|Three women I met at Jittis (phone camera!)|
One by one they walked in, slung their bags on the bench and began the changeover from workers to MuayThai students. The big difference between this group arriving at 5pm and the earlier bunches was they were mainly women.
Jitti’s Gym in Bangkok was one of the first gyms in Thailand to train women starting in the 1990s and he’s continuing that tradition with a high number of students and novice fighters. I spoke to some of them when I was there last week.
Poopaeng Youhananukom (Thailand)
‘I’m studying at University, it’s far from here. I love it, it’s hard but it’s fun. It’s not like what you think. I studied Tae Kwan Do a lot when I was a child, I did it from age four to 13.’
Bending down to touch her toes, she laughs at how hard it is – saying she was much more flexible when she was a child.
Poopaeng is not sure if she wants to compete, but I got the feeling she is thinking about it.
Irishwoman Kelly Creegan who’s been training in Thailand for over two years said a lot of the female Thai fighters are students, and even fight under their university name.
I wasn’t able to find out if this means they are sponsored or on scholarships of some sort but it’s a huge change from twenty or even ten years ago when girls like this would never have considered the ‘rough’ sport of MuayThai.
Another Thai woman training at the gym comes from her job at the Bangkok CNN offices but I didn’t get to meet her this time.
Fernanda Barcia (Brazil)
I met Fernanda about a year ago when she was just starting out in MuayThai. Working full-time in Bangkok, she’s been able to move from exploring to fighting.
She had her first fight in Bangkok in front of the giant MBK shopping mall in December. Fernanda fought a Thai opponent, but didn’t get her name.
She said: ‘It was fun, really fun. I thought I would be nervous but I wasn’t. It felt like all of my work came together.
Fernanda added: ‘About 20 people from my work came too. They collected money and gave me a garland with the money, after talking to the organisers. One of my colleagues came into the ring and gave it to me!’
Winning on points, she said: ‘I felt accomplished, I’d said in my head that I wanted to fight and then it worked out. The girl was Thai, so it was really cool to be in there with her.’
Fernanda’s regular trainer Ajarn Rajasak (3 times Rajadamnern Champ) is now working abroad (good Thai trainers are often hired away to other Asian countries, and anywhere MuayThai is popular. They might stay as long as one year, depending on the visa situation and how well the foreign gym looks after them).
She said: ‘I definitely want to do it again. I want to spar more and improve. How well the sparring goes depends on who you are with – it feels sometimes the guys don’t want to hit me in the face. I want to say to some of them that I need to learn how to defend myself.’
Shelbatra Jashari (Kosovo/ Belgium)
|Shelbatra (and me doing obligatory selfie!) at Jitti's|
Shelbatra had trained at home, but says it’s only since starting training in Bangkok that fighting is becoming a real option.
Like Poopaeng she found Jitti’s online. She joked: ‘It was pure luck, and it’s not even 15 minutes away from where we live. It was destiny.’
Working online from home, she trains twice a day – mornings from 8.15 to 10.15 and then an afternoon session.
She said: ‘I’m serious about this, I’ve become devoted to it. I want to fight, it’s something I’ve been thinking about now. ‘
HOW YOU CAN DO IT:
Training at Jitti's Gym, Bangkok - follow the map on Facebook
(easy access from the underground station MRT Ratchadapisek)