A Breaking Point – The Fine Line of Performance and Re-Making
Guest Post – A Husband’s Point of View
This morning Sylvie left for her 3 day meditation retreat here in Pattaya. She had assembled her things the night before, bare minimums in her little bag, and in the am woke me to tell me she was going. It is 3 days of just sitting in a small room noting two things: states of the body, states of the mind. The morning air around us felt so peaceful, sunlight cutting through the edges of the curtain by the bed, the dog slack on the floor. I felt like a kid waking up on a Saturday morning, realizing that he doesn’t have school, or that it is summer vacation still. There was a floating quality about it all, a timelessness. We don’t get many of these moments. The commitment not only to a torrent of super high-quality content – content that I believe is changing Muay Thai, possibly for generations to come – and Sylvie’s own hurdling toward incredible fight rates and performances, just leaves us benumbed mostly. There is a high-tempo metronome always ticking. But for this moment as she paused to leave for 3 days with herself, her mind, her body, it all had stopped. She was leaving early so she could drop off $50 a reader had sent to her to deliver to Rambaa Somdet who runs a small gym filled with kids, about 15 minutes away. As she ushered out the door I realized that even as she was traveling to a “retreat”, she was still taking care of others. In fact, even after she had left she would return twice again, busting open the door to fix something she was worried about, as she left the apartment for me. “Did I leave the iron on?!” thoughts, but concern for me. The metronome was still ticking.
I’m writing this because as her husband I feel that it is important to relay some of these facts, these things that surround the incredible goals that Sylvie makes her assault on. I’m writing also so I can get myself clear on just what it is that is happening, sometimes putting words together puts thoughts and vision together, and helps us see. These recent weeks we’ve had to really kick into what can only be called Emergency Mode. Emergency Mode is when we have to really batten down the hatches, cut things way, way back, and hunker down until the storm blows over. The storm in these cases is gusting winds of self-doubt, a burdening sense of on-going pressure that feels almost barometric, and powerful, buffeting waves of harsh inner monologues. One of the gifts I have with Sylvie – and this is a gift I both have due to my nature, but also more so a gift she has given me through our love – is a perpetual sensing of where she is at. It seems I can intuit just how much she can take, and strongly advise pulling back when it gets too much. And lately, my spidey sense has been tingling that it’s a whole lot of too much, but in a subtle way. There have been many times in Sylvie’s insane fight streak into history that she has been seriously set back. Really big, embarrassing losses that just gut you. And always she swings back out of the gully. There is a long-wave pattern to this. The key is to make sure that it doesn’t valley-out too low, too powerfully. It’s as if you are swinging around massive planets, using their gravitational pull to sling-shot you forward, in someways. These planets are the holes in your soul. The places where you have nothing but black gravitational pull. Places you can’t see. What makes Muay Thai, fighting, training at incredible rates, so much of an Art, at least on the level that Sylvie is pursuing – and has been for nearly 7 years now…is that you are playing with these huge planetary aspects of oneself, planets – I say planets, by which I mean huge psychological dark masses, gravitational sources of negativity. You are using the contours of your soul to speedshot forward and out. It’s not easy. There is a reason why nobody in the history of Muay Thai fighting has ever done anything like this. Not a single westerner has fought 30 times in a year, Sylvie has done it for 6 years. Yes, you can fight “a lot”, or “as much as you can”. Yes, well-esteemed. But, it is not the same as just endless, endless, endless striding. We’ve likened it to ultrarunning. When you stride like that you engage parts of yourself, your mind, your doubts, that are not accessed in any other way. The demons come and talk with you with a familiarity unlike at any other time. The planets of negativity pose themselves as infinite challenges, things you are trying to take a trajectory to without crashing.
I’m writing this to feel my way forward with sensitivity towards my precious and so admirable wife. I want readers to be able to see into the difficulty of what she is accomplishing. We watch great feats like multiple ultras being run, or impossible, icy epochal mountains scaled in exotic lands. Yes, these are obvious, remarkable things. We can see what it is. We can hold it up. But, what makes such feats rare is not the physical dimension. It isn’t that such an such mountain has a bloodcurdling elevation of x, with a rate of ascension of y. Or that an Ultra was run over z miles, in y degree heat. It’s that the soul is challenged so extremely, just to stay on that road, on that climb, when the mind is shouting “Get off!” for unbearable lengths of time. What remarkable, noble people like this are doing is re-making themselves. They are risking dissolution, and all the alarms (the built-in engine warning lights of our cars) are ignored or overcome to ascend to something more. And this is what we are in. The Space Craft is ever shaking and heating up with incredibly jarring vibrations, the bolts are always loosening, the demons are always coming to haunt and whisper, and these are the things nobody sees. These are the risks….and often beyond them often the rewards.
