At Petchrungruang, there is sparring going on at any given moment in the afternoons. The little kids fly around the smaller ring with abandon, sparring for hours until they get tired and just stop. The older kids will match themselves up and play for a few rounds, or if they’re getting ready for a fight the sparring might be a bit more serious. Occasionally, my trainer likes to match two fighters up and put them in the center of the ring for a “mock fight.” We wear shinguards and gloves, but someone is assigned to be time-keeper and they ring an actual bell to start and stop each round; one of the trainers acts as referee (or a few of them do, together) and the rest of us get to play the gamblers. We shout and call out points like a real fight audience, we place mock bets, we boo when the referee breaks the clinch too early… it’s so much fun that the entire gym stops to play along. And it’s great practice for young or beginning fighters, to feel the energy and stay focused but also be able to have some fun. Pi Nu even holds up a belly pad as the “title belt” that’s on the line. These mock fights always, always end in a draw – but we get to pretend to hand in the scores anyway. That’s what you’re watching here.
I’m punching the bag and Angie comes up to tell me she sparred with Alex the other day and she needs me to teach her more. Apparently it didn’t go well for her. Angie is tall, maybe 5’8″ or more, and she’s strong, but she’s a beginner, only about two or three months from scratch. I’ve been reporting on her progress as a budding Muay Thai fighter on my blog, starting with this interview about being a Kathoey “Ladyboy” in Muay Thai and how she felt about her first fight, as well as her first two fights. Her sparring partner from the other day, Alex, is a 14-year-old Italian boy with maybe 40 fights and that includes a few at Lumpinee. He’s the youngest westerner to fight at Lumpinee – he debuted the day before his 13th birthday, when he was still 12. He’s been with the gym for a few years now.
Moments after talking to me, Angie was called into the ring to spar with Alex’s dad, Mirko. Alex lives at Petchrungruang and is cared for like a son by our trainer, Pi Nu. Alex’s father lives in Italy but visits every few months. He’s not a big guy, maybe a couple kilos smaller than Angie, and he’s got some fight training in the past but I’m not sure in what discipline. He seems to know some Judo throws (he fouls with one of these throws in the video, which causes both Pi Nu and trainer Filippo to “oooooh!” and warn him), but he’s not a Muay Thai fighter by any stretch. But it was a good match up for Angie because, after her last fight, the Athletic Commission in Bangkok said she’s not allowed to fight women. As she has not fully transitioned to female, she’ll have to fight a man in her next match. In order to make it a competitive fight, because Angie is a beginner and has been on hormones for over 10 years, her opponent will likely be a few kilos smaller. So matching her with Mirko is a somewhat realistic “simulator” for her fighting against a man with similar experience. I think she did great, although today I spent some time teaching her how to cut off the ring instead of just tracking. Baby steps. This next day I showed Angie how to cut off the ring a little bit.
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