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I’ve known Sylvie Charbonneau through internet communication for over a year and have recently had the pleasure of meeting her in person here at Lanna Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I’ve been training for 4 weeks, and where Sylvie’s been fighting and training for the past 3 years.

Sylvie agreed to meet me for an interview, so long as it was early enough before PM training that she could still get a run in before holding pads for the afternoon session.  Even as a woman in serious contemplation of retirement, training is still prominant in her daily rhythms.

She moved to Thailand three years ago in order to fight – an opportunity that comes hard for women in the western world, and more rare still for women Sylvie’s size: around 5’2″ and 100 – 105 lbs (like myself).  Interestingly, Sylvie is still small in Thailand and has faced off against opponents both bigger and heavier.  Nontheless, the opportunities for fights have been consistant and Sylvie has accrued a career of 50 fights, with a record of 39-11-0.

After winning the North Thailand Championship belt, Sylvie has been considering retiring from fighting and moving out of Thailand to begin a new chapter in her life.  In our interview we examine the arc of her career as a female Muay Thai fighter in Thailand – the bends and bumps of the road that has led her to the crossroads that is now asking her to forge on to an unknown path.

(Total interview time 16min 21sec, in three parts.)

For more in this series on the women of Muay Thai see our interview with and documentary of Natalie Fuz, “We”, here.

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Natalie Fuz asked us if we could organize a non-Tuesday sparring circle for her and some of her girls, and it seems that this is just what many of those who haven’t been able to come regularly might be interested in. Sunday was the best day, and we asked around for places that might want to host us, and once again Greg came through and said that he would open up the gym for us for a few hours. Much thanks to him.  Natalie says she can bring 3-5 women with her and several others have said that they can come as well.

For those that don’t know Natalie – and only recently have I gotten to know her – she’s a long time female muay thai fighter, coach and Kru, and is formerly of Five Points having just left to start her own gym which is now in the works. In fact just this Summer she fought Julie Kitchen, who is probably now considered the best female muay thai fighter in the world (Germaine de Randamie has retired from muay thai), for the third time.  It will be cool to get in the ring with her, and the chance to mix with other Five Points fighters really seems to embody what the sparring circle is about: bringing the diverse New York women of muay thai together, to broaden the community and open up the opportunity to share sparring experiences and techniques beyond any particular gym.

Natalie said that her ideal times were between 10 and 2, so we were thinking of meeting up at 12:30 at Sweet Science, and maybe in the ring at 1:00. The time is not locked in just yet, so what is the most convenient for you? Feel free to bring friends, and as usual for the circle the cost is free.

Any maybe some of us can head out for a Thai food late brunch afterwards. Any suggestions? Email me at sylvie@earthlink.net or on message me on Facebook.

If you missed it, I’ve been posting parts of an interview I did with Natalie, the first of which is here.

 

It was really one of those nights that always surprises, they way that just a few girls generate so much good will and variety when they come together for sparring. The group was small, but the energy was very high. Laurel Holloway came for the very first time from Progressive Martial Arts in Queens and her presence was wonderful. She fights at <140  (3-0) and matched up really well with Nicole, and the sparring had a really sharp “game” energy that drew the attention of the whole room. Laurel was great with me too, giving me the pressure I need for this next fight, so the three of us rotated in and out of the ring. But then Lisa West stopped by, which is really a treat for me because she is the only girl I have ever sparred (0r fought) with that is exactly my size. As I mentioned before, she fought at the Golden Gloves last year at the 101 weight class, and she really brings it. I loved my three rounds with her (I was really pushing it in that last round; girl got me tired!), and wished we’d had more! So it was just the four of us, but it seemed just right, and I can’t wait for next week. Laurel says she’s going to be there next week and most Tuesdays if she can make it, so the new blood keeps coming in.

I felt a great spirit of support at this session, from the entire room.  Nicole is always good at giving me advice on how to keep my head up, or straighten out my punches, and she took the time after the session to show me a few exercises to practice this.  In our later rounds, Laurel stepped into the ring and asked me straight out, “What do you want to get out of this?”  I think this is the ideal question to ask a sparring partner, as it realizes that there is something to be gained from each round, a lesson to be learned; and it can be a choice.  And so we focused on her pressuring me and I did my best to avoid backing up.  Laurel and Nicole did some good clinching and got heavy in their sparring, but they helped each other up after spills and Laurel came out of one particularly energized round saying, “I needed that!”  I had the same sentiment when the final bell sounded on my rounds with Lisa.  There is something unique that occurs when one encounters a sparring partner who matches her – for me and Lisa, because she is a boxer and I train Muay Thai, this is an exact match in size, rather than training.  I was able to keep her at a distance with my jab (which is greatly difficult with larger opponents) and she landed a beatiful hook straight to the tip of my jaw that knocked me off balance for a moment.  When this kind of hit is delivered by someone my own size, I feel almost proud, like I want to shout, “Nice hook!”, whereas the same shot from someone larger makes me feel like I should have blocked it or I’m outmatched in general.  There is a built-in excuse when one spars someone bigger or more experienced, that when a nice shot gets in it’s because you were deficient; this is how I feel, anyway.  And what I needed out of my sparring with Lisa was the acknowledgement that there is a path forward – the next time we spar she might have an advantage that she has trained and developed, rather than a permanent advantage like size or reach.  And I might finally use my uppercuts.  Hopefully others have this experience when given the opportunity to train with different women at the circle.

