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Burmese Odyssey: An Interview with Vincent Giordano

by Guillermo Xegarra

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by Vincent Giordano

Burmese Lethwei, or Myanmar traditional boxing, is an ancient bare-knuckle fighting art that has survived in Myanmar despite decades of endless violence and governmental control. At times, this control threatened to wipe out Lethwei’s very existence, but the sport survived partly because rural communities throughout the country continually staged Lethwei tournaments during the celebrations and holidays that fill Myanmar’s calendar year. Including bare-knuckle matches as part of each celebration is a firmly embedded and accepted tradition within Myanmar. Central to these celebratory tournaments is the idea that, long ago, young boys engaged in Lethwei matches to display their fighting skill, courage and bravery. It was part of a rite of passage into adulthood.

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by Vincent Giordano

Burmese Lethwei, also known as Burmese Boxing in the West and Myanmar traditional boxing in Myanmar, is a bare-knuckle fighting sport well known for its traditional fighting technique and durability of its competitors. Fighters wrap their hands with only a thin gauze wrap and tape. There are no gloves used, and head-butts and throws are allowed. No judges oversee the matches to determine a points victor. The only way to win is to stop your opponent by a knockout, technical knockout or by a doctor stoppage. If there is no definitive winner then the match is declared a draw.

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by Vincent Giordano

Burmese Lethwei, also known as Burmese boxing in the West and Myanmar traditional boxing in Myanmar, is a bare-knuckle fighting sport well known for its traditional fighting technique and the durability of its competitors. Fighters wrap their hands with only a thin gauze wrap and tape. There are no gloves used, and head-butts and throws are allowed. No judges oversee the matches to determine a points victor. The only way to win is to stop your opponent by a knockout, technical knockout or by a doctor stoppage. If there is no definitive winner then the match is declared a draw.

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The intensity in Yangon’s Thein Pyu Stadium is palpable. Two Lethwei fighters characteristically charge one another with hard fast volleys of stinging attacks. The arena, originally custom built to promote Lethwei, is comfortable, with tiered seating providing excellent views from all angles. The one startling difference today is that there are cameras everywhere covering the event. No more shoddy coverage or mismatched cameras and bad edits. The audience members join in the reverie enthusiastically, lifting high into the air their iPhones, Samsung Galaxys, iPads, or anything they can record the fights with. Within minutes, personal Facebook and YouTube pages are loaded with images and videos of the fights. Welcome to the new world of Lethwei. Once doomed for decades by a military dictatorship that forcibly cut off any contact to the outside world, Myanmar now revels in the freedom to share any element of society with all those within Myanmar and the world at large.

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