Thursday, February 10, 2005

Muay Thai Humour

Muay Thai Humor

This article was originally sent to me by my good friend, Krabi-Krabong and Muay Thai instructor,
Ajarn Steve Wilson.


I cut this out of the Bangkok Post while I was living at Master Chai's
parents' house in Muongthongthani in the summer of 1994. The name of the
column is The Rock, and it is written by Steve Rosse. I think it is one of
the funniest things I have ever read. I hope everyone likes it.

My friend Barry invited me to go to the fights with him tonight. I told him
that I had to go to the funeral of a close friend instead, and since I hate
to lie, now I have to go find a close friend and kill him. Barry is a big
enthusiast of Thai boxing, a sport that to my mind combines the worst
attributes of a prayer meeting and a riot.
If you've never attended a Thai boxing match, let me first congratulate you,
then fill you in on what you missed. First you sit down in a crowded arena
that's hot enough to grow orchids in and smells like old socks. You're
jammed in with about a thousand of the worst characters in the province, all
of whom have had their personalities modified for the evening by whiskey and
blood-lust. There is a dress code; every spectator must wear clothing that
he's slept in for at least three nights.
Your ticket will bear the number of a seat in some stadiium destroyed by
Allied bombers back in 1944, so you claim a spot on a hard wooden bench at
random, and sit on your program to keep the larger splinters out of your
butt. Even before the boxers appear the crowd will be shouting and screaming
and waving their arms. The yelling is in reference to the projected odds of
the first fight; the arm waving is aimed at the mosquitoes that are drawn
to the oceans of blood spilled at these events.
Soon the first pair of gladiators are led out into the ring by their phi
liang, which translates as "nanny" or "nursemaid". At this point the band
kicks in. The orchestra at a Thai boxing match consists of three very
ancient and venerable men playing even older instruments; drum, cymbals and
flute. Their job is to provide a noise like a train wreck, only louder and
more prolonged.
The boxers begin a series of semi-graceful movements designed to pay homage
to their dance teachers. They circle the ring, dipping and bowing, posturing
and posing, making obeisance to the four cardinal points of the compass, the
four primary elements, and the four Marx Brothers. After they've exhausted
themselves this way, they're given a rest period during which the crowd
commences betting. This activity is illegal, so everybody does it
surreptitiously, by waving handfuls of money in the air and screaming out
their bets at the tops of their lungs. A few bet on the outcome of the
fight, but most bet on which fighter will be the first to jump the top rope
and begin beating the hell out of the orchestra.
Eventually the two combatants are brought to the center of the ring and the
referee explains The Rule. There is only one rule in Thai boxing: you cannot
poke the other guy in the eye. Since people who make their living this way
can't be too bright, they are made to wear thickly padded gloves in case
they forget The Rule. The fighters return to their corners, do some more
stylized praying and bowing, and get a few last minute good-luck tattoos
applied by their coaches. The band wheezes up a squeaky crescendo, the gong
sounds and the fight is on.
A Thai boxer's uniform consists of a pair of polyester trunks that go from
his ribs to his knees, in any of a large assortment of unattractive colors.
The trunks are so large because they need to accommodate a lot of
advertisements, sold by promoters to a wide range of products. Most of the
products will be in the health-care field, as befits an athletic event, like
tobacco and alcohol. The size of the trunks and the weight of the appliqued
corporate logos will dictate a fighter's style. Some fight with one hand and
hold up the trunks with the other, while some prefer to throw a flurry of
blows with both hands then back off and pull up their trunks.
In Thai boxing you are allowed to hit your opponent with anything except
patio furniture, so there's a lot of kicking, elbowing, kneeing and butting
with the head. Betting continues until the last round, or until one of the
fighters, or a farang in the audience, attacks the band.
A win is achieved by knock-out or by points awarded by a panel of judges.
All of the judges are blind but one; this makes bribery much easier. Points
are calculated on an arcane system of judgement based on form, technique and
how long a boxer lets his trunks slip down before pulling them back up. When
a victory is announced both fighters raise their hands in triumph, strut
around the ring bowing to the people who bet on them, and fall into each
other's arms like brothers instead of two guys who just spent fifteen
minutes beating the crap out of each other. They stumble out of the ring and
into an ambulance and everyone throws peanut shells at the band until the
next pair of boxers appear.
An evening of Thai boxing goes on as long as there are still pairs of
contestants willing to listen to the squeaking and squawking of the
orchestra. They are carefully paired by height, weight and tattoos. While
Western boxing ranks fighters by Bantam Weight, Light Weight, Heavy Weight,
etc, a Thai boxer will fight in the Stubby Little Guys With Salamanders On
Their Forearms class, or Wiry Little Guys With Monkeys On Their Backs,
Really Skinny Little Guys With Tigers On Their Tummies, etc. The bands are
ranked too, by titles like Terrible, Abysmal and Simply Awful.
While I don't enjoy the fights myself, I don't begrudge Barry his
infatuation with the sport. Every year I wake up at 4:30 am on the first of
February to watch the American Super Bowl, a game that Aussies like Barry
say is for "wimps". Imagine players being paid up to US$10,000 each to
play perhaps 10 minutes of a game where they are allowed to wear more
protective gear than plutonium miners. I agree with him on that point: it
takes a lot of guts to climb into the ring wearing nothing but a pair of
gaudy bloomers and face the music.