By Courtney Ridgel
Muay Thai, Thailand’s famous martial art style, is known for trademark elbow, knee and shin strikes, in addition to a variety of punches and kicks. This style is thought to date from at least the 1400’s, if not earlier, and became internationally widespread through the 20th century, partially thanks to the interest of King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V. There is a legend of a famous Siamese (Thai) fighter – Nai Khanom Tom – who was captured by the Burmese army in 1774 when Ayutthaya was attacked, and the Burmese king wished to determine whether the Thai or Burmese martial arts style was best so he organized a competition. Nai Khanom Tom was chosen to fight for the Thai style and defeated ten of Burma’s finest Parma fighters. The king was so impressed that Nai Khanom Tom was allowed to return home, granting great renown to his Muay Thai fighting style. Nowadays, both men and women compete in different circuits, both nationally and internationally.
Nicole and I decided to enjoy a night out on the town and experience it for ourselves. Our car and driver picked us up from the hotel just as the sun was setting, and drove us through town to Rajadamnern Stadium. We were greeted as we exited the car and taken to pick up our will-call tickets and were led out our VIP seats. The excitement in the air was electric. Already, the light-weight fighters were in the ring, cheered on by the crowd under the domed roof. A live band with traditional instruments played background music to add to the suspense.
Before each fight, the contestants would participate in a sacred ritual dance called wai kru ram muay (or wai kru for short) to pay respect to their teachers, families, and to ask for victory. Each fighter performed a dance unique to their training school. In addition to flamboyant shorts, each boxer also wore a tasseled headband called a mongkol and decorative armbands called prajioud which had been blessed by Buddhist monks to help bring protection and victory.
To our surprise and entertainment, we found that the food options included fare such as beer, coco cola, popcorn and hotdogs, for very cheap prices, and arms loaded with snacks, we settled in to enjoy the experience. Once each fight would begin, the locals would crowd an area roped off for people to stand at each corner of the ring.
The fans would cheer, grown, scream and yell advice at the combatants. In the case of one or two of the contestants, a fan club of girls with signs also descended to cheer from the sidelines. Although gambling is illegal in Thailand, the security guards didn’t seem to mind too much as long as no one was filming the many excitable bookies placing bets. (We strongly advise all of our guests not to participate in gambling or other illegal activities while traveling.) The crowd went particularly wild during a knockout in one of the rounds.
Once the title fight had occurred, Nicole and I were taken to meet one of the top fighters and pose for a photo with him before we were escorted back to waiting car and driver who took us back to the hotel. All in all, it was a wonderfully fun and exciting experience.