The name ‘Under the Ropes’ comes from the fact that traditionally, women must enter the ring by going under the bottom rope, while men go over the top. This stems from both social hierarchy and age-old superstition.
I’m a writer, activist and former fighter who’s been living in Bangkok since 2011. Until 2016, I was training and fighting in Muay Thai while working as an ESL teacher.
Growing up, I never had any experience in martial arts of any kind. I wasn’t athletic in the slightest. I studied a Bachelor’s degree in Enterprise in Product Design, originally planning to become a product designer. But after my first year of university, I had a serious case of itchy feet. I needed to get out of my tiny British hometown and travel on my own, and Thailand was the first place I wanted to see. During that summer, I made my first solo trip to Thailand. As most do, I fell in love with the place.
After graduating, travelling was the first thing on my to-do list. I set out on a solo backpacking trip, with Thailand as my first port of call. This is when I had my first experience with Muay Thai, and went on to spend a month training at a gym in Chiang Mai. Reluctantly, I moved on to continue my travels elsewhere, but set a goal to come back and train more, and maybe fight.
After my trip, I made plans to head back to Thailand, this time to live, work and train on a long-term basis. I completed another month of Muay Thai training before becoming qualified as an ESL Teacher. Then, landed my first teaching job in Bangkok. My work schedule left me without much time to train, so In December 2012, I took some time out from teaching to spend three months focusing on Muay Thai. During that time, I had my first fight, and that changed everything. I spent the next 5 years training and fighting.
I had my last fight in 2017, but Muay Thai is still a huge part of my life. Thanks to this blog, I was able to build a career in the sport. I’ve worked for the Sports Authority of Thailand on the promotion of women’s Muay Thai, and in 2019, Decathlon Thailand invited me to work on their Muay Thai brand, Waikru. I’ve been working for Decathlon & Waikru as a Communications Manager ever since.
I’m still in love with Thailand, so I have no plans to leave. I’m thankful every day for the life that I have here, and the opportunities that Muay Thai has given me.
About Under the Ropes
I wanted to start practicing Muay Thai a long time before I did, but didn’t feel confident enough to do so. When I finally did, I found that navigating the sport as a woman was a complex and challenging experience. This blog was inspired by a desire to put something out there for the female Muay Thai community, to connect with other women in the sport, and to help anyone who might be in the same position that I was back then.
Under the Ropes began as a way to document my experiences as a female fighter living in Thailand. These experiences triggered my feminist awakening, and this site became a way for me to document the gender discrimination I saw and experienced in the sport. This included writing about my experience of sexual assault in a Muay Thai gym, which led me to dedicate myself to combatting rape culture. I later became an activist and public speaker, sharing my stories at the UN, UNWomen’s HeForShe University Tour, Bangkok’s first-ever Human Library, South-East Asia’s first gender equality summit Dragonfly360, and the British Embassy’s rape and sexual assault survivor handling conference for Thai police. In 2021, I was invited to develop my story for The Moth in a three-day storytelling workshop in partnership with UN Women. The previous year, I also held a Muay Thai class for survivors of gender-based violence. This was not a self-defense class (see: Why Self-Defense Classes Don’t Prevent Sexual Assault), but a way to use Muay Thai as a healing and confidence-building tool for those who’ve experienced trauma. Muay Thai has given me so much, and my goal has always been to extend the benefits that I’ve enjoyed to other women.
I’m not a champion, and could never call myself a great fighter, but I love Muay Thai. Muay Thai has given me my power, my voice, my purpose, and even my career. All of those things are far more valuable than any title I ever could have fought for.
A Portfolio of My Work
I really admire what you’re doing. I live in Colombia in South America, I’ve been practicing Muay Thai for about 6 months and I just love it. I’m an English teacher and my country so I feel we share some things. I found your blog a couple of days ago and I read your entries. It’s really amazing what you have been doing and the way you have worked. I would really like to go to Thailand some day to train and know a great culture.
Lots of respect,
Thanks a lot for you comment. I came out here with no experience of teaching or Muay Thai and just took it from there, so anyone can do what I’m doing really! Thanks for reading 🙂
I am writing my Master Thesis about the intangible heritage of Muay Thai and the differences between Muay Thai in Thailand and the Netherlands.
I would really like to interview you and ask you for your opinions.
Are you now in Chiang Mai, because I am here until the 28th of October.
