Sylvie Von Duuglas-ittu’s Muay Thai Library
A beautiful thing about the fighting arts is that the pedagogy and transmission of skills has always been an important part of their efficacy. Every martial arts movie has a training sequence; every story has the primacy of one’s teacher at the focus. A teacher with no students means the art can be lost. A Student without a teacher is like trying to understand a poem with no context. If techniques, values and the spirit of an art are lost between generations, then the art itself becomes in danger of being diminished, or separated from its roots. To the Muay Thai of Thailand, perhaps the greatest living fighting art on the planet due to the tens of thousands of full contact fights that gave rise to it, this is more important than ever.
From the late 1980s to the early 2000s Muay Thai experienced what has been called its Golden Age. The richness of techniques being used, the elite caliber of fighters in a huge talent pool, the prize money being offered, the gambling stakes, and the promotion of the art by HM the King as a heritage of Thailand produced the best sport combat fighters Thailand, and very likely the world, has ever known. But these techniques, and the men who fought with them, are ageing out.
One of the biggest problems of preserving Muay Thai – in terms of the Western knowledge of it – is language. In the previous decades, transmission of techniques largely fell upon a small group of western men training and fighting in Thailand, absorbing the specific techniques of those camps where they entered, and then personally bringing them back to their home countries, to teach their own students. They became copies of copies, sometimes innovatively so, but sometimes a dilution. Great Thai fighters (Krongsak, Pudpadnoi, Dieselnoi, Kaensak, Coban, Jongsanan, etc) also made the migration, bringing with them their deep knowledge. But embodied Thai technique did not reach many. It remained confined in narrow streams. There was no Muay Thai Library.
One of the most interesting things about Thai technique is it’s incredible variety. There is not ONE Thai kick, but dozens, if not hundreds of variations. What the west was experiencing was just a few pages of a huge library of technical knowledge that reaches back generations. And honestly, much of that library is being lost even now. Muay Thai itself is changing, many of the techniques and aesthetics of the Golden Age no longer are practiced due to scoring changes, a drop in economic incentives, and a growing internationalism brought to the sport. But mostly, the reason this incredible knowledge is being lost is that it lives with the fighters who fought with it. The greats of the greats, and the trainers who trained them.
These men are largely not teaching anymore, and there is very little record of their knowledge aside from a handful of fight videos. Being able to see all the incredible variation in technique, how it’s used, timing, faking, ring IQ, perseverance… these things can’t be picked up by the mind of the viewer the way it was by the eyes and hearts of fight fans at the height of Muay Thai. Listening to an oration from a philosopher or writer requires a fluency of the language to catch everything, and that fluency – even among Thai viewers – is disappearing.
That’s the reason for the Muay Thai Library documentary project I’m doing. As a Thai speaker and as an active fighter in the country, having fought over 200 times, I’ve been able to travel the country and record hour-long sessions with some of the greatest fighters ever. I’ve also made a point to reach the lesser-known, hidden gem Krus, whose knowledge of Muay Thai should not be lost. Samson Isaan, in the above video clip, is no longer a part of Muay Thai, but is a taxi driver in Bangkok. The aim is to archive the vastness of Muay Thai, before this generation, perhaps the greatest generation, no longer is able to share what it knows.
Watch the interviews below with Sylvie about the importance of the project and support the Muay Thai Library on Patreon to help Preserve the Legacy.