Reminiscing about Muay Thai in Chinatown
Text by Venus Smith
To be brief I woke up one morning and was just asking myself what is it that I want to do? I need something to work towards because what I was doing was becoming so mundane and predictable day in and day out. Going to work and going home. I wanted to get myself into something constructive and socialize. So I just made an impulsive decision that I wanted to take up a sport. But what? I always entertained the idea of American boxing, but I felt it wasn’t challenging as funny as that sounds. I wanted to really put myself into something that I would really have to grind and learn. So I decided to do Muay Thai.
I remember just seeing an episode of this MTV special “True Life” years back called I’m a Muay Thai Fighter. I remember when they would rerun it as a teen and I was always super stoked to watch it. Somehow it stuck with me. Now I had to find a school.
At the time in 2012 I was working in Soho. I had a manager at the time whom I heard briefly was going to a school close by for Jiu Jitsu. When I googled Muay Thai Manhattan I found New York Jiu Jitsu and it was literally only a few blocks from where I worked. So as soon as I had a day to myself I headed on over to try out a free class.
It was located at 666 Bond Street in Manhattan. Downstairs underneath a TD bank. I went over to take the noon class. I remember going to the front desk and signing in. I was completely clueless as to what I was supposed to do. I got changed and joined in the class. That’s when I met Andrew Rivera. We introduced ourselves and he asked me what I want to do. "I want to fight."It just rolled out, I didn’t even think about what I was saying. He smiled and I could only imagine what he was thinking. I didn’t look anything like an athlete. I was a super girly girl. Hair extensions, nails done, skinny. No where near looking or feeling like I could do this. I just put it out there. He was like Ok.
I was paired up and we began. I just remember feeling super awkward, but when we started hitting pads it just felt right. I just felt like I made the right decision. I belonged there and I wanted to give this a shot. Once the class was over I immediately signed up. No turning back. I made a commitment to this and wanted to follow it through. It was my one year goal. If I made some headway I’d keep up with it and if not I’d do something else. I just needed to put myself out into the world more. Realize I could do more than what I thought I could. I wanted to feel strong. I wanted to belong to something that would give me more of a purpose.
It was all foreign to me. I couldn’t do a single push-up, pull-up, or lift anything. I was just super determined to understand what I was supposed to do. It was almost like being a newborn baby and learning how to crawl and walk. I was entering a family dynamic of fighters, and I had to adapt. There were a few girls for me to work with, Peelo Deonarian and Ting Wu. They taught me so much. They were just so strong and tough. I wanted to be like them. Even the guys! I had no idea we could cross train so I was very surprised by that. I got my ass handed to me of course. I always wanted to just go hard. My feelings were surfacing when I took hard shots, but no matter how many bad days I had. Numerous bruises, chopped up legs from kicks, bruised ribs from body shots I just kept going back because I was in a point in my life where giving up wasn’t an option for me. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this.
Even training with Pawel Zawitoski and Ulbino Guzman, the guys with the most fights. I looked up to those guys. They made me tough as well. Never held back on me. Never let me quit especially when we were getting ready for fights and tournaments together later down the line.
My first smoker (an exhibition fight for beginners) was at Chok Sabai, in May of 2013. I was finally going to get a taste of what it’s like to get in there. So being that it was only exhibition I still took it seriously. I was super stoked! I think I trained for like 3-4 weeks? I got fucked up a lot lol, I was working so much on clinch and many rounds on the bag. So many pad rounds. I remember my head coach Dave telling me to do 300 teeps. "You’re going to be good at teeps."
I think it was on May 9th of 2013. Folks came out to the gym. Coach Andrew and now coach Luciano were cornering me. I was so nervous. It’s like getting on a stage. You don’t want to fuck it up ya know? But it’s fighting. You know you are going to get punched and kicked at.
I just remember to chill when I get in there and just do it. This was like my assessment. To show my coaches like "hey I want to be here and I want to do this. I want to keep doing this."
I remember putting on a mean mug and thinking this is what I’m supposed to do. To intimidate, but I realized after that it’s not needed. As much as I know now that’s wrong lol I had motivation. We all have bags of shit we carry. Anger can evoke that. But it also can make things cloudy.
I was just trying to listen out for my corner in the heat of the moment. Did tons of clinching and threw a lot of knees. I had terrible low kicks, but I threw them the best I could. I was in and out.
And then it was over, after 6 minutes. I felt like I did it! This is it.
I was so happy. My friends and teammates were there. It was just an awesome feeling.
We were a pretty cool collected group of folks from all walks of life. We’d pick on each other, tell dirty jokes, talk about family. Tell each other funny stories. Even in sparring there was shit talking and showcasing your skills. But in a good way. It was just a lot of fun when we were all on breaks here and there from fighting. After some days of training we’d all go out to this place in Chinatown and eat Malaysian food. Or drink some whiskey after a long day of training or celebrating victories. They were really some great times.
Muay Thai made so much improvement to my overall being that I want to continue it. I want to be on top for myself again. I want to travel. Fight different people. To me I see a lot of people going after belts and collecting them up. That’s great, build your resume. Honestly that’s what I did. I made my resume the opponents I’ve fought, beat and lost too. All were high level opponents. Once you go higher it’s going to get harder. So for me it’s beyond a belt it’s what can I do now? My shits sitting in the closet it’s past. A belt won’t tell me anything. I just like fighting for what it’s worth