Muay Thai (มวยไทย) Posted by sasha on Oct 10, 2011 in Culture, History, Travel
Asian cultures are well-known throughout the world for their martial arts – China has Kung-fu, Japan has Sumo, and Thailand has Muay Thai (มวยไทย). This Thai style kickboxing has been around for thousands of years, and it can certainly be called Thailand’s national sport. Muay Thai is so important, in fact, that March 17 is celebrated as Boxer’s Day in Thailand. Often called the “Science of Eight Limbs”, Muay Thai makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, which sets it apart from boxing and most forms of kickboxing.
Training to be a Muay Thai boxer, or nak muay (นักมวย), is quite intense, as the sport is physically demanding, requiring a balance of strength, stamina, and adaptability. The training for this traditional Thai martial art involves a lot of body conditioning: running, shadow boxing, jumping rope, medicine ball exercises, weight lifting, and much more. Perhaps the most important aspect of Muay Thai training is the concept of Wai Kru, or respect for teachers. This is an ancient Thai custom, and trainees are always supposed to show respect and gratitude to their teacher. It is common for aspiring students to make offerings of respect – such as candles, flowers, or incense – to a teacher they seek to study with. Prospective boxers take an oath before they are made official:
I will ensure that I am clean, strong and behave with honesty and integrity.
I will not bully those weaker than myself.
I will undertake good deeds to the benefit of others and be loyal to the nation
I will avoid causing trouble of any kind.
We will be united and help one another whenever possible.
When Muay Thai boxers enter an arena, they will perform special rites before entering the ring. As Thai people believe unseen spirits are everywhere, these rites ask permission from the spirits to enter the ring. This ritual is meant to protect the boxer and lead them to victory. Once in the ring, they perform the special Wai Khru Ram Muay (ไหว้ครูรำมวย) – a warm-up activity. Wai is an action to show respect, Khru is teacher, Ram is dance in the traditional Thai sense of the word, and Muay is obviously boxing. Boxers will circle the ring a few times and bow; this is a sign of respect to God and man and represents the Wai Khru portion of the ritual. It also serves the purpose of asking Buddha to protect both fighters and give them an honorable fight. Then, the boxer performs their own unique Ram Muay, which is a sort of dance that they do on both sides of the ring to demonstrate their control and style. This also shows respect to the fighter’s trainers and parents. It is said that in the past, a fighter’s Ram Muay would clearly show which gym they trained at. During this ritual, boxers wear a mongkhon (มงคล), a traditional headband associated with Muay Thai; they also wear pra jiad (ประเจียด), which are traditional armbands.
Once the mongkhon is removed, the contest can begin. Special music called sarama accompanies both the warm-up ritual and the match itself. The music is slow during the opening ceremonies, and it picks up speed and intensity during the match, in order to encourage boxers to fight harder. As far as the match itself goes, there are no more than five 3-minute rounds, with a 2-minute rest in between each one. Boxers must wear gloves – other than that, only trunks are allowed. A detailed list of Muay Thai rules can be found HERE.
During my month-long stay in Thailand, I only attended one evening of Muay Thai boxing, but it is everywhere you go, and matches go on just about every night. Some bars on islands such as Koh Phi-Phi even offer up a sort of “open ring” invitation to atendees, where you can try your hand at Muay Thai with a friend for free drinks. Of course, Muay Thai events range from the incredibly amateur (and rather cheap), to the rather professional (and expensive). Regardless of what kind of budjet you’re working with, an evening of Muay Thai is an absolute necessity if you’re traveling through Thailand and want to experience some traditional Thai culture.