As much as I hate it, because I’m shy and it’s awkward, it’s simply the truth that women in the fighting arts are often in a position of having to somewhat uncomfortably advocate for and promote ourselves. The simple fact is that female fighting is not well-documented, by neither men nor by women, and as a female fighter one is often left with the only option to document oneself – if anything is going to be recorded at all. Because I’m not only a fighter, but also a writer on Muay Thai (written over 700 article posts) the onus falls on me. It forces me to talk about one of my least favorite topics, but a topic I certainly know a lot about: me. But this is the path I’ve chosen and in the long run talking so much about me is about way more than just me. I’ve taken pains to be an extrovert in print and video, despite being an introvert at heart. There can be advantages to putting on the opposite clothing of who you are. It forces growth.
…from the research I’ve been able to uncover, the most number of fights a foreigner has had in Thailand was around 110, achieved by the relatively unrecognized Jovan Stojanovski of Canada.
This article is about a benchmark of achievement, an accomplishment carried out by a woman in a strongly male-coded world of sport. That this accomplishment is reached by me is secondary in the longer, far reaching sense. What’s more important is that the achievement is by a woman. Recently I’ve fought my 120th fight in Thailand (November 9th, 2015 – I’ve many several times since). This was a rough hewn mark I’d set for myself in an area that is not well defined. I wrote about my 100 fights in Thailand here: Westerns Who Have Fought a Lot in Thailand – and from the research I’ve been able to uncover, the most number of fights a foreigner has had in Thailand was around 110, achieved by the relatively unrecognized Jovan Stojanovski of Canada. When he told me this number, unlike some others I had interviewed or researched, it had no sense of exaggeration or bravado. These numbers can have a way of becoming “fish stories,” with guys claiming numbers that simply don’t add up with other facts involved, or their their own claims elsewhere. Every time the number gets bigger. But Jovan didn’t even want to guess and so I knew that 110 was probably a reasonable estimate, and one that was loosely corroborated by others who are familiar with him, who I’ve talked to. So this post is not only a citation of my own fight total, but also the recognition of Jovan.
So when he said firmly enough “110” I decided that 120 seemed like a safe enough number for the most fights any foreigner has fought in Thailand, leaving some wiggle room for “best guesses”. When I hit 100 fights (my previous goal) I set my sights on 120. Now my sites are on a seemingly impossible 200. Things change, you just keep pushing higher and harder because what you ultimately are doing is an art, the art of self development and testing. And in talking about it, you are holding up goals for others to achieve in their own self development and testing.
But this is the part that matters most I think: this benchmark of the most fights fought by a foreigner in Thailand is done by a woman. When I first came to Thailand there is no way in the world that “a woman” would have been the answer to a question like that. Not only is Muay Thai in Thailand itself incredibly masculine, it is an art and refinement of masculinity itself, but the brave fighters who have come and fought here from other countries over the decades…were primarily men. And it’s more complicated for women to come and train full-time and get fights here, just as it is anywhere. We have fewer opportunities. In a way, this accomplishment is just a kind of flag planting for women that stretches expectation. It doesn’t mean that I’m better than men who have fought here, or women who have fought here, or anyone who will fight here. It means simply this: it can be done by anyone. And, it is being done.
There Will Be Detractors, That’s Okay
Yes, people who don’t do these kinds of things will want to minimize this. They will question: who have you fought? despite themselves not really knowing any Thai female fighters, or fighters in my weight class in the world. I’ve done my very best to document my incredible Thai opponents in a complete fight record and through video of every single fight in Thailand. It’s all there to be seen – you want to know who I’ve fought, I’ve got names, dates and video for all of them. Yes, but you are so light (45-48 kg), or you fight teens, it will all be said, dismissing that I mostly fight opponents bigger than me, often by several kilos. My average opponent has been more than 50 kg, which means me giving up at least 5 lbs, not a small amount at my size – while frequently westerners will fight down in weight in Thailand. I’ve taken on the most difficult fights I can, against 80+ different Thai opponents, because for me fighting is the path of growth. It’s the Thai way to learn through fighting, and fighting a lot. The videos are there, as an archive, so other women (and men) can set their own marks, climb their own Everests, and see that fighting is not a highlight reel of your best moments. It’s all moments. And believe me, I’ve had plenty of bad ones, to go along with the good.
