Part 2: Kiwi’s head to head in Myanmar
This is part 2 of our two part series covering Lethwei “The art of 9 limbs”, in the first part we spoke to Livingstone Saw about Lethwei’s culture and history, rules and an upcoming event happening later on this year in New Zealand. If you had not already read it, you can find it here by clicking on this link: Part 1: The art of 9 limbs, the gloves are off with Livingstone Saw
In this article we will find out what made two New Zealand fighters want to travel across the World to Myanmar (Burma) at different times in their careers, bind only hand wraps around their fist, and step inside the ring against the National champions of Myanmar at the time. The first kiwi is a Wellington Native who some would know as Constable Rua Druce, others of course know him as Rua “Damage” Druce. Mr. Druce is one of the best fighters to come out of MTI Wellington. The other is Kiwi Daniel Kerr, he currently resides in Bangkok, and he has fought some of the biggest names in Muay Thai like John Wayne Parr, and Saiyok Pumpanmuang.
For the uninitiated viewers watching Lethwei for the first time, some may say it is a violent sport, that it is a brutal bare knuckle fight given by the nature of the rules/ or lack thereof. How do you justify its legitimacy in terms of being an actual sport and martial art?
Rua Druce: - “Lethwei has managed to maintain its authenticity in comparison to many other martial arts. Some people might see it as brutal but there are rules that have to be followed just like any other sport. Lethwei involves discipline, honour and respect, which are core principals shared with other Martial arts. MMA, Muay Thai and boxing were once seen as brutal and are now very popular and accepted by the general population.”
Daniel Kerr: “First off society's views on violence and brutality are ignorant to say the least. Even more so when involved with sport and its understanding of the martial arts. As far as a "STAND UP" striking martial art turned sport goes, Lethwei is the purest way for someone to truly express themselves physically and mentally with one’s own skills, anything more would just be a "street fight". Which would lack the one major factor which defines all true martial artist and lethwei competitors alike.....HONOUR. With honour you don't need so many rules, and in saying that there are some very strict rules which must be upheld."
What made you two want to compete in this sport, and who did you end up fighting over in Myanmar?
Rua Druce: “In 2012 my trainer, Mark Hampton, and I travelled to Myanmar so I could compete against local fighter Lone Chaw under Lethwei rules. Lone Chaw had over 20 years’ experience, 150 fights and was three times Myanmar National Champion. I was interested in challenging myself against a strong opponent, with the added challenge of this being a different style of fighting. Under Lethwei rules I saw this as a real opportunity to test myself. I was also keen to compete at a National level in a country for which Lethwei is their traditional sport. The fight was 5 x 3 minute rounds which ended in a draw – under Lethwei rules you can only win by KO, not on points.”
Daniel Kerr: “It was the start of 2015 and I had just been on a very nice winning streak, last of which was against Rob Powdrill; at the time he was the current WKN world champion. I received an invitation to compete in Myanmar around about four months later. I fought Tun Tun Min in Yangon city. We were meant to rematch on several occasions but if all goes well regardless of a rematch, I hope to be returning to fight there around this year’s end.”
How different was it adapting to the style of Lethwei? What preparations did you take given the rules was KO or withdrawal only, hand wraps only, and head butts were allowed?
Rua Druce: “I was lucky enough to have Livingston Saw from Namtu to help me train for the fight and share his knowledge. I did the majority of training the same way I train for Muay Thai. I did have to learn some new techniques though to adapt to the different rules. Head butts were mostly thrown in the clinch so you had to know how to protect yourself. Not wearing boxing gloves also allowed you to interlock your fingers in the clinch and is very hard to break the grip. The punches are faster without the weight and bulk of gloves and tend to cut more. Bare fists were harder to block too. I liked that there were no standing 8 counts which allowed fighters to recover and prolong the fight. “
Daniel Kerr: “Adapting my prep never really happened, minus some slight pad work changes and talking tactics with people who had fought the rules before. One thing I will do differently next time I'm in training for one is more bag and pad with only taped up hands instead of gloves, I felt my punches were lacking in normal power.”
