Interview with Female Muay Thai Pioneer Anne Quinlan – Part 1
Anne Quinlan Interview – Part 1
I first met Anne Quinlan without really meeting her. I had a fight at the Kalare Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai and she was part of a group comprised of a few familiar and unfamiliar faces. She gave me a big smile and said, “good fight,” as I was having my wraps pulled off of my hands. She lodged herself in my memory as being very pleasant, but that was our only exchange.
The next day I was back at the gym, training. Anne strolled into the gym and leaned against the women’s ring, looking comfortable as any trainer at the gym even though I’d never seen her there before. I recognized her right away from the night before and she asked me if anything hurt. I told her that I felt great, she nodded, and we started chatting about how long I’d been training and fighting, and she told me again that my fight was good. I thanked her, it was very nice to be talking about my fighting in an even way with another woman. She remarked about my number of fights or maybe my training but something brought the conversation to where I found myself telling her that women like me have women who came before us to thank for our opportunities, as well as the responsibility to go farther and open new doors for the women after us. I remarked that it was a pity that women like me know there are women to thank for what they’ve done before us but don’t know who they are or most of their names.
Anne’s eyes lit up at this, a little flare, and she asked if I knew any of those women’s names. I shook my head in dismay and said I didn’t and what a shame it was. Then, she either told me her name or asked if I’d heard of Anne Quinlan and my body jolted. I did know that name and realized that this woman right here in front of me was Anne Quinlan – the Anne Quinlan – one of the pioneers for female Muay Thai in the west. I didn’t even know at that time – talking to her right there – to what degree Anne is a pioneer, but I knew enough to ask her immediately for an interview. She agreed and said she’d come back to the gym the next day. We chatted for a bit more and I learned a little about her retirement but could still see (and hear) her love for Muay Thai. I truly believe that if the obstacles were removed for her, Anne would be fighting right now.
So the next day Anne showed up at the gym just as I was finishing my private boxing lesson with Neung. She sat down by the ring and watched me for a bit. Later she told me that she had been very moved to see a woman appear to be respected as and treated fully as a fighter, given a fighter’s attention, as if this was something she very seldom purely experienced in Thailand in her day, despite her assurances in the telling of her story that she had cut a place for herself that was as close to equal with her Thai male training partners as could be. It was some kind of magic for her – she had been coming to Thailand since she was 16 and at the time of our interview she was soon to turn 50. After my padwork with Neung, Nook came over and joked with her – pretty much wordlessly – and then slipped into some impromptu clinching. I could see Anne’s skill even in this playful match; she controlled angles and kept perfect distance even with arms swimming everywhere – the kind of muscle memory and casual response to contact that experienced champs never lose. Then Nook slipped on some mitts and Anne put on some gloves and they did a round of boxing pad work.
Again, I could see years of training in Anne’s boxing; even though it was “light,” she had perfect aim and quick hands, grounded in flawlessly economical movements in her hips, legs and feet. It wasn’t until I looked her up on YouTube later that I saw how fast she was in her prime.
We moved over to a small table behind a hotel next door to the gym and got to talking. Anne’s experiences and knowledge speak for themselves, but what I can add here in this intro is what it feels like to be around her. Anne is incredibly calm, very relaxed and open despite her quiet disposition. You could know her for a week and never know about her experiences as a boxer or you could know her for five minutes and ask the right questions and hear all about it. She seems content either way. She’s humble and has an open face; she’s soft-spoken and can be difficult to understand when her accent gets thick, but you still feel like you understood it – you “get it” even if you couldn’t repeat her words. Because she’s so quiet it seems a little amazing that she has such rich stories to tell about her experiences as one of the first western women to come train in Thailand – back when women were not permitted to fight according to the “official” rules – and indeed she became the first British female Muay Thai champion and fought in the first female Muay Thai bout in the UK. She was a very small fighter, indeed she fought at about my weight: 46 kg. It takes a strength of character and resolve to be a tiny and young foreign woman insisting on instruction (regardless of inclusion or acceptance) in all-male and all-Thai camps at a time when it was unfamiliar on both sides of the language, cultural and gender barriers. The road I walk is very different from what Anne forged in her day and I have a great deal to be thankful for. She cut through vines and I’m trying to lay some brick in the ground cleared, so to speak.
She also provides insight into the people of the Muay Thai world, like Master Toddy, who most Americans only know through Fight Girls and his Vegas gym. He’s a bit of a caricature in media, perhaps intentionally so, and many Americans have no idea what a huge role Master Toddy played in forwarding female Muay Thai in England (and Thailand) before developing the Vegas and TV personality promoting female Muay Thai on American television. (And he’s still working to promote women!) The way Anne talks about Master Toddy in this interview’s first part, about who he is and what he does for his fighters – and on the other hand the way Master Toddy talks about what he wants in a female fighter when he’s scouting you can see he’s looking for more women like Anne – it’s a beautiful and illuminating expression of who these people are, what they’ve come from and where they’re headed.
I knew there were women to thank for the opportunities that women like me have now and I was ashamed not to know their names. What is worse is not knowing their stories and experiences, so I am even more grateful to have had the opportunity to hear it from Anne, as well as to be able to share some of it with others. (There are some interesting things we talked about in private discussion that did not make it into the interview.) I hope that the voices and stories of these women can be documented to a greater and broader extent than any one interview – in many ways that’s what Rosy Hayward’s “Female Muay Thai on Facebook” Group is about and that is, indeed, where I first heard of Anne Quinlan. But it’s going to require the effort of many. Just as Anne could easily be a very pleasant and supportive woman who I met at one time in Thailand without ever revealing all the rich knowledge and experience she has inside her, I would have missed out on all of this if I hadn’t asked. So let’s get to asking.
This is Part I of my interview, the 2nd and possibly 3rd parts will come as we’re able to find the time to edit them, hopefully soon enough!
If not familiar with Anne, here below is a quick Knock Out she had on network TV, which gives a good glimpse into her fighting style. Just Google her name on YouTube and you’ll find several of her fights:
In this 2008 Ax Muay Thai forum thread there is interesting back and forth with Anne about footage of her fights and fighting at that time.