Monday, March 28, 2016

Watch when a MuayThai champion holds pads for her sister at Yokkao Training Centre

Sisters Dao (L) and Fah Saenchaigym Yokkao messing about at Yokkao Training Centre Bangkok
Down one of those surprisingly quiet lanes off the manically-busy Sukhumwit Road in Bangkok is a MuayThai gym with a few twists.

I visited Yokkao Training Centre for just one session, really to interview an Irish (male) fighter for the editors at ‘Muay Eireann’ but it’s hard to say no when you see something new happening.

The first attraction is they have female fighters, and actively promote them. One of their main trainers Kru Manop Yuangyai coaches his two daughters (in the pic above) Dao (19) and Fah (17).

Fah told me she’d had over 40 fights, winning all of them on points. People who consistently win on points always impress me, so much skill; she was female fighter of the year three times at 46-48kgs.

I shot this on my phone - she's holding pads for her sister Dao who also fights. Not something she’s ever done before, just messing about on a day off. One of the gym managers thought it would be a good idea to have Fah hold for her sister and just before that for me when I was done training   - very hard to keep a straight face when this was going on in spite of people telling us to be “serious, serious”.

The coach who comes in near the end of this short clip of the two women is Singdam Kiatmoo9 (Thai champion with over 300 fights)

Women’s Muay Thai was a slow burner in Thailand, but gyms like this and more importantly trainers like Kru Mapop who coach girls with the same intensity as men are the ones making the difference. I found this clip online from when Fah was just ten years old and doing pads with her dad at their old gym the famous 13 Coins:

I enjoyed how different the session at Yokkao was to what I’m used to in Thailand. I did pads with Christian, an Italian boxing coach - loads of focus on the hands, never a strong point with me but finished on a blistering round of knees, happy days.

He was pushing me really hard (something you don’t usually get on just one session as a visitor so that’s a plus ++) and I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t melting – until I looked up. There are fans in the roof :-D

And the girl’s changing room needs its own photo. 

I’m more of a rough ‘n’ ready gym-girl but this did make me smile. 

Yokkao take foreigners either for long-stay (the Irish guy I interviewed is there for 3 months at least) or drop-ins.

Find out more:

Yokkao Training Centre Bangkok 

Friday, March 25, 2016

MuayThai and messing about at Eminent Air gym in Bangkok

Kelly Creegan, me, Melissa Ray - taking MuayThai very seriously!

Every MuayThai gym is different but there is a feeling you get when you walk into a good place that just can’t be faked.

It’s something that comes with time, from the confidence of producing good fighters. And from laughter. The more ‘sanuk’ (fun times in Thai) you can add into this risky, dangerous sport the more likely you are to succeed  - when you see professional fighters who depend on MuayThai to eat still managing to joke around you know you’re in a good place.

Eminent Air gym in Bangkok is managing that delicate business of having successful professional Thai fighters in the same gym as ‘farang’ (foreigners in Thai) fighters and enthusiasts. Almost all of the foreigners I met/visited over a few sessions earlier this month were in Thailand for fighting but a few just for fun.

One of the most well-known foreign fighters from this gym is Englishwoman Melissa Ray. She’s retired from competition now but in spite of working is still training six days a week and twice on Saturdays so you wouldn’t really notice!

Fluent in Thai, written and spoken, she even updates the gym’s social media news bilingually. Yes, this is what MuayThai can do for you (or should that be to you?!) You may know her from 'MuayThai on the Brain'.

Irishwoman Kelly Creegan is another fan of Eminent Air and the Thai lanaguage. She trained and fought many times out of Sitmonchai Gym near Kanchanaburi before moving to Bangkok. She is gearing up for another fight now having beaten a string of injuries. Her most recent post on her blog ‘It’s Pandamonium’ was on her six months at Eminent Air and being an English teacher in Bangkok - read that, and I dare you not to laugh out loud.

The other foreign fighters were all male when I was there, and on training trips – work like a demon at home, save money to train for a few months. From what I could see, everyone was pushed to their limits.

I saw two Thai girls training as well but not fighting. They left before I could grab them for a chat or even a photo – next time. I have to say too it cracks me up I have so many more pictures from messing around with MuayThai now compared to when I was fighting fulltime - sign of the times!

This gym has two rings which makes life easier for everyone - people arrive at various times and get going as they warm up. Unlike some of the more traditional gyms, women can use either ring. 

Actually I’m being a bit unfair, almost all gyms in Thailand now allow women into their training rings - the problems are mostly at the stadiums.

We went one night to see Satanfaa Eminent Air fight (and win) at Lumpini stadium and I groaned to see the ‘Ladies do not touch the stage’ sign STILL adorning the ring. It’s the 21st century people! 


Find Eminent Air on Facebook if you’re looking for some hard city training in Bangkok.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

Meeting the women training at Jitti's Gym, Bangkok

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)

Nineteen year old Poopaeng only started MuayThai in January. She said: ‘I like coming here, I found the gym online. It’s not so easy to find somewhere that is a real gym, and still allows beginners come.