In a documentary Rua Druce I saw your hand was swollen after the Lone Chaw fight. Did this change your approach to striking with your hands; did you find much difference between Muay Thai, and Lethwei?
Rua Druce: “No not really, I was confident that my boxing would be effective at controlling the distance and pace of the fight and would cause the most damage. I ended up breaking my right hand punching in the first couple of rounds. As the fight progressed my hand swelled up and I couldn’t make a tight fist or punch with any power. In hindsight I would have wrapped my hands differently to give a bit more support. It felt familiar enough to be comfortable in the ring. I just did my thing and was not really focused on the rules. I thought as long as I can punch and kick I’d be fine.”
For you two; Both your opponents at the time Lone Chaw, and Tun Tun Min probably had a lot more experience than you two in Lethwei, what was going through your minds knowing that you would face someone that had the advantage, as well as you being a foreigner fighting in their home crowd?
Rua Druce: “I thought Lone Chaw and I were fairly matched so I wasn’t worried about it. I just treated it like any other fight and tried to play to my strengths. The crowd was cool; they were respectful and supportive even though I was a foreigner. They cheered when I walked to the ring.”
Daniel Kerr: “Out of 127 fights I’ve only had 2 in front of my home crowd so I wasn't really fazed by it. I wasn't concerned about his experience; being so wouldn't have helped anyway. It was most notable early in the fight feeling how easily he slipped into the rhythm and his ability to pick his shots and distance.”
There is talk about an event being held here in Wellington where Burmese fighters will be competing later on this year. What would your advice be to any kiwis who are willing to participate in this combat against the Burmese?
Rua Druce: “I think it would be great to see a Lethwei competition in NZ. There are local fighters keen to have a go so hopefully it goes ahead.”
Daniel Kerr: “When I fought there my mind was in a bad place and I wasn't fully committing mentally to what I was getting myself in to, which is one of the reasons why I want and need to go back. My advice would be to really focus on what you’re getting yourself into, "it's not just another fight", make sure you can fully commit without too many distractions weighing on your mind during your prep and of course the day of. Eg: “if ya gunna step in the ring with those rules against someone who's fought it a lot maybe set life aside for a couple months”.
This is a question for Rua Druce, in order for something like this to be possible to work in New Zealand, what regulations you think it would need to pass? Could there be a slight modification to traditional Lethwei in order to get regulated here?
Rua Druce: “You would need a governing body to regulate the sport. There are a couple of changes that would make it safer like wearing 4oz gloves instead of fighting bare knuckle. Another rule which could be changed for safety reasons is one which allows a fighter to continue following a KO if they are able to be revived quickly.”
Aside from the fight, what are your fondest memories being in Myanmar?
Rua Druce: “Unfortunately we were not there long enough to see much of the country as we would have liked. Our hosts were awesome; they were really hospitable and took good care of us. They made sure we were comfortable and well fed. I liked walking around exploring Yangon and really enjoyed trying the local food.”
Daniel Kerr: “The Fight scene there was a breath of fresh air!!! A lot of places in the world these days carry a huge amount of hassle for someone such as myself who just wants to fight the best quality opponents and test himself mentally, physically and emotionally. Everyone there had a sense of understanding and respect yet without the unneeded high house parse. Everything was done formally, explained properly and all physical checks done expertly and it skipped out so much time wasting, advertising and comical branding yet the stadium was packed and was told the tv ratings were sky high. “
We thank Rua Druce and Daniel Kerr for this interview. These two were willing to test their mettle against the best at a sport that at times could be brutal and violent, but both men had agreed that it brings out an honest representation of sport combat, and holds a strong meaning of honour to the fighters and the people of Myanmar.
Rua Druce’s fight against and documentary: