Womenkickboxing in Oceania
Please read first the original article which can be found
“I am driven by the challenge of competing” “The love of the sport is my focus ““I am stubborn, hungry and love the challenges that training and fighting give me “
Considering that MuayThai and Kickboxing are traditionally associated with men, Aussie and Kiwi women have been jumping on the train in a big way. Some of the most recognised names on the international stage come from this part of the world – maybe not always appreciated in their home towns!
Aero-boxing, Aerobic Kick-fitness, MuayThai aerobics, these are the classes which draw most women in for fitness and fun. What is it that pulls some women right into the ring, into the blood, sweat and tears of fighting?
As with the male fighters, it’s impossible to categorise easily but one thing shines through in every conversation; a huge passion and enthusiasm for the sports. Lucy Tui has been involved with Kickboxing and MuayThai for 27 years and played an active role in the sports’ growth while on the other end of the scale Tenille May and Wendy Miranda are making a mark in the ring, carving out paths towards World Titles.
Lucy started her martial arts career back in the 1980s before Girl Power brought women into the sport, times when she felt “isolated” in a sea of male athletes. There are problems today finding quality female opponents but, in spite of her trainer Mick Sphinx’s best efforts, she waited 8 years for her first fight. The thrill that all boxers get from hitting a bag, curiousity in seeing how far you can push your body kept her motivated and is drawing her in again for a planned Charity fight.
Unusually for a fighter, Wendy began her career as an instructor after 5 years of training in both Kickboxing and MuayThai. She switched up to competing because she “wanted to put my skills to good use” The admiration she has for Olympic athletes is reflected in her own full commitment to training. For Tenille making the jump was not a straight-forward decision, asking that initial question of her trainer and actually stepping into the ring wasn’t easy, not to mention convincing a sceptical trainer that she was worth spending time on. She lost her first fight which is not so unusual but what was unusual is that she didn’t let it stop her and came back to fight again in 2004 and the rest as they say is history.
NSW has had a problematic history with martial arts and especially with MuayThai. For much of Lucy Tui’s early career (and affecting every other fighter at that time), competition in her home state simply wasn’t possible. She feels ripped-off and denied opportunities by this but ruefully points out that that the past can’t be changed and is enthusiastic about present growth in both sports. Wendy is luckier and having competed 16 times under John Ioannau at JNI gym in Sydney she is ready for more international action. In Western Australia, Tenille has gone from strength to strength, groomed and supported by Alan Wong she is has faced the biggest names in Australia and internationally with her eyes firmly on the next level.
A trait which all elite athletes share is the ability to focus on a goal and stick to it. The intense focus on training 6 days a week and keeping a balance with family, partners, study and work can only be built on a deep belief in yourself and heartfelt passion. Fighting at a high level takes over your life – morning running and pad-sessions, afternoons or evenings back at the gym, very little social life, watching your diet and for female fighters, carrying the extra burden of constantly defending your choice of sport. Tenille points out ““It takes a very tough woman to walk this very tough road and not give up.” So while other Kiwi backpackers were chilling out, Lucy trained with Thom Harnik in Holland and pounded the streets of Amsterdam; she reminisces with a gleam in her eye that “it was magic...hard...but magic” While when Wendy started off with training, she was so concerned about what her family would say, that she kept it a secret from them – no chance for that now with her name up in lights.
Of course as the titles pile up on the shelves, the focus gets even tighter – Tenille includes a WKA Australia title, WMC Australia title, WMC WA State titles as well as a bronze medal for Australia at the 2004 IFMA World Championships on her shelves. Rematches against the likes of Rosalie Berghuis, Belgium will be worth waiting for. Wendy’s international career is just taking off with some great international battles (including Noriko T, Japan) behind her and WMC Australian Jnr. Bantamweight Title, WMC Oceania Flyweight Titles to give life to her kicks. Like all boxers, all three speak of the commitment and support from their trainers over the years as a significant part of their success. The crowd sees and loves the glory, the excitement of being up in the ring, the music blaring but it’s the trainer (and your family, partners) who sees the exhaustion, the frustration and encourages you to keep going. They teach you the lessons to be learned even from a loss; Wendy indicates the exciting battle against Gracyer Aki (Japan’s No1 Flyweight) as “a great experience”
With an eye for the bigger picture, Wendy runs a Personal Fitness business, focused mainly on female athletes and children. And in an exiting development for MuayThai, her skills are being used by the Australian Sports Commission ‘Active After School Communities “programme. A total of 90,000 children take part in MuayThai, Rugby Union and other sports in NSW with a programme aim of giving children a positive attitude to healthy living – and with role models like Wendy we could even see them in the ring in a few years. It’s a big commitment to the long-term development of the sport “I teach at 4 different schools…at each school for 8 weeks, before rotating to another 4. “ This somehow fits in with a punishing training regime which will see her step into the ring again in June and has earned her invite to the Queens’ Birthday Tournament in Thailand, 2007. The opportunity to represent Australia at this international level is something “The Rocket” is really excited about!