more naked and exposed than it seems, leading epic experiences for everyone
Something happened this December when we hosted the Women’s Muay Khao Summit – and I do not write this to speak of any regret, on the contrary, rather of the great cost for something so valuable. We invited women from around the world to come and train in Sylvie’s private space, the gym where she hides herself on a bag in the corner, and drills endlessly, battling her negative, harshly worded thoughts. And, invited great female Thai fighters to train and guide the women, female Thai fighters who Sylvie has come to love. And invited absolutely legendary figures of the Muay Khao style, a brutal style which Sylvie’s soul hearkens to, and men who Sylvie infinitely admires. Something about that combination pushed Sylvie into a broken orbit of strain as she took it all onto herself. Me pushing her on every detail (and I can be very overly direct), her opening her sympathetic self into every imaginable crevice of experience others were having, and importantly Sylvie’s own essential shyness, just absolutely converged, and produced a broken orbit. People may not realize from her public presentation, and the ways in which she has fought to overcome her most basic instincts toward introversion, but Sylvie is hardcore shy. Hardcore. The full wave of the event hit her broadside. Extending herself to others, expanding, and being incredibly exposed, no corner to hide in, shuddered her. It was such an incredible, audacious event, it had to be attempted. But also it was too much. She lost her fight that night, on a card she herself was organizing – this is pretty much unheard of, and never heard of in Thailand: a westerner co-promoting cards (endless calls, budgeting, logistics, last minute caretaking) which she then fights a top opponent on, giving up big weight. The loss was incredibly embarrassing for her. Yes, she was giving up 6 kilos vs a top fighter from the North, a fighter she had beaten a few times, and it all seemed to collapse down. The event ended, and the pieces tumbled into a pile. In the 14 days of the Summit we had just reenacted the insanity of her so-far 6+ years of legendary pursuits, in a huge time-lapse, crushing condensation. You want to see six years of historic performance collapsed down into 14 weeks. That’s what that was. Geez. Incredible that we pulled that off (with the loving support of so many from the community, and from sponsors and patrons), but it was a wave-slap.
I didn’t realize it at the time, to be honest. It was just Sylvie doing the impossible, as everyone expects her to do – she’s numbed everyone and moved the goalposts of what impossible is – but it had reverberations, and they’ve been echoing since. Her next fight was against Thanonchanok, the WPMF World Champion 2 weight classes up, the most decorated, legit female World Champion Thailand has ever produced, and she lost. She had a good round, but the fight overwhelmed her a little, at the emotional level. There is no good reason at all that you would expect a 46 kg fighter to walk to the ring with a World Champion at 53 kg, and expect her to win…other than that Sylvie had beat her a few months before. This was a fight Thanonchanok should win. Sylvie lost, and again it was severely embarrassing (in her mind). So much so that when taking off her wraps she clearly and assertively declared that she was “done”. She did not want to feel like that, how she felt in the ring, again. The biggest and darkest of planets of negativity. And she was hurdling towards it. Done.
careful not to over-poeticize the night of the soul. It is destitute, an x-ray of observation and accusation
These are just terrible moments. They’ve happened several times in the past. They are when the whole of the Self becomes eclipsed, and falls into darkness. There isn’t even a glimmer on which to place one’s hope. It is eternal lacking night, in the least poetic sense imaginable. Only willing gets you to the next frame in the film strip, willing or just persisting. Everything feels like its at risk. Sylvie’s survived horrible sexual assault, it’s not a small part of this story, the ability to endure, but also to feel and believe that it is un-endurable. I hesitate to mention this because suddenly fighting is nothing more than an aftereffect of something that happened two decades ago, and its not. It’s not even on the radar until one writes something like this. But, crystallize if you will, the atmospheric pressures one carries within oneself, as if you are 200 meters down below the surface of the sea. If that’s where you live and operate, as you take on impossibilities. Imagine the atmospheres of self-examination, the self-policing, the disjointing harshness you have grown to live under. I’ve written about a division within Sylvie. Dark Engine, Bright Engine: How My Wife Trains and Fights a Ton, an article that reflects some of the themes I’m writing about here, 3 years ago. She has an incredible reserve of power as a person, that draws on what I then called her “Dark Engine”. She can harness her endurance of pain, and even her dark thoughts towards herself, and leverage them into truly historic achievements. But when you feed those demons, they grow. When you use the Dark Engine, it turns on you, it will use you as fuel. As I was staring at her pulling madly at her tangled wraps and tape, incredibly frustrated and shame-tinged wanting to escape even the presence of her hero Karuhat who wanted to care for her, I saw those demons. I saw that space craft nearly burning up on reentry, too close to that planet of negativity. Shit man. She had just fought the god-damn World Champion 2 weight classes up giving up 13% of her body-weight (who does this?!), a fighter she had remarkably already beaten twice, and she was devastated. She’s been fighting giving up serious weight against the best fighters in the world for about 2 years now, one after another, pounding after pounding. She is an astronaut, and a space alien all in one. There is nothing like what she is doing, she is Major Tom, out there in her space capsule. Nobody, not even me, knows what she is thinking and feeling. We can only imagine.
