Luton athlete becomes first British woman to fight in traditional Lethwei martial art
A woman from Luton who became the first British woman to fight Lethwi – also known as Burmese boxing – wants to share her story to help inspire other women.
Nicola Barke wants to use her success in full contact combat sport to show women and girls that they can do whatever they want in life.
The 27-year-old – who is world taekwondo champion, world number 2 in Lethwei and UK kickboxing champion – wants to share her story on how she became the first British woman to fight Lethwei to help raise awareness and inspire young people, especially women. .
She said: “From a female point of view, it’s normal not to fit the stereotype, I started ballet but I was always that girl who couldn’t dance.
“I was watching the other girls, crushing him, and I really wasn’t.
“I wanted to be good at something, I thought if I was bad at ballet maybe I would be good at something else, so I chose the most opposing sport I could think of and I landed in martial arts. “
His journey in martial arts began in high school.
Nicola, also known as the ‘Burmese python’, quickly earned his stripes as Dan’s 2nd black belt and won a world title with a fractured foot and cracked rib.
She said, “I started Taekwondo when I was in school and it continued from there.
“I tried for the 2016 GB Olympics and after completing the selection process I was struck off due to injury.
“Then I moved into Professional Kickboxing and Muay Thai, securing the UK title and UK No.1 while training at Storm Gym in Luton.
“Following my success, I took my first step in history and was the first British woman to compete in Lethwei.
“Lethwei is the national sport of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. This is how I got my fighting name ‘The Burmese Python’; I am proud to represent my mother and her heritage, the element Python represents my aggressive and fearless fighting style.
“Lethwei is not a well known sport in the UK but it is a great achievement for me.
“It’s a traditional brutal sport that allows for headers, punches, kicks, knees and elbows – all without gloves. I now rank number 2 in the world in the sport.
“They created a division so that I could compete, they put together a group so that I could fight – I felt honored.”
Nicola’s fight took place in the capital, Mandalay, and she had the added joy of bringing her mother home.
She added: “I was the first woman, which is a huge win, it’s a huge positive and I want to inspire other women to do whatever they want, whether it’s ballet or martial arts. – Go for it!
“It is important that women choose what they want, it does not matter if you are the only woman, or the first woman, be proud of that – it is your special power.
“Don’t worry about what other people think or say, do what makes you happy.
“Some people will love it, others will hate it, and that’s okay, it’s not their trip, it’s yours.”
Along with Nicola’s professional fighting career, she works full time at HSBC as Global Project Manager.
She said: “People are often surprised that I juggle so much. For me, training is the easiest part, it’s my absolute passion in life, but it’s a real daily commitment that I choose to make and sacrifice all my free time to my craft.
“I have recovered from a potentially fatal car accident and too many injuries to count, including a knee tear in three places. It’s a tough sport mentally and physically.”
“You have to get up and not be afraid to start over.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way, and that’s what I love about the sport. When you are in the ring you are on your own and it really shows who you are. “
You can follow and support Nicola’s journey on Instagram.