Green lotuses signify new chapters in life–blooms that embody the idea of fresh beginnings, opportunity and excitement. After a meteoric rise through the amateur ranks, Jalill started his international Muay Thai career this month, bringing home the gold for the United States at the 2019 South American Championships in Colombia. Next year, he will represent the World Muay Thai Organization USA team in Thailand. An even larger change will come next year, as he has plans to move to Thailand permanently in order to pursue his career in Thai boxing full time.
But, Jalill isn’t a fighter.
Like those that arrange these bouquets of lotuses, he is an artist.
I remember the first time I saw him fight. Jalill was the title fight on a card I was photographing for the Chicago Reader, and as soon as his Wai Khru began, it was clear that we were about to watch something special. Every step, from sealing the ring to the dance itself, was mesmerizing and beautiful, lulling the audience into a trance. When the ritual was finished the audience burst into applause like they’d just watched the fight of the night. For many fighters, the Wai Khru is simply tradition and lacks much connection to its Buddhist roots, but for Jalill, it’s an expression of something deeper.
Even when the opening bell sounds, the dance never stops and has continued through 24 fights, 13 of which have occurred this year. Sitting at an impressive 22-2 with belts from WBC, WMO, TBA Class A and Revgear Tournament of Champions Class A, his light footed sabai-sabai style has proven more than effective.
“When you take so much time off between two fights, the next time you have a fight, it's like you're having your first fight again. You don't get the luxury of being like, ‘I'm fighting again in two weeks, so this fight doesn't really mean anything.’ That's because fights don't really mean anything. They're just like hard sparring against somebody. Here in America, we take it so seriously. Like, ‘yo, I need to sell all these tickets for this huge show.’ I mean, that's cool, but you should be fighting so constantly and pumping out these fights that it becomes just like training. Everybody has fun when they're training. Fighting should be just like that.”
When you sit down with Jalill and ask him about life and his philosophy on living, it’s easy to forget that he’s 21 years old. Whether he’s speaking about his love of languages or coping with loss, there’s a maturity which is only broken up by anime references which provide hints to his actual age. While somewhat aloof, he’s never cold. But when he starts to speak about his art, he has the gravitational pull of the sun.
And ask any master artist–from those who arrange flowers or paint to martial artists–what their secret is, and they’ll tell you: balance.
“I know myself so well. I’m best friends with myself,” he told me. “I think the biggest part of maintaining my balance has been journaling. Before my first fight I started my journal, and I was talking about how motivated and determined I am. Now, I can go back after each fight and see. If I’m feeling burnt out, I look back and I’m like ‘nah’ because it’s still the same me. I just might not feel like that right now, but I’m reminded of who I am.”
No matter how cloudy or murky the water, lotuses rise to the surface, clean and fresh. Despite what happened the previous day, the flower opens with the next morning’s light.
Jalill still has so much room to grow.
Written by: Geoff Stellfox Photography by: Geoff Stellfox & Omar Kennedy