Muay Thai: A Living Legacy

Sawasdee Krab Thai True Believers!

Welcome back to part two of my little missive on the butt kickin’-est martial art there is this side of Boise, yep none other than Thailand’s number one export for sports, Muay Thai! Was the book cover a give away?

This happens to be one of my favorite in my personal collection of books on Thailand. It’s like the Bible of Muay Thai with just about everything you’d want to know about Thai kickboxing. The book is beautifully loaded with enough excellent pictures to make any Thai coffee table book green with envy. It’s also crammed with enough info inside and out to be any serious kickboxing aficionados’ number one reference on everything ‘muay.’ All this and there is even a fold out poster in the back! An excellent choice for the little kick boxer on your Christmas list this year.

Last blog I breezed over some of the history of how Muay Thai came to be, this time I thought I’d delve into some of the nitty, gritty details about what makes this such a fascinating event to watch if you ever happen to see a real Muay Thai match. Last time I also tried to let my writing chops and literary excess paint a scene of what going to a Muay Thai exhibition would be like. However I think all my ‘purdy words’ fell flat without the street cred of having actually seen a Muay Thai bout myself. *sigh*

My Muay Thai (stuff)

Forget Home Theatre Box office I’ve got Home Theatre Boxing! I’ve seen enough fights with my Muay Thai VCD collection that I have some idea what they are like. How nuts am I for Thai kickboxing? Well in addition to three very excellent books on Muay Thai I have about a dozen VCD’s of Muay Thai championship bouts, most of them by Thailand’s Number One Kickboxing Promoter Songchai Ratanasuban who is like the Don King of Muay Thai but without the wild hair.

I found a series of kickboxing VCDs on eBay once so I bought the whole set. They highlighted fighters as young as 8 years old up into the late teens competing. Some of the tykes showed some talent for kickboxing while a few of the really young ones looked like they were having it rough just to hold up their oversized boxing shorts!

I also have three VCD documentaries on kick boxing that are a hoot to watch since they are all bilingual. On my TV I set the ‘Audio adjust’ to the far left and everything is in Thai, move the setting to the far right and an Australian guy (the accent is unmistakable) is now doing the narration in English but he’s still speaking in Thai grammar! Too weird!

My other really cool ‘how to’ VCD is on the history and style of Muay Thai’s cousin Krabi-Krabong which I mentioned at the end of my last blog. This is a combat style that really deserves a blog of it’s own if I can’t hit some of the high lights here that is if ya’ll are still with me later *wink*

Muay Thai at the Movies

But no kick boxing collection (at least mine) would be complete without some Muay Thai movies! In addition to the massive Tony Jaa blockbuster machine Ong Bak (องค์ บาก ) and Beautiful Boxer (บิวตี้ฟูล บ๊อกเชอร์ ) which I reviewed before I also have some older and odder movies too like Nai Khanom Tom (นายขนมต้ม ) and ‘Kid Boxing’ (ไอ้จิ๋ว…ลายไทย ) anyone remember this one? I thought it was another documentary type deal about some Thai tykes in Muay Thai but turns out to be a low budget movie about two preteen boxer brothers that run afoul of the local mafia. A humorous way to kill an afternoon watching some ten year olds put the ‘chop socky’ on the baddies Muay Thai style.

Muay Thai Music, that ain’t Rock and Roll!

Of course how could my collection be complete without a CD of music from Thai boxing called Paying Respect to Teacher or Wai Kru (ไหว้ครู ). I kid you not I have this! Click here if you’d like to give a listen. It sounds pretty cool but I won’t hold my breath for these guys to replace Jay Leno’s house band on the Tonight Show.

The music that accompanies a Muay Thai bout is actually called the Wong Pee Glong and is preformed by four musicians each with their own instrument: the Pee Chawaa or Javanese Oboe, a pair of Glong Kaek which resemble Conga drums and are played by two musicians then the ensemble is rounded out by the Ching which are very small, thick Thai cymbals.

