The Techniques of Muay Thai
One clear highlight of the festival is a thrilling exhibition of Muay Thai techniques. During the day, athletes of all ages and nationalities participate in friendly international matches.
Performing the Wai Kru
As in the past, every fighter must perform the Wai Kru dance before each competition. This is done as a means of paying respect to the attending spectators, but mostly it is done to show gratitude to one’s teacher or Master, and the whole lineage of Masters the preceded him.
The prayerful dance also serves as a means of focusing one’s attention before the impending fight. In a country where femininity is highly prized, the increasing popularity of Muay Thai amongst female fighters comes as something of a surprise. This is all the more so as it was once superstitiously considered bad luck for a woman to enter the ring.
While superstitions against female boxers have now mostly faded, as a concession to tradition, girls enter the ring by crawling under the bottom of the four ropes, whereas boys climb through the ropes any way they want. Today there are more than a hundred camps nationwide that are aimed specifically at training girls in Muay Thai.
Many sign up to learn the sport, not just as a means of self-defense, but with the lucrative prizes on offer, also as a means of quite literally fighting their way out of poverty. In addition the sport provides them with much needed emotional and spiritual sustenance.
Muay Thai is a very easy, simple martial art to learn. It connects with the instinct. So for a woman, it’s very easy to use Muay Thai to defend herself with confidence.
Although it is naturally a matter of pride to win, each fight must have a loser too. For these dedicated young women, there is no shame in losing. In the end, the two opponents walk away as friends.
Wat Mahathat – The Home of Muai Thai
Visitors to the annual Muay Thai Festival take the opportunity to wander through the adjacent Wat Mahathat in-between matches. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these magnificent ruins were once not only considered to be Ayutthaya’s religious centre, but indeed the very heart of the universe.
Ayuthaya was founded in 1350 and flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries. It was one of the worlds largest and most cosmopolitan cities of its time. The ruins of Ayutthaya reflects the long thread of Thai culture and reminds us Thai’s where we came from.
Inspired by Buddhist cosmology, its architecture comprises a central prang or chedi, which was believed to be the earthly representation of Mount Meru. This holy mountain is considered to be the source of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes.
In order to reflect the belief that the Buddha is the centre of all Dharma or righteousness, His holy relics were once enshrined in these hallowed structures. The temple also received the royal patronage of many of Ayutthaya’s kings and was the residence of the Supreme Patriarch, or the leader of the Buddhist monks.
Much intrigue surrounds the head of a statue of the Buddha that lies entangled in the roots of a sturdy Bodhi tree. Although there are no historical records alluding to it, it is assumed that when the Burmese army defeated Ayutthaya, the temple was set on fire and destroyed. As a result, some of the images fell to the ground.
The temple was then deserted for more than a hundred years during which trees had grown at the spot covering the head. Some also speculate that a thief might have tried to steal the head, but could not haul it away due to its weight and thus abandoned it by dumping it in a tree.
Like elsewhere in Ayutthaya, evidence of the Burmese invasion is apparent everywhere. Although several restoration attempts have been made over the centuries, today one has to rely largely on one’s imagination to fully conceive of the cities glorious past.