Analysis, Metaphysics and Muay Thai | Kevin’s Instagram
My husband is a metaphysical thinker; an endless analyzer; a lover of maps, graphs and diagrams; and a beautiful writer. He also happens to have been with me since day one of training Muay Thai in Master K’s basement and is, in fact, the person responsible for me ever having seen Muay Thai in the first place. While he is not himself a fighter, he has seen and experienced all of this Muay Thai journey with me. And, as such a prolific thinker and watcher, what he sees and understands is wonderfully unhindered by the pesky struggle of personal metamorphosis – something that skews my own vision at times – and so he offers a really unique insight into “the way of life” that is Muay Thai, as the husband of a fighter (me).
He started his own Instagram account last month, debuting his thoughts on some challenging fights. Then, just like my own experience, he moved from the focus of fights to the broader scope of all that goes into training, learning, pushing, observing, transforming in the process of living in Muay Thai. One of the things that first made me fall in love with Kevin – and which I still love, forever – is the way he sees, how carefully he takes in details. The combination of images and his ability to expound on how they contextualize larger concepts fits wonderfully in the medium of Instagram. Below are his first shares, but head over to his page to check out his more recent uploads and give him a follow.
His Instagram Entries So Far
#fightnotes on #fight216 – In Sylvie’s 2nd to last fight she faced Nang Hong who not only is one of the best 53 kg fighters in the North – her victories vs the top Thai Cherry Gor. Twin gym seemed to pretty much force Cherry into retirement – but she was facing her in Nang Hong’s home town, with Nang Hong’s gym owner the promoter of the festival event. While Thai scoring is by our experience almost always fair – much fairer than is often described by some westerners – it is difficult to win on points in a home town. Just little things play out. The way the ref breaks the clinch, the way the gambling and enthusiasm goes. Add to this, the Liangprasert fighters have pretty much decided that the only way to beat Sylvie is to cut her, so that’s their main strategy going into fights with her. Fighting 6 kilos (+13 lbs) up, in a home town, against a killer, skilled opponent who is looking hard to cut, I’m incredibly proud of this victory which will go down as just another fight in Thailand. There were so many small things overcome in this fight. Nobody fights like Sylvie. It’s a beautiful thing.
#fightnotes on #fight217 in her last fight Sylvie gave up 22% of her body weight (10.5 kg) to her opponent. What perhaps is more amazing than that she physically handled and ultimately overwhelmed an experienced fighter at that size, but that the match maker of the stadium believed that this was a fair match. When clinching at that size difference it isn’t strength, it’s technique. Additionally, when we as fans look at this kind of thing we are suitably impressed. But size does subtle things to your brain, things that onlookers can not see. If you have kilos on someone it instills a natural, animal confidence. You just feel – whether it is true or not – that you have control over the space. You perceive your advantage at the emotional level of a certain “reality”, which feels almost neutral. It’s one reason why people who repeatedly fight with weight advantages often don’t even notice them as facts. Instead of registering the size they just feel “good” in the fight. When you fight with size disadvantages, big ones, the same thing happens in the opposite direction. Your animal brain perceives the disadvantage over space. It leeches your confidence, at the level of perception. Nothing is going to work, because you can SEE that it won’t work. This is what amazes me when Sylvie performs like this. She is defying what her eyes, at the animal level, are telling her about the space she is in. She, and really anyone who fights way up, is transcendent in performance, in a way that is invisible to us outside of the ring.
#substrate “The artisan works on the wood, to be sure, but the wood also works on both itself and the artisan, affecting the resultant object. First, the wood’s singularities or haecceities are its “implicit forms,” the virtual potential it carries within itself as matter, that which makes it topologically receptive, through its inherent activity, to being shaped by the artisan. These are the torsions of the wood fibres that in fact guide the tools and action of the artisan. Second, there are the variable intensive affects of the wood itself: “wood that is more or less porous, more or less elastic and resistant” (408). Rather than the artisan forcibly (and violently) imposing the form he has conjured onto the wood, Deleuze and Guattari propose that “it is a question of surrendering to the wood, then following where it leads by connecting operations to a materiality…what one addresses is less a matter submitted to laws than a materiality possessing a nomos” (408, emphasis added). Not only do the wood’s affects contribute to what the artisan can and cannot do, but the artisan must enter into their rhythms, acquiesce to their vibrant materiality, in order to “make” anything.
