Muay Thai Traditions and Ceremonies
For those intent on becoming professional fighters or trainers the precepts and ethics involved must become an integral part of their daily lives.
For anyone wishing to learn Muay Thai boxing some knowledge at least of the art’s unique and rich traditions is essential. For those intent on becoming professional fighters or trainers the precepts and ethics involved must become an integral part of their daily lives. These traditions are devout but independent of any specific religion and so they are accessible to all. The precise details of the ceremonies differ according to the traditions of the Muay Thai training camp or teacher involved. In whatever form, these ceremonies are very powerful and moving. They are designed to make a permanent impression on the minds of participants, helping to stiffen their resolve.
Thais always hold their teachers to very high esteem, no matter what discipline they have embarked on. Parents are believed to be everyone’s original teachers and a special bond is believed to exist between those who study under the same teacher, which is regarded as being parallel to kinship. Wai Kru is an ancient Thai custom. It is a demonstration of respect and gratitude. There are a number of forms of the Wai Kru ceremony in Muay Thai.
A boxer’s Muay Thai training and his relationship with his trainer are highly ritualised. When students seek knowledge from their teacher they first offer symbols of respect such as candles, incense and flowers. During the ritual Thai boxing fighters raise their hands in a Wai (as you would in the West to pray). Students pledge in front of their teacher that they will be diligent, hardworking and will respect and obey their teacher. The teacher officially accepts the student and promises to instruct them to the best of his abilities.
I will ensure that I am clean, strong and behave with honesty and integrity.
I will not bully those weaker than myself.
I will undertake good deeds to the benefit of others and be loyal to the nation
I will avoid causing trouble of any kind.
We will be united and help one another whenever possible.
This ceremony is held annually throughout Thailand in schools, universities and other places of learning. Teachers and students gather together inviting past teachers to attend. The ceremony involves all the usual symbols of honour and respect. For Thai Boxing the ceremony, which requires trainee fighters to show their respect and gratitude for their trainers is usually held on Muay Thai day (17th March).
When a Thai boxer is considered ready for the ring, he is given a new name, usually with the name of his thai kickboxing training camp as his surname.
Thai people traditionally believe that unseen spirits inhabit everywhere. For this reason it is necessary to perform special rites before entering a Muay Thai boxing ring asking the spirits permission to do so, propitiating them and destroying any evil that may be lurking their. The ritual is thought to protect the fighter and lead him to victory. During this ritual a fighter will determine through which nostril the breath is flowing more freely. He will take his first step (avoiding the bottom stair) with the foot of that side, for good luck.
The special relationship between a Thai boxer and his trainer are gracefully expressed during the Ram Muay (a Muay Thai boxing dance) that precedes every Muay Thai match. This tradition goes back to ancient times and is a further demonstration of the fighter’s respect and gratitude. Official Muay Thai regulations specify that both fighters must perform the Ram Muay before every bout. The Ram Muay is an aesthetic, dance-like ritual, which usually lasts about five minutes and is done through a series of gestures and movements performed in rhythm to ringside musical accompaniment. The Ram Muay developed differently in various regions under different teachers. Two fighters performing identical Ram Muay rituals would know they studied under the same teacher or came from the same school, and so would not fight together. There are no rigid rules regarding the performance of the Ram Muay. You should stick to your teacher’s guidelines. taken from the Ramakien ( a Thai epic closely based on the Hindu Ramayana). Wearing the traditional Mongkon haedbands created from written monk's prayers that are wrapped in silk thread, the boxer move gracefully in the center of the ring, bowing in all directions. The dance is a mark of respect for the boxer's trainer and parents. As Niamh explains, "It also serves to calm a fighter so she can take possession of the ring and feel safe there." Supposedly in the past you could tell which gym a fighter came from on the basis of the style of the dance. Nowadays this is no longer true.
At the end of the Ram Muay, Muay Thai fighters return to their own corners. They go to the centre of the ring to be briefed by the referee regarding the rules and then return to their own corners for removal of the head circlet (mongkon). On completion of this ritual the Thai Kickboxing contest can begin.
The sarama or musical accompaniment to Muay Thai matches is a sound recognised as a symbol of deference and respect. This rhythmic music accompanies the Ram Muay as well as the contest itself. The music is performed by four musicians each playing either one of two kinds of oboe, a pair of Thai drums or symbols. The tempo of the music varies. During the Ram Muay it is slow and stately to match the mood of the smooth and flowing ritual. When the fight commences the tempo is increased. At moments of excitement during a match it becomes frenetic. The music increases the atmosphere of the event and urges fighters to try even harder.
Amulets are sacred and highly respected items believed to bestow blessings and protection. All Thai fighters must use the mongkon, a head circlet, which is worn until completion of the Ram Muay ritual dance, and the prajed, a woven armband. The prajed contains a small Buddha image and is worn throughout the match.