’ve been so close the entire time, progressing together, it’s the same story. There’s not a lot of “How has he changed over the years”, it’s the same way that I’ve changed over ther years. It’s just been our life together pretty much from the beginning. We got married like two months after I had started Muay Thai [laughter], so it’s always been part of it.
Video and Blog posts of All My Fights Are Here
If you enjoyed this interview, check out my interviews of other female fighters over the years.