The circle is such an interesting thing. It only exists if you donate yourself, (your time, your energy, your spirit) to it. And it keeps morphing as it goes and as our members get pulled in the many directions of their lives. But somehow the idea of it, which belongs to no one of us, keeps it going. Last night was a perfect example of how the energy just comes out of nowhere when people come together. It makes one realize that Muay Thai is not just about training skills, or even coming to fight; it’s about sharing yourself, what you’ve learned, and your heart with other people. It seems that this is what the circle is about.  Good times.

 A little post-Labor Day sparring was just the way to forget the imminent end of summer.  It was a solid turn out and the energy was good and each of us spent a lot of time in the ring – at one point we even had three sets sparring at once(!)  Heather returned after an injury, Sarah was back with Chris and we were all introduced to Kaori, a (125 lb) boxer from Sweet Science, who was a wonderful addition to the group and a really good partner in the ring.

My personal experience was, unfortunately, flavored by a negative attitude about myself, which was definitely a poor influence on my overall performance in the ring.  I know that I do best when I have a few things to focus on and, for whatever reason, I failed to focus myself.  As a result I did not make much progress of feel good about my technique, but regardless of this, I felt a great deal of support from the other women in the group and I know that just being there was good for me.  These frustrating days are definitely useful exercises in discovering where most work needs to be done or what foundational elements are weak.  After we’d all stepped out of the ring for the night, Chris took a minute to go over some footwork with me, and Greg offered sound advice on parrying and slipping, which has been motivation for me to strengthen my basics in the coming week.

For all of you thinking about coming next week, Lisa West (100 lbs Golden Gloves competitor) will return; Kaori says she enjoyed herself and hopes to return as much as her work allows ; Eliana will be back from her business trip (after having experienced a class with Master Toddy in Vegas); Laurie’s fight at Friday Night Fights on the 25th will be imminent; and Alanna and Heather will be getting ready for fights in October.  It should be a great time!

p.s. As we didn’t get much feedback on the experiment of filming our rounds, and it wasn’t clear that anyone loved it we decided to shelve the idea until another time. If you have any thoughts on how it went for you, please let us know.

 

Every week seems to bring out different women, and a different feeling for the sparring, and this week was, yet again, a great time. For those who weren’t there, Sarah from Church Street came, as did Chris, and we all seemed to be a good mix – lots of pace,  and a lot of joy ringside.  Both Laurie and Peelo are getting ready to fight, so the energy seemed up for everyone, not to mention that Greg had just returned from a week off after the birth of his baby girl (!). (He said he can’t wait for her to join the circle.) So many new things. On top of that we tried our first experiment with filming rounds, so you’ll have to get back to us, and discuss amongst yourselves how much you liked it. As you know, we are trying to respect the privacy needs of all the fighters (no one should be able to study them adversely), but still grant us the advantage of looking at what we have done and seeing what we should improve upon.

Video Footage of Rounds

As we mentioned before, we are posting the footage of the rounds on a Youtube site dedicated to our sparring circle. All the videos have been, and will be set to “private”, which means only those who are “friends” of the site can view them. Hopefully this will keep the privacy issue in check. And as we also agreed upon, after one week the footage will be taken down and replaced by the next meeting. If you have a Youtube account, the process should be pretty simple. Go to TheNYFSC, and click “add as Friend” on the main page. After receiving the “friend” notification, we can manually add you to the privacy list, and this should allow you to see all the videos we put up (and comment upon them as well). You’ll get email invites for each of them. You can either click on the link in each email, or can simply go to the main page listed above, and see them all there. They are not searchable by anyone, and we keep references names, and descriptions at a minimum. It is important that when you Friend the Youtube site, that you let us know who you are in a short message. In a small note, if you don’t see yourself much in the footage, we didn’t take equal footage of all because it’s somewhat happenstance who we captured, also because Laurie requested not to be filmed due to her upcoming fight, so anytime she was in the ring we either didn’t shoot, or shot in a very narrow frame. If ever you would like to make sure you’re filmed – perhaps you’re working on something, or plain excited about the idea –  just let us know in advance, and of course if you don’t want to be filmed at all, let us know that too. All in all, please tell us if it was a good thing for you, and if we should continue it.

