STORY // Lynn L.



By: Jimmy Patel-Nguyen

Lynn and I met at a conference in Vancouver hosted by UNAVSA (Union of North American Vietnamese Students Associations). I’ve admired her women’s boxing business for years, and when I learned Lynn was the keynote speaker, I reached out to have a conversation.

Lynn told me stories about her family and about her identity as a fighter, founder/CEO of Society Nine, and Vietnamese-American woman. I’m so glad we got to connect, and I’m honored to share her stories. Enjoy!

// Family history

My mom is from Ninh Hòa and my dad is from Nha Trang. They left the country sometime before the end of the war, but I don’t know the exact dates because I’ve only heard these stories in bits and pieces.

My mom’s immediate family, grandparents, and her siblings—except for her older brother—were able to escape. My mom lost her older brother to a reeducation camp in Vietnam. My dad was a soldier for the South Vietnamese side, and he came here by himself.

We grew up on the lower socioeconomic bracket, but I don’t recall a day when we were hungry. My parents budgeted our lives like a business—survival requires you to be entrepreneurial, and I learned that directly from my parents.

You think about how much your parents earned, and you wonder, “how did they pay for the life we had?!”


// Identity

I was born and raised in Olympia, Washington—a predominantly white city—and the lack of diversity was always difficult for me. Kids bullied and called me “chink” growing up. By the time I was seven, I spoke perfect English and was proficient in Vietnamese, which made other Vietnamese kids envious of me because their English was not as good as mine.

Lately, I’ve been trying to reconcile how certain traumas have affected me, my parents, and my grandparents. I’m a deeply emotional person, so when I think of their stories, sometimes I become a sobbing mess and I shut down. I start thinking about my own experiences, and feel a sort of survivor’s guilt. I know technically I didn’t survive the war, but I’m a byproduct of survival of war. I’ve been blessed with this life due to that sacrifice, so it becomes this cycle of anxiety and guilt that’s fed by this identity that I possess just because I was born. It’s inherited.

I’ve started to read and follow more Asian-American writers, poets, and journalists as a way to connect with my own identity. Their ability to use words and visuals to name their experiences have been really eye-opening and empowering for me. Their work helps me contextualize my own experiences and ancestral identity.


// Trauma

I was recently talking to my mom about trauma, and she asked me the meaning of the word “trauma.” I tried to explain to her that everyone carries trauma, and that it doesn’t look like someone physically beat you. I told her about bullying in elementary school—that’s trauma. War, escaping, discrimination, racism, cancer—all trauma.

Two years ago, me and my boyfriend at the time were home for the holidays. My parents were divorced by then, but my dad was there, and we could see him walking around the yard while we were watching TV on the couch. My boyfriend asked me, “Have you ever noticed that your dad circles the house a lot?” I told him that was just my dad’s thing—he’s done that since we were kids. But he said, “No, I’ve been watching him and it’s like he’s patrolling.”

He was patrolling the house! That was the moment when I started to see my dad’s ticks as some form of PTSD.


// A life-changing punch and allyship

Curiosity got me into Krav Maga. I was never a team-sports person, but I wanted to challenge myself athletically. After a school trip to Israel, I signed up for a Krav Maga class, and the first punch I threw changed my life.

I landed it just right—POP!—and I remember it was like a surge through my body. I was hooked.

I grew up with a dad who would make comments like, “find a nice man to take care of you,” but that idea never sat well with me. And as I trained more, I started uncovering this power dynamic I never felt within myself.

I could see how my physical power changed how I carried myself at work, and how I carried myself with my friends, and even when I walked down the street. In the gym, I could see and feel visible improvement. I got that feeling every time I trained, and I became OBSESSED.

I eventually became a kickboxing instructor, and it was my first experience in “allyship.” As an instructor, I sat in the middle of all these women’s identities—all their political views, experiences, physical presentations, body diversity, and skill levels. On the street, we probably would not have become friends, but in the gym, we called ourselves the “brute squad.” The gym was our uniting factor. Despite our differences, training brought us together...and I saw power in that.


// Beyond boxing gloves

Starting Society Nine didn’t happen overnight—it happened when I was teaching kickboxing and training in Krav Maga. I wore gloves that didn’t fit me, and I just thought “gloves are gloves.” But then, women in my class kept asking me the same question, “Where can I find good gloves that fit me?”

Just like with footwear, I wouldn’t wear men’s running shoes, so why would I wear men’s boxing gloves? It just didn’t make any sense.

I had the balls to ask, “Are there any boxing gloves for women?” Beyond bubble-gum pink gloves, there wasn’t. The business idea was revealed to me because of my students and the women I trained with, and I figured, “What do I have to lose?” That’s always been my mindset when starting my business.

It’s been four years since then. Yes, I’m a purveyor of women’s boxing gloves, but I actually see what we’re creating is a brand and a community and an ethos by which we say “enough with mean-girl culture, alpha-female culture, and queen-bee mentality.” We’re here no matter where you come from, what you look like, what you do—we’re here because we love how fighting makes us feel. We want to support the access to that feeling. That’s what we’re here for.


// Alpha Female Culture

I’m a feminist and I think for women, we are trying to break ourselves out of the scarcity mentality and into the abundance mentality—where if one wins, then it’s a win for all of us. There are people that want women to cut each other down, but we have to stop feeling like there’s only room for one woman to succeed.

The system and status quo was built to see us—as women and as a community—chop each other down to pieces. If we’re too busy destroying each other, we’re distracted from the real problems and darkness.

We have to mobilize around them—whoever that singular person is who advances—we have to amplify them. We have to invest in this idea that they will trickle opportunities back down to the community. But the only way they are going to trickle it back down is if we make sure they are uplifted.

---

Read more stories.

Do you have an experience you would like to contribute? We would be honored to hear it—send your stories to stories@refugene.com.