All Roads Lead to Chiang Mai

487_lgWriter Shelley Divine talks about her and her team’s training trip to one of kickboxing’s meccas.

Trying to get a fight in Canada or the states when you are only 100lbs just doesn’t happen too easily, at least not for Canadian Sylvie Charbonneau and New Yorker Sylvie Von Duuglas-Ittu.

They came to Thailand particularly to Lanna Muay Thai, better known as Kiat Busaba, where they were captured by the friendliness and warmth of trainer and owner, Andy Thomson.

When I arrived at Lanna Muay Thai this February, I didn’t know what to expect; I just went to check it out after my Thai Massage teacher referred me, saying that the Lady Boy Fighter trained there. When I said “Kiat Busaba”, even the tuk tuk driver knew, saying “ahh lady boy”. I later discovered Lady Boy is a compelling story about a famous champion Muay Thai fighter who challenged beliefs about gender, but really he only trained at Lanna Muay Thai when he was very young. However, that alone already said a lot about the gym.

The school is rather known for its consistency, being in service for the last 20 years and pumping out champion fighters; as Andy so eloquently put it, “we train to fight” everyday of the week. Andy proceeded to give me private instruction for the next hour, and it was the most information I have ever received in one session, complete with essential Muay Thai basics and fine tuning.

The next time I returned, I completed five rounds in the ring with Nuk, one of the Thai trainers, who delivered artfully consistent pressure, dumping me time and again on my butt, gleefully cheering “O- aye!” each time with an enormous smile! I couldn’t help but laugh along with him even with the language barrier, as I was instinctively learning to react and develop fighter instincts that I hope will assist me in maintaining technique even when completely exhausted. Believe me five, three minute rounds with push-ups in between your one minute rest period is challenging to say the least! Not to mention, this training is twice a day and includes a run through the mountains, jumping rope, bag work, and conditioning.

Aside from the training, I couldn’t help but notice that there were six other woman training there, much to my delight. They were from all over: Canada, France, Denmark, New York, and Chile, to name a few. I was thrilled to see this! After speaking with them, what was really striking was that they all had changed the course of their travel plans to stay and train at Lanna Muay Thai. It was easy to see that I was not the only one that felt that Andy welcomed you in such a way that you feel immediately as if you are coming home to family!

Canadian Sylvie Charbonneau, or better known by the Thai’s as “lil bovvy”, came to Lanna Muay Thai with her boyfriend in 2004 and never left, becoming a champion fighter in her own right with a record that boasts 50 fights with 39 wins and 11 losses. She is also the only female trainer, which is quite an accomplishment in Thailand, seeing as how there is still superstition surrounding woman using the same pads or the same ring as the men. Did I mention Lanna has two rings, one meant for woman to train in to quell any lingering superstitions? New Yorker Von Duuglas-Ittu, who coincidently shares the same first name, sought Sylvie out and sent numerous emails back and forth before she too made the journey to Northern Chiang Mai at the foot of Mt. Doi Suthep to train and fight in Thailand.

Soon I too found myself succumbing to the infectious energy of the Lanna Camp, having changed my plans to stay longer in Chiang Mai, enabling me the pleasure of seeing fellow American Von Duuglas-Ittu, (26 years), fight. She mentioned she had to change her name to “Ursula” in order to avoid any confusion among the Thai officials with the female champ, but didn’t mind the name change, amused that it meant “bear”. Another woman from Denmark, Anne Dyrehauge, (21 years), had been traveling with a friend for the last 11 months thought it would be fun to try Muay Thai boxing. She too changed her plans, parting ways with her friend in order to stay longer at Lanna. Watch out for this girl, who the fellow male fighters called “GI Jane” because of her brazen attitude and for notorious stunts like eating a live gecko on Denmark’s television show, “Girls Without Borders”, similar to our Fear Factor, who also decided to fight while I was there. Remarkably with only a month’s training, Den, the fight coordinator arranged a last minute fight for Anne, who weighs in at about 155lbs, with a Thai woman who didn’t mind the 20 lb. weight difference, having the experience of 20 fights under her belt.

I was so excited to see these girls fight, as was the rest of the Lanna Camp. Daniela Caliejas, (25 years) from Chile, weighing a 149lbs, has trained for 3 years and was chomping on the bit to have a fight of her own, but was still nursing a dislocated shoulder after she threw an over hand right in her last fight, winning by unanimous decision. She is expected to have her third fight very soon.

The fights were held at Loi Kroy Boxing Stadium near the night market across from Tapae Gate. Both fighters had their hands wrapped and received vigorous Thai style rub downs, complete with tiger balm, before the fight by Charbonneau, who also cornered both girls, along with Andy. Each girl entered the ring by going under the bottom rope (traditionally men jump over the top rope) and performed the Wai Kru Ram Muay, a ceremonial dance to pay respect to the trainer and the spirits of boxing. Von Duuglas-Ittu won in the third round with a devastating knee strike to her opponent’s temple and Dyrehauge won in the first round with a right hand hook, knocking her opponent to the ground. After these two wins, Champion Charbonneau was feeling the itch to fight again as well, even though she has stated that she is retired.

These fighter girls clearly train to fight and fight they do; I believe Sylvie (aka Ursula) had another fight after I left with another win. So, if you are a woman looking for experience fighting either amateur or pro, then traveling to Thailand, particularly to Lanna Muay Thai Kiat Busaba, is well worth it, considering fight nights happen on a weekly basis! All in all, I think it is safe to say that all the woman I met at Lanna Muay Thai clearly were inspired to become fighter girls from the instant they set foot onto the outdoor camp!

By Shelley Devine

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