Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is Thailand’s national sport and deeply ingrained in Thai culture. Muay Thai traces its origins back centuries to the days when it was a form of unarmed combat performed by Siamese soldiers. The style of boxing has become more refined over the years and while it’s still a tough sport, a high level of skill and strategy is also involved. Muay Thai is dubbed the ‘art of the eight limbs’ with fighters able to make use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins. Even if you don’t normally like boxing, watching the pre-fight ceremonies and experiencing the atmosphere at a genuine Muay Thai fight make this a fascinating cultural experience.
Muay Thai ceremonies
The colourful ceremonies surrounding a Muay Thai fight all add to the spectacle and these pre-fight rituals are rooted in ancient tradition. The earliest exponents of Muay Thai were Siamese soldiers who would seek spiritual protection before going into battle. This came in the form of cloth that had been blessed by monks and would be wrapped around the limbs and head. Sacred tattoos known as ‘sak yant’ were another way of protecting warriors.
Muay Thai fighters are modern day warriors and in common with their predecessors, many do have prominent sak yant tattoos on their upper body. The boxers also enter the ring wearing garlands of flowers around their neck and a ceremonial headband known as a mongkhon. In addition, coloured cotton known as prajiad is tied around the upper arms. All of this is aimed at invoking the protection of the spirits for the fight ahead.
Before the fight commences, each boxer will perform the wai khru ceremony. After entering the ring, the fighter performs a number of bows. The first is in the direction of their birthplace before bowing to each corner of the ring. This is to honour the spirit who is believed to reside in the ring and to show respect to all of their teachers and trainers who have helped them during their career. The boxers then perform an elaborate dance and stretching routine which not only pays respect to their teachers, but also serves as a final warm-up for the fight. Throughout this warm-up, and indeed throughout the fight itself, the distinctive sound of traditional Thai instruments plays in the background.
National Muay Thai Day
Thailand’s national sport is celebrated annually with March 17 designated as National Muay Thai Day (also known as Boxer’s Day). Commemorative events are held at Muay Thai gyms and stadiums across Thailand, but the date has added significance in Ayutthaya which is regarded by many as the spiritual home of Muay Thai. And that is because of the legendary warrior, Nai Khanom Tom, who was born in Ayutthaya.
In the 1760s, the Burmese army captured the ancient Siamese capital of Ayutthaya and took hundreds of prisoners. Amongst them was a man named Nai Khanom Tom. There are different versions of the legend of Nai Khanom Tom, but it is said that he fought his way to freedom after dazzling the Burmese king with his boxing prowess and courage.
To celebrate the feats of their famous son, Ayutthaya organises a week-long annual Muay Thai Festival that culminates on March 17 and which attracts boxers from around the world.
Where to watch Muay Thai in Thailand
Most towns and cities in Thailand have a venue where you can watch a Muay Thai fight and tickets can normally be purchased on the day. The country’s two most famous Muay Thai arenas are both in Bangkok: Rajadamnern Stadium and Lumpinee Stadium.
If you are interested in watching a Muay Thai fight while you’re on holiday in Thailand, ask at your hotel or guest house and explain you want to see a genuine night of Muay Thai action and not an event staged for tourists. In addition to the big name professional fights, look out for local festivals and temple fairs which sometimes include Muay Thai bouts as part of the festivities.
Muay Thai training
If you’re interested in the fitness benefits of Muay Thai training, check out the Muay Thai Holidays website. The UK-based company are Muay Thai experts who offer tailor-made packages for people of all skill levels. Whether you are a complete beginner or a Thai boxing aficionado, Muay Thai Holidays can help you out. Train with champions, make new friends and enjoy the hospitality and sights of Thailand on a unique and unforgettable holiday.
We will be featuring some fitness videos from Muay Thai Holidays over the coming months, so remember to bookmark this site and keep in touch with us on our social media channels.
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