Lucy has long since moved on from her competitive days and promotes Kickboxing, MuayThai and MMA - she would love to see the main martial arts (MuayThai, Kickboxing, K-1 and MMA) working more closely together. To this end, she recently put on a mixed show she considered to be her best yet and points out that for the best promoters “it’s not about the financial gain but about the sport”. Pouring her enthusiasm into administration work (with the WMTA, WKBF and WKA), managing (Mark Hunt’s victories in Japan something she will never forget) and now promoting has not been an easy road for her. Not that it’s an easy job for a man to take on either but there is that extra mile that a woman has to go to justify her place; from the Thai trainers in Sityodtong to the fighters in Manly Cobras to the officials from the various sanctioning bodies, there is always someone with the predictable question “Why are you here, why is a woman interested in this sport?”
Tenille stoutly replies “It’s about giving my best and learning from my mistakes and I am using this in everyday life! “ With a casual indifference that belies the reality of training 6 days a week, working part-time and studying Graphic Design, she says “If you have trained hard, you will fight easy”: a well-worn boxing cliché trotted out when your trainer feels you are slacking off but like all clichés with more than a grain of truth to it. Never one to shirk a challenge, she has on numerous occasions stepped out of her preferred 57-59 kgs division. These tactics have resulted in fights against opponents as varied as Karen Lynch, LaTasha Marzolla and recently Angela Parr. This mixture requires careful adjustment of her training, fixing the preparation so that she weighs in on the button but is physically prepared - “…it’s about finding the clutch point between my strength and cardio so I am fit, fast …strong…for my weight.” Wendy has taken some hard knocks but never sees herself as a delicate female who couldn’t handle even more; on one infamous occasion during a battle with Akane Oshima, NZ she didn’t seem to notice a 2 inch gash in her shin which had her trainer turning green. The photo is now proudly displayed on the JNI wall.
So where is female fighting heading in Australia? One of the key recommendations of the 2006 International Conference on Women and Sport (attended by IOC representatives and government bodies) was that we must continue to break down gender stereotypes when it comes to competitive sport in all countries, that it’s not a battle which is won. Netball is recognised as the largest female participation sport in Australia (with martial arts trailing far behind) but even here the average female netball player earns 3,967 per game as opposed to 156, 794 for a typical male AFL player. There is a feeling that by encouraging women to participate, that males might be disenfranchised instead of looking at martial arts as a sport which should be open to all regardless of gender. When promoters like Alan Wong put deserving women as the main event it creates opportunities and provides role models for the next generation to fight or simply train because it’s fun.
There have been exciting strides made in the promotion of female fighters in Australia (the days when the only women on the posters were bikini-clad are going) but this needs to be measured on the international scale – for example Holland held their first All-women’s Kickboxing Tournament back in the 1990s. We can see the results of effective promotion in that the top women are attracting support and sponsorship. Wendy is backed on her journey by Peter Nicolas (founder of Fat-Blaster) and also by Joanne from Katz & Marx Hair Salon. Tenille works closely with Gen-Tec Nutrition and WB Financial Planning “Gen-Tec supply all my supplements and nutrition advice. WB helps me out with money, equipment and support” which makes her ambitions more attainable. Lucy points out that it’s not just the finances but the support you get from other members of the community that makes a difference, she included people like Amir Pourjhat, Tarik Solak, Dana Goodson and Alex Tui on a long list of people willing to go the extra mile for her.
Both Wendy and Tenille see an exciting career in martial arts ahead of them – Wendy proudly says she wants “ To be the best that I can be and win a world title “ , Tenille agrees “I want to get as many fights as possible in the next year and a WMC World title is definitely on my cards.” It’s this focus that drives them and others to prove that this is not just a man’s sport any longer, to change the system instead of waiting for change, drives the training that makes their fights as exciting as any on the male circuit. Lucy reckons that the respect she has gotten out of the sport is the best reward for her hard work and says that if her granddaughter wanted to follow her into the ring, she would support her but with a stern warning on the lows as well as the highs of being a woman in martial arts.
All three agree that it’s the people you meet who make the hardships worth while, that both Kickboxing and MuayThai have so much more than the glory of a belt to offer, in essence that “success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey”