Women join in Myanmar's ferocious kickboxing (with photos)

Women join in Myanmar's ferocious kickboxing (with photos)

Myanmar fighters say their boxing is tougher than Thai kickboxing because of skull-cracking head-butts & no gloves, throws, elbow & knee strikes, anything goes.

Phoe Thaw (L), a fighter in Myanmar's martial art Lethwei -- a sport that encourages head-butting and grants victory by knock-out only -- fighting during a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) One Championship match in Yangon. Lethwei fighters say their sport is the toughest member of Southeast Asia's kickboxing family, leaving Thailand's more famous Muay Thai in the blood-flecked dust thanks to its disdain for gloves and use of skull-cracking head-butts. AFP PHOTO / Ye Aung THU


Women join in Myanmar's ferocious kickboxing 

17 Aug 2015

YANGON - Moe Pwint Oo shoots the grimy punching bag a steely glare before slamming her fist into it, striking a blow for equality as she practises Myanmar's martial art Lethwei -- a sport that encourages head-butting and grants victory by knock out only.

The petite medical sciences student is one of a growing number of women taking up Lethwei kickboxing, building up a sweat in the yard of a gritty Rangoon gym where some of the country's best fighters train alongside local enthusiasts, expats and even the odd actress.

"I think Lethwei is becoming really popular here because I see a lot of my friends here as well. But I am here to box not to socialise," said Moe Pwint Oo, as a woman from Japan practised spin kicks in a makeshift boxing ring behind her. 

Lethwei fighters say their sport is the toughest member of Southeast Asia's kickboxing family, leaving Thailand's more famous Muay Thai in the blood-flecked [or blood-soaked] dust thanks to its disdain for gloves and use of skull-cracking head-butts.

(Source: AFP)


To win a Lethwei fight you must batter your opponent unconscious, or to the point where they surrender. If no one gets knocked out in five three-minute rounds, the match ends in a draw.

It is perhaps little wonder that few women traditionally enter the boxing ring in Myanmar, where gender norms favour demure damsels over fearsome fighters.

But that has begun to change in recent years as gender roles shift, spurred by the country opening up to the world after decades of isolating military rule.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is the most famous of a growing number of female politicians, while an impressive roster of successful businesswomen is taking advantage of the best economic outlook in decades.

(Source: AFP)


The flash of a naked female knee does not have quite the scandalising power it once did, with short skirts an increasingly common sight on city streets -- although most women still opt to keep their hemlines at ankle level.

Around of half of the regulars at the Thut Ti (Courage) gym are women -- drawn to the intensity of the fitness level and authenticity of skill required in Lethwei.

"It's really nice to have somebody like you here, because it's like a guys' place," said Moe Pwint Oo, gesturing at knuckles strapped with red surgical tape.

Having spent years outside her homeland, which is also known as Burma, she said she "wanted to do something very traditional, very Burmese" in her summer break from studying at Aberdeen University in Scotland.


Lethwei has an ancient history in Myanmar.

Carvings on the temples of Bagan, which dot the central Myanmar plains, appear to show pairs of men locked in combat, suggesting the sport is over a thousand years old, said Win Zin Oo, founder of the Thut Ti gym, who is also a former vice president of the Myanmar Lethwei Federation.

In modern times it was kept alive in the eastern border states of Karen and Mon, where kickboxing bouts are held to mark everything from monks' funerals to New Year festivities.

Spectators in front row seats are close enough to hear bones shatter and be sporadically showered with blood, sweat and spittle...

 ..."All components of the body can be used as weapons; punches, knee strikes, elbow beats, head butts, you can throw (your opponent)... If you want to compete in the real Lethwei ring as a professional you must be really tough," he told AFP.

He normally advises enthusiasts not to attempt a fight.

For those who do, endurance is as important as aggression.

Lethwei boxer Tha Pyay Nyo, who has a formidable record of more than 150 matches and only one defeat, gave up farming in his native Karen state to take up the sport professionally because "I might be famous one day".

The 25-year-old recently branched out into mixed martial arts, or "cage fighting", competing in his debut international tournament as part of the first ONE Championship event in Myanmar.

The televised tournament was a chance to showcase some of the fighting spirit of a national sport that has languished in the shadow of its better-known Thai cousin.

"I want the world to know our courage through Myanmar traditional boxing," he told AFP before the match.


Win Zin Oo hopes Myanmar will borrow from the success of its Thai neighbours in promoting its own kickboxing brand.