If you do not have Youtube, you will have to set up an account to join and view the channel. Its easy and takes about 5 min. Just go to Youtube and click “Create an Account”. They will ask you for an email address, and when you receive their email and verify, you should be then able to go to our site – TheNYFSC – and add it as a “Friend”. If you have any trouble with this email me at sylvie@earthlink.net, and I’ll walk you through it. We are pretty much going to restrict who can join as a friend to the actual women who are involved, and perhaps some trainers. There is a limit of 25 persons who can join as Friends.

Photos and the Events Page

We’ll be posting photos from this week over at the Facebook events page found here, which can also be reached via our main Facebook page here (just look on the right sidebar under “Events”. The “create an event” feature seemed to be a pretty good to announce our times and locations, and to make people aware of who is going and who cannot come that week. Some may have not gotten the message through facebook as several who came didn’t confirm, so if there are any thoughts on how to do it better, let us know. Through the “events” page you can invite anyone you are fb friends with, so feel free to use it as everyone who participates is an “administrator” of the facebook page.

 

We had another wonderful night of sparring at Sweet Science, and amazingly we are still getting new girls folded into the mix. So while not everyone can come each time, the group still growing. And it was really nice to have Lucy there, only kick-sparring. She is on restriction from contact near the head, and showed us all how underdeveloped kicks can be. She noticed how when in kick-sparring you have to find another way to set up your kicks, without punch combinations. I think all of us probably learned something. And personally sparring with Nicole from Fighthouse was a pleasure since not only does she bring it, she also is pretty much my size. It makes a real difference to set up opposite someone who matches you. The nice thing is that we have women of all kinds of sizes and experience. The variety of influence is really something more than I expected.

Greg mentioned that he thought we would be incorporating more clinching in the work, and I think he is completely right. Of course all of us spar and work on the things that we want to work on, that is the beauty of the circle. But it seems that in general we should mix in more clinching and knees (and yes, I really have to give my knee pads some action). So I say, remember to bring knee pads if you like the idea. I just ordered these from Amazon and really like them. They arrived in only 3 days.

So I say, the circle is going strong, keep spreading the word to other girls you think might really like it. New invitees can simply come and watch if they are not sure. Or if someone has an injury or restriction, they can spar in a limited way, just as Lucy did.

Opinions: Next Week, Tuesday, 7:20 pm, Sweet Science?

We really made some progress and have probably found the best options to start. Below we discuss the pros and cons of all four spaces, but it seems to be shaping up that Greg Ardon’s Ardon Sweet Science in Brooklyn is where we should come together. Upon explaining our mission to Greg, he embraced it completely, and generously offered to keep his gym open for us in order to make it happen. We certainly need to hear from others, on their needs and opinions, but as a base framework perhaps meeting there 3 times a month, and once a month at Church Street for variety (they have openings mid-week one week a month) is what we should pursue. As things evolve we can adjust on the fly. And certain gyms, for instance the Wat, suggested that they will be available later in the Fall.

So this is what we are thinking. How about Ardon Sweet Science on Tuesday at about 7:20 (July 28th), for our first sparring meet up?  Tuesday seems to be one of the better days for most (Thursday is another very good day). If you would please let us know if another is preferable, or if this day is not at all possible in either the comments or by email, that would be great.

There are several additional things to work out: our format, the level of contact want, trainers who might come, transportation issues, etc. But let’s just see if this time and place is something we can agree on. Once we meet, we’ll all know much better what we like, and what we want more of.

We visited a number of gyms today, trying to get a feel for each space.  The four we saw are actually not that far from one another, although commuting within Manhattan and to Brooklyn might pose different pros and cons for each option.

[Click on any of the photos below to see a larger image]

Ardon Sweet Science

The first place we visited is Ardon Sweet Science 861 4th Ave (and 32nd st.) in Brooklyn. It’s within walking distance from the subway and the gym itself provides ample room for sparring in and out of the ring simultaneously.  What’s most impressive about this space, however, is Greg Ardon, the owner and operator of the gym.  Greg does not believe in advertising his place, he has no website, there is no sign on the door. He has been incredibly supportive and positive about our sparring circle and has offered us full use of his gym every week, starting at 7:30 pm, at no charge.

