The Religion of Muay Thai is a blog series I have formed which explores the culture and lifestyle of muaythai in Thailand.
To truly understand the culture of Muay Thai in Thailand, you must immerse yourself within it. While it is common for foreigners to travel and train at a Thai camp, it is fact that few have actually adapted to the genuine and authentic Thai lifestyle.
Muaythai is recognized globally as a sport, for which it is, but in its most stand alone and traditional existence. The Art of 8 Limbs is first and foremost a way of life that was originally adopted by the Thai people.
In the first interview of the series, I was privileged to speak with Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu. Sylvie is one of the rare, valuable few who has made a successful career for herself in fighting all around Thailand. Sylvie and her husband moved to Thailand in 2012, “…after an initial visit in 2010 that convinced me and my husband that Thailand was where we needed to be for my Muaythai path.” she says.
In smaller family run gyms, tucked away from the tourist hotspots, you’ll find fighters much like Sylvie refining their skills day by day. Really, that is the true essence of Muaythai. Whilst there are countless gyms nestled within the bustling streets of the larger and more prominent cities, it is in these tucked away suburbs for which you’re truly confronted by the most authentic aspect of Muaythai; in that it is a way of life.
Muay Thai: Way of Life
Sylvie tells me “There are certainly layers to the truth of that statement, Muaythai as a way of life. Coming from the West and being middle class and White, it’s a way of life that I’ve chosen later in life, for myriad reasons and motivations different from where Thais in this community come from.
“While I believe there is a common bond between me and those Thais who are more entangled with Muay as their only way of life, there are layers to that life which I simply cannot ever know from real experience. It’s a culture in which I am both an insider and an outsider, seeking both to preserve and to evolve. It’s a living culture.”
Whilst Sylvie trains at the no-frills Petchrungruang Gym in Pattaya, she has indeed fought all over Thailand in front of varied audiences. From Nationally televised cards across the nation to traditional and rural festival fights, her story and outlook on living the local life is one that inspires many.
Sylvie has an outstanding fight record and is known for having fought the most fights as a foreigner in Thailand, to date. That’s a record for which includes both male and female Western fighters within Thailand. With 185 fights to her name (175 of which she has fought in Thailand), saying that Sylvie is inspirational and well accomplished is an understatement. Whilst many would place a record such as this on a pedestal for commemoration, Sylvie sees her choice of lifestyle rather simply and from a standpoint of pure passion. It is her love for Muaythai that has sustained her, and the way in which she has embraced Thailand as her home. She tells it beautifully, in saying this:
“I spend hours every day with the same small group of people, for years now, longer than I lived with the same roommates in college, more hours than co-workers at full-time jobs I had – you know these people and they know you. Your exhaustion is theirs and their exhaustion is yours, but so is all the joy; you grow together. And even though I couldn’t name three things to “do” in Pattaya as a tourist, a city I’ve lived in for 3 years now (I was previously living and training in Chiang Mai), I know these small side streets down to the last detail because I run them every day.”
In reading Sylvie’s interview, I hope you find a home in her words.
Muaythai is a much loved and evolving Martial Art. Fighters and practitioners, such as Sylvie, represent the values and characteristics of Muaythai so brilliantly. You can find more information on her journey at 8limbs.us.