His gym is increasingly popular and around half of all those training at the gym are women, including local models, singers and actresses.

He said there was some "sensitivity" about how women should be treated, but insisted the gym did not discriminate.

"Some (women) students they are really really good, even in terms of decisiveness I think. So it's a little unfair (to say) 'oh women are weak, men are strong'," he said.

When she returns to Scotland, Moe Pwint Oo will have to make do with Muay Thai, in which headbutts are banned and protective clothing is worn, to keep training.

But she said she was hooked on Myanmar's more fearsome version.

"It makes you fit, it's traditional and then you know it's very empowering, especially for women," she said.


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  • actress (noun): a woman who performs on the stage, on television or in films/movies, especially as a profession - นักแสดงหญิง
  • adj (noun): connected with soldiers or the armed forces - ในทางทหาร,เกี่ยวกับทหาร
  • advise: to tell somebody what you think they should do in a particular situation - แนะนำ, แจ้ง
  • aggression: a situation in which one country attacks another - สถานการณ์รุนแรง
  • ankle: the part at the bottom of your leg where your foot joins your leg - ข้อเท้า
  • appear: to seem - ดูเหมือนจะ, ดูเหมือนว่า
  • authenticity (noun): the quality of being genuine or true - ความจริง, ความถูกต้อง
  • banned: officially not allowed to do something - ห้ามอย่างเป็นทางการ  ถูกตัดสิทธิ
  • bare hands: empty or uncovered hands - มือเปล่า
  • batter: to hit something hard many times - ตีติดต่อกัน, โจมตีติดต่อกัน
  • blood-soaked (adj): covered in blood - เต็มไปด้วยเลือด
  • bone (noun): the hard inner structure of the body - กระดูก
  • borrow: to take and use something that belongs to somebody else, and return it to them at a later time - ยืม
  • bout: a boxing or wrestling match - การแข่งขัน
  • boxing ring: the place where boxers fight during a boxing competition or match - เวทีมวย
  • branch out (verb): to start doing something new and different -
  • brand: a type of product made by a particular company - ตรา, ยี่ห้อ
  • carving: a kind of art made by cutting stone or wood - สิ่งของแกะสลัก
  • chance (noun): a possibility; a likelihood; an opportunity - โอกาส
  • combat (noun): fighting; fighting during a war - การต่อสู้
  • common: ordinary; not unusual or special - ที่เกิดขึ้นทุกวัน, ธรรมดา
  • courage (noun): the ability to do something that you know is right or good, even though it is dangerous, frightening, or very difficult - ความกล้าหาญ
  • cousin: a child of your uncle or aunt; someone who is related to you through a brother, sister, uncle, or aunt of one of your parents - ลูกพี่ลูกน้อง, ญาติห่างๆ
  • crack: to break in a way that a long thin line appears on the surface of something, but does not cause it to break into pieces - แตกร้าว
  • damsels: women -
  • debut: performing for the first time - การเปิดตัว
  • decades: periods of ten years - เป็นสิบๆปี
  • decisiveness: in a strong, conclusive way - อย่างแน่นอน, อย่างเด็ดขาด
  • defeat: a loss in a competition - ความพ่ายแพ้
  • discriminate: to treat one person or group worse/better than another in an unfair way - เลือกปฏิบัติกับ
  • disdain: to have the feeling that somebody/something is not good enough to deserve your respect or attention - ดูถูกเหยียดหยาม
  • dot (noun): a spot, a point, one small place in a larger area - จุด
  • draw: a game that ends with both teams or players having the same number of points - เสมอกัน
  • draw: to attract or interest somebody, often to cause them to go somewhere - ดึงดูดความสนใจ
  • dust: very small pieces of dirt that cover surfaces inside buildings like a powder - ฝุ่น
  • empower: to give someone the legal power to do something - ทำให้มีอำนาจ
  • encourage: to cause someone to be more likely to happy - กระตุ้น
  • endurance: the ability to continue doing something physically difficult or continue dealing with an unpleasant situation for a long time - ความอดกลั้น, ความอดทน
  • enthusiast: a person who is very interested in something and spends a lot of time doing it - คนที่กระตือรือร้น
  • expatriate (expat): a person living in a country that is not their own - คนที่อาศัยอยู่ต่างประเทศ (เป็นเวลานาน)