(btw I am a regular boxer myself and will not train in Muay Thai, however at KC Muay Thai I am following boxing classes)
Best Regards, Maggie
Thanks for your comment. Actually, I’m now in Bangkok, but I’d love to help you if I can. Feel free to message me via the Under the Ropes Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/undertheropes and we’ll talk more. I’m familiar with KC, but I’ve never trained there myself. I hear it’s a great gym!
Thanks so much for writing about your experience. I came across your website deciding if I should take the plunge and move to Thailand to train more seriously. I am 28 going on 29, I wonder if I am too old to start if I want to fight competitively. Do you come across fighters that are around my age, or they are generally younger?
You’re not ‘too old’ at all! I’ve met so many people your age out here who train and fight. In fact, we have a guy at our gym at the moment who is 45, and he still fights. Don’t let age hold you back, it’s just a number 😉
I agree with Emma. The great thing about boxing is that you’re matched with an opponent of similar standard (well usually!), and that means it doesn’t matter whether you are big or small, or whether you are young or old, Anyone who wants can get a fair fight. I was lucky to start boxing when I was 11 and had my last serious fight when I was 37 (but kept on getting in the ring well past that age).
If you want to do it enough, you can. Lots of people start as adults (as Emma did herself) and become very good. Live your dream.
Thanks ladies. Emma, I’m really glad you keep your blog active, there’s not a whole lot of resources for female fighters!
Thanks, Tee. There really isn’t much out there, that’s why I set Under the Ropes up in the first place Thanks for the support 🙂
holy hell Emma you’re fucking hot
Emma aren’t you worried what Boxing/Muay Thai or any combat sports will do to your face? I’m a dude and i am even to scared to think about joining any gym for the fear of breaking my nose or orbital bone do you think i should just grow a pair and do it? .
The only injury I’ve ever had was apparently a hairline fracture in my shin, which I was convinced was just bruising. It left a tiny dent, but that’s about it. As long as you (and the people at your gym, obviously) spar in a controlled way, you shouldn’t be picking up any injuries in training. I don’t worry about the prospect of getting injured in fights at all. Of course, it’s a possibility, but breaking your nose is actually a lot less likely than you’d imagine. Don’t let those thoughts stop you from joining a gym, just go for it!
Hey Emma, you’re awesome. I’ve just picked up MMA in the past year with barely ever being interested in martial arts previously, and your story’s a big inspiration. Hopefully we get to see you in Malaysia sometime soon, or if I ever go up to Bangkok I’ll catch a fight of yours!
Hands up, chin down. Oss!
Glad to hear that. Do get in touch if you’re ever in Bangkok! Good luck with your training 🙂
Found your blog through Sean Fagan’s page. I’ve seen some similarities in your story and mine. Haven’t been too athletic most of my life but I’ve fallen in love with Mauy Thai. I’m working full time but always struggling to make more time for training. I had only trained for 3 months last year before I injured my ankle and shoulder, and I’ve barely been able to train the last 6 months because of them. My passion is still strong though, so I’ve continued to watch classes and seek solution for my injuries, because I just can’t imagine my life without Muay Thai now. Thank you for sharing your journey. It reminds me that no one’s journey is an easy one, and I’m encouraged to keep fighting for my own recovery so I can live what I love.
That’s really lovely to hear. Being injured can be so frustrating when you just want to train, but make sure you get enough rest and heal up so you can come back again stronger. Sometimes, starting training again too early can just put you out for longer, but it’s hard to resist the temptation when you really want to get back into it! Thanks for commenting and following the FB page, much appreciated! All the best for your recovery 🙂
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Nice blog… I was enjoying reading it and then noticed Master Toddy’s logo on the side. How funny! I trained with him in Vegas for about 9 years. Been thinking of taking a trip out there to train for a couple weeks and reading your blogs makes me want to go that much more… Keep up the good work, maybe I’ll run into you when I make it out there.
Thanks for the comment. It’s amazing how so many people that I run into through Muay Thai have crossed paths with Master Toddy somewhere along the line. You should definitely come out here and train if you can, he loves it when his old students come over here! I just showed him your picture and he said ‘oh yes, I remember him. He was a nice-looking boy, breaking all the girls hearts in the gym’, haha. Let us know if you’re heading over for a visit!
I can imagine – Master Toddy has been around for a long time and worked with tons of people across the world. I’ll definitely swing in – it’s looking like sometime in the spring will be realistic. I’m living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico at the moment… I would love to train with him again for a little while. Does he still have the plastic bat? 🙂 Keep up the good work! I’ll be following your journey…
He does, it makes an appearance occasionally! Perhaps we’ll be seeing you soon, then.
