May 25, 2013 – My parents are visiting from Colorado and last Saturday they got to come out and watch me fight live for the first time in about three years and for the first time ever in Thailand. That one was a festival fight and I fought well but lost the decision, a rematch against Faa Chiang Rai with whom I’d drawn about a month prior.
My parents were proud of me and really impressed by the experience of the festival fights, which were really high caliber in terms of good match ups and fights. I wanted, however, to fight again before they left. With only two weeks in Thailand and having only ever seen me fight live maybe twice before, I wanted my parents to experience my reality of fighting frequently, as well as getting a feel for the stadia in Chiang Mai where I normally fight. Plus, I wanted them to get to see me win and the best chance for that is to just get in the ring again.
Den agreed to set me up another fight and confirmed that I was fighting the following Saturday on Tuesday afternoon. He walked up to where my mom and I were sitting at the gym, our legs dangling off the edge of the ring with the haphazard ease of kids with their legs swirling the surface waters of a lake during summertime. When he told me, “you fight Saturday, okay?” my mom let out a joyful “hooray!” and Den looked at her, then back at me and smiled. Everyone at the gym thinks I’m crazy the way I fight, but the confirmation from my own mother was something he liked to see.
For whatever reason I assumed Wednesday would be my last day of training and I trained hard that day, having more than one difficult sparring session in the afternoon and finishing out completely exhausted. I remembered near the end of training, when I was doing my pushups, that for a Saturday fight I would, indeed, still be training on Thursday. I laughed at my mistake and then made my mom agree to come to training on Thursday morning to try Muay Thai out for the first time. She agreed and I was excited.
The next morning I rode with my mom and some of the other students from the camp up to the lake, where my mom would walk around the radius of the 3.7 kilometer water and I ran back to the gym 10 kilometers. I beat the truck by about 15 minutes, which allowed me time to buy my mom some handwraps from the shop. I approached Den, who was sitting on the new weight equipment, squinting into his phone and informed him that my mom needed handwraps. He looked up with surprise and when I clarified that my mom was training this morning and she was currently going around the lake he turned to another student at the camp and chastised her for not running when my mom, who is 62 years old, was currently rounding the lake. We all laughed. I’m sure she wasn’t “running.”
When the truck arrived Neung wrapped my mom’s hands, very tickled by the fact that she was training. I took her to the mirror and taught her stance, punches, knees, kicks and the leg blocks. She awkwardly but studiously repeated each one over and over again. I giggled and corrected her arms as she kept bringing them down into some sort of Karate stance with the fists turned upwards at her chest. She kept at it though and I put her on a bag with some gloves before hopping in the ring with Den. I had to tell her to stop between rounds, get me water to let her rest for a bit longer than the minute that separates each 5 minute round. I loved how dedicated she was though, I felt proud. I asked Den to take her into the ring for some padwork, which he happily did and played with her a little, trying to shock her with yelling and stepping toward her or pretending she had to kick “harder!” every time she tried. She protested, because she hasn’t learned the Thai way yet, but she worked hard. We were all beaming when she finished. My mama the warrior.
From Mountain Mist to Bar Neon
My normal routine of training the morning or afternoon the day before a fight and sleeping as much as I like was interrupted by adventures with my parents. The day of the fight we drove to Doi Inthanon in the south of Chiang Mai, the highest peak in Thailand. We didn’t make it to the top, but we got close and visited the twin pagodas about five kilometers below the peak. It was foggy and immensely cold, but more beautiful and reminiscent of Chinese epic films than I could have imagined. From that experience we got back, warmed up and ate dinner and then headed to Loi Khor, which is perhaps the most polar opposite experience from the peaks of Doi Inthanon in the mist that one can find. My parents rode down with us and then I escorted them out to go find the Night Bazaar, explaining to the lady who takes tickets that they’d be right back and she was all smiles and very agreeable to the whole ordeal. I don’t think western parents attending fights is a common thing there.
I saw on the program that I was the sixth and final fight of the night, as well as it being a rematch with a girl I fought a few weeks ago and I had won by TKO. As Den was wrapping my hands he advised me, “do everything you like but remember she know you from last time; this time she come to fight.” I always come to fight, so that was fine with me. I got my oil massage and began shadowing as the fights moved quickly and as the final bell rang for the fight before mine I still didn’t have my gloves on. My opponent had hers and entered the ring while I was still waiting by the mats. Den went to find the gloves, didn’t locate them and told me to come over to the red corner to enter the ring, but then my opponent got out of the ring and we walked back over to the mats because another fight had been inserted before ours without being printed on the program. I don’t know why. I still had to wait for that fight to finish before I got my gloves. Maybe they only had two pair that night?
