Thailand, Boxing sanctuary

Enzo Janoir, translated by Megan Spada
20 Juillet 2015

In a country where religion and culture are so important, boxing is intimately linked to the construction of the Thai nation. It gathers the youth around the same dream of becoming a big fighter, and sharing a joint passion. All Thais practice boxing at least once in their life. It is more than just a sport: this ancient art of fighting is part of everyday life in the kingdom of Thailand. Every boxing game is a full house.

Credits RR
Credits RR
Thai boxing, more often called Muay Thai is a true religion. Its origins go back to the 15th century, during the period of the kingdom of Ayutthaya. This martial art and combat sport is deeply rooted in Thai culture. It finds its origin in the ancestral martial practices, for example in the Muay Boran, which is traditional boxing or the Krabi Krabong, which is practiced with weapons.

Thai boxing was used to tackle Burmese invasions. The people of Siam had created a warrior art, thus giving the opportunity to fight hand-to-hand against an armed enemy. According to a legend, the most famous Thai boxer is called Khanom Dtom. He is a former war prisoner, who defeated a dozen of Burmese soldiers in exchange for his freedom during the plundering of the ex Thai capital in 1774. During the peace periods that followed, this martial art became a distraction for people who regularly came to watch the fights between soldiers.

It was here where the tradition of betting was born, a custom firmly fixed in Muay Thai fights, even though they are not officially authorized. Underground bets are generating an important economy for the country by the place they hold. Often known as a violent sport, boxing is associated with the idea that anything goes.

Although regarded as a brutal sport, boxing answers to a code and to very strict rules. Combats often take place in 5 rounds of 3 minutes in which the fists, feet, knees and elbows are authorized; without forgetting the possibility of catching and throwing the opponent. It is also possible to hit below the belt whilst avoiding the genital parts, to hit head-on and in the head.
Credits RR
Credits RR

An emergency exit

Most of the young people who start Muay Thai are poor or orphans. “There are also many young children; parents send their kids learn boxing as a first sport as we send ours to football”. Boxing is the only way for them to earn a living for them and their families, and at the same time, to create a social identity in front of others. “You need to know that for the poorest Thai, Thai boxing can be a great social ladder”.

From the moment the fighter starts winning games, his popularity and value rise in the eyes of gamblers and their coaches. Victory is also a bonus: an allowance rises at the end of each fight. On the other hand, if the fight ends in a defeat, these advantages will fade away and it will be difficult for the athletes to bounce back.

It is a sport that inspires foreigners to come and practice in Thailand. This is the case of Lou, who lives in Montreal, who went to Thailand for two months to discover and learn this discipline at the place where it appeared. At the end of these two months of training, the principal idea highlighted by his speech has to do with the respect and link between Muay Thai and religion. “There is a statue at the entrance of the club representing Nai Khanom, the founder of Muay Thai. Each time a visitor arrived, he saluted it by bowing”.

Thai boxing consists of several pre-fight rituals. The Wai Khru is the first part of the ritual. The respect existing between the student and its mentor is very big. When the student gets into the ring, before the beginning of his fight, the boxer pays tribute to his teacher and expresses his gratitude through a dance. Then comes the Ram Muay, which follows the Wai Khru and precedes the fight. It is also used as training. This dance uses legendary figures, which are only taught to Muay Thai fighters.

An important part of a Thai’s daily life, the art of battles has transformed itself into a well-known and popular sport. Many training camps are spread out throughout the country. The fights are, of course, broadcasted every weekend on Thai television. Every Sunday it is possible to watch boxing games in Chatuchak, or on Tuesday nights in front of the MBK Center. The two biggest boxing stadiums are Lumpinee and Rajadamnoen, which are both located Bangkok. The government and the royal army, assuring the security inside, administrate them. The benefits are used to help the different departments of the Thai army.

During the fights, the public is always present in large numbers. Those who start at age 7, for the youngest, generate an overexcited atmosphere. Traditional music is the rhythm of the fight and the craze of the audience there is around this sport.

This discipline continues to praise and develop values such as courage, respect, and concentration. All of these respectful and codified aspects show that Thai boxing is not simply and only seen as a sport but more as a life lesson, an education to follow on a daily basis.