Muay Thai: A Primer and Preview

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Written By: Robert Perez

I recently had the honor of training at Fairtex in San Francisco, as well as attend a Muay Thai event they were hosting. As a trainer, I went to evaluate the level of Muay Thai that exists in California. As a spectator, I simply wanted to enjoy everything that a Muay Thai fight has to offer. One of the first discoveries that I made was that outside of the local Muay Thai community, the majority of fans were completely oblivious to Muay Thai, it’s rituals, and it’s traditions. There were several occasions where fans were “booing” or complaining about certain Muay Thai rituals that are worthy of everyone’s respect. This made me upset, but also helped me realize that spectators don’t appreciate what they don’t understand. With Legacy Fights putting on their first Muay Thai event on April 2nd, I was asked by the Cage Door to help educate the casual fan on Muay Thai. So, before I discuss the upcoming event, I will give a brief summary on Muay Thai 101.

The Primer: What you need to know before you go

Muay Thai literally means “The Art of Eight Limbs”, and utilizes punching, kicking, elbows, and knees. Like other martial arts, Muay Thai was developed out of necessity during the Sukhotai Era (1238-1408CE) as a way to instill close combat knowledge to it’s soldiers. It was considered a higher art and was part of royal curriculum. It has since developed and become the national sport of Thailand, and it’s history is required reading in their educational system. Muay Thai possesses devastating techniques, but is also rich in rituals and traditions. Here are a few things to look for in a Muay Thai fight:

A fighter will approach the ring wearing a Mongkol/Mongkon on his head. The Mongkol is used to represent the gym you are fighting out of, and is basically a crown. Fighters are not allowed to touch the Mongkol, and it must be removed by the Kru/trainer.

You may also see a fighter wear Pong Malai around their necks. Pong Malai translates to “group of flowers” and are given to fighters by friends and family for good luck.

Take note that when a Muay Thai fighter enters the ring, he always goes over the top rope, and must never go in between them. In Thai culture, the head is the most important part of the body, and is almost considered holy. So, when you enter the ring, you do not allow the head to go beneath anything.

When the fighter enters the ring, he will place his right hand on the top rope, and beginning in his own corner, he will walk counter clockwise around the ring. This is called “sealing off the ring”, and is a symbolic gesture saying “now it’s just you and me!”.

After completing this, the fighter will position himself in the center of the ring, face the direction of his gym, and begin the Wai Kru (Wai=bow Kru=teacher).

The Ram Muay, which is a dance like ritual then follows. The fighter will go through this dance as a cultural ritual, but also to stretch out the major muscle groups of his body, as well as mentally prepare himself for battle. Once complete, the fighter bows towards his opponents corner to pay respect, then returns to his corner for final blessings by his Kru.

The Mongkol is then removed by the Kru and placed on the ring post.

Finally, you should be aware that musical accompaniment is a unique characteristic to a Muay Thai fight, and is used to dictate the pace of the fight, and encourage the fighter to fight their hardest.

I am not sure if all of the formentioned will be performed on April 2 nd, but if so, please give the fighters and these traditions the respect they deserve.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss the upcoming Legacy Muay Thai show, slated to take place on April 2.

The Preview: what to expect at the fights

As the popularity of MMA continues to increase, the casual fan is well aware that Muay Thai is one of the base styles that comprises mixed martial arts. However, they are not getting to see it in it’s purest form. This is the main reason Legacy owner Mick Maynard decided to do an all Muay Thai event. “Muay Thai is where I started. As far as fighting goes, it’s my first true love. I want Texas to be a hot bed for Muay Thai, and I want to promote Muay Thai awareness.” Local MMA authority, ESPN’s Adam Villarreal agrees. “The great thing about this show is that it showcases and highlights the art of the eight limbs. It’s something completely worthy of it’s own stage. We will get to see some of the best stand up fighters from some of the toughest gyms.”

That being said, the night promises to be filled with exciting bouts, as fighters have been patiently waiting for such an event to display their Muay Thai. Local MMA fighter Mike Castillo (Mc Call MMA) is extremely excited about his fight in the 170lb. division. “Muay Thai is my passion. I have been training Muay Thai 3-5 times a week for the last two years, and this is my first chance to really use it. I plan to fight hard, and hope to do more shows in the future.” This seems to be the consensus across the board, as most fighters I have spoken with are eager to put heir Muay Thai to the test. Akira Smith (4oz. Fight Club) says, “This is my first Thai fight, I am 2-0 in MMA, but this time I don’t have to worry about the ground, or modify my Muay Thai to adapt to MMA. I want to see how well I can do with a pure striker. Muay Thai is beautiful yet extremely violent. I plan on showing that to the fans.”

All in all, the fighters want to show their talents in the art form itself, and give Muay Thai wider exposure here at home. If a success, this could be the first in a long line of Muay Thai fights Legacy will be putting on. My hopes are big for this show and it’s future. More than that, this allows us to share our common love for Muay Thai, and hopefully build a strong community here in Houston. Encourage your friends, family, and MMA fans to attend this event, and grow Muay Thai popularity on a local level.


BobbyPerez_Headshot About The Author

Robert Perez is the head Striking/MMA Instructor and Co-Owner of 4oz. Fight Club.  He has over 26 years combative sports experience, spending the last ten training in Muay Thai, BJJ, and MMA.   Robert has trained multiple champions and was named the 2008-2009 Texas MMA Trainer of the Year.  Along with his contributions to TheCageDoor.net, Robert is also the technical advisor and blog writer for MMA City, and has been published in Health and Fitness magazine and MMA Worldwide.