It has been referred to in the media as a "brutal ballet," a sport as much as an art form, one steeped in tradition. Furious kicks to the body and legs. Punches, knees to the chest, sharp elbows in close.
Muay Thai, at least what is practised at Siam No. 1 Club on Dufferin St., is also as much about celebrating the sport's ties to Buddhist Thailand as it is about two combatants in a ring, the type celebrated in Hollywood movies.
Muay Thai is not about bloodletting, at least not here. It's more about technique and spirituality, founded on the deep-rooted principles of the sport, going back centuries in Thailand as a martial art used originally by the military -- principles that include respect for one's opponent.
What's becoming more noticeable as Muay Thai grows legs in Ontario in terms of changing its perception as a brutal and potentially lethal sport is the number of women coming to it, so much so that a small group of women have organized something called Chicks that Kick, a live Muay Thai amateur event for female fighters scheduled for June 28.
The location of the fight hasn't been finalized, although Ajahn Suchart Yodkerepauprai, head teacher and founder of Siam No. 1, said they're searching for a hall big enough to house the large crowd that's expected.
For Melissa Misiuda, as well as for Sarah Thompson, and the other women planning to fight that night, the objective is to raise further awareness of the sport, especially the benefits when it comes to physical fitness and self-defence. The group is also looking to raise money for Sick Kids Hospital that night.
But they're also hoping it's the first of many events of its type for female Muay Thai aficionados. If there's one thing females who are serious about the sport need, especially in Ontario, it's a resource where they can find other women to fight, from anywhere in North America, because there aren't many out there at this point. That's the dream behind Chicks that Kick, Thompson said.
Misiuda, 26, one of the cogs behind the program, is the Canadian middleweight champ in the sport but she hasn't had a fight in two years.
"No one has challenged me, so I guess I still am champion," she said.
Part of that is her size -- six feet and 145 to 150 pounds. There aren't many women fighting in that weight class. Plus, she said, travelling to the U.S., where there are more female fighters, or even to places such as Germany, Holland, and as far away as Australia and Thailand -- where the sport is popular on the amateur and professional levels -- means money out of her own pocket.
And that's a tough chore when you're a contract worker at Enbridge and you're also studying to be a firefighter. She might be a victim of unfortunate timing, with Muay Thai still very much in its infancy stages in Ontario.
Even spending five months in Thailand two years ago was frustrating, as she was able to secure only a handful of fights, mostly because of her physical size and a lack of connections there, a real disappointment.
"I keep trying," she said after a two-hour workout Thursday, removing the yellow tape from her hands. "I'm holding out."
Amateur Muay Thai events are now legal in Ontario. Ajahn Suchart said he's negotiating with the Canadian Amateur Muay Thai Association of Ontario, which oversees the sport in this province, to get Chicks that Kick sanctioned, but he and others close to the negotiation said "politics" are getting in the way. Ajahn Suchart said some parts of the process of getting his gym sanctioned by CAMTAO, including coaching certification courses, are "insulting" considering his long history in the sport, both in Canada and in Thailand.
However, he said if the sanctioning doesn't happen, they'll hold the event anyway.
Amateur fighters wear headgear, shin pads, mouthguard, gloves and a chest protector, and wear less equipment the more advanced they get, although headgear is always worn.
"It's overwhelming to see these girls changing their lives through this," Thompson, 28, said. "All these girls have kicked up their training. For a long time, Muay Thai was equated to Ultimate Fighting Championship. But it's beautiful, when it's done properly."
Those interested in Chicks that Kick can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-781-3775.