Guest Post – Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu
This is my interview of Sylvie on what was an extraordinary event that happened this week as Tara, a student at the gym and an attendee of the Women’s Muay Khao Summit fought a male opponent. I wanted to get some perspective on what Sylvie thought about the fight as fights between the genders are rare, and almost symbolize something almost ineffable. As we mention in the interview we can only think of four other adult women who have fought men in an organized fashion (though there surely are many other such fights which have not been recorded). Faaseethong, Buakaw (Thai female fighter in the South), Lucia Rijker and Chantal Ughi. The exact number of course is not vital, it’s enough to say that it is rare given the number who fight, and that each time it happens it matters.
I also wanted to hear from her on what she feels this fight, and perhaps others like it, might mean for larger gendered Muay Thai divisions within the country, including on how it might reflect on Sylvie’s own long term goal to one day fight, and win a belt at Lumpinee Stadium. I’m fascinated at the particular way in which cultural tradition and openness of heart meet up together in Thailand on these issues, and that while some will resist change whole-heartedly, some of the greatest chance for advancement lies within those of the tradition itself.
above, my interview with Sylvie
The exhibition fight was held at the bar in Pattaya, where inexperienced Thai boys will fight to cut their teeth before climbing toward National Stadia ranks – our boy Thai fighters of Petchrungruang fight there, and Kru Nu (who now runs the gym) fought there decades ago. It’s an extremely informal setting, with show fights (performance fights) and any assortment of fights in-between. For me it was exactly in this nebulous field that growth can occur. It was precisely in the realm of low-pressure spectacle without commercial investment new ground is covered, much as how Science advances in quiet, no-fanfare laboratories and notebooks everywhere. What is incredibly beautiful about Thailand’s fight culture is that it is not owned or even dominated by the handful of high profile promotions in the country, from Lumpinee to Thai Fight and back. It is instead filled with 10,000s of fights of every nature, across spectra, in 1,000s of villages and venues. It is a constant testing ground of heart, techniques and pedagogies, mixed together in endless contest. The roots of Tradition grow in that verdant, nutrient-rich soil, and grow deep, deep down to the fighter’s heart.
It is no coincidence that Petchrungruang Gym finds itself as an epicenter of change and gendered opportunity. I’ve written about Pi Nu’s patient Slow Cook method and of course it has Sylvie, a historical fighter, who is breaking and shaping the limits of female fighting in Thailand. She’s fought over 200 times in the country, more than any westerner – man or woman – she’s fought more times in the gender-coded, traditional Kard Chuek (gloveless, Knockout or Nothing) fighting style (once reserved for men alone due to its brutality), and it was her example in the gym that inspired Angie to become the first Lumpinee trans fighter in history. Something very quiet, an important is happening there. As her husband I stand in awe.
photos that can be found on my Instagram
If you’d like to get to know Tara who fought this fight, I interviewed her about the Women’s Muay Khao Summit last month: