One of the things I love most is learning about new sports and hearing about the series of events that have inspired athletes to go after their dreams.
Meet Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu, a Muay Thai fighter from the United States who is currently training and fighting in Thailand as a way of furthering her growth and experience in her sport. Sylvie is also a freelance journalist who has been involved in the Muay Thai community and whose goal is to help spread knowledge of the sport – especially for women.
I had the opportunity to ask Sylvie some questions about her Muay Thai, keeping the balance and getting more girls and women involved in the sport and here is what she had to say.
SGP: How did you find Muay Thai? What got you interested to try it?
Sylvie: I first saw Muay Thai in a movie called Ong Bak, starring Tony Jaa. There's a scene maybe 20 minutes into the film where a guy is rushing Jaa's character and Jaa stays perfectly still, totally calm, until the last second when he does a quick inverted knee across the guy's chest and drops him to the floor; then just stands there all calm again. I'd never seen anything like it. It was SO beautiful and the more I watched, the more I wanted my body to be able to do those things too. It still looks like beautiful dance to me.
SGP: Tell us a little about Muay Thai fighting and how it is different from other martial art forms.
Sylvie: Muay Thai is a true martial art in that it was developed on and for the battle fields. It's considered by many to be a very brutal sport and every strike is designed to end the fight – battles aren't about points. Each movement is to replace a weapon that might be lost, so a lost axe becomes an elbow; a broken spear is replaced by a kick, etc. It has undergone changes over the thousand+ years it's been around and many strikes have been omitted from the ring sport for purposes of safety. But the spirit of the tradition remains very strong. There is a secondary art within the larger art of Muay Thai which is clinching, a stand-up grappling that uses knees and elbows while the fighters are wrestling for position. And every fight begins with the Wai Kru/Ram Muay, a pre-fight ritual dance that pays homage to one's teacher and family.
SGP: What attracts you most to Muay Thai?
Sylvie: The beauty of it. When I look at Muay Thai it's like how one would watch ballet. There is incredible grace to the movement of fighters and the fights are performances – you gain or lose support from the crowd based on your attitude and you can gain or lose points based on how affected you appear by your opponent. Being calm is highly regarded; the aggression is in quick explosions of movement and power which then transition back into a quiet waiting. Thai fighters stay in each other's space and will often “take” an incredibly strong kick without looking affected by it at all – it's not all about hitting without being hit, it's about not being affected by your opponent's power.
SGP: What age do you recommend girls start Muay Thai training if they are interested?
Sylvie: A lot of women I know started Muay Thai in their 20s or 30s. Folks worry about being “too old” for this sport because Thais start as children, as young as six years old. But I know people who are in their 50's and still fighting! I've taught young girls and don't think that any age is too young, really. It's a matter of how young students are taught, not how young the students are. But I think Muay Thai training is great for pre-teens and teenagers because it is truly good for self-esteem; it makes you strong and feeling strong is amazing for confidence. That's the same reason it's great for women in their 30s and 40s, too!
SGP: What are your long term goals with Muay Thai?
Sylvie: I've just moved to Thailand for a year in order to train and fight full-time. Part of the reason for doing this was because it was difficult for me to find opponents in the United States at my size and the way fighting is conducted (production, promoters, events, etc) goes against my values as a fighter. (Often, not universally.) So one of my goals is to get as much fight experience as possible during this year and I want to have 50 fights – so working toward that number is a long term goal. I'd also like to fight on the Queen's and King's Birthdays, which are big celebration in Thailand.
Sylvie: In the United States I was training 4-6 days per week. I lived in the middle of nowhere and had to commute at least an hour any time I saw one of my trainers, so it was difficult. In Thailand Muay Thai is a job, so I “go to work” twice per day, totaling 7-8 hours each day and 6 days per week. It's great! And I fight at least every two weeks. If I have a short fight (if I win by knockout for example) and don't have any injuries I can fight again just one week later. I've been in Thailand for 6 weeks and just had my fourth fight.
SGP: When you were growing up, what sports did you play (if any) and at what kind of level (recreational, competitive, etc)?
Sylvie: I grew up in at the foothills of the mountains in Colorado, so there was always a lot of hiking and tubing down the creeks. I played soccer since I was five years old – pretty much all kids did – up until high school. I was a half-back and LOVED soccer. I also dabbled in gymnastics when I was maybe six years old. I also loved gymnastics but didn't stay in it.
SGP: In addition to your primary sport, what else do you enjoy doing? How do you keep the balance between sport and family life?
Sylvie: Muay Thai is part of my family life, so I'm very lucky in that regard. I don't have children (yet) and don't live near my parents or brothers, so my responsibilities are gloriously selfish at this point in my life. I'm also very lucky in that my family supports my ambitions in Muay Thai, wholeheartedly. My husband is with me in Thailand and is very much a part of my Muay Thai journey and experience.
I run as part of my conditioning for Muay Thai (twice per day, before training), but I don't really think of it as part of my training. I enjoy it and I do some good thinking on runs. I also enjoy writing, reading and interviewing women in Muay Thai.
SGP: Is there anything special you like as a pre-competition or recovery meal?
Sylvie: I try to eat healthfully so that my energy stays consistent, so pre-competition meals are focused around having energy for the fight – quality protein and a little bit of complex carbs. Afterwards though I love to treat myself to a Snickers bar or a lovely new find called Tim-Tam. It's a cookie with a chocolate coating that is just amazing when consumed with hot tea.
You might also enjoy this interview with Sylvie which gives you a great glimpse into her training and what draws her to Muay Thai.
For more information on how to follow Sylvie's Muay Thai journey, view her video blog, and learn more about Muay Thai visit her at her site 8LimbsUS.com. Thank you so much, Sylvie, for taking the time to share your story with us and best of luck on your upcoming matches!
All images copyright Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu of 8LimbsUS.com and used with permission by SportsGirlsPlay.com