It is athletes like Mauritian Ranini Cundasawmy that are changing the face of African martial arts. Not only is she a fiery competitor and champion both locally and internationally in the sport of Muay Thai, but is also actively working towards creating an inclusive environment for the practice of martial arts. Female Fighters Africa chats to Ranini about her passion for training and teaching and how she overcomes the challenges that come her way as she journeys to the top.
FFA: How did you discover Muay Thai? Tell us the story of what brought you there.
RC: I discovered Muay Thai in 2011 when the club in which I was training started offering Muay Thai. What brought me there was that I really liked the style, since it had more possibilities during the fight, such as elbow strikes and knee strikes. My father introduced me to martial arts – he was doing karate during this time – but serious training came when I met my husband, who is also my coach. Our martial arts school is called Bambous Martial Arts Sports Club (BMA Sports). We provide free training for everyone. Many people ask the question, ‘Why free?’ Maybe you will ask the same [she laughs]. It is free, because we want to help the young kids practise sports. Bambous is a village where people are not rich, and we do not want kids and adults to be penalised just because of the lack of financial support. We love teaching for free.
FFA: What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in the sport?
RC: In 2014, I learnt to get involved only with genuine people and not to be naïve. I had won my first bronze medal in a world championship, and was trained by my husband six days a week, six hours a day. He was the one who did all my preparation for this championship, and also partially paid my flight ticket and other fees. However, when I returned to Mauritius, the national federation decided that all merits were to go to their nominated national coach, who had never done a single thing for me. He received plenty of money and all merits, and my coach who trained me every day and did everything for me received nothing. That was something that really hurt me. A stranger who did nothing received all the merits just because the federation decided so. After that, we decided to step away from the organisation, since it was not fair. I was not the first athlete to go through that.
With some other clubs around the island and with a good fighter in the same position as me, we then decided to set up a new fighting organisation in Mauritius, called Undisputed Alliance. Today, it is directed by fighters and experienced coaches, and affiliated to the World Muaythai Federation (WMF). We will be helping people who love sports around the island.
I have also learnt to live my life fully and to love the people around me.
FFA: Tell us about your most memorable fight.
RC: My most memorable fight was a mixed fight male vs female held in Mauritius, in 2012. Since there were no 46kg female opponents, we agreed to set up a mixed fight with a 48kg male fighter. It was a hard fight, and I won slightly on points. But with the way the fight went, the result had no importance for either of us, because we knew for both of us entering the ring that simply starting the fight was already a win. It was held in Mangalcan, Mauritius. What was also memorable in that fight was the respect that we had for each other and the respect that everyone else had for that fight. It was awesome.
FFA: What is your schedule like? Do you have challenges integrating your training/teaching into other aspects of your life?
RC: My schedule during preparation for competitions is six days a week with four to six hours of training per day, depending on the planning of my coach, who is my husband. Training is mostly done at home and at the club. The challenge is more mental than physical. Another big challenge I face is to teach to the kids that we train how to be mentally strong, so as to avoid drugs, dropping out of school, and other negative stuff. All the training sessions that we provide for the kids are free.
FFA: What do you love most about your work in Muay Thai?
RC: What I like most is being able to transmit to the kids what I am learning. Their smiles mean a lot to me.
FFA: As a woman in martial arts, have there been particular challenges or opportunities that present themselves?
RC: I got some professional fighting opportunities and some international gala opportunities, but due to the lack of financial support, I was not able to participate. The challenge is not over yet. I am working to save my money to be able to go and participate in the upcoming championships.
FFA: Who are your role models?
RC: My husband who is also my coach. For me, he is a super hero who changed my life and made it beautiful the way it is now. Before, I was a shy girl, afraid of everything. I started doing sports just to lose weight, because I like eating [she laughs]. When I started learning martial arts with my husband, he taught me how to get self-confidence, how to build up a strong mind, and most importantly, how to live as a human being. Before, I was afraid of competition. I got very stressed when I heard the words, ‘competition,’ or ‘ring.’ He took a lot of patience and time to make me physically and mentally strong.
FFA: What was it like fighting at the WMF Muay Thai World Championship this year?
RC: How we got there is a little bit of a long story. Fights for me in Mauritius were becoming rarer and rarer. The federation always said there were no opponents for me, and would bypass me for international fights and the world championship – not only me, but many other clubs. What then happened was that, as a club, we decided to completely step out from the under the federation, and instead build up our own fighting association, Undisputed Alliance. We voted in a president, Akilesh Bhantooa, who is an experienced fighter. We decided that all committee members shall also be people who know about the sports, as well as be genuine people.
After we got our affiliation to the WMF, we started to promote Muay Thai and also our way of living. With Undisputed Alliance, we went to Thailand for the WMF World Championship. I was there with Akilesh Bhantooa and his coach Christophe Jolie. Then there were myself and Stephano Batour, who is from same club as me, and our coach Patrick Cundasawmy. Stephano fought in the Junior category, under 72kg, and he won a bronze medal for his first ever participation. Akilesh won a bronze medal in the Pro Am category. I won a silver in the Amateur category, as well as the Championship Belt (gold) in the Pro Am category. I was more at ease in the Pro Am category.
I really enjoyed my day in Thailand. The WMF’s organisation was one of the best I’ve seen after several championships to which I’ve already been. WMF really care about the fighters, and they do their best to make the fighters feel at home. We worked hard to get there, since our local government does not financially support us for now. But we don’t know what can happen in the future. For now, even with my world champion title, I do not benefit from our government. I must work or find sponsors to be able to achieve. We are already working on some documents in oder to get some support, and we will see what the future holds for us.
I am planning to go to Thailand again for some pro fights and a training camp. It’s just a matter of time. My husband and I are working hard, saving our money so that I can live my dreams.
FFA: Any current or upcoming projects?
RC: Firstly, finding sponsors to help some of our young people at the club participate in the WKF and WMF World Championship in 2018. They are really good fighters. Secondly, continuing to find new techniques to teach our student’s a way of living. Lastly, we’d like to extend what we are doing to other villages of the island.
FFA: Do you have any message you’d like to give to other women and girls in Muay Thai and other martial arts on the African continent?
RC: My message to them is: Whatever martial arts style you are doing, keep going on, put your heart in it and it will automatically make a positive impact on your life. And keep spreading love around you. So, women, keep on doing it for your health, self-confidence and also a way to live a stress-free life.
FFA: Anything you’d like to add about your experiences as a Muay Thai female fighter?
RC: For me, martial arts are not just about defending ourselves against attacks, or for competitions. It is also a good way to make friends, to share, and to discover new things around us.