Robyn Mayol and Ella Parry-Davies
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We invite you to go for a walk.
There’s a map, but you don’t have to follow it. Maybe you want to get lost.
If you download the mp3 file above, your walk will be joined by the voices of others: members of the Thai Boxing Fighters Academy in Bethnal Green, east London. As you walk, you’ll hear the rhythms of their breath, steps and strikes, with feet shins knees elbows fists. Shadows not in your image.
I (Ella) was a member of the Thai Boxing Fighters Academy for two years before starting this project, having met the instructor by chance in the Bethnal Green public library. Having trained at the Academy, I knew the technique and strength of some of my interviewees before I knew their names. We had given each other bruises, exchanged sweaty gloves and trained barefoot on the same dirty floor, before I asked how they came to join the club, or how they related to Muay Thai philosophies and practices.
Researching the group and talking to members outside of sessions was a kind of ‘homework’ rather than ‘fieldwork’1: a way of realising or paying attention to the already transnational nature of where I was from in east London. Bethnal Green was not a ‘neutral’ site that a Thai martial art had arrived at: the Academy and its members already embody histories of transnationalism, postcoloniality, migration and intercultural practice that shaped how we each trained in Muay Thai, and engaged the complex transculturations of its own history.
If training in combat sports is a sort of rehearsal, allowing us to experience conflict as distinct from violence, this is dependent on a baseline of mutual care. This is indexed by participants through the words respect, discipline and humility. In this Muay Thai club, which is also a social care organisation, the effects of rehearsing physical culture are clearly felt in participants’ everyday lives, where humility translates to strength, and resilience and self-discipline are (perhaps regrettably) necessary ‘lifeskills’.
Wherever you are walking, accompanied by this sound your walk will cross other paths, between places like Thailand, London, Bangladesh and eastern Europe; paths through challenges to mental health, and recovery; and paths into gentrification, austerity and the Conservative government’s cuts to social welfare and community organisations in the UK. In the coming together of material and imagined worlds, this soundwalk is, in several ways, about boxing with shadows.
Robyn Mayol is a ‘maker’ with a range of self-taught technical practices, focussing primarily on sound engineering and electronic music.
Ella Parry-Davies is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. Her research concerns relationships between performance, space and memory-making in contexts of transnational migration.
- Kamala Visweswaran, Fictions of Feminist Ethnography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994). ↩