Confidence is like the ground for a fighter: if it’s not there, you can’t plant your foot – and you lose all traction. Sean & Paul talk about building self-belief for fighting. . .
A GUIDE TO YOUR MUAY THAI JOURNEY
Many have made the pilgrimage over, and many have yet not – though they dream of doing so. Before taking your obligatory trip to the motherland of the Art of Eight Limbs, let’s take some time to get some background information down so you know a bit of what to expect and how to efficiently plan your time there.
#1: HISTORY OF MUAY THAI
Ancient Roots: The legend of Naikhanomtom traces back to the 16th century. Legend has it that he was captured by the Burmese army, and was allowed an opportunity to fight for his freedom. Using nothing but his bare fists and legs, he successfully defeated the best Burmese fighters and was granted his freedom. He returned to Thailand a hero, and his fighting style later became known as Muay Thai.
Muay Boran – What it is: Muay Boran is a term that lumps all fighting styles in Thailand prior to fighting in the ring with equipment. Many regions in Thailand each had their own fighting style, such as Muay Korat and Muay Lopburi. Its original purpose was not for sport nor entertainment, but for actual use in warfare. In addition to its stand-up tactics, it also included deadly ground game techniques that modern Muay Thai lacks.
Like with many ancient sports, people started to compete and see who was the best. Fighters originally fought barefisted, but later used rope to wrap their hands during their matches, and fought without gloves. Muay Boran was so popular that many Muay Boran fighters were enlisted in the King’s Royal Guard.
Transition to Modern Muay Thai with help from Royalty: King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) had a personal interest in the sport and progressed it during his reign. He offered 30,000 baht (which was and continues to be a huge amount to Thais even today) to winners who participated at the fights during his son’s funeral.
Prajadhipok (Rama VII) was also very interested in the sport. He introduced many things that made Muay Thai what it is today, from referees and timed rounds to a boxing ring and gloves. Then there were rules and regulations, and many of the strikes from traditional Muay Boran became illegal in the Muay Thai ring. There were still fights with only the ropes, but after death in the ring, things quickly changed and became there was a greater attempt to make the sport safer for fighters. Muay Boran is now mostly used only for exhibition shows.
Muay Thai now: Modern-day Muay Thai in Thailand is shown for entertainment, gambling, and a way for fighters to make money. Traditionally, and in present day, most Thais only started fighting as kids as an attempt out of poverty. Thais that are generally well-off usually don’t let their children associate with fighting Muay Thai. Many of them don’t know much about the sport, much less having been to a fight themselves. Because of this, Muay Thai was looked down upon as a “poor” sport for quite a long time, sometimes even with disdain. However, Thais are slowly coming around as more people are interested in getting fit. Muay Thai fitness classes are becoming more and more popular and some wealthier Thais are participating in traditional Muay Thai camps.
#2: TRADITIONS OF MUAY THAI
Wai Kru: Wai Kru Ram Muay, or more often called simply wai kru, is a dance performed by Thai fighters in the ring right before they fight. This dance is mostly performed to honor the camp they come from and their teacher (trainer), who is held in high regard. The dance can also honor the fighter’s family, religious deity, and respect to the king.
The ring is usually “sealed” first by placing one hand on the top rope and walking around it, not breaking contact until an entire lap has been made. This is traditionally thought to seal the ring off from evil spirits that may mess with the fighter while keeping the good luck in the ring. The fighter often prays at each corner. Many movements of the wai kru are said to have come from the deity Hanuman. (Hanuman is a popular sak yant to receive as a Muay Thai fighter).
Mongkol and Prajiat: A mongkol and prajiat are often worn on the fighter’s head and arms, respectively, before they step into the ring. Both sets of items are seen as holy and must never touch the floor. It is often hung high on a wall in the gym when it is not being used. The mongkol is taken off by the trainer and placed in their corner for good luck. The prajiat is not always worn, but when it is, not many fighters wear it for all five rounds; however, it often becomes loose or moves around, getting in the way sometimes.
“Head is Holy”: There is a long tradition in Thai culture of the head being the holiest part of the body. Therefore, one can speculate about how that has affected Muay Thai in Thailand. Scoring system aside, many Thais even today do not have great boxing, nor do many know how to block and react to punches. True, the influx of foreign fighters competing in Thailand and beating top level Thais, and Thais fighting abroad to make more money has forced Thai boxers to work on their hands much more, in both offensive and defensive tactics. Still, the percentage of Thais fighting in the major stadiums with good boxing is still very low.
