MUAY THAI, also known as muay boran, is the Art of Eight Limbs. It gained international widespread popularity in the twentieth century after nak muay (Thai word for Muay Thai practitioner) defeated other notable martial art practitioners. It is known as the Art of Eight Limbs because of the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet.
This travel journal was published in Leisure Travel Issue 28 (Dec 2014). Pix above is from the magazine page.
AYUTTHAYA is more commonly known as the city of temples and ancient Buddha relics. Ayutthaya has a long history that dates as far back as 1350. Ayutthaya is more commonly known as the city of temples and ancient Buddha relics. Ayutthaya has a long history that dates as far back as 1350. A city that actually sits on an island. Yes! Ayutthaya is actually an island.
Well, not the kind of island most of us would immediately think of. Three rivers i.e. the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River and the Pa Sak River, surround Ayutthaya. Waterways are dug throughout the “island” as ways of connecting the 1 million Siamese inhabitants back in 1700s. Before the 1700s, the city of Ayutthaya was like the capital of Asia as claimed by many merchants. The Europeans, the Arabs, and even the Chinese loved the city. That was all before the invasion of the Burmese army in 1767 where almost the entire city was burned down.
Most travelers explore this ancient city for it’s temple ruins and cruise the river as well as enjoy its local delicacies. However, Ayutthaya can be termed the “holy land” for muay thai professionals and practitioners. Most do not realize Ayutthaya is home to the ancient ritual of Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony.
Muay Thai, also known as muay boran, is the Art of Eight Limbs. It gained international widespread popularity in the twentieth century after nak muay (Thai word for Muay Thai practitioner) defeated other notable martial art practitioners. It is known as the Art of Eight Limbs because of the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet. Muay thai requires extreme body conditioning, discipline, and mental strength. It was once an important component of the military during the reign of King Naresuan in 1560 CE and was widely used in actual warfare.
Every year on 17th March, a major celebration is held to honor and celebrate the muay thai legend Nai Khanomtom. In modern days, it is known as Boxers’ Day or National Muay Boran Day. Every serious nak muay will know the significance of this day.
In 1767, the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya Kingdom fell to the invading Burmese army. Thousands of Siamese prisoners were rounded up and taken to the city of Ava in Burma. Amongst these prisoners were a huge number of nak muay as well as large quantities of looted Buddha relics mainly in gold. In 1774, a major festival was organized by the Burmese king, King Hsinbyushin to honor the Buddha relics. A religious festival that lasted seven days and seven nights with various forms of entertainments that range from sword fighting to costume play to farces. King Hsinbyushin wanted to see how well muay boran is compared to the Burmese Lethwei (Burmese boxing) so he ordered a boxing ring to be constructed at the festival ground in front of his throne. Amongst the thousands of Siamese prisoners, one man was selected to fight the Burmese Lethwei champion. His name was Nai Khanomtom.
Nai Khanomtom was presented to King Hsinbyushin in front of thousands of spectators at the boxing ring where the Burmese Lethwei champion was waiting to be challenged. Before the fight began, Nai Khanomtom performed the traditional wai khru, a pre-fight sacred ritual dance to pay respects to his ancestors, trainer, as well as the spectators in front of his opponent. As the fight is usually performed in front of the king, the wai khru is also a form where the fighters apologize to the king for the brutality of the fight. Wai khru was something new to the Burmese spectators so they thought it was some form of black magic. During the wai khru dance, the fighter demonstrates a personal ritual with styles, from simple to complex. It often exhibits some clues of who his trainers are and where they originate from.
The fights began. Nai Khanomtom fought his opponent with perfect execution of the Art of Eight Limbs. Striking with elbows, japs, punches, knees and kicks until the opponent dropped. King Hsinbyushin then summoned nine more Burmese Lethwei champions to fight Nai Khanomtom. Nai Khanomtom challenged them one after the other without any break in between and eventually defeated all of them. King Hsinbyushin was very impressed by Nai Khanomtom and muay thai.
