It’s Saturday morning at a gym in downtown Toronto, but there’s no yoga wear in sight. I’m with a group of lean women limbering up for Muay Thai (Thai boxing) class. Instructor Sarah Thompson is sporting a tank top and loose satiny purple shorts with her name on them in Thai.
Thompson and a handful of other women have become the public face of women in this martial art’which until recently was mainly practised by men’through their Muay Thai collective called Chicks That Kick (CTK). ‘Muay Thai is so empowering for women, whether they want to compete or not,’ says Thompson, a communications consultant. ‘We want to make sure women can step into a gym and say, ‘I want to try this.”’
The founders, five women in their 30s who met in Thai boxing class, soon became devoted to the sport for the total-body workout and self-defence training it offers. But at regional events, they didn’t see women in the ring.
So, over the past six years, CTK has organized two all-female Muay Thai tournaments’the first of their kind in Canada’that have doubled as fundraisers for the Sick Kids Foundation and a local women’s shelter. Along with a sassy name and a clever website (chicksthatkick.com) that serves as a resource for female-friendly gyms offering the sport, the fights have helped broaden participation in Muay Thai. For example, Lucy O’Neill, one of CTK’s founders, trains at a gym where a quarter of the fighters are women, and teaches a women-only class every weekend (she’s also club champion, holding three title belts in her welterweight category). O’Neill says her training has been transformational: She’s in the best shape of her life, and has seen her self-discipline and self-confidence increase, and stress levels decline. ‘[Muay Thai] is like a moving meditation, especially if you have a high-stress job.’
When I joined in for a class, I found it to be a tough, back-to-basics workout that was also fun; they wrapped my hands in tape, and punching the bag was a great way to let off steam.
Thompson doesn’t compete, but is constantly driving herself to get better at the martial art. She has taken a Thai expression to heart: ‘Above the sky is only more sky.’
Pictured: Left to right: Annalisa Hill, Lucy O’Neill, Sofia Ramirez and Sarah Thompson.