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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.

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[Debroah Liao trains out of Five Points Academy and fights Muay Thai and MMA. She has been training in the sport for several years and is a member of our sparring circle]

There are so many things that you can talk about with regards to sparring and so many angles to view it from. I’ve been sparring for about 4 years now. My first introduction to sparring was when I was doing Krav Maga with the folks up at John Jay College. My first sparring partners were a 250 pound guy and a Krav Maga black belt woman, Kat. It was a humbling moment getting pummeled mercilessly. Even now, I feel more or less humbled every time I spar.

I think that learning to be humble is one of the things you learn from sparring (or I hope that people learn!). There’s always something else you could have done or could have done better or done differently. And there’s almost always someone who is better than you. There is no such thing as “perfect”. Being humble, from my point of view, is one of the things that sets you apart from people who simply do Muay Thai versus people who do Muay Thai for the love of it. I think if you love it, you can’t not eventually spar. Fighting is a different story entirely and while more people end up sparring, many do not ever step in the ring.

As for sparring itself? I find it to be the least predictable exercise ever. Some days I have good days. More often I have bad days. And almost all the time I feel frustrated by the fact that I haven’t done something or been busy enough or whatnot. Steve [Arjan Steve Miles] once said to me that ignorance is a form of bliss. Because when you’re ignorant about all your options, you just go in and hit only with the intent to hit. Because I am very analytical in my work life and personality, I tend to get tied up in the nuances and the options which can lead to me not doing nearly enough. It’s a hard mold for me to break out of.

And sparring really depends on the person I’m working with. I’m lucky because I have plenty of women to spar with at all different skill levels [at Five Points Academy]. In terms of size, however, the skill level strata are more separated. Emily, our pro WKA world champion fighter, and Rima with almost 20 fights, are my size but their experience level far surpasses mine. Whenever I work with Emily, who’s a WKA pro world champion, I still get a little bit of anxiety because I know that I will get my ass whupped. If I’m defensive I get my ass whupped. If I’m offensive, I eat punches and kicks timed with exquisite precision. It’s a good and bad experience because it makes me realize how much work I need to do and no one I fight will hit me as hard as her. It’s bad because I spar differently with her than with anyone else. With Rima, I have fun with her but her cardio is so good and she’s so busy that I’m always gassed after working with her. The other girls are all awesome to work with too albeit they are taller and bigger than me, which makes it hard, like if I block a kick, I get sent flying because of the weight difference.

As for sparring with guys, again it depends. I don’t mind sparring with guys but I find it immensely frustrating when they significantly outweigh me and have 6+ inches of reach/height on me. They can just pepper me with kicks and punches and stay out of my range. I usually end up getting frustrated and sometimes getting a little pissy/angry when I feel like someone is getting cocky/condescending with me because I know if I were the same size, I’d be able to land a lot more stuff. And I hate it when I get angry because I HATE being pissy when I spar and you should NEVER take it personally when you spar (I blame it on a bad few weeks at work). Case in point, during technical sparring tonight, a guy who outweighs me by 60 pounds or so and is probably 6-7 inches taller than me, decided to try to kick me in the head multiple times during TECHNICAL sparring (no headgear). Kicks to the head are usually not allowed during technical sparring and I felt like he was doing it just to do it. If I were taller, I would have hit him in the head more because his hands are wayyyy down at shoulder level and he stands really square. I did kick him in the head in return and hit him in the stomach a lot more. When we ended up in a clinch situation, I was able to use my experience more effectively to get the dominant position and dig my elbows into his clavicles to jack his head down into a bad position.

It’s also interesting when we have our quarterly grading [at Five Points Academy]. Not that many women grade up to blue level and not that many women grade up and show up for sparring regularly. I find that most new women are very tentative when they are introduced to sparring. For me, I was lucky to have that aggression and dirty fighting style from Krav Maga. So hitting someone wasn’t new to me. I usually find I have to encourage the newer women to be more aggressive and let them just hit me. However, the person’s intent and personality also plays a big role. For this upcoming grading, I foresee possible “trouble” with one particular woman who tends to lack control and attempts to go heavier and faster than she should at her skill level. It’s funny, though, the transition from just taking classes to sparring is HUGE. People can think they’re the shit during classes, but it’s a completely different ball game when it comes down to mano a mano. I think sparring or fighting is a great equalizer in many ways because it doesn’t matter who you are outside of that moment. You could be a doctor, a lawyer, a physicist, whatever….but when you are sparring or fighting, it’s just two people going after each other.