Nai Khanomtom was asked to choose between riches or two Burmese wives as the king offered him freedom. Nai Khanomtom chose the wives. The king offered wealth and asked Nai Khanomtom to stay back in Rangoon and be elevated to a prince but Nai Khanomtom replied, “Though I am returning to a city in total ruins, I prefer to live in a bamboo hut than a palace as my heart is in Ayutthaya.” King Hsinbyushin was touched and granted his wish and asked if there was anything else he would like. Nai Khanomtom requested for the Siamese prisoners to be released. King Hsinbyushin granted this wish as well. Nai Khanomtom and thousands of Siamese prisoners returned to Ayutthaya. They arrived at Ayutthaya on the 17th day of March 1774.
“Every part of the Siamese is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. But his Lord was incompetent and lost the country to the enemy. If he had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen.”
– King Hsinbushin
March 17th marks the celebration and honoring of the legendary father of muay thai Nai Khanomtom and has since been celebrated at the same venue in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya each year.
Each year nak muay from all over the world gather at this ancient city to honor their teacher and the father of Muay Thai, Nom Khanomtom. Nak muay come from as many as 40 countries, as far as Russian, Japan, China, UK, the US, UAE, Brazil, South Africa, France, Canada, Korea, Italy Spain, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and many more. Thanks to Tourism Authority of Thailand, I had the opportunity to cover this magnificent ceremony. In conjunction with the World Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony, there is also the Miracle Muay Thai Festival where nak muay participate in championship matches to win the World Professional Muay Thai Federation (W.P.M.F.) Belt. At the same festival, there are also matches for professional Thai and foreign boxers, including the Beautiful Muay Thai or women matches. This is a full day event that starts as early as 7am and lasts until the evening. The festival site is filled with stalls and booths selling muay thai accessories and merchandise as well as food stalls, traditional Thai tattoo, sword making, ancient weapons exhibition, cultural exhibition and, of course, a boxing ring where K-1 Champion Buakaw Banchamek performed demonstration matches. Fans of K-1 Champion Buakaw Banchamek also had a chance to meet him in person at the festival as he made a special appearance for the fans after the match.
2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the World Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony. This year it was estimated as many as 1700 nak muay attended this ceremony.
The event kicked off with the ritual to worship the father of muay thai Nom Khanomtom at Phra Nakhom Si Ayutthaya Stadium at 7am. A life-sized statue of Nom Khanomtom was erected and tables laden with offerings were placed in front of it. Monks gathered at the ceremonial ground to perform blessing rituals and prayers. It starts with a parade of high school students performing Thai traditional dance, followed by muay thai masters atop elephants marching into the grounds, and then comes all the nak muay carrying flags of their country. The elephant parade ends at the statue of Nom Khanomtom where the elephants line up in a formation in front of the statue and all the nak muay gather together for a short prayer led by the monks. The governor and his wife, together with the muay thai masters, then officiate the ceremony by giving thanksgiving to the father of muay thai by placing joss stick on the offerings.
A life-sized statue of Nom Khanomtom
The Miracle Muay Thai Festival takes place at a historical site not far from Phra Nakhom Si Ayutthaya stadium, at a place called Langka Khao Temple. From noon till evening there are matches to determine the winner of the W.P.M.F. Belt. The tournament kicked off with K-1 Champion Buakaw Banchamek performing a demonstration match.
K-1 Champion Buakaw Banchamek performing the wai kru pre-fight dance with his oponent
Visitors have the opportunity to either watch the matches or walk around the festival grounds and explore the different stalls, pick up some muay thai merchandise and accessories, or even sign up for classes with the gym. You can also mingle and get to know nak muay from all over the world and exchange knowledge. Visitors also get to take part in sparring sessions or even practice their kicks at the training area where banana tree trunks are used as punching bags. If you get hungry, there are food stalls selling local delicacies and ice cream, which is perfect for the hot weather. The month of March is the hottest time of the year in Ayutthaya, where temperatures can soar as high as 40 degree Celcius.
