The Thai heroes of yesteryear represent the finest qualities a nak muay can aspire to gain. . .
HONORING ANCIENT THAI HEROES
Folk heroes are celebrated and known worldwide. At some point, we all must have heard of Miyamoto Musashi, Mulan, and William Wallace, plus so many more from cultures around the globe.
Thailand does not fall short of having their own, legendary folk heroes. Their tales took place during the many wars between the Burmese and Siamese (conflicts that range from 16th – 19th centuries).
Maybe not as well-known in the Western world, monuments exist in Thailand for each of these warriors. Each hero shows us qualities that can every nak muay can aspire to gain. Loyalty, courage, perseverance, and an unshakable will, coupled with skills grounded in Muay Thai and Krabi-Krabong not only made them heroes in their country, but immortalized them in history.
#1 THE HERO OF THE BROKEN SWORD: PHRAYA PICHAI DAAB HAK
Known as the “Hero of the Broken Sword,” Phraya Pichai is portrayed by Buakaw Banchamek in the film by the same name. Thong Dee Fan Khao (1741-1782), as he was named by his teachers (translation: “Thong Dee of the white teeth,” as he did not chew on the betel nuts which darkened one’s teeth) was a folk hero molded by Muay Thai and Krabi-Krabong, praised by the people for his prowess both in the ring and on the battlefield.
The story goes that at a young age, he would sneak out without his parents knowing to train in the art of eight limbs. He trained with many masters, one of which was known for his style of Muay Uttaradit (named for the Uttaradit province). In his early twenties, he attended an important tournament in a region where he challenged the reigning champion, despite being advised against it by most people present. The same people who told him to challenge someone within his same level of experience were awestruck as they saw him skillfully best the now ex-champion, becoming the talk of the town. Taking notice of the events as the host of the tournament, local guerrilla leader and governor Phraya Tak Sin asked Thong Dee to join him in his fight in the rebellion against the Burmese, who had occupied Siam.
Thong Dee, through countless battles, earned himself a place as Tak Sin’s bodyguard. As time passed, Tak Sin became king and made Thong Dee commander and chief of the Ayutthaya armies. He would go on to do battle against the Burmese, earning him respect and making him the “go-to man” in cases of external affairs. During one such battle against the Burmese, one of his swords broke, yet he continued to fight without changing weapons.
For six days and six nights, he continued his battle until defeating the enemy army, earning a solid victory for Ayutthaya. After that battle, he was forever known as Phraya Pichai Daab Hak (“Broken Sword, Governor of Pichai”). With his help, King Tak Sin, who started off with 500 guerrilla troops, had now regained all of Ayutthaya’s original frontiers.
After the passing of Tak Sin, the newly crowned king offered Phraya Pichai an opportunity to continue in his position, but he refused and asked to be executed to join his king in death, demonstrating the unwavering loyalty for which he was known.
#2 THE VILLAGE THAT RESISTED AN ARMY: BANG RACHAN
Bang Rachan is the village that rose up to stop the invading army that encroached their land.
Situated in Singhburi, north of Ayutthaya, the villages of Bang Rachan fought the invading Burmese in 1765, despite being outnumbered and under-equipped. As the story goes, everyone in the village fought in unison with every ounce of strength they had, holding up the Burmese army for five months. When the army was finally reinforced, it wiped out the villagers to the last man before subsequently destroying Ayutthaya.
It has been noted that it is very unlikely that it was actually five months, but nonetheless the villagers are regarded as heroes and praised for their courage.
#3 THE WARRIOR-QUEEN: SI SURIYOTHAI
Not much is known about Queen Suriyothai’s (1511-1548) early history, so it has given way to many tales.
But what is known about her is that while her husband, King Maha Chakkraphat (1509–1569), left to battle the attacking Burmese army in the first Burmese invasion of Siam in 1547, Suriyothai and her daughters equipped in full battle armor and left with the army as any warrior would.
In the battle, while the king proceeded to duel against the Viceroy of Prome, the Thai king’s elephant mount was overwhelmed and dashed off, leaving the king vulnerable.
As the king was about to be struck, Suriyothai was there to defend him, fighting off the Viceroy until her sons came to drive him and the army off.
She did not survive the battle, but is forever remembered in the annals of Thailand’s history for sacrificing herself for her king.
#4 THE FATHER OF MUAY THAI: NAI KHANOM TOM
Said to had been born on a Tuesday in January of 1750, the Year of the Horse, Nai Khanom Tom is considered the Father of Muay Thai and is honored annually on March 17 – National Muay Thai Day.
Khanom Tom was captured by the Burmese in 1767 during the destruction of Ayutthaya. On March 17 of 1774, the king of Burma organized a festival, in which one of its many activities included boxing. It was decided to test out the Burmese boxing style against the Thai’s, and Nai Khanom Tom was chosen to represent Muay Thai.
The bout ended with one blow, Khanom Tom emerging the victor. The king could not believe what he had just seen, saying that they were confused by the wai kru ram muay and that the Burmese boxer had been caught off-guard.
The king called for another boxer to fight the Thai man, but his unusual and incredibly effective style of fighting won out yet again. The king kept calling Burmese fighters to challenge Khanom Tom, to a total of nine fighters, until a man acclaimed to be the best Burmese boxer of the time made his way to the event. It is said that the Burmese champion was defeated with such fury that no one else dared to fight the Thai.
After the king witnessed this last fight, he announced that the Thai people where magical when it came to fighting, containing in their small frames the lethal power to end many warriors. Tom Khanom was granted his freedom after the event and is the most well-known hero of Thailand.
The values these heroes show to us should be forever present in our lives as fighters.
Had Queen Suriyothai not had the courage to ride to battle, Thailand’s history would have been written differently, just as our lives history can change if we lack the courage to accept different challenges and overcome ourselves. The villagers of Bang Rachan, although outnumbered and ill-equipped, stood up to challenge the Burmese army, fighting for what they believed in, standing together as one. Nai Khanom Tom was captured in the fall of Ayutthaya, but this did not extinguish his fighting spirit; without it and the perseverance to stand against fighter after fighter, he would not have stood out the way he did and surely would have been executed.
Sooner or later, we face losses but refusing to allow them to defeat us makes us stronger, allowing us to overcome our present selves to become better. Armed with these qualities, any well-trained fighter has the potential to become a legend in his or her own right.
- Martial arts student and history enthusiast. Born in Puerto Rico and currently residing in Argentina, Jayson travels the world training and competing, with the goal of being the best he can be.