Pros:  good space; boxing ring; the gym would be pretty much all ours for at least an hour; available every week; no fee; Greg embraced the idea of hosting us

Con: being located in Brooklyn might be a problem for some, although some of you live in Brooklyn, so this could be a pro, too.

Peelo gives the subway directions from Manhattan (we’ll post more details later):

take the N/R/D/M to 36th st and its only 3 stops from union sq so pretty easy to get to…or take almost any train (i.e 4,5,2,3,b,q) to atlantic (one stop from the city) and transfer to n r d m and the next stop is 36th

440 Studios

The second location is 440 Studios, which is located a few blocks from the 6 train at Astor Place (440 Lafayette st).  The building holds two floors of studios available for rent by the hour, at pretty good rates.  There is a lot of activity in the place, mostly theatre and dance rehersals it seems, but we saw martial arts training as well. The initial experience when you walk in the room is that it’s a very large, clean space (as you can tell from the photos), which can accommodate a lot of people. There’s windows in the room, so you don’t feel closed in, and feels very autonymous. The way it works is that you a group rents the space for an hour at a fairly low rate.

Pros: space is potentially available at a great variety of times; easy location; no interference with other classes or gym closings, etc; plenty of space; it would be our space with no external authority.

Cons: no ring; no mats; small cost (˜$36 to be divided among us).

Fighthouse

Another option is Fighthouse, located at 122 W. 27th St.  It’s a huge gym with a ring and plenty of floor space.  Their schedule is pretty heavy, so exclusive use of the space is limited, but there’s more than enough to go around.  Because there are always things going on, in different sections of the flooring, Muay Thai, BJJ, interesting other sorts, so the energy of the place itself is very high, which is nice.  There’s a small fee for using the space, which is at the moment assumed to be about $10 per visit/ per person.  We have not yet spoken to the owner, so that number is not a quote, but is likely accurate.

Pros: the gym is open pretty late, so if we need to meet up later in the evenings, we’re not keeping anyone;  lots of space; boxing ring;

Cons: it’s a bit uptown from the three downtown gyms, where some of you usually train; potentially a small fee; unclear if the ring would be available to us.

Church Street Boxing

And one of my favorites, because this is where I’ve been sparring for the past several weeks, is Church Street.  It’s located at 25 Park Place and the area for Muay Thai is in a quasi-annex to the back, which allows for a bit of seclusion if other things are going on at the gym.  The space is enough for a small group to spar outside ring simultaneously, and we’d have use of the ring.  Aside from the space, the idea for this sparring circle grew out of the generocity of Jason’s spirit towards female fighters (boxers and Muay Thai).  I met him at the WKA and, when he heard that I had very little opportunity for sparring in my personal training, he immediately invited me down to spar with his girls, free of charge.  His enthusiasm for “the more the better” and my experience with his welcoming female students has given permission to the idea that girls from all different gyms should spar with one another. This makes everyone better. (Maybe I’ll have to write about this later.)

Pros: boxing ring; downtown subway stop right on the corner; secluded space; an inclusive attitude toward this sparring circle; no fee

Cons: limited schedule (once per month) when we could have the space to ourselves;  not a great deal of space for continuous sparring outside the ring;

Updated Profiles and Schedules

Please let us know if any of this is inaccurate, and of course feel free to suggest other women to the list. Boxers are welcome too, and some have expressed the need to simply kickspar by reason of injury, which is good as well. We’ve yet to hear from girls at the Wat, though Susan expressed sincere interest in our circle. Spread the word.

Muay Thai Sparring

This is a meeting ground for women interested in finding other women to spar with in New York City. We would like to organize a sparring circle that will meet maybe as much as once a week, either in a public space (a park perhaps), or at an available gym with a ring. Female boxers are welcome as well. The aim is to give all a chance to have a greater variety of sparring experiences than what any one gym would offer.  Medium-light, full-contact sparring with headgear and shinguards. It’s not so much a place for instruction, as one to try out the instruction you got at your gym or from your trainer, and maybe pick up some things from others.

(If you’re just not sure, leave a comment as well just to add to the database of interested muay thai women.)

We are thinking that maybe Saturday morning or early afternoon would be a very good time, but perhaps Sunday is possible as well, or a Monday evening; all suggestions are welcome. 

Please use the comments section of this page for posting your best schedule,  home/work location, weight and experience, and best contact information.  If you would rather not post any information publically, use my email below. Bringing your own personal equipment is a must (although headgear and shinguards could be shared).

Also, if you have a good space or a location in mind please do mention it.

Once we get an idea of when and where everyone can meet, these sessions will be able to take form.

Any questions, email me, Sylvie, at sylvie@earthlink.net

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