Million Baht Baby
"Kick" Shuki the coach is yelling in Thai. Lital Zastlin listens and hits hard. At first bag, then coach and finally against a real competitor - in the championship match. The young boxer from Karmiel, a city in the north of Israel, came to the Far East to travel and stayed to kick. She fights to achieve her goal: gain the leadership of Thai boxing women's league.
Tonight Lital fights against a Thai experienced boxer with a long resume of 100 fights. The two perform the traditional dance around the arena before the fight starts. When the judge puts their gloved fists together Lital knows it is her signal to attack.
A year ago, she planned a short training camp with friends in Thailand and then back to study her in university. Now she is full of adrenaline and a fierce desire to win.
Shuki Rosenzweig is an experienced coach. He lives in Thailand for half a decade and agreed to take Lital under his wings. Lital is alone here in Bangkok; therefore Shuki becomes not only her teacher but also a father and a brother. Lital trains mostly with men since there are not so many girls in her boxing level.
The origin of Thai boxing lies deep in tradition and beliefs integrated into the modern sport style. Traditional Orchestra accompanies the fight. And fighters use charms, spells and special tattoos for good luck and protection. It used to be a soldier killing technique in ancient Asian kingdoms. and even today, as a sport, women are still not very welcomed into the ring. Many boxing arenas, such as Lumpini Stadium, still have only men fighting. "I believe that foreigners like me who come to Thailand to box contribute to the rapid change in women's boxing in the kingdom” says Lital.
…The first and the second rounds end very quickly and the third begins. Lital’s opponent kicks her feet again and again trying to make Lital’s pain unbearable. The two exchange blows, occasionally pressed together in an attempt to embrace and drop each other to the floor.
Finally the third round is over. Lital sits at her corner leaning on ropes. Shuki, the coach, takes her mouthpiece out, and pour some water over her head.
Lital (25) started kicking when she was 6 years old. Her father sent her to study karate with Isidor Peled. As a member of the ISKF organization she participated in "Shotokan Ryu” Karate completions both in Israel and in Canada. On 2009 Lital won the classic boxing championship in Israel weight 54 kilograms, and won again the championship of Israeli combined fighting Association weight 52 kg ". Lital added to her record five victories in Thailand and one in Hong Kong." Here in Thailand ‘Muai Thai’ is the national sport and, even grandmothers know all the moves and watch fight nights on TV. That’s why this is the best place to learn Thai boxing" she explains. "I was looking for free and powerful style without so many rules as Karate and I found it all in Thai boxing”.
…The bell rings the last round starts. Roars heard from the crowed. The two are tired. Their faces are swollen, and the pain is shown on their smiling lips. It's a matter of luck and strength of will to define who wins. Shuki on the corner shouts and Lital squeeze her last drops of energy and start one final powerful attack. When the battle ends, the judge lifts Lital's hand. She wins.
Despite the popularity of Thai boxing around the world, the life of the fighters here in Thailand are still not very easy, especially for female fighters. Lital is aware of the social and economical difficulties in her profession. She lives in a modest room near her gym with no air-condition.
"You can fight for a short period of time but enjoy the fruits for years after” says Shuki and Lital listens. She plans to become a coach and make a living training other women.
The next day we are back to the gym. Dinner at 18:00 and at 21:30 Lital is in bed. Tomorrow is another day of hard training and she needs to recharge her strength.
Lital has stitches marks on her eyebrow - remains of a deep cut in a fight in Hong Kong. She says in will soon be gone. She doesn’t find any problem being a woman in a world of men, even though she shares the same shower and toilet with her fellow men in the gym. “Its every girl’s dream to be surrounded by handsome men” she says “ Fighters have their own fashion, a special robe, colorful satin tailor made pants as well as patches and sponsor logos” After a laugh she adds: “Well my nail polish is often ruined because of wearing gloves all day. So I visit the beauty salon more often than other girls “. ”Guys are interested in a female boxer with a fit firm figure” She says.
"It is a tool for personal growth. I develop and learn to know myself. As I climb into the ring I fight mostly against myself. I am fighting against fear and doubt. This is totally extreme "
Today she starts preparing for her next fight. Learning the moves of “Nam Tan” (“Sugar”, R.E ) her opponent’s ring name