Last week, I went to Pattaya for a couple of days to train with Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu. She came to my gym for a sparring and clinching session in order to help me get ready for my last fight, which was really generous of her. I wanted to make the trip to her gym not only for the purpose of returning the favour, but because I’d gotten so much out of our previous session together and I knew that we had to do it again. It’s rare to have an opportunity to spar with someone my size, let alone with the amount of experience that Sylvie has (she recently reached 100 fights in total and has almost achieved her goal of 100 fights in Thailand). There is a lot that I can learn from her.
Sylvie’s training schedule involves three sessions a day at two different gyms, preceded by a 10 km run before she heads to the first gym. If you already follow her, you’ll be aware of this because she’s shared so much of her training online. She recently made a short film documenting a day of her training, which you can see below. Read her post on it here. I was excited to see it for myself, how she lives and trains day to day, to get some more work in with her and also to just get a change of scenery. I’m very committed to my work and training schedule and all my days off from teaching are spent at the gym, so I pretty much never make it out of Bangkok unless it’s for a fight. This gave me an opportunity to force myself out of that for a couple of days, without losing any training time. More than anything else, it was an opportunity for me to learn, so I jumped at the chance.
I arrived in Pattaya at around 11am and after some lunch and a nap, first joined Sylvie for her afternoon session at Petchrunruang Gym. She took me there an hour before she normally starts training so that we could working on some clinching for a while before the gym filled up with people. Sylvie is really generous with her clinch instruction. she went out of her way to spot the many gaps that I had, fill them and allow me to work on them. Most people are familiar with the kinds of clinching partners who are very aware of your lack of skill and/or strength in comparison to theirs and then proceed to spend the entire session overpowering you and dumping you on the floor. Sylvie didn’t do that. That’s mainly because she’s not an asshole, but also because she knows (probably better than anyone else) how hard it is to get quality clinching in at Thai gyms as a female, especially with other females. She’s previously had to fight to get any clinch instruction at all, so she knows how valuable those instructions are. The opportunity to improve her clinching was what prompted her move to Pattaya from Chiang Mai and after training with her there, I can see why. By the time we finished clinching, the gym began to fill up with kids who had just finished school and foreigners who were about to start their afternoon training, so we moved out of the main ring and into a smaller one so that we could do some sparring together. That was a lot of fun. Below, you can see one of the kids swinging from the ceiling behind us like a monkey as we were sparring.
Or. Meekun Gym and Phetjee Jaa
After training at Petchrungruang, we headed straight to Or. Meekun gym, where Sylvie trains with Phetjee Jaa, her brother Mawin and her father Sangwean, who is very sweet. If you aren’t already familiar with Phetjee Jaa, you can read one of Sylvie’s posts on her here. Simply put, she is the best female fighter in the world, as far as we’re aware. There is no other fighter out there quite like her. At 13 years of age, she’s spent most of her career so far fighting (and not only defeating, but also knocking out) male opponents. Unfortunately, in late 2013, a ban was put in place that meant she could no longer fight boys. Since then, she’s had a very difficult time finding opponents because understandably, no girls want to fight her. In order to get any fights at all, she’s had to take big weight disadvantages and low purses. You can watch a Thai documentary on Phetjee Jaa and how the ban affected her career and her family here.
I’d read a lot about Phetjee Jaa and watched as much footage of her as I could find online, so was really excited to see her training. When we arrived at Or. Meekun gym, she was doing some padwork with her brother. While I watched, Sangwean told me that I’d be doing some sparring with her when she finished. She pretty much played with me the whole time. She is just so skilled, there was very little I could do other than do my best, take in as much as I could and enjoy the ride, which I did.
After we finished sparring, we did a bit of clinching. After hearing so much about how working with Phetjee Jaa has helped Sylvie to get better at clinching, I was eager to see for myself how strong and technical she was, and she didn’t disappoint. Sylvie is freakishly strong and awesome in the clinch and working with her is a real challenge for me, but Phetjee Jaa is really something else. Having her repeatedly put an impenetrable lock my neck and yank my head down while I wondered why nothing I thought I knew worked made clinching with Sylvie somehow look easy in comparison. That being said, I loved every second of it. It would have been easy to come out of it feeling shitty about myself, having been just completely dominated by someone who’s half my age and size, but I was just so happy to have had the opportunity to have that experience. Phetjee Jaa is really a remarkable fighter, I can’t say that enough. Being able to get even a small amount of completely one-sided work with her was a great opportunity and I’m really thankful to Sylvie for making that a possibility.
After finishing our session at Or. Meekun, Sylvie and her husband, Kevin, took us for an awesome dinner before we turned in and rested up for the next day. As I mentioned before, Sylvie gets up and runs 10 km before heading out to Petchrungruang and she made it clear that I didn’t have to join her if I didn’t want to. While it would have been easy for me to stay in bed for the extra hour or so, using muscle soreness as an excuse after the previous day, that isn’t my style. I wanted to get as much as I could out of my trip and a lie-in wasn’t what I went to Pattaya for. I also think that running is one of the best ways to explore a new place, and seeing as I hadn’t spent more than a few hours in Pattaya prior to this, it was a good way for me to get a feel for the place. When we got the Petchrungruang, I worked on the bag while Sylvie did some padwork with her trainer there, Kru Nu. Besides from us, the gym was completely empty. Well, apart from some puppies who unexpectedly turned up to distract us for a little bit when we got started.
We worked on some more clinching, only lighter than before. Sylvie pointed out things that she noticed from the previous session that I needed to work on and walked me through some improvements, which was really great. I’m really grateful that Sylvie and I are able to work together like this, something that would never be possible had we not both created our blogs. I also wrote about this in a previous post. I came back to Master Toddy’s excited to put what I’d learned into action and the following morning’s training session was a really good one for me, where everything came together and I felt totally on-point. This was no coincidence, my training over the previous couple of days had definitely given me an extra boost that left me sharper and more confident. I also found out on that day that my upcoming fight, which was scheduled for February 6th, had been cancelled. It was no bother, though. There’s always something else around the corner and I’m always trying to be ready for it. Taking opportunities like these and striving to improve are part of that. I love that Sylvie is on the same page as me in that respect (in fact, she’s miles head of me) and I have to thank her and Kevin for being so wonderful. As well as training, it was really nice to hang out with them and hopefully, I’ll catch them again the next time they’re in Bangkok.
Almost all of the photos used here were unashamedly stolen from Sylvie’s Facebook page.