sylvie’s vlogs, above, her real public facing self
So this is my thing. The greatness of what she is doing does not rely on its numbers. The numbers are a thin excuse, a skeleton on which to hang all the meat and muscle of a soul’s trajectory on. What has been happening this whole time, and in all the hours, days and years nobody sees, is that Sylvie has been surfing an incredibly large wave. A tidal wave that is so large it’s invisible to the eye. It’s the wave of herself. It goes down to the ocean floor, down into the Mariana Trench. That she is doing this with a camera on her, that she wrestles away from her shy, introverted grasp, a self-image broadcast out to everyone else in 100s of vlogs and the greatest documentation of real Thai technique ever assembled, is even more insane. Like any surfer of unbelievable waves you are always risking wipeout. Wipeout not as a loss, or a losing streak. But total wipeout. It’s the very fact that you are cutting the edge of dissolution, you are facing reentry that is shaking the bolts loose. You are riding a line. I write all of this because I want readers and fans to understand and see, she has been riding this incredible wave the whole time, cutting the shaking edge of bone-rattling turbulence. And this month it just got to her too much, wrecking on her. I know those that have concern and care will be say: “Take a rest!” “You deserve it.” “You have been pushing too hard.” It’s well meaning, but this kind of talk infuriates her. It’s from a perspective of those that have no idea she’s been on this tightrope for 6 years. It’s like yelling to a rope walker over Niagara Falls: “Watch out! You might fall!” or “Maybe you shouldn’t be up there?” The whole point is that she is up there, and has been up there for almost 7 years now. This is a yogi in the forest, in the forest of her self. She is doing what none of us, or few of us dare to do.
So, as we do when the demons get too powerful in their speech, and when the massive gravitational planets start pulling towards their hole, we’ve gone into focus. We’ve cut way into her diet – she’s shared about her relationship with the keto diet and depression – recently starting to fast every other day (a diet I’ve been using for over a year now), because we know that foods can amplify depressive feelings, and its good to reset. She’s now stepped back into a 3 day vipassana retreat, something that has re-centered her twice now, putting the mind in the narrow hollows it needs to be in to let greater capacities grow – there is the ultimate sense that in deeper parts of fundamental vipassana practice, relief from old, chained thought patterns probably resides. At the very bottom level, the duress of fighting and yodmuay training is a metaphysical event. She is still fighting on her regular schedule, working her way forward, but we are doing so with great sensitivity. Much of success and growth relies on not stopping and starting, but rather finding the baby bear line of rhythm. When it frays, do not stop, but seek the natural line. I’ve also started working with her physically in the practice ring, on a body-shot focused approach that may allow her to reclaim the physical space she’s acceding to her much larger opponents. I believe this is a ground war of physical space, especially as a Muay Khao fighter, but it’s also the space in the heart. There are techniques to carve out that space. She’s told me that the work we are doing is pulling up all the hard emotions she had in her last loss. It’s same toxic stuff. The same Planet of Negativity. The core of a hole in oneself, what few face, and nobody can see in others. And she’s been on long losing streaks before, painful ones, and this could be the start of a significant losing streak, that’s ok. What seldom is known is that losing becomes both easier to handled, the more you do it, but also more difficult. It bifurcates. The mind can become two minds about it. One of the benefits of fighting enormously, even losing streaks become absorbed, but losses also have greater inertia behind them, they can feel cumulative and unforgiving. I also don’t know what any of this means for her impossible goal of 450 fights, all I know is that she’s had impossible goals before and absolutely crushed them, and this is a wave that she’s been riding for a very long time. We don’t know what the wave will give and offer. I’m just in awe and respect for how she surfs it. It’s real. It’s dangerous. She is real. She is dangerous. I’m just there to nudge her to wholeness, in support. Everything is laid at the feet of her desire to be.
I’m writing this so that others can see into the process, and know this this is a low-point. A beaten-down point. This is part of the process, its what it is about. I’m writing it to say: Hey, if you care and follow send your love towards her in thoughts or comments. We are all part of this happening. Sylvie has incredible reserves, but she also relies on the buoyancy of others. I’m also writing this out of unending love and respect for her, for the ways in which she risks herself (not physically, mentally), and really how all fighters risk themselves, putting themselves on a brightly lit stage, prepared for the sacrifice of dignity, the battle for dignity, as all of us, including myself, stand outside of the ropes and cheer, criticize, advise and dream. This is the evolution of a soul.
If you want to know more about Sylvie’s 3 Day Vipassana Retreat, watch this series of vlogs on her first one
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