Anne Gagneux

From ballerina to boxing champion
I’ll continue coaching, training and raising awareness for as long as I am able! It’s my way of giving back and passing on everything my coaches gave me.

Unbeknownst to many of her colleagues and far away from the polished Pictet offices in the 8th arrondissement in Paris where she works in marketing for Pictet Asset Management, Anne spends most evenings and weekends in a boxing club in a western suburb, coaching kids and adults in the martial art of Muay Thai. The discipline is known as the art of eight limbs, characterised by the combined used of fists, elbows, knees and shins and is considered the most ‘vicious’ of boxing styles.

“I was looking for something to concentrate on beyond my job, a way to get out of my head and maybe get fit. When someone recommended martial arts, I was initially intrigued, I’d taken ballet as a child! I tried karate, taekwondo, boxing but nothing really inspired me. Then I tried Muay Thai and instantly loved it. I found the same need for discipline and meticulous execution as at the barre.”

Despite being known as ‘the women’s club’, in 2008 Anne was one of just a few women at the Puteaux Scorp’ Thai club when she joined. “Traditionally, Muay Thai was fought among men from poorer social classes in Thailand as a subsistence sport. It evolved to a spectator sport in the late 17th century, drawing large crowds who would place bets on fighters. Women really had no business there. Still today, you see very few women fighters in Thailand.”

Anne started with one class per week, learning the fundamentals and diligently practicing blocking, kicking, punching sequences over and over. “There are no shortcuts in Muay Thai, you don’t have to be particularly fit, that comes with time, but you do need perseverance and patience. You have to put the work in.” And Anne did. 3 months after she started, she increased her training to 3 times a week. She had started for the great cardio workout, then her efforts, and the support of others, started to pay off and she progressed quickly. “We’re like a family at the club, there’s a very supportive atmosphere, with strong values. It became my second home and fighting became a passion.”

The martial art of Muay Thai is known as the art of eight limbs, characterised by the combined used of fists, elbows, knees and shins and is considered the most ‘vicious’ of boxing styles.

At 31, Anne was considered ‘old’ to start training in a combat sport, let alone compete. Not particularly competitive by nature, fighting had never been about beating her opponent. But when she was asked to step in as a coach she needed to up her game. “I realised I didn’t have much credibility to train people to fight competitively if I had never been in the ring myself.” She began training 6 times a week.

There are four parts to a typical 2 hour training session: cardio, weight training, mobility training at the bag or a target (“Paos”) that includes repetitions of basic movements that are often sequenced together and finally, sparring, where students ‘play fight’ with an opponent. Despite all her training, Anne’s first competition was a shock. “You lose 50% of your capacities the minute you step into the ring. Your nerves, the adrenaline, the audience, everything is a distraction. And unlike sparring with your club buddies, you wear minimal padding and competitors are ruthless. There’s no holding back. They fight to bruise and to win.”

Although she lost her second fight that afternoon Anne learned an important lesson. “It’s not just about the outcome, it’s about how you win or lose. My opponent was better than me. Technically she was spot on. I was tired from the first fight. But I held my own, I did not give up.” Leaving the ring that evening with a black eye and covered in bruises, Anne was disappointed that she didn’t get the win for her team but she was proud of herself. And she couldn’t wait to start again. She was back in training two days later.

Several competitions later, Anne has moved up the ranks in local and regional amateur matches and finds herself in the famous Japy gymnasium that has hosted some of the biggest historical fights in France on a Saturday afternoon, not far from Bastille. She steps into the ring. Her recognises her opponent, she’s known for being a tough fighter and has the advantage of being taller . The first three minutes pass in a blur. She’s managed to throw a couple of solid punches. 1 minute rest. Next round and her opponent opens with a strong punch. This isn’t going to be easy. Anne counters with a combination of punches and kicks. The bell rings. Another minute’s rest. Her coach is in her ear telling her to hit hard. Back in for the final round, Anne gives it her all. The next three minutes are a tangle of limbs, alternately attacking and blocking. Suddenly, the bell rings. Anne looks up. “I wasn’t sure if I’d secured the win!” One look at her coach’s face says it all. Aged 38, Anne had just won the national 2016 French Women’s Muay Thai Championship title.

Elated, Anne had more than accomplished what she’d set out to do, she took the decision to retire from competition. “It was my last fight. I was one of the oldest. It was the right time to quit.”

Except she didn’t quit completely. Prior to the pandemic, Anne organised and accompanied students on visits to training camps in Thailand, combined with volunteering activities such as beach clean-ups and a visit to a local orphanage. “It’s important to me that students have the opportunity to witness Muay Thai in Thailand and to experience the culture and traditions. It helps them to understand the origins of the discipline.”

Today she is still at the Puteaux Scorp’ Thai club and coaches two kids classes, two classes specifically for women and trains twice a week. “I’ll continue coaching, training and raising awareness for as long as I am able! It’s my way of giving back and passing on everything my coaches gave me.” True to her ethos, she may have quit the game but she will not give up the fight

When Anne is not kicking and fighting, she is a Senior Marketing & Client Servicing Manager for Pictet Asset Management in Paris.

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