The ladies of the Lethwei ring
Behind a hidden red gate in a quite neighbourhood of Yangon, lies the Thut Ti Lethwei club. Its doors are open to dedicated students who will find a raw space to focus their energy on the art that is Lethwei. Corrugated iron and plastic canvas sheets protect the wooden boxing ring from wind and rain. The ring is surrounded by photos boasting some of the biggest stars of the club, including one of Myanmars most famoust fighter-- Lone Chaw, who also trained in this very ring.
Stacked car tyres are visible on the side and punching bags hang down, just some of the boxing equipment used in the training area. The club is nothing like an airconditioned modern fitness studio. Instead you will find a raw and honest space.
Myanmar`s traditional bare-knuckle martial art is considered to be even more hardcore than Thailand`s Muay Thai boxing. It incorporates all body parts- fists, ellbows, knees, legs and head.
Carvings on the temples of Bagan, suggest the sport is over a 1,000 years old. Kept alive in the eastern border states of Karen and Mon, the first official Lethwei championship tournament was held in 2000.
Mr. Win Zin Oo, former fighter himself, founded the club 30 years ago. „Anyone, who is interested can experience Lethwei here.“ He explains „Doing Lethwei doesn`t only means to have a strong body and learning tough techniques, but also to have a soft mind and a kind heart.“
With a friendly, warm, almost toothless smile, the great Lone Chaw welcomes his students.
A colorful mix of locals and expats, from Japan, the Netherlands, France, men and women of all ages wrap their hands ready to get the training started. „Only in recent years, have women started to show interest in this traditional sport. The first woman here was an expat, but now also local women and young girls are joining classes.“, says Mr Win Zin Oo.
According to their training level, students are divided into groups. The youngest are the lucky ones, who get to exercise with Lone Chaw in the ring. Each training session promotes endurance, power and technique. For the warm up students jump around on car tyres and the first beads of sweat start dropping. Muscle training on the floor is next, then the exhausting punching exercises with the punching bag. Only the brave students show their real pain.
One can see, after only one hour the relieved and happy faces of all the students leaving the club.