Muay Thai is a combat sport that originated in Thailand. Along with stand-up striking, the combatants also use a number of clinch holds during the fight. Muay Thai requires great mental and physical discipline. It is also known as the ‘art of eight limbs’ since it incorporates the combined usage of fists, shins, knees, and elbows. It became widespread internationally in the last century. One of the famous practitioners of Muay Thai is Tony Jaa, the movie actor famous for films like Ong-Bak, Tom-Yum-Goong, and Furious 7.
The spirits in the world of Muay Thai
In general, the people in Thailand believe a lot in spirits. Most of the traditional houses in the country have a small ‘house for spirits’ right next to them. It is their belief that there are invisible spirits wandering on earth, everywhere. There are good spirits and bad spirits. Good spirits would help them and protect them from misfortunes. Bad spirits would cause them harm. These beliefs and the rituals that they conduct to ward off bad spirits and get help from the good spirits are passed from generation to generation for centuries. The world of Muay Thai has its fair share of spirits as well. There are spirits in the gym, the spirits of teachers. The good ones protect the gym, the bad ones try to damage them. For this reason, it is necessary for the Muay Thai combatants to ask for permission from the spirits to fight before going into the ring. The rituals would ward off the evil spirits, protect the fighters, and lead them to victory. The fighters often wear their headband, known as Mongkol (meaning holy spirit) or Mongkhon, and an armband, known as a Pra Jiad, into the ring to ward off harmful spirits, before the match begins.
Muay Thai is not considered a martial art by its practitioners. For them, its spiritual aspects go hand-in-hand. What gives them root is the spiritual world, it tells them that, ‘this is your home, this is your family, and this is where you belong’. The sport is dangerous in a lot of ways. In order to find support, the fighters look towards the spiritual world. The usual spiritual procedures before a fight include:
The coach/trainer placing the Mongkhon on the head of the fighter after a short prayer, and then securing the Pra Jiad on the fighter (this stays on during the fight, unlike the Mongkhon that is taken off before the fight)
The coach/trainer sprinkling the fighter’s head with water while saying the spells
The fighter performing Wai Kru, an ancient ritual pre-fight dance, after entering the ring
The coach/trainer removing the Mongkhon after giving the fighter a drink, and saying a prayer
The final ritual, after the fight, includes paying respect to the opponent’s corner.