Muay Thai, you sure understood it, is a sport made of traditions. In Thailand, everybody is aware of that, that is why every village has its own champions and organises tournaments which are an opportunity to bet ; Muay Thai is at the center of many activities! This is especially true for the cities of Sukhothai, Ayuthaya or Rattanakosin, where boxers can make genuine profit. Even if all of this may seem very superficial, the spiritual aspect is also very important, as you will see in the following sections :
Wai Khru ritual
Music is a fundamental part of Muay Thai. In fact, what was originally just a combat sport grew into something with a true artistic dimension. The music (named Sarama) is played during pre-match prayers (Wai Khru) and is traditionally combined with a choreography (Ram Muay) aimed to enable boxers to pay respects. One of the main virtues of the Thai people is to the showing of respect toward hierarchy. The most important respects are the one toward the parents. In exchange of these respects, students are allowed to be taught knowledge and skills by their teachers in order to become their heirs and perhaps teachers themselves.
Wai Khru, which is a sign of respect toward teachers and organizers, is a part of Muay Thai training as well as the following steps :
1. Keun Khru : submission
When a teacher accepts a student and a student accepts to be trained by a teacher, the future boxer brings some of his personal belongings for a ceremony. The ceremony is conducted in front of a Buddha picture where the student promises to be loyal to his teacher. In ancient times, the student had to serve his teacher for a certain amount of time before training could start. At that time, the teacher was getting to know his student to ensure he was trustworthy, honest and competent. Once the trust was earned, the student could start training.
2. Kronb Khru : When training ends
When training ends, the student can pass on his knowledge and skills to other boxers and is ready to compete. During a ceremony, he is given the traditional Mongkon. The Mongkon is conducted on a Thursday before noon at the teacher’s house or at the temple.
3. Annual Wai Khru : The annual prayer
The annual “Wai Khru” is an ancient tradition. Boxers pray for their former and current teachers because, without them, they wouldn’t have been able to learn what they know and important life principles. Those two virtues give fighters the strength to accomplish daily chores. Thursday is always the day chosen for the annual Wai Khru because it is the “teachers’s day”.
During ancient times, when spirituality was inseparable from Muay Thai, Wai khru was a way to get closer to the gods and gain their blessing in the arena as well as on a battlefield. Aware of these traditions, boxers shouldn’t be embarrassed by this ceremony full of respect and ancient memories.
Mongkon and Prajioud
Thai people are, or were, very superstitious and would grant magical powers to numerous things ; even clothes. Warriors would be given amulets as presents and were getting tattoos to prevent being wounded Muay thai has the same rituals and is made of mysticism.
Mongkons protect the most sensitive part of the human body : the head. It is a tight soft fabric handband, containing sacred letters and symbols, firmly rolled up to make it look like cord and attached with sewing thread, sometimes sanctified. .
It is then enveloped into a second layer of fabric, handled by the teacher of the ceremony.
Finally, the two are joined with woven thread in order to shape a tail. When a the Mogkon is placed over the boxer’s head, the tail extends behind him. Before the fight, during the boxer’s contemplation, the teacher takes off the Mongkon.
Mongkons used to give an indication of the region where a boxer would come from or about his boxing style but today, the number of schools, styles and teachers are making it more difficult to recognize.
Prajioud is a bracelet, traditionally crafted by teachers and then sanctified, wore around one or both biceps.
Sak Yant (tattoo)
Traditionally, these tattoos have to be made by a Buddhist monk with a bamboo needle in order to bring protection and luck to the fighter. However, because of the dramatic increase of tourism in Thailand, more and more people are getting these tattoos done by a classic tattoo artist.
It is important to add that there are far more rituals than the ones mentioned earlier. In fact, there are as many rituals as boxing schools, but those rituals are common to every one of them.