You can also get the traditional tattoo done here
The Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony takes place around 6pm at a field next to the festival grounds. Muay thai masters are seated at one end while nak muay are at the opposite end of the field. Once everyone has seated, the ceremony begins with a parade of women and men, dressed respectively in traditional costumes and ancient military costumes. They are followed by a parade of white elephants, bearing the governor and VIPs to officiate the Wai Kry Muay Thai Ceremony.
Special thrones were erected for the governor and the VIPs. As rhythms of traditional Thai ceremonial dance echoes through the field, women dressed in traditional costume called “Chut Thai phra ratcha niyom”, meaning Thai dress of royal endorsement, danced into the field from both sides converging in the middle as the sun slowly sets.
The dance ended when the sun disappeared into the horizon. Prayer chants started and the ancient ritual began. One by one, nak muay walked into the middle of the field. They start off by giving a respectful bow in turns to the photo of the King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the altar of Nom Khanomtom, the governor and, finally, the muay thai masters. When the nak muay perform the wai (wai is a gesture Thais do to show respect by putting their hands together) with the governor, the governor will then put the traditional muay thai headband, called Monkron or Mangala, onto the nak muay’s head. Once they have their Monkron, they will perform the wai kru to the muay thai masters. Each nak muay will recite the “age old oath” in paying respects to their masters.
“Today I pay homage to both bygone and living Muay Thai Masters. U-ga-sa, I invite all Grand masters of Muay Thai, such as – Kru Gimiseng (Suntorn Taveesit) Kru Ni-yom Tong-jit Kru khet Sri-yapai Kru Sudjai Cha-reon-rat Kru Bua Ad-im Kru Poon Pra-gan-chai Kru Sa-waeng Si-si-bo Kru Sa-mai me-sa-man and Kru Sub Un-ta-go-sol.
I swear by this Oath to become their student and sincerely promise to abide by the Rules and Regulations, and give fidelity to my own Teacher. I will conscientiously try to preserve all the knowledge, skills and all the Traditional Rules and Practices which I shall learn. In addition, once I have been trained by my Master, I will preserve the right to take the – pattern learned as my own. I sincerely promise not to be disrespectful to, insult, treat with contempt, nor take revenge on my Master, or students of my Master.”
When all the nak muay have completed the wai kru ceremony, all nak muay gather in the middle of the field. The K-1 Champion Buakaw Banchamek leads everyone to a wai kru pre-fight dance. It is an amazing sight as thousands of nak muay performed the ritual of wai kru together.
K-1 Champion Buakaw Banchamek performing the wai kru (above and below pix)
Rain started to pour down but the ritual goes on. Wai kru is performed with traditional Thai music playing throughout the dance and throughout the fight. The wai kru dance ritual marks the end of the Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony. All nak muay are then invited into the ancient temple grounds of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya for a dinner reception and to enjoy the “Amazing Thailand” show.
For those who are interested to visit this festival, it takes place every 17th March each year at Ayutthaya.
Below are some images showing the “Amazing Thailand” show.
MUAY THAI TRAINING CAMP
If you are a workout freak and want to have a great time doing some serious body conditioning while on holiday in Thailand, book yourself into the Fairtex Sports Club & Hotel in Pattaya. Fairtex is a sports hotel with a famous muay thai training camp that has produced many great muay thai champions over the years and has been highly recommended by many nak muay. Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) gave me a great opportunity to experience first hand how muay thai is like by checking me into Fairtex and putting me into the ring with a muay thai master.
Fairtex is located in the heart of Pattaya. It is a full-fledged hotel but focuses mainly on their sports programs. As you walk in, your first impression would be it’s just like any four-star hotel. But as you explore further, you’ll be amazed at their sports facilities; football courts, basketball court, pro-tennis court, indoor badminton hall, lap pool, rock climbing wall, yoga hall, and the highlight of the place is the muay thai gym which feature 4 Olympic size muay thai boxing rings. Guests can book the rooms as well as the training programs together as a package.