‘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. ‘ 


Training at Jitti's Gym, Bangkok  - follow the map on Facebook

 (easy access from the underground station MRT Ratchadapisek)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: St Patrick's Day

Wordless Wednesday - some of my favourite St Patrick's Day pics :)

More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.           And here on Image-in-ing

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: behind the glamour

Wordless Wednesday - winning a boxing fight is GLAMOUR but training is just about doing ...
                                      Pics of Lynn Harvey via The Fighting Irish Facebook 


More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.           And here on Image-in-ing

Monday, March 7, 2016

Behind the scenes with Australian boxing film 'Bam Bam the Movie'

Bianca 'Bam Bam' Elmir PIC via Bam Bam the Movie / Jemma van Loenen
Coincidences can sometimes stop you in your tracks, and that’s how Australian film-maker Jemma van Loenen came to be working on a documentary about boxer Bianca ‘Bam Bam’ Elmir.

We spoke by email in December when Jemma put me in touch with Bianca for an interview on her plans to win Australia's first gold at the World Championships this year. The two are based hundreds of kilometres apart in Canberra (Bianca) and Melbourne (Jemma).

Jemma said: ‘I first met Bianca a little over two years ago. At the time I was researching a fictional story that I wanted to do - a coming of age story on a 15 year old Muslim girl who takes up boxing to defend herself from bullying at school.

‘Bianca had been in Melbourne at the time running a boxing class for Muslim women, and The Age (a Melbourne paper) did an article on her. I approached Bianca as part of my research and was struck by what a fervent and dynamic woman she is.’

So from the imagination of a film-maker came a meeting which made Jemma realise this real-life story had something different to offer.

‘I wanted to tell Bianca's story, because it is different from the mainstream.

‘There are many textures and levels to her, and whilst there are a lot of labels put on her, I was really keen to go beneath that, and pull that apart and find out who Bianca really says she is,’ Jemma said.

It’s not too hard to make a list of boxing films or documentaries, but it’s not easy to find women’s boxing stories told in any country. Jemma spotted that gap, and something more.

She said: ‘I also want to tell a story that shows an inspirational and strong woman, who's from a non-Anglo background. So many of our Western screens are filled with male-centric Anglo-cised stories.

‘I think for Australia, which is built on multiculturalism, it is so important to raise up these voices of inspiration and difference, in order to create connection between people.’

So is there still room for boxing? Definitely it seems. Jemma and her co-workers at Lollapollooza Films having been working with Bianca for over a year, and plan to keep filming until the AIBA Championhips in May.

She said: ‘Essentially, Bianca's story is one of pursuing a dream. Everyone has a dream. And anything that encourages someone to chase that deep stirring within, well, it's gotta be good.’

Here's the trailer - let me know what you think!:

BAM BAM THE MOVIE - TEASER from Jemma van Loenen on Vimeo.


Bianca ‘Bam Bam’ Elmir spoke to realgirlsport in December

More info on Lollapollooza Films

Fascinating ABC radio interview with Bianca ‘Bam Bam’ Elmir on boxing and stereotypes

Friday, March 4, 2016

How does sport affect your mental health?

Hannah Tyrell (green) via

Sport is power, strength, joy and pain but sport and fitness are also the key to mental health for so many people.
On a superficial level, sport has kept me going through financial stress and motivated to regain health after having tuberculosis.
But when I spoke to boxer Lynn Harvey for this blog before, she said boxing has really helped her mental health.
She said: ‘I used to suffer with depression and anxiety, I still do get bouts and it drains your energy. You can barely lift your arms, but ‘cause I love boxing, I do get out to the gym.’

Rugby and mental health 

And this week that topic popped up again when rugby player Hannah Tyrell spoke in Dublin about bulimia and how she found a way past that.
Struggling with mental health and talking about that is just emerging from the shadows in Ireland, but when confident, successful sports women like Hannah speak out it can have a huge impact.
Hannah plays a central role in the Irish national team. But it was only when I read her story in a book last year ‘Six Nations Two Stories’ that the full extent of her achievement became clear. Starting off playing Gaelic Football, playing for Dublin and then moving onto rugby – but all the while eating disorders behind the scenes.
Since then she’s become more prominent, and I think she makes a really powerful messenger. It sends a great signal to girls and boys that you can overcome your challenges, and take on a sport like rugby.

She said at the conference: ‘Sport and my teammates allowed me to leave behind all the stuff I was going through and just enjoy the couple of hours of peace from the negative thoughts in my head.
‘It gave me a break from the struggles I faced daily and just allowed me to enjoy myself and the sport itself.’
Hannah went onto say: ‘The biggest thing in overcoming my illness was to acknowledge it, acknowledge that I needed help and also that the want and desire had to come from me.
‘I had to learn to love myself and believe that I deserved to be happy and to lead a successful life.’ 

Have you seen or experienced the impact of sport on mental health?

Read Hannah Tyrell's full speech here with Pieta House.  

Follow Hannah Tyrell on Twitter.  

Follow Lynn Harvey on Twitter