Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu
My name is Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu and it’s only been spelled correctly maybe twice on fight cards. I’m 29 years old and have been training Muay Thai for almost 5 years. I started in the US under the instruction of Master K (Kumron Vitayanon) who is my biggest inspiration and inseparable from my love for Muay Thai. I also had the opportunity to train with Muay Thai legend Kaensak sor. Ploenjit who trains folks out of AMA Fight Club in New Jersey. I’ll compete in my 37th fight on March 1st, but I fight about every 10 days so that number changes frequently. I’d like to have as many fights as possible; I started out hoping for 10, then aimed for 50 and now that I’m getting a second year in Thailand I’m dreaming about 100 fights. I’m 45-48 kg but my “fight weight” includes opponents up around 50 kg regularly.
1. How long have you been doing Muay Thai and what made you want to fight?
I started Muay Thai in 2008 and have become progressively more involved in it every year. When I first began I had to commute an hour in each direction for every training session, which I did for four years before moving to Thailand to train and fight full time, so now I’m a 4 minute walk from the gym and it’s the best thing ever.
When I first started Muay Thai I did not want to fight – it wasn’t even on my radar. But about a year into it I realized that I couldn’t really know everything I wanted to know, or as deeply as I wanted to know it, in Muay Thai if I didn’t fight. Fighting is such an important aspect of the art. So that’s what made me want to fight – wanting to really know Muay Thai and to improve.
2. You have trained in the USA and Thailand what do you think the difference is for you and what do you like the most?
There are countless differences between training in the US and in Thailand, more so for how I trained than perhaps other folks. I didn’t belong to a gym and instead took one-on-one lessons from a 74 year old Thai ex-fighter who has an incredible love for the art and sport of Muay Thai. He teaches in very fine detail, which is great because I learned how to diagnose small details of any given movement to a) learn how to copy it and b) how to improve power or speed on it. But because he was so far away and the lessons were one-on-one I couldn’t train more than a few hours per week and didn’t have any peers, so my training didn’t look anything like the staples of Thailand training, which are all repetition, padwork and sparring/clinching – you know, working with and learning through others.
The biggest difference I think is repetition. I went from training 10 hours per month to 7 hours a day, six days per week. Just doing a motion over and over again increases balance and comfort, as well as consistency in its execution. I’ve developed a great deal from my repetition and training in Thailand,actually getting padwork and experience working with others. But I also can fight as often as I want out here, which means fighting has become part of my training. Which is the greatest and most important difference for me.
3. You have a famous blog and you tube channel and you and your husband encouraged me to start my own. I was hesitant because alot of people in Muay Thai think self promotion and putting your self out there is being full of your self and having a big head. What do you think about this? It was hard for me at first as well. I’m a shy person, which isn’t a part of me that I have to express in my online sharing. It wasn’t too bad when I first started the YouTube channel because I didn’t think anyone would see it, but it just kept getting bigger and bigger. Then I started the Facebook page because I was going to Thailand and the blog and website followed, leading to my second and long-term move to Thailand. It’s hard putting yourself out there and it takes more courage than I think people realize – far more so than being self-promotion. But it does function as promotion as well and I think that’s great because women don’t get the same exposure and opportunities that men do, simply because we are a minority in the sport. So being our own advocates is a good thing because we can make opportunities for ourselves that might not be there otherwise, but my favorite thing about women putting themselves out there on social media is that we can connect to each other throughout the world. So often there are only a handful – sometimes only one – of women in any given gym and they don’t have peers to sound off with or other women (fighters or women who have experience) to look up to. There’s nobody to relate the unique experiences women have in gyms or in sports; but you go online and can meet women who are champions, fighters, retired, or just starting out. I was ecstatic to meet you online because you not only share my views and aspirations as a fighter, but you know things I don’t and can say “yeah, I know that feeling” to many things I experience. I still get excited every time a woman who is just starting in Muay Thai contacts me – I want to hear all about it!
I wish more women would blog and share. Our voices are underrepresented and the impact even one woman can have on the many is pretty strong.
