FEMALE MUAY THAI PIONEERSNathan Goldenzweig
Thai people are real aficionados when it comes to Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing), the country’s holy national sport. Families, friends and colleagues gather around to see the latest match live on TV if not in one of the many stadiums Thailand has to offer.
Muay Thai is referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs” or the “Science of Eight Limbs”, because it makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight “points of contact”, as opposed to “two points” (fists) in boxing and “four points” (hands and feet) used in other more regulated combat sports, such as kickboxing and savate. A practitioner of muay Thai is known as a nak muay. Western practitioners are sometimes called Nak Muay Farang, meaning “foreign boxer.”
Muay Thai is also used as a form of close-combat using your entire body as a weapon. For example, The hands become the sword or the dagger; the shins and forearms are trained to be like armor so you can defend yourself against heavy blows and the elbow is related to a heavy mace or hammer; the legs and knees are the axe or a staff.
Muay Thai boxing in Thailand is very exciting and graceful to watch and taken very seriously amongst the Thai people. They normally last around three hours, with 8 & 10 bouts before the main fight. The atmosphere in Petchbuncha Stadium on the island of Ko Samui is excellent with a live commentary and traditional Thai music. Thai and foreign fighters compete in the ring, most are international professionals or professionals who train at local Muay Thai gyms, and all fights are thoroughly entertaining. Thai watchers are being separated from the “farangs” using a special sign saying ” Thai only”. In this Stadium they are granted a 4×4 meter area (about 10 percent) only to enjoy the fight, tourists taking the other 90 % of the stadium seats. One can notice the martial artists to fight on the same side during the three hours and throughout all 5 rounds for the foreigners to be closer to the fighters.
Nevertheless staying on the Thai side is as much as entertaining as the real fight due to their screams and shouts. Women often still have to go under the ropes on their way but it is a small price to pay. The bigger problem is that some of the stadiums are owned by the “older generation” who are refusing to budge on their ideas. But boxing is a business and if there is money for having a female fight, then there will be a female fight. The majority of the female fighters in Thailand train with a family member – who will make sure they are looked after at fights and shows. There are 60,000 registered professional male fighters in Thailand.
On the contrary, women aren’t actually professional in the sense of earning all their income from Muay Thai, they aren’t registered but its estimated there are about 8-10,000 women fighters in the country. These women are the real pioneers of Female Muay Thai. In a country where women are supposed to smile, wear high heels and know their place, they are breaking moulds in a way we can’t imagine in the West. This is a culture where men say that a women fighter will never get married as who would want her, and they are only half-joking. Many of the fighters are very young, often still at school – the new generation. Due to their age we haven’t seen many of them fighting abroad yet, again parents are dubious of sending teenage daughters away.
Today women fight in Thailand on the same level as men – 5 x 3 minute rounds with elbows. As mentioned before, the main difference is financial. Muay Thai is a business, boys leave school and home at the age of 12 and go to live and train at a gym, often hundreds of kilometres from home. This is not an option open to women as for them the fight-purse is much smaller. Nevertheless top women fighters are sometimes placed as the Main Event ahead of the males. (Religion taking a second place to the betting!)
Nathan Goldenzweig is an emerging argentine-german photographer. Born and raised in Düsseldorf he pursued undergraduate studies in Latin American Studies. While working in a jewish retirement home and on a trip to Argentina he became interested in documentary photography and his interest in press photography came up with his assignment at Germany’s most important financial newspaper ’’Handelsblatt’’, where is has been working for 3 years now. Nathan divides his work between photojournalism, fine art and travel photography. He has traveled extensively around the world and he specializes in urban areas of South America and South East Asia. His pictures have been exhibited in annual held ’’Theme Day Latin America’’ in Cologne and Düsseldorf, Germany.