Thanks, I’m glad you like the blog! Great to hear that you’re coming out here! If you message me on the Under the Ropes Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/undertheropes), we can have a chat about it! 🙂
I just began training in August and moving to thailand is something I would consider. Any info would help a lot.
oh, how do i miss those days at master toddys! i dont know if you remember me… i’ve been to bangkok in july of 2012, cause i was training in hua hin and had to run away sometimes from my life there. i absolutely enjoyed training with you and also meet a female in this male dominated sport…!! thanks again for this experience.
unfortunately it didnt go so well back home for me with a new job and an eating disorder, so i quit training. i wanna go back to train as soon as i am back in switzerland. currently i am working in central america which is also not so easy to live here as a women sometimes…
but i am glad i found your blog and i wish you all the best for all your fights and upcoming events!
thanks again for being such a positive influence and a nice gal!
Oh my goodness! I do remember you! I think I’d just had my third fight when you came to train with us, it was great to meet you and I’m so glad you got back in touch! Please email me (email@example.com) or find me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/undertheropes) so I can chat to you privately, would love to catch up.
All the best,
Hey Emma I saw some of your great fights, can you email the fight against nong new sitkruchuk?
Hey Emma! I had left a message on your blog a few months ago about my Muay Thai doc… well it’s finished! I’d love you to take a look at it, if you would like to, could you email me or facebook message me (Jesse Maddox or Under The Lights in Thailand) and I can send you link and password? 🙂 Hope all is well!!!
Thanks, I just sent you a message!
What an interesting story you have to tell. This is a great blog and you should be very proud of setting up your life in the way that you have, at a young age I too live in Thailand (up north in Issan).
I had the privilege of training with both Master Toddy and Master A back in the day in Manchester. Please pass on my best wishes to them both when you see them. Tell them Mr Bill from Rochdale says hi.
Chok dee khrup.
Thanks for getting in touch! I mentioned you to Master Toddy and he remembered you fondly. Let us know if you’re ever thinking of coming to visit!
Hi, is it difficult to find a teaching job that lets you train and fight full time? Thanks
So Sorry for the late reply. Your comment was flagged as spam for some reason and I only just caught it.
It depends what you mean by ‘full-time’. It is possible to work at a school and finish in time to go straight to afternoon training. That way, you could fight on the weekends. Personally, I found that kind of schedule too tiring and I didn’t have half as much time or energy for training as I wanted to. I wanted Muay Thai to be my priority rather than and afterthought at the end of my day. Now, I work at a language institute for adults in the evenings and on weekends, which means I can train first thing in the morning every day. For me, that works much better. It make arranging fights a little more difficult, but that’s OK. There are lots of jobs out there, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find something that fits. Are you thinking of coming out here to teach?
Hi Emma! Hope you read my message 🙂
I’m from Argentina, I would love to chat with you, I wanna know a few things about Master Toddy’s gym, because I’m thinking of request a 1 year ED Visa for training in Master Toddy’s gym, but I’m not sure if it’s actually possible. I would love if you can help me with this 🙂
I’d be happy to help. Shoot me a message on my Facebook page (Facebook.com/undertheropes) and we’ll chat more
Hi Emma ! I’ve found your blog recently, and I have a ton of questions about a lot of things.
But first : I’m a French guy, 21yo, who has been planning to leave everything here and become a pro fighter in Thailand for a looong time. I’m about to do it (in september, right now I’m still working&saving money), it’ll be my first time there and hopefully the beggining of a long-lasting adventure. I’m really serious about this, I already gave up on some business schools& quit the Sorbonne so I could do it. Been wanting to leave&train&fight since I was 16. I’m thinking Chiang Mai for the destination.
So could we Skype each other or something so I can ask you for information ? I have a lot to ask and taking the Priscila route is going to take some time (Hi Priscila, glad to know people are flewing in to train from everywhere 🙂 ). My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re okay. Would be wonderful to have a local contact who’s been around
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Hey Emma 🙂
Since Im not on FB or IG I thought I just leave a comment over here.
Its Jessi from Germany.
Just wanted to say that it was nice meeting you at Attachai Gym.
Im gonna leave Thailand way earlier than I had planned so unfortunately I ddnt get the chance to say Bye to you =)) xx
Hey, Jessi! It was so nice to meet you, shame we didn’t get to train together more. Enjoy your time in Phuket and let me know if you’re ever coming back to Thailand!
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Hi, how can i contact you regarding getting a review on your website?
Hi Mark. Feel free to email me at Emma310888@gmail.com.
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Thoughtful, well researched journalism.