Which brings me to another funny thing. I don’t know how it is at other gyms, but there is definitely a pecking order amongst the women. Obviously the more experienced you are, the more fights, etc, the higher you are in the pecking order. Which is only fair because of the blood and sweat and tears and aches and pains and bruises you accumulate getting there. And I feel like people work hard to maintain their position in the pecking order (admittedly, I feel out of the pecking order since my left arm issue has been keeping me from really sparring). I admit that if a new person comes in thinking that they’re the shit, I will go harder and attempt to put them in their place versus if a new person comes in and knows they have a lot to learn. I guess it’s a respect thing.

Last night was our first small turnout, which is pretty amazing. Usually there are 7 or so girls, and different ones each time, but this time it was only Nicole and me…at least in the beginning. But as seems always to be the case, wonderful things happen when female muay thai gets together. First of all we were visited by Chelsea and Sandy, who have been out of muay thai for about a year, and got to talking. They stayed all the way until the end, and are seriously considering taking up muay thai again (they had been at Five Points), and joining the circle soon. They spoke with Greg and it seems are planning to come in for instruction from him, so there was a nice feeling that even though the group was low on numbers, it was still having a positive effect. One of the points of our circle I think is to inspire female muay thai in general, outside of the very specific gym cultures everyone is part of. It’s about making connections, at least for me.

 

And then a really special guest came, Lisa West. Personally I have to say that one of the reasons for the circle was to help me find girls my size, and I think Lisa is the very first person I’ve sparred with who is exactly my size. (For those who haven’t met me, I’m 5’2″ and about 100 lbs.) Lisa is a boxer, and she fought in the Golden Gloves last year, and will this year, and it was really exciting to have her come at me hard and relentlessly. She’s coming again not this week, but the week after. And for the other 100 or so pounders we have, you should be excited. She’s a lot of fun.

So, all in all, a very small group, but still very special things were happening. I met three new girls, and Nicole was wonderful giving me pointers on my boxing, like how to get out the corner better and not get bashed in the face every time she throws an uppercut.

Below I list an update of our Interest List. It includes everyone who has expressed interest in the group, and the majority of these women have come at least once. It’s meant to give those who have not yet come a general sense of the experience and size level of our circle, so if anyone can fill in the blanks or correct any information, that would be great. But the list is also meant as a lasting network list of women in the New York area that are genuinely interested in muay thai to the level of seriously sparring. This way you, as a circle member can keep track of others in your sport, and if you like make your own connections apart from the circle

Also, as the sparring turnout was not high and we have entered into Fall, I’d like to put up a chart of everyone’s extra-curricular availability. This way if we think to change the meeting day we might be able to find a day that is better for everyone. Or, as we have always planned, if we have an impromtu meet up at a park we’ll know who might be available. So, if you can tell us what days and times you are not committed to work, school or gym for the week that would be great.

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.

 

Greg is back, and Sarah from Church Street says she can be there, and Jessica is back in training, and Peelo’s getting ready for her Sept. 19th fight, so there should be some really nice sparring ahead this Tuesday after our one-week break. Let’s see if we can come on strong. Also there has been some discussion among most of our regulars and all seem to agree that they like the idea of filming some of the rounds for later viewing and study. So what we are thinking is that as long as everyone in the ring is into it, Kevin will film a pair and we’ll put it up on a private YouTube account so only the few of us can view it, to be taken down after a week. We’ll experiment with it just this week and see how everyone feels. At all costs this should not be obtrusive, nor should anyone feel that they have to be filmed. But it might be cool to critique youself, or even have others critique you too. The reason why we are all meeting is that we all just want to get better.

For those who haven’t come yet, the map and directions to Ardon Sweet Science can be viewed here. If you aren’t sure or can’t spar for some reason, we’d love for you to just come by and watch. It’s a pretty unique get together. I don’t know of anywhere else where women come together from different gyms like this to share community and spar for fun and growth.  It’s a very cool experience.