Instead of cyborg subjects estranged from our technology and our materiality, I propose that we are all artisans, and our bodies are the wood in Deleuze and Guattari’s example. Our bodies are not passive material substrates governed by a consciousness, gendered or otherwise, but have their own affects, their own singularities and implicit forms that intra-act with our intentional and unintentional work upon them.” – Julian Gill-Peterson
“We are Not Cyborg Subjects, We are Artisans”
#substrate This is the Phra Rahu amulet that is on Sylvie’s mongkol. It’s a very unusual figure/image as Phra Rahu is usually depicted alone, traditionally vociferously eating the Sun (knowledge), or in a trinity of figures with Vishnu atop his divine vehicle the eagle-like divine being Garuda, who is then above Rahu who is at bottom. In Thai conception high and low placement is very important. Inverting Rahu above Garuda, and placing him where Vishnu should usually be is profound iconographic revolution. In the proper trinity Rahu is the base desire. He can be a god of lower types: drug addicts, gamblers, prostitutes, where low desire circulates. Not only is he often seen as a malevolent force, he is mythologically something like the Naga (a snake-like demi-urge) who wished to become a monk, and was denied because of what it was – hence it is said you now see Naga serpents surrounding & protecting Thai wats, because even though they cannot go in, they cannot “enter”, they can still serve Buddhism. Rahu, above his station, drank the immortal elixir, getting in line with the gods. His body was severed in half, just as he was swallowing, his head becoming deathless. In this amulet, the substrate speaks. What is low, has become high. What is low, has been carried. The speechless has voice. And his inveterate desire to consume knowledge/experience (the Sun, the Moon), has transmuted. This is where the amulet is kept between fights, atop of a Rahu sculpture given to Sylvie by a friend. In this state the mongkol itself, woven with the fire skirt of her mother, operates as an inscription upon the substrate of the statuette, a ringed commentary. Sylvie’s fighting is both the inscribed, and the inscribed upon. The trained and ardent agonisms are a form of body-writing, in an effort to let the body speak, for itself. The substrate must become the vocalized to fight. The inherent histories, the centuries and eons of what is animal and human, inscribed and reinscribed in the polymeric molecule Book of Life, the heaps of death in matter, etched, have to be given over to speech.
This is abstract language, but take a minute to think about it. It’s about “boxes”. Or, for the commerce of the social to exist everything has to become a coin, because commerce in the formal sense is coins passed around. Everyone knows that the coin is something of a made up thing, at some level, but this fiction produces a unit of value. There is some play in the system, but too much non-coin reality poking through can threaten the entire system of commerce. As bodies – feeling, sensate bodies – we are all stamped, so that we can circulate. And in more modern social milieu – ones that are more planed, more horizoned, less stacked and straited in a pyramid – we organize to stamp ourselves, to help in the process. It is a fiction, which is to say it is something that is invented, but the consequences of this stamping are not fiction at all. When stamped you circulate in very real economies, and your #possibles very concretely play out. One becomes funneled by a physics no less real than how water finds rivulets and rivers downstream. And once stamped – entering into binary bonds – its very hard to change your stamp, in that valence. You can be stamped elsewise, in other valences, but stamps tend to endure. Now, this is what the substrate is. It is talking about the thing…the material…(however affective and alive it may be) upon which the stamp is placed. The substrate is what is carved into, what receives the emboss. This can be anything from a wax tablet 5,000 years ago, to silicone chips, to a cluster of neurons that remember the face of your grandmother. The stamp in the material (hylo) allows a record and a registry, an operation. But, the material itself has its own reality. And in many ways this real-material is what the passage above is talking about. These are the transmitted energies and potentialities that are buried in the material that otherwise is taken to be inert, empty, void…and ultimately often projected upon.