When we finally got in the ring I looked over and saw my husband standing up on the ring in the neutral corner to my left, holding the camera ready. Standing ringside at the neutral corner on the right was my mom, Pook and her cousin (the two Thai women who feed me breakfast every morning and now come to my fights because they are the best), a little trio of women pumping their support into the ring. My dad stayed back over by the rest of the camp, sitting quietly but alert on the couch with a clear view of the ring. He was smiling, calmly, with the kind of passive enjoyment that I have seen on his face a million times but still look for like a constellation in the sky.
I knew that the most important thing for this fight, the meaningful growth from the last one, was to relax and be free. To just move. I definitely felt more free in this fight – I also felt free in my last fight and was winning, but lost it in the final rounds, so continuing to be free in a fight is key – and between the first and second rounds Den didn’t say a single word to me. He was calm, not displeased but just wanted me to keep going as I was. As the rounds progressed, he instructed me more and by the final round he wanted me to just experiment with my right kick. I’d kneed her in the head in the third or fourth round, numerous times (I don’t think the camera catches it due to the angle, but I had her head bent down and was hitting it with my right knee, progressively cleaner and harder, as we moved toward the red corner). Amazingly, the ref let me continue and more amazingly this girl came out of it strong – I always respect an opponent who doesn’t shrink after knees to her head. She did off-balance me in the fourth or fifth round in a moment of clinch and I did try to come in and use my right kick in the final round but without other aims it was proving disastrous for me. She was running and I was missing, then she would tag me with a quick right kick of her own. I’d lost my last fight like this, in the fifth round, after being told to “go get her.”
So I decided that this wasn’t my first rodeo and I’d make my own decision about the final round and decided to “dance.” I hung back, didn’t go after her and waited to see if she’d come try to take the fight from me. She didn’t. So I began the victory dance, the I have all the points and we can just ride this out like gentleman dance that fighters in Thai fights often do when the winner is clear. I reached my glove out for her to tap it, indicating agreement and she took it. So we shuffled and danced, loose and energetic – she had submitted to my victory and tried one last kick near the end, which I caught and plowed (not great, but there’s always something huge to work on) and that was it. The ref collected the judges’ score cards and my hand was raised.
My parents were absolutely ecstatic. My mom hugged me as I got out of the ring and my dad even wanted a hug, all sweaty and oily as I was straight out of the ring when I had gotten my gloves off. I guess it doesn’t matter how old I get, it always feels exactly the same, exactly like when I was a little kid, getting my dad’s approval or praise. My opponent and her teammates all met and returned my smile as they filed out of the stadium. It was a close fight – Den said if she hadn’t gotten the standing 8 count from the knees to the head I might have lost that fight – so I’m sure we’ll fight again. I hope so. She’s a good opponent and now that we’ve fought twice she will definitely work to solve me, which will force me to change and improve as well.
As my parents, Kevin and I headed out to the street to catch a Tuk-Tuk back to camp (my dad loves Tuk-Tuks) I asked my parents which they preferred, the festival fights or the stadium. My mom immediately said she preferred the festival fight and my dad, joyfully and emphatically stated, “I liked the fight you won.” The next morning at breakfast he had reconsidered and said the two were too different to compare, that he’d enjoyed both and they were of equal impact to his experience. I know he still liked seeing me win, but I appreciate greatly how my parents have come all this way to watch me be something they never could have dreamed for me. And I know they see me in it; my parents are not baffled by my love for what I do, where I am and with whom I share this life.
When my mom came and trained at the camp, she expressed an understanding for how one would want to feel the beauty of Muay Thai in one’s body after seeing it expressed in its peak form in the fights on TV. She could feel in her heart what joy it must bring to be able to move freely with strength and grace like those men on TV and my trainers do – she said she understood why the Muay Thai fighter laughs. I recalled the opening to my favorite book, where a ship’s captain who is on an impossible expedition to the North Pole, writes in a letter to his sister back home, “There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand.” Later, when describing his all-consuming drive and passion for this mission to Victor Frankenstein, who the captain has rescued off of a desert of ice after Dr. Frankenstein has chased his monster to the ends of the earth, Victor replies, “Do you share my madness?” My parents, in a brief visit that was packed full of both unusual adventure and what has for me become the mundane exotic, have witnessed the kind of life I lead in an attempt to find understanding in my particular soul-workings. And for these brief weeks, they have, indeed, shared my madness.
The Whole Fight