A little bit before I started Muay Thai, which was my introduction to combat sports, I was caught in a cycle which many girls and women will find familiar, of hating my body, wanting to be “liked”, slavishly following poorly thought-out diets, and doing hours of cardio at the gym.

Needless to say, none of this was very fulfilling. In my quest for ever more cardio, I ended up in a Les Mills Body Combat class.

The instructor’s name was Kelly, and I remember thinking that she was amazing. She was lithe and strong in a way that I had always been told that women were not, and unlike the step-class instructors she made no apology for her athleticism – no thick layer of make-up or pink accessories or feminine affectations.

Unlike those other instructors, she was also very approachable and generous with her time. I spoke to her after class and she told me that she had a background in Taekwondo. I think she may have been the first person in whom I confided about my desire to learn to fight.



I’m Going to Wrestling Camp!

In two weeks’ time, I’m going to be at the Australian Institute of Sport for a three-day women’s freestyle wrestling camp. The coach will be Kyla Bremner, a former Olympic wrestler. I found some footage of her competing, which you can check out below.


“It’s Not Real Wrestling”

I have never called myself a wrestler, although I have been categorised as “Wrestler” before by some BJJ friends overseas, which simultaneously filled me with pride and embarrassment. (Apparently, the perception was due to some combination of my “physique” and my ineptitude with lapel grips. Maybe it also had something to do with that Greco class where I took down an 87kg guy a bit more than I should have. )

The thing is that, while I do wrestling training to benefit my BJJ and MMA, I’ve never entered a wrestling tournament. Thus, while I do tell people who ask that I do wrestling training, and for what purpose, I never call myself a wrestler. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world, one which commands a great deal of respect. I would never dream of sullying its name by making unqualified claims about myself.

Imagine my horror then when the subject of Bikini “wrestling” (re-)surfaced in my little sphere of influence. Something in me is strongly repulsed by the concept of women in bikinis or lingerie doing something (which some producers have the gall to refer to as “wrestling”) for the sole purpose of letting cameras capture footage of sweaty cleavages or crotches tangled up in lace or lycra.


Preventing Neck Injury

I get some strange looks when I do my neck exercises in front of BJJ and especially Muay Thai folks. It looks strange to see someone apparently running around on their head, but there a solid method and extremely sound reasoning behind this activity.

Leo Frincu is a former wrestling world champion, successful entrepreneur, and has been strength and conditioning coach to champions like Ronda Rousey, Diana Prazak and Romulo Barral. In the video above, he demonstrates the carousel, and some regressions of the front-to-back bridging sequence.

I started looking for effective neck exercises while trying to return to training after spraining my cervical spine during BJJ training in 2011. Previously, my neck had been strengthened through the process of Muay Thai clinching, which had given me very strong and active upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles, but had not prepared me at all for the myriad of positions in which one finds oneself while grappling – falling or being dropped on the mats head-first, posting and bridging on the head, being stacked, and resisting chokes and neck cranks (intentional or otherwise.)



Live wrestling never fails to satisfy a desire to fight, rather than to train, learn, drill or practice (all of which are very important.) But sometimes when you’re “on,” it just has to be “on.” It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having an all-too-rare moment of complete honesty when you have permission to be yourself and no one’s allowed to be offended by it. “I want something, and I’m going to put my entire being against you to get it, and I’m not going to pretend I’m doing anything different.” There aren’t many times in a “civilized” modern life when you can be that honest.

In Defence of Culture, Autonomy and Identity: Martial Arts as Protest in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Lone Boxer

Those who follow me on Twitter would have noticed a lot of my Tweets lately have been about “mysticism” in Martial Arts. I had been writing my final essay for this semester and now it’s done – I’ve really finished Uni for the year. I ended up calling my paper “In Defence of Culture, Autonomy and Identity: Martial Arts as Protest in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.” In the end, what it came to represent to me was the articulation of over fifteen years of Rage that had previously only ever found expression through physical means.

It’s funny that my “Martial Arts” and the ethnic protest that they represented were always a source of shame and bemusement to certain people in my life. I’m sure they’re happy now that I’m doing something “respectable” at University. The irony is that my studies are motivated by exactly the same righteous anger (at being denied a culture of my own while being marginalised by the one in which I live) that initially motivated me to want to learn how to kill people with my bare hands. (Let’s be honest; that angry sixteen year old who walked into a Pradahl Serey Kun Khmai gym and said “I want to learn how to fight” wasn’t interested in spiritual transcendence or individualistic self-improvement).

I never did put hands on those people who were on my teenage hit-list (there was a list) and I have not become anywhere near as accomplished a fighter or “Martial Artist” as I had hoped to be by now. But in the process of writing this essay, I realised that my years of training have been worth something, if only because they have made me a small part of a phenomenon that is much bigger and more significant than myself.

Nothing that I’ve suggested is new: there is a lot that has been written on this subject, and there is room to be far more comprehensive. For example, I was unable to go into s discussion of the Blacksploitation film genre, or to analyse the socio-political implications of Women’s MMA. But I hope that you get some enjoyment or insight out of what I was able to discuss. Comments are very welcome.