This is what I’m interested in, especially in the case of Sylvie who is doing incredible, ultimately historical things, things that will change culture. Looking at it this way, in terms of substrate, there is a double inscription going on. One on, we might say, is on the Body. The other is within the Body of Muay Thai, or maybe even Culture. In this case maybe what is most salient is the first part. What does that mean, to be inscribed on the Body. A woman takes her body, which has received the stamps of her history, all the inscriptions of her culture, due her class, gender and all the haeccities of life events. These are the circulations of a Life Path. What then does it mean to discipline the body under the regime of a fighting art, to – at the most grammatical level – impose in the beginning techniques, to literally encode what seems like a fixed set of movements. This is how you punch in Muay Thai, how you block, how you kick. And you drill and drill and drill this limited vocabulary of motions, directly onto the body. They have no real internal meaning, unlike many other stampings of your own culture, in fact their potential for revolution comes out of their lack of meaning, their emptiness. They are just directions that the body takes, in both senses of the word “directions”. They are imposed (either by oneself, or by a hierarchy of kru or teacher), commands, but more importantly they are “directions”, as in compass settings that you just head off toward, trajectories. This is a kind of performative stamping, a liberation simply by virtue of arduous, grammatological inscription. You are being written upon by a foreign language, and in the lasting sense one understands that these inscriptions defy, or over-code many of the inscriptions one already has. There is a sense, because it is being done directly onto the body, and because these fighting actions are to be performed under the most elevated of affective states (in Fear), that they are meant to work into the substrate itself, and in some way liberate the voice of the unvoiced, the things that are only potentiated, but left mute by so much of the coinage of one’s history. That is the soterological hope, to let the #substrate speak.
Then comes the culture of those inscriptions. In Thailand, especially, their native meanings come to play in tidal forces. Not only are you performing a vocabulary of inscriptions, in public spaces, but you are also adsorbed in the kai muay, you are undergoing the regime of affects (not just bodily motions) that indicate masculinity, indeed hypermasculinity, hierarchies, spiritualities, nobilities, taking on the art form itself, from which those basic inscriptions came from. Why? Because you have realized that this is the only properly understanding of those basic inscriptions you have originally recorded, the punch, the kick, the block, the knee, operates within an entire field of affective disciplines, which includes the regimes of the Thai kai muay, which is a highly gendered and structured pedagogic process, a stratification of affects and identities. The inscriptions upon your substrate, The Body, can only operate as they were designed, within another regime, of which you are only para-. In this way you are inculcated in the regime of the kai muay, taking on the disciplines of the affective body of the Muay Thai fighter, an idealized Masculinity performed through body inscriptions, as a process of liberation of the substrate itself. The un-voiced becomes ventriloquzed in a Foreign Tongue. This is tricky. You are becoming Other, and this otherness cuts across your history, the inscriptions and identities you feel do not speak for you, the coins you have been, in the differential between your own histories and another history which is some ways feels MORE your history, than your own. The powerful question is: Why? What does it feel as if this language, this regime of Masculinity, speak where other histories and regimes cannot speak? Why is the substrate spoken for in the violence of the ring? There is something to the art, indeed the ART of Muay Thai, the careful and cultural way that it engages the primordial violence of our animal histories, the codes written into our DNA-RNA, etched into that molecular substrate, and its affective expression, and does so as a defined aesthetic, governed by its efficacy – the fact that these techniques and technique languages have been part-born from the laboratory of tens of tens of 10,000s of actual fights – and not diluted into formalisms derived from fights perhaps centuries ago and no longer like other traditional martial arts – and that these technique aesthetics live ensconced in a living Nation of a People (Thailand), expressive of its nobility and humanity, and are part of a living culture of Agonism, played out in villages, wats, rings and stadia everywhere, as a living thing, gives the language of that inscription a richness, a bottomlessness which potentiates the western body, and perhaps more than any other, the Western Female Body. [The reason for this amplification of potential (and risk) is that when western men train in Thailand they (usually) are doing so in affirmation of a primary psychic molarity, an essence: masculinity, an quality of their identity confirmed and anchored in their own pre-existing inscriptions, well-stratified. For men they are confirming gender in a trans-cultural sense, arching toward a transcendent masculinity, defying the historic particulars in each branching.] Women on the other hand are working in differential, leveraging the unspoken voice of the substrate across the very tensions of gender binaries, partaking in agonist culture, launching from the stylized, brutal and beautiful masculinities of Thai signature, to a lyricism of what’s possible yet does not yet exist.] But regardless of gender, of all gender/s in this sense the Substrate of our Histories is leveraged somehow; when you dive into the Thai regime. The closer you get to historic, cultural Muay Thai, the more you approach what is really an ancient (non-commercial, non-coined) magical language, a language as program and operation. It was said by Arthur C. Clarke that Magic is indistinguishable from any sufficiently advanced technology. I contend that Muay Thai is advanced technology. And in many respects, as Sylvie engages in its repeated and continuous inscription – both in the gym and in the ring – she is its most advanced explorer.
