Sparring with Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu at Attachai Muay Thai Gym

The very first time Sylvie and I met in person was in 2014, when she came to my old gym to spar with me.

Over the years since then, we’ve gone back and forth to do more sessions together several times. I haven’t made it to Pattaya to train with her half as much as I’d like to, though. It had been far too long since we’d last sparred, until last week, when we were lucky enough to get together twice. A miracle!

Sylvie put it all together. Right now, she’s nearing the end of a long stint in Bangkok to train with Karuhat Sor Supawan and Chatchai Sasakul. Since we’re in the same city for a change, it made sense for us to make the most of it. She’s been incredibly busy documenting her training for her Muay Thai Library, but I was hoping she could squeeze me into her schedule at some point.

In order to do this, she suggested meeting Karuhat at my gym, so she could spar with me and then train with him immediately afterward. Since Karuhat is good friends with Attachai, it was a winning solution for everyone. Karuhat even spent the previous night at the gym having a few drinks with him. They both emerged looking a little groggy that morning, which indicated that they’d had a good time.

This was me when Sylvie and Kevin pulled up to the gym.


Look how happy I am, waiting to get started.

One positive thing about having such big gaps between training sessions with Sylvie is that we can see how much we’ve each improved each time.

She commented that my style had changed a lot since transitioning to Attachai’s gym, and I was struggling with her new southpaw stance. This is standard for me, since it’s a running joke with one of my trainers that I’m terrible at defending against southpaws. He’ll constantly throw kicks at me and shout ‘แพ้ซ้าย‘ when I don’t block them (to tell me that I’m losing). It’s definitely a weakness of mine.

Once we’d played around for an hour, Karuhat jumped in the ring to take my place and Sylvie kept going. It was nice to watch them work together. You can listen to Sylvie talk about her sessions with him on her Preserve the Legacy podcast.

sylvie karuhat emma attachai muay thai

Us with Karuhat at the end of our first session.

Karuhat seemed to like that arrangement because he asked Sylvie if they could do it again a few days later. I was originally planning to take the day off from training, go for a long run and dedicate most of my day to work, but I wasn’t going to turn down another chance to spar with Sylvie. So, that plan quickly went out of the window and we got together to do it all again on Sunday morning.

That was going to be it, but once we were done with our morning training, Sylvie and Kevin invited me to join them for lunch, then suggested we spar again in the afternoon. Perfect! Off we went.

They took me to a nice little Italian restaurant in Bangk Chak, Gianmi and Peppe. The food was really good, but I didn’t make the wisest of choices with my order, and that mistake would come back to bite me when it was time to spar again. The four cheese fettuccine, while delicious, would later be my downfall.

After enjoying copious amounts of carbs, cheese and conversation, we headed back to the gym for more sparring.

Soon after we got started, Attachai and Karuhat emerged to watch. They pulled up some chairs, and since there was no one else around for training, Kru Att poured a beer. Sylvie joked that it felt like we were ‘having a play date while our respective dads shared a beer at the park bench‘. It really did! Having our teachers there gave a little bit of added pressure, but it was really nice for both of us.

At one point, Kru Att jumped in the ring to give me a tip. He told me that since I was the bigger one, I should stop fighting backwards and instead push forwards and follow up with kicks. I tried to implement that, but couldn’t get it right. It seemed as though every time I pushed, Sylvie would trap my hand and get me into the clinch. Instant death.

All the while, I could feel the mass of pasta expanding in my stomach. Why did I have to get the four cheese? That’s an unnecessary amount of cheeses to consume right before you have a massive sparring session.

To make things extra fun, Sylvie has this wicked body shot. She was also working on throwing knees from the outside. Every time either of those things landed to my poor, bloated stomach, I worried that I was going to throw up.

As a result, I definitely couldn’t push through as much as I had in the morning. I ended up ducking out a little early, feeling like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after she’d been blown up like a blueberry. Without any oompa loompas to roll me away, I ran off to the bathroom to die. I didn’t throw up, though. Bonus.

I came out of that session feeling a little worse for wear. Still, I really enjoyed it. How could I not?

Every time I spar with Sylvie, I have a ton of fun and learn a lot. As far as sparring partners go, I don’t think it gets any better for me. She’s not too far from my size, incredibly skilled, and cool as fuck. We always laugh a lot during our sparring sessions, and while I can’t compare to her vast fight experience or terrifying clinch abilities, we pose different challenges for each other.

Update, March 2022: Attachai Muay Thai Gym has now closed down its Bangkok location and reopened in Ayutthaya

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