Note: This is a work of fiction based on the author’s experiences training muay thai in Thailand.
It’s Saturday night, just a week before my planned trip to Phuket. Gong, my nak muay boyfriend of the last six months, is at the wheel of his beloved Toyota Vios and I’m gazing out the window at the passing lights of Bangkok. We’re cruising down the main drag on the way home from the local supermarket, groceries in the trunk. Gong calls it a “date.” I call it “running errands.”
I still haven’t told him I emailed a gym in Phuket about fighting. Now’s a convenient time to tell him the good news. I interrupt his quiet singing along to the radio. In Thai sprinkled with English, I say, “So you know how I’m going to Phuket next week? Singpatong Gym says they can get me a fight. What do you think? Good, right?”
“No!” he says sharply.
“What do you mean, ‘No’?,” I laugh. “Singpatong no good?”
“No! You no fight!”
“Why not? You don’t think I’m ready?”
He pauses, as if he doesn’t know what to say. Then he sighs, says in Thai, “Maybe you’re ready. But I don’t want you to fight.”
“… Why not?”
“Because I — gang won — English, speak gang won?”
“Yes! I worried! I worried you fight. I not want you fight.”
“Um…” is all I can manage before I go silent. After a moment, Gong resumes his Thai radio singalong.
How do you respond to something like this? I’m telling my Muay Thai trainer that I’m finally willing to step into the ring, but he’s responding to me not as a trainer but as a boyfriend. My family back in the US has told me they don’t want me to fight. Now the closest person I have to “family” in Thailand is also telling me not to fight.
It was easy to brush off the concerns of my parents. They’d never been involved in combat sports and they don’t live in a world in which all their friends and neighbors are fighters. For them it was a vague fear of their daughter being harmed, and I dismissed their concern as typical parental anxiety. It’s not so easy to dismiss Gong’s anxiety over my fighting, especially because unlike my parents, Gong knows exactly what he’s saying no to. He’s been doing this for 20 years.
I’ve heard stories of this happening before, about trainers not wanting their girlfriends to fight, afraid it wasn’t ladylike or worrying their girlfriends’ pretty faces would get messed up. Then again, I’ve also heard of trainers pushing their girlfriends to fight, either out of support for genuine passion for the sport, or for want of the post-fight paycheck.
The last time Gong and I ever discussed the possibility of me fighting was when I was solely his fighter-in-training, not his girlfriend. Back then, he told me if I ever started fighting, he’d corner for me.
Figuring the matter has been dropped, Gong changes the subject, asks me if I want to meet his aunt and uncle, who live locally in Bangkok, when I get back from Phuket. We’ve been dating about six months now, and Gong has started dropping words like “love” and “marriage” into conversations lately. Talking about meeting his family keeps me distracted while the concept of him forbidding me to fight slowly seeps in.
We get back to my apartment about fifteen minutes later and Gong helps me unload the groceries. I start putting things away and he lazily flops himself down on the bed and starts his nightly custom of Thai soap opera-viewing.
It’s still bothering me, him telling me not to fight. I wait until a commercial break and then launch into it.
“Today I asked Glai after sparring if he thinks I could win a fight, and he said yes!” I blurt.
“Glai,” Gong scoffs, and continues in Thai. “Glai’s a kid. He’s not your boyfriend, or your trainer.”
“Right, Gong, you’re my trainer. My trainer, this is your job. You work at the gym and you help people learn to fight.”
“Yes, and as your trainer, I’m telling you, Linsee, you can’t fight. You don’t train enough. You don’t run enough.”
“Well then what if I train harder?”
“What do you mean NO? I can’t fight even if I train harder?!”
“No! You’ve been here what, one year now? The people you’ll fight, they’ve been doing this for years and years.”
“Okay, but what about Phuket? I could get a lower-level fight there, right?”
“Yes,” he acquiesces. “Phuket’s not like Bangkok, but I still don’t want you to fight.”
“Ai!” he huffs in exasperation. “Linsee, do you even want to fight? Trainer Leen asked you to fight and you barely cared. You never talk about fighting, all you talk about is sex!”
I laugh before I can stop myself.
Lindsey Newhall first left her home state of California when she was 20, and has since called China, Thailand, and Alaska her home. You can check out more of Lindsey’s writing on Fightland.