4. What do you think is the hardest thing about fighting Thai girls? Thai girls are tough. There are more female fighters in my area now than there were when I first visited 3 years ago, which is awesome, but they’re also much better and more skilled, which is also great. A lot of the girls I face have established a fighting style and are really skilled at fighting on the outside, so even though I want to learn how to do that I’m just way behind on the learning curve. Trying to chase someone down is much more frustrating than facing someone who wants to brawl – it’s not harder, but it’s easier to look bad against skill than against a brawler.
5. What has been the biggest challenge as a female fighter? It’s difficult being a minority. Women are faced with challenges in pretty much every sport in terms of acceptance and finding equal training opportunities, sport opportunities and even training partners compared to men. I’ve had a really hard time getting opportunity to learn clinching and getting sparring practice. It’s a cultural and gendered difficulty more than anything and even though I’ve met some really incredible opportunities and learned a great deal in the past year it’s still starvation mode in terms of getting consistent training, both in clinching and sparring.
6. Hardest fight and why? I feel like every fight in front of me is my hardest fight. It’s because I want so many things for myself in my learning, growth and abilities so I’m always very hard on myself when I don’t meet them as well as I hope to. But that’s what drives me too, so it’s a good thing.
7. What drives you to fight so often? For me fights aren’t an end result to anything, they’re part of a process. It’s like asking why someone trains so often – to get better. I fight to get better and I think I grow more when there’s frequency. You get in the ring and have glimpses of success and failure and then you get right back into training to work on those things, then back in the ring to see where you’re at, then back to training and so on.
8. Your favorite part of training and fighting? I love Muay Thai fighters. Fighters are some of the coolest, most amazing and interesting people I’ve ever met. Watching my trainers when they spar or how they slip into movements when demonstrating something is just incredible – like seeing a bird take flight and suddenly all those shapes make sense because they’re serving a purpose. Fighters are most intensely expressed when they’re moving and when I train I’m moving with all the ex-fighters and fighters in the gym. It’s why I’m always at the gym – like divers who never leave the water.
9. Do you get pre fight nerves if so how do you deal with them? Oh yes, definitely. I just try to diagnose which nerves are positive and which are negative. If I can get rid of negative thoughts then all that energy is going to serve me well, but if I don’t pay attention those nerves can affect the fight in a bad way – being too low energy or distracted or self-critical, for example. I just focus on my breathing, listen to music that gets my heart pumping and follow the routines of fights – seeing the doctor, saying hello to the officials, the food stand people, the regulars, oil massage, warm up, etc.
10. Any advise to any females wanting to fight? I’ve learned things over the years that I wish I’d known sooner, but we only really know something through the struggle of experience and learning, so getting that information sooner may not have had the same impact that having to wait for it and earn it did. So offering advice to women just starting out in the form of what I’ve learned may not help them where they are now, but eventually everyone comes to understand the same truths through experience. But being patient and being persistent with yourself is good advice for anyone trying to learn something. There’s no “secret” to fighting – it’s just a lot of hard work. And we all like to hear “yes” more than we like to be told “no,” so be generous with other people also.
Former US president Harry S. Truman once said, “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” That has kind of become my way over the course of my life because it’s how I try to advise myself, too. If you want to fight, do everything you can to get out there and make it happen – just go fight.
Any last words or people you would like to thank? I want to thank my husband for his unwavering support, for being strong enough to push me and catch me and putting up with my crazy. Thanks to my family for going out on a limb to try to understand what the hell I was getting myself into when I first told them I was going to start fighting and for loving me enough to become fans and supporters despite early hesitation. All my trainers, for instilling and feeding in me the love for Muay Thai, for encouraging me and challenging me and being the best role models I could ever look toward. And thank you to everyone who supports me online, for the women who write to me to share their experiences and stories – I get so much out of those exchanges. And thank you to female fighters for whom I have so much admiration and feeds my aspiration.
Last words: Come to Thailand!
Make sure to check out Sylvie’s Pages
Interview By Natasha Sky, Feb 2013 Photos from Facebook