  • fearsome: very frightening - น่ากลัว
  • ferocious: very strong; very aggressive or violent - รุนแรง
  • fighter: one of the people in a fight or boxing match - นักสู้, นักรบ, นักมวย
  • fist: your hand when your fingers are closed tightly - กำปั้น, หมัด
  • fit (adj.): healthy and strong, especially because you do regular physical exercise - ที่มีสุขภาพดี, แข็งแรง, ที่เตรียมพร้อม
  • fitness: being healthy and strong, especially because you do regular physical exercise - ที่มีสุขภาพดี, แข็งแรง, ที่เตรียมพร้อม
  • flash: to move very fast - เคลื่อนย่างรวดเร็ว
  • fleck (noun): a very small piece of something; a very small area of a particular colour - จุด,รอยด่าง,จุดด่าง
  • formidable: impressive or powerful - พิชิตยาก น่าเกรงขาม
  • funeral: a ceremony that takes place after someone dies - งานศพ
  • gender: the fact of being either male or female - เพศ
  • gesture: a movement that communicates a feeling or instruction - ลักษณะท่าทาง
  • glove: a piece of clothing that covers your fingers and hands - ถุงมือ
  • grant: to give - ให้
  • grimy: dirty - เต็มไปด้วยฝุ่น
  • gritty: dirty and rough -
  • guy (noun): (informal) an older boy; a man, a person - ตา, คนนั้น
  • gym (noun): gymnasium, a place to exercise and play sports - โรงพลศึกษา, โรงกีฬา, โรงกายกรรม
  • head-butt (noun): deliberately hitting someone with thead - การตีด้วยหัว
  • head-butting: hitting someone with the head - การตีด้วยหัว
  • headbutt (noun): using your head to deliberately hit somebody hard เอาหัวโขก - การเอาหัวโขก
  • hemline: the edge of a dress -
  • homeland (noun): your country; the country you were born in; the country that you come from - บ้านเกิด
  • hooked: finding something so interesting or attractive that you want to do it as much as possible - ติดใจ   ตกกระไดพลอยโจน
  • impressive: something that people admire because it is very good, very large or shows great skill - ซึ่งน่าประทับใจ
  • insist: to say very firmly that something must happen or must be done - ยืนกราน
  • intensity (noun): strength - ความเข้มข้น
  • international: connected with or involving two or more countries - นานาชาติ, สากล, ระหว่างประเทศ
  • isolate: to separate from other people - แยกจากกัน
  • knee: the joint between the top and bottom parts of the leg where it bends in the middle - หัวเข่า
  • knock out (verb): to make somebody fall asleep or become unconscious, usually by hitting them very hard - ชกจนสลบ, เตะจนสลบ
  • knuckle: the bony part of the finger, the finger joint - ข้อนิ้ว, กระดูกนิ้วมือ
  • languish: to remain in a difficult or unpleasant situation for a long time - ทุกข์ทรมานกับ
  • leader: the person in charge of a group of people; who manages them and "leads" them in doing some activity - ผู้นำ
  • leave in the dust: to go much faster than ..... -
  • level: the amount of something that exists in a particular situation at a particular time - ระดับ
  • lock (verb): to become or make something become fixed in one position and unable to move - ทำให้ติดแน่น
  • makeshift: used temporarily for a particular purpose - ซึ่งทดแทนชั่วคราว, สำหรับใช้ชั่วคราว
  • martial arts: any of the fighting sports that include judo and karate - ศิลปะการป้องกันตัว (เช่น ยูโด, คาราเต้)
  • match: a sports competition - การแข่งขัน
  • model (noun): a person who wears clothes to show them to customers - นางแบบ
  • naked: not wearing any clothes - เปลือยกาย
  • norm (noun): a situation or type of behavior that is expected and considered to be typical - มาตรฐาน, ปกติ, ภาวะปกติ
  • normally: usually; in normal circumstances - โดยปกติ, ตามปกติ
  • opponent: a person or team being competed against in a sports event - คู่ต่อสู้
  • opposition: of a political party that is not part of the government - ฝ่ายค้าน  
  • opt: to make a choice or a decision from a range of possibilities - เลือก
  • outlook: an idea about what a situation will be like in the future - อนาคตที่คาดหวังไว้, ทัศนคติ
  • pair: two of something - คู่
  • petite: small and thin in an attractive way - เล็กและบอบบาง (โดยเฉพาะผู้หญิง)
  • plain (noun): a large area of flat land - ที่ราบ
  • politician: a person whose job is concerned with politics, especially as an elected member of parliament, etc. - นักการเมือง
  • popular (adj): a situation in which someone or something is liked by many people - เป็นที่นิยม, เป็นที่ชื่นชอบ
