Muay Thai – What Is It?
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art developed in Thailand and kept alive by Buddhist monks for centuries before becoming popular in the Western World, made famous by the likes of Jean-Claude van Damme, sometimes called “The Muscles From Brussels”!
The original idea of men’s entering monkhood during the Buddha’s time or shortly later, was to attain liberation from worldly existence in accordance with the teachings of the Master. With the passage of time, as is only natural, many of the ideals and practices of the early followers of the Buddha underwent modifications.
Today, over 2,500 years after the passing away of the Buddha, though the ideal of becoming a Bhikkhu still remains very lofty among Buddhists of Thailand, in practice many young men enter monkhood for cultural rather than religious reasons. Yet there are also many who join the Sangha through genuine love for a religious life and religious studies, or out of the wish to be of service to Buddhism and their country.
This link accounts for how Muay Thai evolved from being a mere sport to being an integral part of temple celebrations, festivals and broader Thai culture.
Muay Thai Swords
Aside from the physical and spiritual aspects, the Muay Thai festival is also a cultural extravaganza, with many ancient crafts on display. One such example is the ancient and elaborate art of sword making at the festival. Originally crafted by settlers from nearby villages, these Aranyik swords were used during the Ayutthaya period as weapons of war.
Ayutthaya is the province for sword making. The long sword is normally used on horseback or elephant back because they had more reach. If you were a ground soldier, you would use a pair of short swords. This short swords would have a longer scabbard that surpassed the elbow, so that you’d be able to defend any strike from your opponent’s sword.
It’s been said that Rama V paid a visit to Ayutthaya during his reign. Local villagers constructed a royal pavilion for him, and arranged an impressive demonstration of knife- and sword-making in his presence. Over time techniques have been improved and refined, and today these prized products are considered works of art.
Muay Thai Tattoos
Creative flair and artistry are also on display at a neighboring stall. It was customary in ancient Siam for Muay Thai warriors and soldiers to be tattooed with powerful and sacred inscriptions.
They believed that by covering their bodies with these magical symbols and geometric patterns, their skin and muscles would be made invulnerable to physical attacks while their spirits would be imbued with spiritual protection. Today these tattoos, traditionally referred to as Sak Yant, are used not to ward off misfortune on the battlefield, but rather in the boxing ring.
The tattoos symbolise different things. So different images different codes. So it’s normally about goodness invoking honour, invoking bravery as you face war.
While Sak Yant tattoos have evolved over time, even today, many are written in the ancient Pali script. Other popular tattoos include the five lines, as well as images of Ganesha to remove obstacles, of Hanuman for courage and fearlessness and of course of the Buddha.
Techniques of Muay Thai – Kickboxing
An aspect of Muay Thai that is shrouded in some mystique is the kicking of banana stems to strengthen the shins. Made famous in the west by the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme, this time worn technique is rarely used in serious training today.
The kicking of the banana trees was the old way of conditioning your shins, and that was practice in order to deaden the nerve endings on the shin. So the harder and more you kicked, the harder legs you got. In the early days of Muay Thai, fighters had to be resourceful and employ readily available tools to help them train and condition.
Thailand’s tropical climate provided an abundance of banana and coconut trees, which fighters relied on to become better and more skilled in the sport. Training today is done mainly with gym equipment. Today it’s done on the bags, on the bag surface, but its always good to see that the old traditional ways are still respected are still held in some of the camps in Thailand.
Whether out in the field or in the gym, a holistic approach focusing on mind, body and spirit is embraced, and the aim is to mirror the outer physical strength with inner mastery and discipline.