It feels like the very air itself is electrified. Once you step into the arena the energy of the justling, shouting crowd overwhelms the senses. The tickets for these seats are way too expensive but you have your connections so it didn’t hurt your wallet too much. Still you are here in the midst of a true Thai carnival of sights and sounds, all is excitement that can barely be contained. The din of noise threatens to raise the roof! Carrying it all along you hear the rhythmic high pitching whine and *ching*, bleet and drum of the wai kru ram muay. The music sounds to your ears like it is from an even stranger and more exotic place. You can only imagine what it’s like up there in the ring. Men calling out bets with a shouting and frenzied voice going higher and higher with each well landed punch or kick as one fighters victory seems assured over anothers defeat. It’s hot and smokey and thick with emotion here. A mans world for sure pumping out testosterone with every impression felt on you. This is the Thai sport of Kings born from the warrior arts that have kept Thailand free for one thousand years. All around is chaos focused on the main event playing out in the ring. A pair of combatants clash with fists and knees and elbows in a fury of violent yet unimaginable beauty like pugilist ballet! A symphony of flying kicks and punches, Straight punch, overhead punch, hook and swing! Savage poetry. Spinning back fist, jump punch and upper cut! Superhuman blurs of skilled hands and feet deliver a barrage to defy the imagination. They do battle until one or the other can no longer stand or sometimes get’s killed. Even now that still happens but mostly upcountry along the borders of Burma or maybe Cambodia. It’s illegal but it happens. The price for blood lust can be high. It is the time of the gladiators reborn but this is far from ancient Rome or even ancient Thailand. Elbows not to be out done offer up their own arsenal elbow slash, forward elbow thrust, spinning elbow and chop! A sudden stunning blow and one opponent is send crashing to the ring floor. He doesn’t get up again but the crowd explodes in jubilation. The champion still standing obviously the crowds favorite still, his opponent is not getting up. Something is wrong as men crowd around him calling for the doctor. Even the champion now is kneeling by the fallen fighters side a look of grave concern on his bruised face. It is an odd scene of caring and grace to see. In America you would never see the winner totally forget everything like this. After a few tense moments, the crowd pausing to see what is happening the young fighter down on the mat stirs. He’ll live but must be taken out of the ring on a stretcher. Relieved the champion now smiles and welcomes the cheers for his victory. It is a strange experience to see such fury and gentleness but then this is part of the experience and why you are here. This is Thailand and is a world that seems almost as magical as it is paradoxical from anything you knew in the West. After a brief intermission the next contestants for the ring come and it begins again. The dance, the music begins again and swells. You are enthralled to watch as it all begins again. It is a ritual, like life, a spectacle to be played out over and over again.
Welcome to this weeks latest missive from the ‘Mr.’ Thai Fanatic your trully! I hope you forgive my ‘literary’ take on blogging this week I thought I would try something new then my usual yapping. One of my favorite things about Thailand if you haven’t guessed by now from reading this far is Muay Thai (มวยไทย literally boxing, thai) known around the world as Thai kickboxing!
Muay Thai evolved from a uniquely Thai style of combat that served Thai people well during Thailands many wars with neighboring Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Today Muay Thai is a world famous ring sport that thrills audiences and has influenced martial arts students with schools of boxing Thai style all over the globe.
Already an official contest of the SE Asian Games there is talk of Muay Thai fast becoming an official Olympic sport as well however I don’t plan to wait until it’s televised with the Olympics before I get to watch my first bout. One of my 10 ten things I have to do is go see a real Muay Thai fight at Lumpini or Rajadmanern Stadium in Bangkok even if ringside seats ARE 1500 Baht I’m there!
I have several Muay Thai VCD’s of famous championship fights here at home I can watch but it’s not the same when you know who wins everytime after you’ve seen them once already. Like my creative writing piece at the beginnning of this lil blog o’mine, not watching Muay Thai in a Thai arena or county fair in Thailand is like eating western brand instant ‘Thai’ noodles it just won’t have the same flavor!
Muay Thai is unique because unlike traditional western style boxing which relies on using just the hands, Thai boxing is almost ‘anything goes’ in that almost all of the body becomes a dangerous and sometimes leathal weapon. In the tradional form of Muay Thai you can use the na-wa arwud or ‘nine weapons’ which are both fists, elbows, knees, and feet and head however in modern Muay Thai using the head like in head butting is no longer allowed.
No one knows for sure just where the art of Muay Thai originally came from. Somehow throughout most of Thai history it was handed down and learned with no record from generation to generation. Some say the influence of Shao-Lin monks from China played a large part but really no one knows. But no matter where Muay Thai originated one thing is clear it is true Thai with no other combat art like it on earth! Here is a brief run down of what is known however, and from when –
History of Muay Thai
Pre-Sukhothai Era c. 200 BC-1238
Early Muay introduced into Thailand as a combat skill possibly with Buddhist monks from India, many of them being ex-soldiers.
Sukhothai Era 1238-1377
Muay Thai is used as a combat skill on the battlefield, in defense of the community and as martial training in peace time. Fighters are bare fisted.
Ayutthaya Era 1350-1767
Honed as a fierce fighting skill in successive wars with Burma, Muay Thai also becomes a means of personal advancement and training for royality and Thai elite. It is the first time Muay Thai is used as a sport and the muay kaad chuek (มวยคาดเชือก hand rope binding) is introduced. Once a Thai warriors hands and forearms are bound and encased in the rope they immerse their fists in water making the rope harden to feel like getting punched with rocks. Another method was to coat the ropes with a sticky substance then roll them in granulated broken glass. Ouch! Talk about some nasty cuts!
Thonburi Era 1767-1782 and Rattanakosin Era 1782-1868
There were not many great changes to evolve Muay Thai it functioned as a military skill and means of sport for Royalty only however many of the heroes of Muay Thai lived in these periods.
Mid-Rattanakosin Era 1868-1925 and 1925 to Present
This is the period of history where the popularity of Muay Thai took off and saw the first permanent arena for Muay Thai built. After 1925 Muay Thai exploded as a professional and amatuer sport. Gloves, standards and regulations were introduced, Lumpini or Rajadmanern Stadium were built and the traditional form of Muay Thai, called Muay Boran was preserved as popularity began to spread overseas.
While many folks know about Thai kick boxing they may not know about an even older art that may have helped evolve Muay Thai and that is Krabi Krabong, basically Muay Thai with Weapons!
Now someones really in trouble!!
Stay tuned for part two, coming soon….