Together the rhythmic music of these instruments in the hands of their skilled players keeps the tempo of the Wai Kru Ram Muay (ไหว้ครูรำมาย ) with a slow and stately composition to match the mood of this important ‘dance’ that begins each fight. Once the fight begins a different composition is played with a quicker tempo that during tense moments in the fight becomes even more frenetic. The exotic and even intoxicating sound doesn’t just keep tempo with the kicks and punches but rallies and motivates both the crowd and the fighters in the ring to fight even harder.

Talk about your ‘mood music’ if I have my ‘faen’ over and play that it might not be romantic but would be an interesting accompaniment if things get frisky.

Amulets, Rituals and Incantations

Amulets to ward off evil and give powers of strength and protection in Muay Thai contests have always been a part of kick boxing competitions all the way back to the days when Muay Thai was a lethal fighting art honed on the battlefield.

These talismans of Muay Thai, called Krueng Rang Korng Klang ( เครื่องรางของขล้ง ) are a very essential part of what a Muay Thai fighter takes with him in the ring even if his personal beliefs in spirits, superstitions, charms and luck may not be serious. This is a part of Thai tradition modern day fighters have no choice over.

Many Thais belief Amulets are sacred and highly respected items that give the wearer powers of protection is still a highly personal matter. Every fighter must also wear the Mongkon, or rope head band, prior to the beginning of the fight during the Wai Kru Ram Muay and the Prajied which must be worn throughout the fight contest. An interesting thing about the Mongkon is one legend has it that you made it out of a live and poisonous snake as this would would give it special, magical powers. I don’t know about ya’ll but I’ll let someone else go first on that one.

A Muay Thai boxer will almost always have a small Amulet or Buddha image called a Phra Krueng tucked away in his Mongkon before the fight and also may wear one stuffed in his gloves, shorts or other accouterments. Of course his opponent will have done the same and to some folks it’s not a matter of who has the greater skill but the more potent magic in his amulet mojo.

Geez if that’s the real deal think of all the money you’d save on Thai boxing lessons if you just found a good amulet shop instead!

Other Amulents of different types are worn to produce certain results. The Prajeid is a red and white band of cloth worn around the upper arm to induce toughness. The Pirod, made of rattan can be a ring or arm band worn around the biceps but it is not normal to wear both a Prajeid and Pirod together. The Dhagrut is a small sheet of beaten bronze inscribed with mystical symbols and is worn about the waist. This is used with incantations but I’m not sure what it is meant to protect since the book doesn’t say! There is also the Pitsamorn which is similar to a Dhagrut and is worn around the waist. Another is the Waahn or special herb which a fighter will carry in his Mongkon or chew before the fight. The Suea-yan and Paa-yan have a more Chinese influence and you can see them also used in other rituals such as the Vegetarian Festival.

I can’t help wondering though what Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would make of all these Muay Thai fashion accessories!

If all that wasn’t enough you could bolster your mojo magic in the ring by reciting a few incantations, or Kartar Arkom ( คาถาอาคม )in Thai. This is supposed to give someone great power by using an incantation. Many Thais have a deep faith in using incantations to deflect evil forces. Many kickboxers also rely on this faith although today some may do so more out of tradition then belief.

Sounds silly right? Well how many times can you recall being in a situation where you make up your own incantations like muttering over and over something like ‘don’t let me be late, don’t let me be late, don’t let me be late!’ while running to catch the bus? Not too different when you think about it huh.

In the ring Thai boxers use incantations believing they give powers to resist being knocked out and that their incantations also had the power to counter act their opponents own incantations. Sounds more like Harry Potter than Muay Thai. I don’t know about you but I’d rather bet on the catching the bus than taking on a Thai fighter in combat if I am armed only with a nifty sounding incantation.

Geez look at the time! 2 AM and I am not even into the coolest thing about Muay Thai next to the kicks and punches and that’s the the Wai Kru Ram Muay (ไหว้ครูรำมาย ) or Wai Kru Dance. There is just so much cool stuff to write about let alone get to my other favorite Krabi-krabong!

Looks like a Part Three is needed to wrap things up. I hope my blogging hasn’t been as dry as toast for ya’ll. Next time I’ll bring the Jelly and Peanut butter for sure, deal?

Till next time


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