a Short Bio
I was born and raised in Colorado, at the feet of the mountains that serve as backdrop to almost every memory. I have two amazing parents and three older brothers who are the world to me. My parents each ventured out from their own families to settle in Colorado and as the “black sheep” of their respective families, they gave rise to a flock of black sheep with their own children. We are all uniquely weird kids.
After high school and a year off I moved to New York to attend college. It was a strange experience, leaving the only home I’d ever known and moving in with other adolescents to figure ourselves out under the magnifying glass of communal living. But I was lucky to make some very good friends there and, while my degree doesn’t help me a lick in the real world, learning what I was interested in learning is a privilege not all have the opportunity to have and I’m grateful for it.
I also met my husband there, during my fourth year. As my graduation grew near and our courtship had not quite reached the point where such a suggestion would be reasonable, Kevin asked if I’d like to live with him for a while, since I didn’t have firm plans of where I’d end up after school ended. Happily, our friendship and relationship evolved in such a way that I did want to move in with him and we began our life together in the Hudson Valley of New York.
After watching every Kung Fu movie imaginable (far more than I knew existed), I told Kevin I was through – no more! He insisted on one more, promising it was something I’d never seen before and I gave in. He popped in Ong Bak and I was introduced to Muay Thai – I was astounded and romanced by the beauty of the movements. I had, indeed, never before seen anything like it.
In 2008 I began training Muay Thai under the instruction of Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) who teaches out of his basement in Paterson, New Jersey. Master K embodies the beauty and finesse of Muay Thai in a way that nobody else does. He’s funny, brilliant at teaching and dissecting technique, adamant at getting things right and old-fashioned in a way that is at once charming and frustrating. So of course I grew to love him.
Filming my sessions with Master K began as an exercise in keeping track of my lessons, getting everything down because each 90 minute class was so packed with information and detail. But it grew beyond that as I discovered what a rare and precious thing it is to know and train with someone like Master K – if indeed there is anyone else like Master K – and the videos and YouTube channel became an earnest effort to preserve his legacy and disseminate his technique. It is such a gift to know him, to be in his presence and learn a kind of Muay Thai that is fast disappearing; sharing as much as I can of it is as much a compulsion as a responsibility.
As I pushed my way into the ring and fighting, I became a stronger part of the story on YouTube. I began recording and posting Video Journal Updates to express my experiences verbally.
In Winter of 2009 Master K underwent an operation on his heart (the man is invincible as it is and then it turns out he’s been a superman despite pinched arteries!) and the experience caused both him and me to consider the temporal limits of our training together. Master K bounced back stronger than ever, but he thought for a minute, in the darkness, that he would stop being able to teach. It was then that my husband and I decided we must go to Thailand to train for the first time. We owed it to Master K to get a good basis upon which all of his detailed, Ph.D level technique could be grafted.
Thailand opened up a new world to me. Training full-time, sleeping 400 feet away from the gym (rather than 60 miles away in NY!) and fighting with frequency and without fanfare was liberating and inspiring.
When I got back to New York I began training with Kru Nat Fuz, who had just opened her own gym in midtown, Chok Sabai. Having a female trainer was a very different experience and a wonderful addition to the training I still had with Master K. Kru Nat became my “fight coach” and I was exceedingly happy to have opportunities to fight in the US.
Through Kru Nat I had the chance to meet Ying Ross, who is a Thai filmmaker (and truly brilliant cinematographer) shooting a film about female Muay Thai fighters. Ying has been a great friend to me and has become a quiet presence in my Muay Thai journey since we met. She connects me to her friends in Thailand, who are some of the kindest and most generous persons I’ve ever met, and encourages me in a quiet, steady manner that is very much in the vein of her essence. I adore Ying.
My husband and I intended to return to Thailand after one year with the hope of an extended stay. Due to debilitating student loan payments, the amount of money we would have to save in order to be able to afford living abroad was considerable. I kept training and fighting as much as I could in the US, finding (or being found by) good souls who offered me training, sparring partners, support and inspiration. In heaps.
After six fights with Kru Nat as my coach we had a disagreement and our training together stopped. It was painful, but we remain in contact. As a result, however, I pushed to start training with Kaensak Sor. Ploenjit, to whom I was introduced by Master K as they are friends. Kaensak is one of the greatest Muay Thai fighters in history and was named “Fighter of the Year” in Thailand two years in a row – an enormous honor and achievement.
Master K was delighted when I started training with Kaensak. He told me often that Kaensak is the best and to pay close attention to what he teaches me. It’s immediately evident what Kaensak is – you can see it in the way he moves, how he carries himself, the way he slips into perfect and powerful movements with ease like something he’s done 100,000 times. He has that “ex-fighter” quality that can only be witnessed and not explained. It’s like watching a bird take flight or a dolphin leap out of the water – the mechanical justification of the movement says nothing of how it’s really done, or what it truly is. Celestial isn’t the right word, but it’s close.
I learned a great deal from Kaensak, perhaps most important of which is how to play. He would spar with me for 15-40 minutes non-stop, getting me to the point that I was too tired to be self-conscious. Master K has a few classic phrases, my favorite of which is “we need that one!” in response to a proper technique. Kaensak has a phrase too, which is “I don’t care.” He says it in a goading way, when you land a kick on him and he doesn’t block it – he just steps in and says, “I don’t care” while he forces you to back off or block something yourself. It’s a motto, a mantra. And it is exquisitely Thai.
Master K and Kaensak are opposites in a wonderful way. Kaensak is not detail oriented or even focused on technique. He teaches technique as a way of dealing with an opponent and stresses that you have to be relaxed in order to execute any of it. Play around, try things. Master K knows that technique is what allows for speed and power; the proper technique for a knee will make any knee you throw a fight-ender. Do it right and it is beautiful. When I fought, Master K would give me the rundown of what I did wrong, what to work on and how to fix it, how to perform. Kaensak would tell me that win/lose doesn’t matter, don’t get discouraged because fighting is a learning process.
My husband and I had finally saved enough money to move to Thailand for a year, to train and fight full-time. When I told Kaensak his face lit up, “A year? Really? Fight a lot, get experience,” he said. Master K said, “Don’t go!” Both men expressed exactly the feelings I had about the adventure. I was incredibly excited at the prospect of training and fighting, getting experience and improving, dedicating myself to this art which I love so much. And I didn’t want to leave Master K. He has become part of my family and seeing him gives me strength. I miss him immeasurably, but he is always with me and the pain of not being near him is less than the pain of failing to become the fighter both he and I believe I can be.