Breaking Female Social Barriers through Muay Thai without Firing a Kick
You are not allowed inside the ring until your trainer says you, your gloves, shin guards and mouth guard are ready.
Outside of the ring, before my training ever began, it was my sexuality that got me what I wanted. With my head tilted and the ends of my hair twirled between my fingers, I kept my eyes, complete with batting lashes, locked on my target and almost always got what I wanted.
First class upgrade? I made a bee-line to the male airline agent’s podium and acted out the above.
Got pulled over knowing my license was long-expired? I played a little dumb and showed a lot of interest—not in the situation, but in the officer.
Needed a hand packing and moving? I put a little extra movement in these hips.
It was manipulative and a disgrace to feminist ambitions, I realize that. But for years, I kept it up because it worked.
In the ring, on the other hand, all the lash batting and hip swinging in the world won’t help—in fact, it could get me seriously hurt, or killed. I learned that these flirty gestures were no longer relevant to me, whether in day-to-day situations or when facing an opponent.
At Muay Thai School, where I train in L.A., classes consist mostly of dudes. There are an equal number of male and female trainers, though the two main coaches are both men. Training sessions know no gender, no color, and no personal background. As students, we are all just martial artist entities with different desires and skills.
When in the ring, a fighter stands before another fighter. Both have the intention of doing damage. Both fighters’ minds are consumed with all they have learned on how to defend and protect themselves. There is not one extra bit of space in either fighter’s head left to even consider weakness.
Female or male; societal labels or lack thereof. Once your hands are wrapped and you have climbed past the ropes, all social constructs or memories of defeat vanish in order to fully commit to this earned opportunity—or else leave with serious injuries.
This is what I have learned about being a woman from Muay Thai, not what it’s like being a woman in Muay Thai. It was never about breaking social barriers or proving my worth within a male-dominated community. If gender differences have no impact on me and my daily pursuits, they do not exist in my world at all.
The beginning of my training is rooted deeply in those millennial-era series and sequels like Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charlie’s Angels.
Those girls kicked asses.
They stood up for the greater good, rebuffed attackers fearlessly and protected one another. Despite being Hollywood constructions, I idolized these girls and that’s what I understood womanhood to be.
Now, after finally practicing martial arts, my fighting education has changed how I conduct my life. Nothing has been more empowering. I’ve never felt safer walking past a group of cat-calling men. I am secure on my own two feet because no matter any danger that comes at me could be countered with the roundhouse kick I’ve practiced throwing a thousand times to someone’s ribs. I always feel safe. When I walk, I am more grounded because I have been taken down enough times to tactically react, without panic, when a threat is close.
Even greater, though, is the acquired mental strength and emotional composure necessary in the face of danger when sparring. Physical defense is rarely needed because emotionally, I am already shielded against taunts and insults. I owe this to sparring with partners who never showed me mercy because of my gender. I had and have no other choice but to stand up for myself. Though training will never make me invincible and I will never defeat everything that comes my way, I know I am at least equipped to put up a strong fight for survival. I am always safe and there is enormous relief in that knowledge.
Another result of my training is the loss of interest in all things superficial. Nothing about how my makeup is applied or how much money I make actually improves my technique or strengthens my pursuits outside of fighting. I have become more humble and honest about my capabilities.
At first, I truly believed hitting the hardest, fastest or loudest was how I would advance to the next level. It only turned me into a show-off who was trying too damn hard. Seeking attention instead of actually learning skills only made the coach pass me up when it came time to advance students. I am grateful for their integrity in restricting promotions to those who had earned it.
Bit by bit, hit by hit, class by class, I have learned to realize where I stand and earn my way to the level I think I deserve—zero instant gratification.
Being a woman training Muay Thai, it has never been my intent to break barriers; to me, those barriers were never real. Part of me still wants to be one of Charlie’s Angels, but I realize now that my true dream is to fulfill my own vision of womanhood. Realize that the intent of this writing is not to promote fight training or any combat sport if it isn’t for you. It is encouragement for you to stop thinking there is a glass ceiling above things you like to do, and to replace it with something you don’t mind waking up at 4 AM every day to do.
Experiencing certain discrimination is inevitable but it doesn’t stop there, especially if you are willing to take the hits for something you love. Training Muay Thai is empowering, but so is finally getting into that thing you’ve always thought about doing. Define your own livelihood without complicating things with unreal ideas of gender, guys and girls.
Written by Dana Seaman
Edited by Scott Blacklock