Small, wiry, and flexible on the mats. Loosen your grip even slightly, and she’s out of your grasp. Her teammate’s fingers are sore from trying to hang onto her gi, but Faye fights to gain control. A few seconds ago, she was fighting from the bottom, but she’s found her way into side control. Despite a weight difference of likely fifty pounds and the fact that she’s sparring a man old enough to be her father, or at least an uncle–her face is taut and focused. He’s resisting and trying to shrimp out, but somehow this much smaller woman is keeping him in her control. Her arm maneuvers cleverly and she manages the Americano lock. Her partner grimaces and taps to the submission. Faye immediately lets go and disengages. The man sits up, stretches his arm out, and brings her back into his guard. They begin again.
“I struggled a lot with being an outsider and also because of being overweight,” Albers says. “I was always a spiritual person and also interested in philosophy and science. That’s was not exactly what the people liked, but I just stood up for myself and passions and moved on once I was old enough. Muay Thai as a sport taught me to look deep inside myself, to face my fears and to build step-by-step the woman I want to be. The person I see in the mirror now learned to be dedicated, disciplined and resilient, with a clear vision of herself and her future, and with a clear vision how she wants to accomplish things. I want to show people that we can shape our lives the way we want to.”
"It came to me in a time that I truly needed it the most. It helped my anxiety and gave me something to love so deeply that my depression would never get the best of me; it saved my life. It has been what has helped me fight my demons. It was my reason for being here when I felt like I had no other reason. I will always be so grateful for how JiuJitsu has helped me better myself and my life and for the people I’ve met along my journey so far."
“I wanted to just do it for fun and learn self-defense. My coaches thought I’d be a good fighter, so a few years later I decided to try it out. They call me so many different nicknames, like Mucho Macho or Gaucho, and we are always joking around. I am happy when I come here, so I knew training for fights would still be fun.”
“I worked on my mindset separate from my ranking that I had,” Maroulis says firmly. “Granted, I was going against Yoshida. I had won Worlds in 2015 but I was still probably the underdog because I had never won before. My mindset was that of a champion, regardless of my results. I told myself I was going to win, so I competed like I knew I would.”
Angela Chang’s face is familiar to many in the New York Muay Thai fight scene. A fighter out of Sitan Gym NY, the athlete has been training for the last four years. Those who know her, miss her–as she’s been living internationally in Thailand for the last year and a half, and hasn’t yet set a date on her return.
As more women enter the fighting world and look for role models, Southpaw Jess (or her real name, Jessica Ng) is someone that they refer to and can learn from. Training since 2007 with a record of 12-4 under her belt, the experienced fighter is onto her next challenge. She will be representing the United States at the Pan-Ams this weekend, but the born-and-raised Queens girl has all of New York City behind her.
In the local ranks of New York, one such up-and-coming fighter is making a heavy name for herself–even though nearly everything about her goes against what is expected of women. Despite being petite, soft-spoken, and competing at 105 lbs (nearly 90 pounds less than the international representative of fighting, Muhammad Ali), Muay Thai fighter Raquel Harris carries the nickname of the most famous fictitious fighter of all time–”Rocky”. While Harris is ten inches shorter than the “Italian Stallion”, her heart is evident in every fight she has competed in.
As the timers blare and the sounds of gloves hitting pads slam in the background, Pina looks at home sitting next to a heavy punching bag as he drapes himself on the edge of a boxing ring at Ardon’s. Tall and dressed in black, from far away he could appear menacing. As one gets closer to him, the small smile lines around his face become more apparent and it’s clear that he is relaxed in this space. He says it’s because he’s “completely obsessed and engulfed by this sport.” It’d be a hard reach to find anyone who loves Muay Thai and training more than John Pina.
“I love what it I do,” Jimenez says with a laugh. “I love my work and I love training. Muay Thai was my first sport–I never played sports as a kid. I didn’t have time for it or the money. But I grew up watching boxing and always wanted to do it. I didn’t hear about Muay Thai until my twenties and I fell into it because I had my own time, my own car, and wanted to be productive outside of the lab. I fell in love with the sport and fighting came naturally to me. I feel like I’m always thinking, always analyzing–from one lab to the next. Here I am now, seven years later, still not expecting everything that continues to come my way.”
As talented as he is as a student, his skills as a coach are what make him stand out. Patient and reassuring, Elijah is a bringer of light and calm when he teaches. His close relationship with the other coaches and fighters is apparent when he comes to train...
“I just got out of rehab when I started training Muay Thai,” he says bluntly. “I was keeping to myself a lot and a friend of mine was fighting for Friday Night Fights. Another friend invited me to go and said ‘You should come, it’ll be a nice night out for you.’ I watched my friend fight and afterwards, he came up to me and said that I looked the best I did in years. I told him, ‘I want to do what you’re doing–how do I do that?”
A documentary about world champion female boxers in India is being screened today at the Asian American International Film Festival. “It’s called “With This Ring” not just because of the boxing ring, but because of the idea these women are at the age of where they were supposed to be getting married. Instead they’re out there fighting and creating a life for themselves,” says filmmaker Ameesha Joshi.
Sylvie is an American Muay Thai journalist who at this time of publishing, recently won her 171st fight in Thailand. She originally moved to the country with the intent of training for a year and accumulating about 50 bouts. Several years later, she is still training, writing, and focusing on obtaining 200 fights.
Melissa Ray has by no means lived a conventional life. A Muay Thai fighter that has traveled the world, fought on televised bouts, and now currently resides in Thailand, it's safe to assume that she follows her gut and knows what's best for herself.
An activist. A motivator. A coach. An athlete. A friend. A humanitarian. A mentor. A fighter. Anne Lieberman wears many hats. A Muay Thai fighter and coach at Renzo Gracie Academy, she spends her evenings training to fight other women. A program officer on the Sexual Health and Rights team for the American Jewish World Service, she spends her days trying to help them.
Shy but friendly, Katie Freeman is not your average 11-year old. Tiny, mischievous, and playful, she likes many of the same things that kids her age do, like playing with her dog or hanging out with her friends.
The second-ever female Brazilian JiuJitsu black belt in Norway is only twenty-four years old. With short blonde hair, a striking face, and eyes that are steeled in determination, it is almost hard to believe that this lethal weapon is simply from a farm in the small town of Stavanger. Ida Fløisvik is good at surprising people, and even better at submitting them.
A wide smile is prominent in many of Gina "Triple G" Hopkins' photos on her social media. She sports colorful and creative hairstyles along with her Brazilian JiuJitsu gis or her kickboxing gloves. Competitions fill up a large amount of her time, from Grappler's Heart to Strongman tournaments. The blue belt believes her purpose in life is to simply inspire others.
An amplifying aspect of Brazilian JiuJitsu is the emergence of female athletes making headlines, such as Mackenzie Dern, Karen Antunes, Raquel Pa'aluhi Canuto, and Claudia Gadelha. But what about the women who have been there all along? Cindy "The Sleeper" Hales is one such woman.