  • professional: a person who does a job that needs special training and a high level of education - ผู้เชี่ยวชาญในวิชาชีพ,ผู้มีวิชาชีพ
  • protective: providing or intended to provide protection - ซึ่งปกป้อง
  • punch: a hard hit made with the fist (= closed hand) - การชก, การต่อย
  • punching bag: a heavy leather bag, hung on a rope, which is punched, especially by boxers as part of training, or as a form of exercise -
  • recent: happening or starting a short time ago - เร็วๆ นี้
  • recently (adverb): not long ago - เมื่อไม่นานมานี้, เมื่อเร็วๆ นี้
  • record: the list of things a person has achieved -
  • regular: a person who often takes part in the same activity -
  • require: to make somebody do or have something, especially because it is necessary according to a particular law or set of rules - บังคับใช้ (กฎหมาย) กำหนด
  • role: the position or purpose that someone or something has in a situation, organisation, society or relationship - บทบาท
  • roster (noun): a list of the names of people who are available to do a job, play in a team, etc. - บัญชีรายชื่อ, ทะเบียนรายชื่อ
  • round: one of a series of events, activities, etc. - รอบ
  • rule: control over the government of a country - การปกครอง
  • scandalising: making people shocked and upset - ซึ่งเสื่อมเสียชื่อเสียง, อื้อฉาว
  • sensitivity: needed to be dealt with very carefully to not cause anger or offence - ความละเอียดอ่อน
  • shadow: the dark shape that somebody/something's form makes on a surface, for example on the ground, when they are between the light and the surface - เงา, ร่มเงา
  • shatter: to break into many pieces - แตกกระจาย
  • shift: to change - เปลี่ยน
  • showcase: to show the best qualities or parts of something - แสดง,ทำให้เห็นจุดเด่น
  • shower (verb): to give somebody a lot of something ให้อย่างมากมาย - ให้อย่างมากมาย
  • shower: a short rain - พายุฝนฟ้าคะนองที่ตกปรอย ๆ สั้น ๆ
  • skill: the ability to do something well, usually as a result of experience and training - ฝีมือ, ทักษะ
  • skull : the bones of the head - กระโหลกศีรษะ
  • slam: to hit with great force - ชนเข้าอย่างแรง
  • socialise: to spend time with other people - มีการติดต่อกับผู้คน
  • spin (verb): [past form 'spun'] (1) to turn round and round quickly; to make something do this (2) to make something, usually thread for making cloth by twisting fibres of a material such as cotton or wool, but in this case to make (earn) money - หมุน ปั่น
  • spirit: courage, determination or energy - เจตนา, ความมุ่งมั่น
  • spittle: water from your mouth - น้ำลาย
  • sporadically: not regular or frequent - ซึ่งเกิดขึ้นนานๆ ครั้ง, ที่เกิดขึ้นเป็นพักๆ
  • spur: to cause something to happen - ก่อให้เกิด 
  • surrender: giving yourself up - การยอมจำนน
  • sweat: the tiny drops of salty water that form on your skin when you are hot - เหงื่อ
  • taking advantage: to use the good things in a situation - ใช้เป็นประโยชน์, เอาเปรียบ
  • taking up: starting to do dome job or activity - เริ่มทำ
  • thanks to: because of - ด้วยเหตุ, เพราะ
  • the odd: happening or appearing occasionally; not very regular or frequent - ไม่บ่อยนัก,นานๆครั้ง
  • tough: strong and able to deal with difficult situations or pain - แข็งแรง
  • tournament: a competition for teams or single players in which a series of games is played, and the winners of each game play against each other until only one winner is left - การแข่งขัน
  • traditional (adj): of a custom, a way of life or a way of doing things that has not changed for a long time - เป็นประเพณี, ตามธรรมเนียม, ตามที่ปฏิบัติกันมา
  • traditionally: of a custom, a way of life or a way of doing things that has not changed for a long time - ตามธรรมเนียม, ประเพณี ดั้งเดิม ตามที่ปฏิบัติกันมา
  • train: to practice a sport to get better and win in competition -
  • treat: to behave in a particular way towards somebody/something - ปฏิบัติ(ต่อ)
  • unconscious : in a sleeplike condition, usually from an illness or injury - หมดสติ
  • version: a particular form of something which varies slightly from other forms of the same thing - ชุด, เวอร์ชั่น
  • victory: winning a competition or a battle - ชัยชนะ
  • yard: an area outside a building with a grass or hard surface - สนาม
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