#3: WATCHING FIGHTS IN THAILAND
Where: The major stadiums that everyone thinks of when it comes to Muay Thai in Thailand are all located in Bangkok. This is no surprise as this bidirectional relationship has given rise to great camps in Bangkok. Good fighters, usually not from Bangkok, are often contracted to a gym located in Bangkok. In Bangkok, they can test themselves among the best, get ranked, and win a prestigious belt from Lumpinee or Rajadamnern. Omnoi Stadium also holds shows every Saturday afternoon.
The three aforementioned stadiums have tiered pricing, so if you are a visitor on holiday, expect to pay the premium price for ringside seats! Channel 7 holds free shows every Sunday afternoon. Its fights are just as entertaining, if not more at times. Packed inside a small TV studio, foreigners are situated up on the bleachers next to screaming gamblers. Make sure not to get hit in the face by a wild hand gesture! Some other places to watch fights are Rangsit Stadium, Workpoint (it now hosts All Star Fights), and Gm Grammy (MX Muay Xtreme). Of course, in the motherland of Muay Thai, there are shows literally every single day, so if not at a big show, you are sure to find a small one at a festival or next to a mall.
What to expect: Because Muay Thai is generally not a very big deal (meaning a show is not built up in anticipation as it is in other countries), in Thailand you will see things run very efficiently during the fights and between the fights. There is often a designated water bottle filler (since gamblers have been known to poison fighters). There can officially be only two people in a ring between rounds with the fighter, but there is absolutely no regulation as to how many people who can stand in a corner to support the fighter. Family members, friends, gamblers will all stand in the corner to cheer and even coach the fighter. Speaking of gamblers, expect to see them, especially at the major stadiums. They often make up the bulk of people attending and are the noisiest.
After a bout is finished, there is no lollygagging and reading out of score cards – the winner’s hand is raised and they exit the ring immediately. As soon as they exit, the fighters for the next bout enter.
Styles: Watching a fight in Thailand, you may start to notice that not all fighters are well rounded, and they use this to their advantage. They use their strengths to either hurt or simply score in order to win the fight.
- Muay Maat is a fighter who favors throwing punches and usually has heavy hands. These type of fighters usually go for the KO since punches don’t score much in a fight in Thailand. (Notable Muay Maat: Pornsanae Sitmonchai)
- Muay Khao is a knee fighter, and can throw either loose knees or use the knees to enter the clinch. Knee techniques score highly in a fight. (Notable Muay Khao: Yodwicha Kemmuaythaigym)
- Muay Liam Khao uses knees but in a different manner than that of a Muay Khao. Muay Liam Khao are masters of sweeping and dumping, and usually follow up with another strike. (Notable Muay Liam Khao: Pajonsuk Superprosamui)
- Muay Teh loves kicks, whether they’re low kicks, middle kicks, or high kicks. Kicks score very highly in a fight. (Notable Muay Teh: Sam-A Gaiyanghadao)
- Muay Bouk constantly advances and does not back up. (Notable Muay Bouk: Jongsanan Fairtex)
- Muay Sork likes throwing elbows, which are effective at cutting and possibly stopping fights. (Notable Muay Sork: Kem Sitsongpeenong)
- Muay Fimeu/Muay Classic are the fighters who put on an exciting show, and are the type of fighters who many would pay to watch. A Muay Fimeu does not only use all the weapons of Muay Thai with great technique, but uses them effectively and gracefully. (Notable Muay Fimeu: Saenchai PK Saenchai Muaythaigym)
#4: GYM CULTURE IN THAILAND
While Thai culture still remains prominent, it’s a bit more loose in a gym setting, as many of the people live together and see each other pretty much all day. Do wai when you see a trainer. Trainers/teachers are highly respected in Thailand. Don’t talk down to a trainer just because you paid money. Do thank the trainer after they hold pads for you. Don’t ask for extra rounds; there is usually a set schedule – respect it. Do wash your hands before clinching. Don’t knee someone’s ribcage with your kneecap – use your inner thigh. Do touch gloves before sparring. Don’t go 100% as most gyms only do technical sparring. Do wear deodorant before training. Don’t apply too much cologne/perfume or lotion.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but just something to get you started! Get excited on the next time of your Muay Thai journey, learn as much as you can about Thai culture, and come back with a changed mentality that will change your Muay Thai game completely.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.