Suriyothai – A Warrior Queen
“Daab Gwang. Pblay Gwai.” – roughly translated to one hand wields the sword, the other rocks the cradle.
No, that doesn’t mean you’re planning to raise your baby using violence.
I can’t exactly recall the actual line of this particular poem, describing the toughness of Thai women referring to the olden days where women would rush into battle to protect their village. It’s a praise for women who could raise children AND fight a war all at the same time, fearless in both duties.
History of Thailand is peppered with many female warriors. Of course, a more recognizable name would be that of Queen Suriyothai. But there were many others brave ladies who had fought in battles back in the days.
But at some point, all of that changed. Women are back to rocking the cradle, no longer wielding the sword. There was no serious need for women to go to war any more. Well, for the general population at least. (I have the utmost respect for Thai female cops and military personnel. You go, girls.)
I remember my brother dressed up in uniform to go to military training once a week. Bow has mentioned earlier that her friends go off to do “military stuff”. That is called “Raksa Dindaen”—(Ror Dor – RD) protecting the country—program. They are being trained to become better prepared as soldiers when the time comes to enter the military at the age of 18.
*A bit of correction and additional info here. Thanks Sriracha John* It’s almost like JROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps ) program in the U.S. where high school kids choose the program to prepare themselves to either join the military or enter military academy like West Point. The program continues into college as ROTC as well. The differences between American JROTC and Thai RD are that American JROTC is voluntary, and they accept both men and women. Thai ROTC is in the curriculum for all male students. (I don’t know if they have accepted women since my days, but Bow or Richard could probably shed some light on that.)
Perhaps it was the tomboy side of me that wished so badly that I could attend the ROTC class. All that action! Jumping the tower. Running obstacle courses. Learning to shoot a rifle. I once dreamed that I would be the first female cadet to enter the Thai military academy, following my grandfather’s footstep. That would totally kick @ss.
A childhood fantasy was replaced by the reality that I wasn’t built tough. Despite my tough tomboy façade, inside I am a complete and total wussy. A girl completely programmed according the society that she was weak and helpless.
I do want to de-program myself. So whenever opportunity presented itself, I didn’t hesitate to learn how to protect myself. How to not be weak and helpless.
I’ve trained briefly to do Thai sword fight and the ceremonial dance instead of a Thai classical dance. You know, a part of my cultural attaché thing. My mom shook her head at that idea, but found me a teacher anyway. The teacher also taught me a little bit of Muay Thai to go with it. He believed that every Thai should know how to Thai box, and especially girls should learn it to better take care of herself.
Later on in the US, I took an Aikido class because I’d rather like the non-offensive aspect of it. Eventually, I studied Tae Kwon Do at the school where Brandon was training. Partly, it was because Brandon was doing it, and partly it was because I’ve always wanted to learn Tae Kwon Do. The Bangkok TKD academy used to be just around the corner from my ballet school. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to study martial arts because it wasn’t a girly thing to do back then.
My TKD training eventually did include a few months of Kendo-based sword training. Indeed, at one point in my life, I was wielding a sword!
Yes, I’m trying NOT to be too much of a complete and total wussy. Like my Muay Thai teacher said, I should know how to take care of myself. That sword I’d eventually have to wield to protect myself and my family.
Yesterday I decided to go a little further with that notion. I joined Brandon and his friends at a firing range. It was my second time shooting a pistol. The first being my freshman year in college with a couple of guy friends…10 years ago now. (Holy crap! That long ago??)
I did pretty well shooting a 9mm. My beginner’s luck shot of the day was right between the eyes, just as Brandon had finished telling me how to aim. The rest of the time, if a bad guy is standing 20 ft. from me, he’d better have on Kevlar underwear. I’ll leave it at that.
Despite my few hours at the range, shooting and watching other people shoot, guns still make me nervous. Very nervous. The sounds of gunshots still haunted me hours afterward. I was waken up a few times, hearing imaginary gunshots as I was drifting off to sleep. Guns are just not my thing.
But would I go back to the range with the boys? Abso-frickin’-lutely! Guns are the modern sword. I’d rather know how to wield it than not.
I hope I’m living up to Thai heroines. I’m following their footsteps in my own way. I hope I’m holding up the traditions of seriously independent women from our olden days.
Nonetheless, I’d really rather literally wield a sword. Or engage in hand to hand combat.
As for the rocking the cradle, I’m not brave enough for that…yet.