3-2-1 Fight! Muay Thai; Koh Phangan, Thailand
Muay Thai is a contact sport steeped deep within the Thai culture. It involves two men getting into the ring and fighting it out. Usually in a 3 rounds, 3 minutes each fight. Though of course there are some variations. Even though it is a full body contact sport, the big differentiator of Muay Thai is the fact that you also mostly fight with your legs. The shins of a Muay Thai boxer is said to be as though made of steel. I once knew a boy who was training for Muay Thai and he told me they used to whack branches and wood on the shin to strengthen them (true story).
Imagine, instead of two bulls locking horns, instead of two cocks fighting using the claws on the back of their ankles, two men with legs locked against each other, each time a loud whack! of bone meeting bone.
(The six year old fighters, performing the Ram Muay)
Upon entering the ring, it is tradition that the fighters each bow in all four corners, most of them saying a prayer. Then comes the ritual dance (Ram Muay) to the Muay Thai music. Imagine flute music with some drums in the background. The men go to the middle of the ring, on the floor. One leg behind the other and a rolling of the arms around each other as they sway up and down. Repeat around all four sides of the ring. After it is over, they each head to the corner, where their trainer says a prayer and removes a headband/headgear (known as the Mongkhon) from their head, and keeps it hanging in the corner of the ring. Then they fight.
(Knock-out = win!)
To declare a winner, it is pretty simple. Either someone knocks the other out, or at the end of the rounds, the judges tally up points to declare a winner. I am of course simplifying this and am not an expert on the topic, but I think it’s a pretty decent basic introduction.
(Even at age of four, these boys pack a punch!)
At the fight I watched, they started the opening fight with two four year old boys. I am all about respecting and trying to understand local culture, but it still isn’t easy to watch two four year olds beat each other up. Especially when one starts crying. After which came some late teenagers fight, two six year olds, and then the adults. I guess it felt a little barbaric and rough to watch until I saw the two boys later, running around with each other and play fighting. Perhaps this is just how boys will be boys, until they grow up to be lean Muay Thai fighting machines.
(Four year old fighters, with gloves bigger than their faces =(