Latifah is about 5' 2", hair tied back, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, lightly tanned skin, sitting in a cafe chatting. Just another young Swedish tourist enjoying some playtime in Hua Hin.
First impressions can be deceptive, Latifah could take you apart in a few minutes in a Thai boxing ring. She's fast and she's strong, she just won a fight against a woman both taller and heavier than she is.
Latifah is 18 years old and has been training in Thai Boxing for almost 2 years. The last four months in Thailand. She says she learnt more in the first month's training here than the previous 7 months in Sweden.
"The western style is so different. They rush, want to kick fast, to knock their opponent out, there is very little style. In Thailand fighters can wait up to twenty minutes in the stance because they want to make the moves perfectly, hard and fast."
She trains 7 hours a day six days a week. The trainers she's worked with, Lumpini belts, know how to fight and win. They have taken her back to basics, followed her as she shadow boxed and corrected her style.
"Mentally I've grown a lot from the training and fighting. From stepping up into the ring all alone. I am on my own, whatever my cornerman tells me, it is me who has to defend, to punch. Am I the loser or the winner now. People always say they want to win but I believe I've learnt so much more from losing. Recently, I went up against a tomboy who had forty more fights than me, despite everyone saying it would be too hard for me and I wouldn't win. But that is what I want, I said, I want a hard fight otherwise I won't learn anything. Afterwards they were saying, 'Latifah that was your best fight, so close, you could have won.' And I learnt so much."
In Thai boxing your whole body is involved. Eight potential weapons, hands, knees, elbows, shins. The kick is the shin hitting your opponent not the foot, it would fracture. So the whole body gets to work out, not just the upper body. Reactions have to be fast, your opponent punches and you need a strategy not an instinctive punch back. There is a thought process in there between the lightening fast exchanges of blows.
She won her third fight. "It was great, after all that effort and training so hard, to step into the ring and raise your hand. You're the winner, thank you."
Thai boxing is a tough sport, the downside is injury. Latifah told me that in the last eighteen months she has had only four months when she has trained without pain. But when I asked her what she wanted to achieve in a perfect injury-free future. Her reply was telling.
"There is one Thai fighter I want to fight. She's the best in Thailand, she's bigger than me but I want to fight her." I hope she achieves her dreams. She is one amazing determined young woman.