The muay thai programs range from 1 day basic program to 5 days intermediate program to 10 days advance program. The training schedule starts as early as 8am and ends at 5pm with a two-hour break in between. It usually consists of a 2 kilometers beach run as warm up set in the morning, followed by body pumping and muay thai session in the afternoon. After checking in, I was told to be down at the muay thai gym with workout attire. At 4pm, I was down at the ring feeling excited and nervous. I’ve been shooting the past few days and was kind of worn out form the packed shooting schedule. However, I was not going let such a great opportunity slip by. I mean, how often do I get to have a personal training session with a muay thai master from a prestigious muay thai camp that produced many champion? Fairtex produced muay thai champion such as Yodsanklai Fairtex, a WBC World Champion, Thailand Champion, Lumpinee Champion and Contender Asia Champion. Attachai Fairtex who is regarded as one of the most talented fighters in Thailand with amazing technical skills. Holding titles at both Rajadamnern and Lumpinee. Keaw Fairtex, A superb ring master who is known for his sensational elbows strikes and KO punches. A WMC World Champion, Thailand Champion and Lumpinee Champion.
As I was putting on my boxing glove, an acquaintance from the media who was on this trip asked me “Are you seriously going into the ring? Are you looking for a death wish?” I said “Of course!! I’ve been looking forward to this!” I was the only one in the whole group who opted to participate in the muay thai training. I climbed into the ring and was greeted by master Ram, a nice looking guy but with plenty of battle scars around his lean muscled body. He doesn’t speak much English. Master Ram has experienced 116 fights with 83 wins, a master of fast kicks and tricky techniques and is known for keeping his student on their toes.
He started off by showing me the basic footwork on how to move around and how to maintain great balance followed by positioning my arms. “Arms always up! Keep them besides your head! Block! Block! Or your will die!” he instructed me with his broken English. Next he showed me how to deliver effective punches and elbow strikes on the opponent while maintaining balance and moving forward. He then demonstrated the correct way of delivering effective knee strikes with a combination of side-kick. After allowing me a few minutes to practice and correct my strikes, it was time to practice those on him.
In a muay thai match, there are a total of five 3 minute rounds, with a two minute break in between each round. Everyone in the ring practice and spar while time is kept by a huge match timer on the wall. The buzzer went off and it’s the start of round one for me. With punching mitts and belly protector on, master Ram instructed me to jab, punch, elbow, knee and kick. The buzzer went off. That was end of round one. I was soaking wet and master Rom poured a bottle of chilled mineral water over my clean-shaven head. Two minutes felt like 20 seconds when you are in that condition, your heart pounding fast with sweat dripping all over you.
The buzzer went off again. It’s round two! This time he moves around and wants me to move around and attack him while maintaining the correct foot movement and delivering the strikes as he instructs.
“Knee! Knee! Punch! Punch! Elbow! Knee! Punch! Kick!”
He would punch me in the face each time I let my guard down and forgot to keep my arms besides my head to block my face. “Remember arms up or you will die!” He delivers a punch at me before he finishes his sentence. This time I was lucky as I blocked it in time. As the buzzer went off marking the end of the round, I was beginning to feel sore all over my muscles and running out of breath. Doing this after three long days of traveling around for shoots and only 4 hours of sleep each night was a real challenge.
Myself and Master Ram
Muay thai is not just about delivering powerful punches and kicks. Nak muay has to deliver those strikes with great body form and it has to look good. It’s an art. Master Ram kept reminding me when delivering a knee strike, the toe of my striking leg has to be pointed downwards while my body slightly curved backwards with my other foot lifting my body up. At the same time, my bent arms swing backwards to create the momentum for a powerful strike. At the end of round five, I could barely lift my arms besides my head. Muay thai is definitely an awesome form of workout if you want to burn off those fats. I love it.
Fairtex Sports Club & Hotel
N Pattaya Road, Pattaya, Thailand.
Tel : +66 38 253 888
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org