By Yolanda Schmidt, MSc, Sport & Exercise Science
In the heart of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, a group of inspiring women have taken the reins to empower, uplift, and strengthen the presence of female athletes in the world of muaythai. Yolo, Bee, Gabriella, Dori, and Kacy form the backbone of the muaythai NSW Women’s Development Committee, a force dedicated to breaking barriers and fostering a community that celebrates the prowess of female combatants.
Not every muaythai gym boasts a substantial number of female participants, and this scarcity can breed a sense of apprehension among women, particularly when it comes to sparring. The fear of being matched against larger male counterparts inhibits the opportunity for female athletes, both competitive and recreational, to practise and refine their skills in a safe and supportive environment. Recognising this challenge, the committee was formed with a mission to provide a platform for female participants to engage in sparring with others of similar strength, ability, and size.
The muaythai NSW Women’s Development Committee initiated this groundbreaking move by hosting the first-ever Female-Only Open Sparring and Development Day on July 29 2023, an event that booked out in just four days due to high demand. Buoyed by the success and response, a second event was scheduled for November 25, 2023, and spots reached capacity in a mere two hours. This serves as a testament to the growing demand for female-centric opportunities in the sport.
In my role as a retired professional muaythai athlete and a key member of the committee, I find myself reflecting on my personal journey. I acknowledge the hesitations I felt before stepping into the ring for my first bout, and I express that events like these might have propelled me into competitive fighting sooner. These initiatives, born from personal experiences, not only provide a platform for current athletes but also serve as an inspiration for the next generation of female muaythai enthusiasts.
Supportive Sisterhood and Personal Empowerment:
These events bridge the gap between training and competition, providing a stepping stone for female athletes to transition from sparring with teammates to facing opponents in the ring. The committee aims to host these events regularly, creating a supportive space where women can build confidence, enjoy their training, and/or potentially progress to competitive bouts.
Beneath the surface of these initiatives lies a powerful narrative of women supporting women on their muaythai journey. It extends beyond the committee, reaching into the heart of the community formed by the women who attend these events.This sisterhood is not confined to the ring but echoes in the shared experiences and challenges faced by every participant. The collaborative spirit within these gatherings fosters a sense of unity, where experienced athletes and newcomers alike guide and uplift each other. In helping each other navigate the challenges of muaythai, these women simultaneously embark on a shared journey towards personal growth and empowerment, reinforcing the notion that strength comes not only from within but also from the bonds forged among like-minded individuals.
Moreover, it’s essential to emphasise that these events are equally beneficial to recreational participants. While some may perceive them as exclusively for those aspiring to fight, we want to dispel this misconception. The primary aim is to provide an opportunity for improvement and the chance to spar against a diverse group of 50 other women. This inclusive approach is designed for all ages and skill levels, allowing participants to enjoy sparring without apprehension. For beginners who may feel a wave of dread when the trainers say, “sparring gear on,” our goal is to minimise that fear and create an environment where sparring becomes not only a valuable learning experience but also an enjoyable aspect of their muaythai journey.
The committee also recognises the invaluable support of both men and women who champion female athletes in a predominantly male-dominated sport. Their guidance and mentorship contribute to moulding remarkable athletes, and the committee expresses deep gratitude for their unwavering support. Moreover, our heartfelt appreciation extends to the gyms that generously offer their spaces for us to host these transformative events, providing a welcoming environment for female athletes to thrive. We are equally grateful for the dedicated volunteers whose efforts were instrumental in ensuring the seamless execution of these occasions. A special thank you goes to the courageous women who trusted us and joined these events, contributing to the vibrant and supportive community we are fostering. Lastly, our sincere gratitude reaches out to the sponsors who, through their generous prize donations and services, play a pivotal role in the successful execution of these events. It is through the collaborative spirit of all these individuals and entities that we can truly champion the growth and empowerment of female presence in the world of muaythai.
Australian Female athletes:
Australia has solidified its reputation as a powerhouse in producing exceptional female muaythai athletes, consistently showcasing prowess on international stages. In 2023 alone, names such as Zoe Putorak, Yolandà Schmidt, Shannon Gardiner, Bryony Soden, Nicole Lowe-Tarbert, Michaela Jorgensen, Skye Branson, Jorja Hersey, and Skyla Chatterton claimed medals at IFMA events, both in senior and junior categories. With female athletes covering a wide range of weight categories, Australia brings a daunting challenge to women all over the world. Many of these seasoned athletes have not only earned recognition but have become potent contenders in their respective weight divisions, bringing a relentless challenge to every tournament. Australian athletes, driven by an unyielding commitment to excellence, undergo rigorous training, aiming for gold, unparalleled fitness, and unassailable strength. Their reputation precedes them, and drawing an Aussie athlete in a tournament means preparing for a tenacious bout.
As these Australian female athletes continue to make waves, locally and internationally, they stand as role models, inspiring the next generation of muaythai enthusiasts. Australia also produces strong athletes that compete outside of IFMA events such as the formidable Kim Townsend, who holds WMC title belts in multiple weight divisions, establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with as she recently, successfully, defended her world title. Additionally, we have a 4-woman tournament on 16 December 2023, offering a WMC Australian title and a $10,000 prize, exemplifying the growing recognition of female athletes in the country. This 4-woman features Bryony Soden, Dori Duncan, Nong Bee and Jordan Bell in the featherweight division, and underscores the undeniable talent and competitiveness of Australian female athletes on a global scale.
In conclusion, within the dynamic realm of muaythai, the NSW muaythai Female Development Committee emerges as a guiding light, tirelessly championing inclusivity and empowerment. By providing female athletes with the opportunities they need to grow, learn, and compete, this committee is not simply straightening tiaras but building crowns for women to wear proudly in the ring and beyond. As the events gain popularity and support, the future of female muaythai in Australia appears brighter than ever, with these athletes paving the way for continued success and recognition in the world of combat sports.