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 would  recognize 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 announcer  cries 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?                 

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