How many people know that Israel is being represented at world muaythai boxing competitions by an observant Jewish young woman who gets into the ring as a professional fighter on a regular basis?
Well, meet Nili Bock, who competed this weekend against Russia at the 17th IFMA World Championship in Sweden.
Block competed in the 60 kg division, coached by Benny Cogan. Perhaps one could say that like the former Muhammad Ali, she “floats like a butterfly, but stings like a bee.” At least, when she’s in the ring.
Muay Thai is called the “Art of Eight Limbs” or the “Science of Eight Limbs” because it uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight “points of contact.” Clinches, choke holds and “hugs” are not okay and if you notice in the above footage, the referee (who is female) moves in to put a stop to it. Often. Sometimes she too gets a whack in the (head, arm, side, etc – take your pick) in the process. But the ref usually knows how to block those blows. Like her male counterparts, she’s been trained.
Muaythai boxing differs from other types of fighting, such as boxing with fists — “two points” — and hands and feet fighting, “four points,” that are allowed in other more regulated combat sports because it allows one to use the entire range of one’s limbs.
But how on earth would an observant Jewish girl growing up in Israel connect with such a sport?
Nili Block immigrated to Israel at the age of two years old with her family, like many Jewish children. The change came whe at age 10 she joined her mother in Thai boxing classes. It’s not clear what prompted her mother to sign up for the classes, nor what prompted her to bring her daughter along for the ride, although it is entirely possible that the strong physical exercise and good muscle tone prompted in the classes may have been at least one of the factors. Self-defense in the face of an environment in which terrorism is a daily reality could easily have been another.
By age 18, Nili Block had won the KickBbox World Cup in Hungary, a European Championship title, and a gold medal at the World KickBoxing Championship in Bangkok.
And Block continues to observe the Sabbath and kosher laws even while on her boxing tours.
One of the most popular matches last week in the competition leading up to the Israel-Russia semi-final this weekend was the competition between Nili Block and Jacqueline De Beer from South Africa, which was a qualifier for the 2017 World Games in Poland.
“Nili was full of determination and from the beginning of the match she demonstrated that she will use her full potential to achieve her dream to get to Wroclaw as a part of the IWGA World Games,” noted the IFMA World Muaythai Championship.
The competition — as has been the entire semi-final — was featured on the Dubai Martial Arts Academy website. Nili Block’s name and the nation she represents, is there too, showing just how much the world has changed.Hana Levi Julian