Rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Thailand Journal III: Muay Thai
Photograph by Hallie Cohen
Did you know The International Muay Thai Thaphae Boxing Stadium on Moonmuang Road in Chiang Mai won “the Muaysiam of north Aword, the
best stadium of the year” in 2011? It’s a classic boxing ring in a poor man’s
shopping mall, a large corrugated metal roof which is surrounded by
concessions. Those who grew up under one of the old elevated subway lines which
still exists in the outer boroughs of New York wouldrecognize the comforting claustrophobia and
stench of the place. The banks of audience seats are almost totally filled with English and Australians who are served drinks by a waiter who’s
androgynous nature is a far cry from the gruff bartenders you find in an
American boxing venue like Madison Square Garden. But then again one recent
Muay Thai champion is a lady boy. In America Michael Buffer, the ring
announcercries out “Let’s get ready to
rumble.” But Muay Thai fights at Thaphae however brutal with their knee and low
leg kicks begin with an ancient ritual. The ring announcer plays a tune on an ancient
instrument to announce the event, very much like the Jews blowing the shofar on
the high holidays. And before any fighting begins two fighters do the equivalent
of a karate kata, in which the conventions are honored in a choreographed pas
de deux where no blows are thrown. Then it’s time for the bone crushing action
to begin. The first fight are two l0 or ll year old boys who wear nothing
besides trunks, gloves and mouthpieces. There are no helmets, shoes or other
protections and the two fighters smile almost embarrassedly as they try to
inflict severe injuries on each other. MMA fights that you see on Fox
television have equal if not more brutality, but they lack both the ritual and
traditions. They are simply about kicking, punching and submission. Could a
Muay Thai knockout represent a form of Buddhist enlightenment?
Francis Levy's debut novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was released in August 2008 by Two Dollar Radio.
His short stories, criticism, humor, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, The Quarterly, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, TV Guide, The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and other publications. One of his Voice humor pieces was anthologized in The Big Book of New American Humor (HarperCollins). He is presently the Co-Director of The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination (philoctetes.org), where he supervises roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “The Psychology of the Modern Nation State” and “Modern Traffic Theory, Behavior, and Imagination”.