My Great Grandmother and Muay Thai

The following post was adapted from a letter originally addressed to my paternal great grandmother, La Vera Rose, after learning she entered hospice care and was rapidly declining in health.

At the time this letter was written (May 2013), I had recently returned from training Muay Thai in Thailand. I knew this would be my last communication with her. She had a profound impact on my life, as did the experience I share in this letter with her.

To my great grandmother, La Vera Rose;

In Romeo & Juliet, Romeo says “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I don’t agree. I think us Roses are unique.

I’ve long considered my middle name (Rose) to be a permanent reminder of my descendance from a strong, loving, and resilient woman — a great-grandmother who is very special to me.

I want you to know you are an inspirational and amazing woman, and a beautiful fighter. You may not understand why I say the latter, but I will explain.

I went to Thailand last month to train Muay Thai, a martial art often referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because you can punch, elbow, kick, and knee opponents. It sounds brutal at first, but I’ve been eager to tell you about it its beauty. My dad tells me you love the sport of boxing. He quotes you as saying, “A boxing ring is the only place a man can get a fair fight.” I agree.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to interact with many Thai fighters. I was surprised by the sense of peace they had about themselves, despite poor and often chaotic living conditions. They fought every day, literally and figuratively, to provide for themselves and their families. I was reminded of words you once shared with me— material things don’t mean anything in the long run, and “regardless of what you’re up against, love is all you need.”

When Thai fighters enter the ring, they keep a Zen-like composure, with a very specific goal in mind — to win the fight. They want to win, but if they lose, they don’t react. Even if they win, they don’t react. With their heads bowed in humility, they accept both success and failure as part of the dance.

At some point in their fighting career, Thai fighters face the decision to retire. Some retire after just 15–20 fights, many more retire after 200+ fights. Some refuse to ever retire and become “washed up” until they’re forced to quit. Many who retire in greatness continue to pass on the lessons they’ve learned. I was lucky to train with a Thai Master willing to share his love for the fight.

I worked with the same Master every day. He had won and lost over 300 fights. At first, I was worried that such an experienced fighter would critique my power, encourage aggression, or demand I push myself beyond exhaustion — but that was not the case.

When he showed me how to properly shadow box, he looked like he was dancing.

He emphasized slowing down, balance, and composure. He knew very little English, but he would often say to me, “Thai Boxing, Muay Thai, Every day, Thai Boxing, Everything is Muay Thai. Muay Thai every day.”

For many like him, fighting is life — but the fight is ironically non-violent. Despite physical contact, it is rooted in beauty, reverence, and respect. I watched lines between fighting and dancing becomes blurred as I learned more and more what it was like to live and fight authentically, from the heart — and with heart.

A large part of what defines a great fighter is this concept of heart, along with the ability to be at peace amongst chaos, to be able to maintain balance, and to restore composure quickly when it’s lost. I’ve known you to to be poised and graceful in some of the most difficult situations. I’ve known you to be strong when others would fold without question. You have loved and lost, and have lived a long life loving vibrantly beyond loss.

You have fought an amazing fight — easily mistakable for a beautiful dance and fought with more heart than any fighter I’ve ever seen. Be at peace knowing I feel blessed to have you in my corner now and always.

Your great-granddaughter, Ashley Rose