The Thai Attitude To Fighting Compared To The West’s
Whilst kids in Europe kick footballs around parks, kids in Thailand kick each other around gyms.
Thais are raised around fighting since babyhood and it’s not uncommon for Thai kids to have their first professional fight at the age of 5 (compare that to Western toddlers who get a gold star in playgroup just for drawing a shit picture of a duck).
Even if they aren’t competing, they still regularly attend fights and are around the environment of full contact, bone-on-bone fighting every day from a seriously early age.
To stand in a ring in front of another person who’s trying to punch you in the face is entirely natural in Thai culture. You’d think that kind of upbringing would render their population as a bunch of teeth baring psychopaths right?
It actually doesn’t.
Whilst in the West we experience combat as this adrenaline-fueled exchange of violence, they approach it as more of a game. Where we get quite fired up at the thought of a fight, they see it as just another ordinary day in their life, no different to any of the hundreds of other times it’s already happened to them by the time they are 20 years old.
However, this doesn’t mean they haven’t been beaten up and dragged around by the more experienced guys.
The difference between us and them is this happens at the age of 6-15 years old so by the time they are 17+, they are veterans and we don’t ever get to see them as inexperienced fighters who are still learning.
Young Kids Fighting Muay Thai in Thailand
Putting On Fight Nights in the West vs Thailand
Muay Thai Fights in Thailand
In the same way we have football stadiums, they have purpose-built Muay Thai stadiums.
Most towns and villages also put up rings in the middle of markets and streets and just have their own random fight nights at any given time of the month. Forget all the legal bureaucratic bullshit as well, you can literally walk into any of these fight nights and ask to participate on the card literally 5 minutes before it starts.
If there’s an opponent available, guess what? You’ve got yourself a fight.
If a cab driver wants to make an extra 100 quid, he’ll take a fight that night.
Do you need to pass a medical to be cleared to fight? Hahaha… hell no!
Muay Thai is massive business and provides income for a wide variety of people. From the promoter matching the fighters, to the musicians who play the Sarama, there’s plenty of income to be made.
Don’t forget one of the only place to legally gamble in Thailand is in the Muay Thai stadiums – something that’s fully taken advantage of – I personally met a Thai trainer who had lost his house gambling on one Muay Thai match!
Muay Thai Fights in the West
There are no dedicated combat venues whatsoever.
For a fight to happen, a sports hall or multi-purpose venue (as well as a ring and speaker system etc) must be privately hired out by an individual who takes full responsibility for the entire organisation of the event costing them a ton of effort and money. It’s unlikely you’ll get rich as a promoter in the West, and even if you are just doing it for the passion, the infrastructure and resources aren’t there to make it a regular thing.
If promoters can’t sell enough tickets to cover the show’s cost, they get financially bent over. There aren’t many promoters willing to put on shows because of this, so fighters have to travel around to find ones worth fighting on which can get pretty expensive!
Building Fight Experience in the West vs Thailand
How to build fight experience in the West
A budding fighter goes to another gym, gets matched with someone of equal experience, and lightly spars for a few minutes with shin guards. A referee also makes sure no one goes too hard. This is known as an interclub (or ‘smoker fight’).
Only after a few of these controlled bouts will they fight for real without shin guards and for a decision and even then, elbows and knees to the head are banned for the first 5 fights or so until enough experience is gained to fight full pro rules.
How to build fight experience in Thailand
A budding fighter of any experience level goes to a stadium and jumps straight into 5×3 minute rounds of full pro rules with elbows and knees to wherever the fuck you can land them. Simple.
Fighting Is Much More Emotional for Westerners
There’s often a few months in between a Western fighter’s bouts which puts added pressure on him to perform well because we are generally remembered for our last fight.
Whereas if a Thai has a bad day at the office and loses, it doesn’t matter because they will probably be fighting the next week anyway. A month down the line, that loss will mean nothing because he/she may have racked up a 3 fight win streak by then.
Losses to a Westerner sting a lot more because it may be at least a month or two before we compete again to make up for it. On a side note, fights come and go with such regularity in Thailand that for a fight to stand out, it must be seriously special!
For many of us fighting is a hobby, but for Thais it’s truly their career and the sole way they make money to provide for their families. Imagine going to your place of work all fired up and full of adrenaline week in week out, you’d get burnt out in no time and end up hating it. This is why you’ll generally find an amiable, carefree atmosphere in authentic Thai gyms and why trainers are always taking the piss and joking around.
Fighting has to be fun otherwise it would be a chore. And no one wants their job to be a chore.
Is Muay Thai more than just a hobby to you?
- Sam is a travelling fighter/journalist from England. He backpacked to Thailand to learn Muay Thai when he was 18 where he ended up having 4 professional fights. He then trained kickboxing in Holland where he learned how much it sucks to not take a leg kick properly. Having also performed stand-up comedy he likes to think he's funny, so please forgive him for any ridiculous jokes (and for the audacity of writing about himself in the 3rd person). Check his travelling fight blog here - http://www.pineapplesamurai.com.