Cited from “Machinic Assemblages: Deleuze, Guattari and an Ethico-Aesthetics of Drug Use” – Peta Malins
#possibles #notalent #toosmall #triestoohard #whodoesshethinksheis #toostiff #doesntpunch #doesntkick – we all come from what is base. What is base is the mother of us. As much as we raise up, lift up…dream, we must first bow down to what is low, what is possible. We don’t even know what is possible when we look low, when we see the ground, our mudfeet. We scoop ourselves from that clay, the fetid, organic clay that feels like it stinks of small deaths and infinite, signature failures. Some of what we bow to is unjust. We seek to justify, to stand up, yes. But not too quickly. What is possible is made of this movement, from low to high. And then there is the technique of what is low. What is crouched, or closed. There are the small movements of the tightly bound coil, the metal which does not surrender but circles upon itself. The cluster of the possible.
A decade ago we are laying in the dark on the beat-up couch, and the DVD is whirring in the player. On the screen across from our little house in the woods, rented on the edge of a State Park in NY, we are watching a film in black & white. This the beginning. The beginning of 1,000 beginnings. Nothing else mattered. On screen is Zatoichi, the blind swordsman of an epic series of Japanese movies that stretched decades. He is uncooth, humble, venging, hunted, prone to laughter and ever caught in outrageous situations wherein, like the western gunslinger, he is forced to kill. What is most compelling to me of maybe all things about “Ichi”, probably due to its formalism, is his downwards facing swordstyle. This is reportedly a fictional, non-historical style, but what’s beautiful about it is how it expresses the character himself. It’s slashing, deflective, downward facing character reflects his own humility and status, as it stands in direct visual opposition to the upright, noble, highly visible samurai style which he faces to no end. There is in Muay Thai a kind of nobility. The Muay Femeu (artful, often evasive) fighter is seen as the higher form of Muay Thai. It’s the style of Bangkok, and ultimately in some elevated sense of Thai pedagogy and military history. It is mind over passion, risen in performance and technique. The technique shows, displays. Muay Khao (knee) fighting is characteristically seen as much lower in class, a form of fighting that comes from the rural villages, where the farmers are almost un/naturally strong, due to their mean living conditions. It is unpolished. In contrast it is seen as just might and muscle, so the stereotype goes. In point of fact these two dichotomies, don’t play out quite that way. Elite Muay Khao fighting has been historically highly technical, but these techniques are often hidden in balances, internal angles, and timing – its expertise is felt by the opponent, rather than always seen by the audience. A throw, a sudden flurry of dominance might reveal it, but it is full of blind perceptions. Muay Khao is the understyle – the Minor Style – of Muay Thai. Like Zatoichi’s sword, it does not reach for nobility, so much as for redemption. What I love about Sylvie’s Muay Khao fighting style is how much it does not show itself, how it is hidden and internal, just as she often is as a person, and how it masks itself as strength. At home, between us, it feels much more like a tiny language, small shifts and adjustment that promote feeling above all else, something that one has to learn to see.