Muay Thai. A brief experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

‘Backstage’ at Tha Phae Stadium , Chiang Mai.

The one previous Muay Thai fight I had seen was in Bangkok at the old Lumphini stadium sometime in the 1990’s . I was in my 20’s, somewhat hippyfied and not too interested in the idea of seeing it; but two women from Leeds (UK) in my hostel said ‘we luv a good fight, cum with us, you’ll luv it’ . Inside the old three tiered stadium I did kind of enjoy it in a watching gladiators in a bear pit sort of way, though a sharp knee to the head knock out did cause me to wince a bit. I thought nothing more of it until my youngest son aged 19 started training in it four times a week in the UK . Of all the things to choose, not really what I had in mind for my small cuddly child when he was younger. So while in Thailand his interest led me to investigate a bit more at Chiang Mai gyms and at the Tha Phae Stadium in Chiang Mai.

The Art of Eight Limbs, or Muay Thai, developed as hand to hand combat training using the entire body as a weapon during the development the first official Thai army in the 13th Century Sukothai Kingdom (and probably before) . The hands were the equivalent of a sword and dagger, the shins and forearms were hardened in training to act as armour against blows, elbows were honed to fell opponents like a hammer, and legs and knees were equivalent to an axe and staff.

Since then it’s been a very integral part of Thai culture and not just for the army. It’s steeped in ritual and most boxers, either in public in the ring or in private, perform a Wai Khru to honour teachers, ancestors and parents. It’s always been popular amongst regular people with relatively informal bouts and lots of gambling; the gambling is often how fighters get paid. Royalty were sometimes trained in it as it was felt to be character building in preparation for leadership . In the modern day, as well as there being numerous competing fighters, many people in Thailand and worldwide train in Muay Thai for fitness training , self defence and embodied confidence training. A traditional Thai medicine doctor on one of my massage courses had a Muay Thai trainer.

Friendly young lad who allowed me photograph him while he warmed up . Flat on his back ten minutes later due to an elbow to head; but good humoured about it once he recovered out of the ring.

As with so many contact sports around the world, women have had a hard time being allowed to compete. A change maker came in the form of Supanee Mam Changrapit. She came from a Muay Thai Family (her dad fought) , trained with her son and fought successfully herself . She has her own training gym in Pai, Northern Thailand . More on this here . There is some way to go in allowing full participation for women , but I saw two female fights in Chiang Mai which were pretty full blooded.

Later these two were just hanging out together after trying to knee and elbow each other into submission .

There are many non-Thais who come to train in Thailand with many gyms where you can train. The last bout of the night was between an Italian fighter and a Thai, a championship belt was at stake .

No knockout in this one , so to be decided on points. One on one combat is a personal and intimate engagement in many ways.

One on One Combat.

Whilst I don’t much fancy a sharp kick to the head , as a competitor in amateur league table tennis I can relate at least on some level to one on one combat. It’s a strangely personal and intimate experience to tough it out with someone in a boxing ring, at opposite ends of a table tennis table or whatever. When both competitors know how to behave there’s a lot of love and respect involved and the instinct to hug or at least shake hands at the end is there.

Winning and Losing.

It’s hard not to take it personally when you lose. Even when we rationalise that someone was just better than us on the day, it hurts a bit. But generally we learn, and come back stronger.

Feeling it a bit , no doubt.
I wish we had flowered garlands in Table Tennis when we win.

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