More than anything else I want to reach out to other women who want to fight, want to empower themselves, who want to dare to do whatever that something is that she dares to dream.
For those who feel that my continuous writings about my experiences are some kind of self-indulgence – someone once called it the “Cult of Sylvie” – I can see that. If you didn’t know me, if you were never with me in the gym, in the ring, from a distance it could come off that way to the less interested, uncareful reader. But this is just part of the cost of making lasting change in the world. You have to indulge in rigorous excess if you want to make something change, make something stand. And writing about and filming what I’m doing is that cost. More than anything else I want to reach out to other women who want to fight, want to empower themselves, who want to dare to do whatever that something is that she dares to dream. I want to carve out a huge space of what is possible for anyone to do, because I’m not special or even talented; I just work hard, and recover hard. Carving out that space takes words and video and proof – maybe putting so much of myself out there looks like self-celebration, but to those who know that you never just arrive at your destination as if teleported, what I’m doing is showing my work…it’s math. And that’s something that I believe celebrates everyone, because anyone can work hard.
Carving out that space takes words and video and proof – maybe putting so much of myself out there looks like self-celebration, but to those who know that you never just arrive at your destination as if teleported, what I’m doing is showing my work…it’s math.
I interviewed my friend Angie the other day, a kathoey (transgender) woman around my age who has just started Muay Thai. She’s begun training at 32 years old, trained for two months and has just had her first fight. I asked her what she thought when she first came to the gym and there was only one woman there. She said she looked at me and thought, “if she can do it, I can do it.” And that’s what feels good about being the first, or the most, of anything; that’s why it’s important that whatever the superlative is, that it’s attached to a woman. Because then other women can see it and say, “me too.” Men, obviously, can be inspired as well, but men have far more examples for themselves already. I don’t think that Angie would look at the male fighters in the gym and think to herself, “if he can do it, I can do it.” I’m not responsible for her achievements, but I do think that simply being there, as an example and now as a friend, I am in part responsible for her thinking that she can. And that makes a huge fucking difference. Nothing makes me more proud of anything I do than when a woman writes to me and says she’s coming to Thailand for the first time to train and wants to fight, “more than once,” they sometimes say. Or women who are inspired in their training back home, wherever they’re from. Or men who say, “what you’re doing helps drive me.” That’s not about having the position as a “record holder,” for me. That’s about people being able to watch it being done, to see that it keeps growing and that there’s evidence and record of how it is carried out. It’s about precedent.
Now I’m onto my Everest Goal of 200 fights. I’m not the fighter I want to be, I’m just busy changing myself one session at a time, one fight at a time.
I want to thank my Patreon supporters and the 8limbs.us sponsors Nak Muay Nation and OnyxMMA. Without you this is not possible. You are keeping me going. And thank you to all my trainers, all my training partners, who work to make me better. As much as you are in there in the ring alone, fighting is a team sport, and it takes a family.
A very incomplete list of fight family would include Petchrungruang: Pi Bamrung, Pi Nu, Chicken Man, Little Man, Mot Ek, Filippo, Bank, PTT, Dtee, Gat, Alex, Gan, Jozef, Lomchoi, Jatukam, Pi Pon, Pi Earn: WKO: Sifu, Pi Mutt, Jr., Nick, Noi, Olivia, Bella: O. Meekhun: Tawan, Phetjee Jaa, Mawin, Gabe East, Lanna Muay Thai: Den, Nook, Daeng, Tor, Pom, Andy, Doi, Big, JR, Big Neung, Little Neung, Off, Tawin…and of course back in the USA: Master K, Augie, Kaensak, Kru Nat and so many others who have lent a hand or given encouragement along the way.
If interested, you can read all my posts on Muay Thai and the Gendered Experience here.