Here is the event page on Facebook, if you would like to RSVP.

Some notes. Let’s try to work realistic clinching into our sparring (bring kneepads if you can), which we haven’t really done yet. I took a clinching class at Five Points this week and realized that I have a lot to work on there, and maybe some of you feel the same. 

To give a sense to everyone of the scope of the circle so far, here is a list of those who have expressed interest in our circle in some way. If any of you can help fill out or correct the informational blanks that would be great for all because part of the aim here is to identify a new york female muay thai community so other women know who else is practicing and to help others network. Ultimately this is your circle, and the connections you make belong to you. So think of any others who might like to come and enjoy it. Most of those listed have already participated, but the more we grow the group the more resilient and varied it will be, the more likely it will surive lower turn out days, or prod us to do something different, etc. What is beautiful is that what can happen when people get to know each other can’t be anticipated.

Also, if you’re not on Facebook, please give us an email where we can contact you, if you’d like to hear directly about new events or cancellations.

Some of the folks from Church Street have suggested that it would be really nice if we could film some rounds with their women sparring so that they can see the action and possibly help in identifying and correcting any deep mistakes. And while this seems like a very interesting idea, there are a few pitfalls or problems to deal with in implimenting it. What we were thinking was that we (Kevin) could film specific rounds – rounds only with those who would like to be filmed – and they could be posted privately on a YouTube account just for the group. YouTube has a setting such that only “friends” can view a video. Read More »

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.

Terrie Schauer writes a blog, Way of the Warrior Queen, that is half self-help advice and half female muay thai/kickboxing. While the self-help and positive thinking is something I only dabble in, she has amassed an impressive array of interviews with top female fighters (including my friend  Sylvie Charbonneau who fights professionally in Chiang Mai). She recently wrote on our sparring circle, spreading the idea to other women so that groups might start up anywhere.  Part of starting this circle was to meet our own immediate needs, but also there is the sense that in general women fighters are a resource to each other. We have trained hard and achieved some degree of skill, and could only benefit from building a community, something to enhance our experiences at our gyms and with our trainers.

With pretty high chances for showers in the forecast we had to close down the plans for sparring this Sunday at Far Rockaway. We’ll check with Sarah and Chris, but maybe we can renew it for the 23rd, two weeks from now. We are still on for this Tuesday at about 7 pm, in the ring at 7:30, at Ardon Sweet Science. We put some knees and clinching in, but should really bring more (I ordered kneepads, but if anyone has an extra pair and could bring them bring them for me, I would appreciate it). Just a thought, I think we should try to take up some of the space where the hanging bags are. It’s a question of presence and feeling free in what we are doing. Greg has been really generous with opening up the gym to us, and we should take advantage of it. Also, there might be more girls than usual in the coming weeks so pairing up outside of the ring may be a necessity so we can all get enough work in, or even using the bags in rests is a thought.

I look forward to seeing you all there.

Sarah and Chris from Church Street Boxing have invited us all out to spar at Far Rockaway Beach, which would be something really nice and different. It goes right into the idea that the sparring circle is about building a community of women, an excitment about training that goes beyond any one time and place. And sparring outdoors at the beach, who can turn that down? If you haven’t come to any of our Ardon Sweet Science sparrings, this might be a really nice way to check it out. And invite any friends who are interested.

The thought is to have two meeting times. The first one is at 1:00 pm, when we can all meet up with Sarah and go for a run on the boardwalk. The second one is for those who just want to come and spar, and that is at 2:30 pm. Chris will be there for the sparring to keep an eye out, and there is an open area near the boardwalk where we can hold the activity. Pretty cool.

To get there is really easy, and we give a map below (click on it for searchable directions). The A train stop at Beach 90th Street is right there, or if you need a ride from somewhere maybe we can help out (email or facebook us). The weather is looking pretty good, 80° and only isolated t-storms. What Sarah thought was best was that at each time (1 and 2:30) we meet at Beach 92nd Street and the Boardwalk, and we’re sure to reconize each other. The sparring should be great, really casual (full protection though), no gym time limits. And when you’re beat, you just go lay on the sand, and swim in the sea;  just do your own thing, or whatever.

Shoes may be needed for the surface we’re sparring on. We’re checking. [edit: sparring on just grass]