Muay Thai Boxing is a sport I knew very little about before moving to Thailand, but that is something I was desperate to rectify…
The crowd was beginning to roar and shout in anticipation of the battle royale that was going to happen in front of their very eyes. Sweat that had formed on my head was now running down my neck, onto my back.
A hundred thoughts swirled furiously around my brain, ‘what was I doing here?’ ‘Why had I agreed to do this?’ If I made a mistake now, it would be very uncomfortable. A Thai boxing stadium full of people eager to see a man being beaten and sent tumbling to the canvas. Their eyes all seemed to be straining to see me, ‘What will he do?’ they all thought in unison. But I had no more time to think; I had just to let instincts take over “….yes, I’ll have the burger…no the hotdog please?”
There, a decision made, no going back now. If the quality of this hot dog isn’t high and I get a terrible stomach from it, so be it. Sometimes a man has to stand up for what he believes in and eating hotdogs while watching two men in perfect physical condition try to beat the crap out of each other at a Thai boxing stadium is one of those things.
The place – Rajadamnen Stadium, The Date – 17th February 2019, the time 18.30 hundred hours, my neck and face – reasonably dry of sweat, manboobs – slightly moist. Ordered food – one hotdog. I was ready to watch my first ever Muay Thai Boxing match.
Despite the 143 people I’ve had to assassinate during my time working for Her Majesties Secret Service I am not a violent person,I accidentally trod on a frog once and cried for three solid hours. Ok, some of that last sentence was economical with the truth. I have never worked as a spy but, I would say that wouldn’t I? A good spy never reveals his identity (or does he? Yes, he does. Or does he…?). Also, I have never trodden on a frog although I have walked on snails, loads of them have had their shells accidentally cracked by my size nine. I felt terrible at the time, but I’ve never cried about it…does this mean I am cold inside?
Despite not being a violent person, I have always enjoyed sitting on my backside while watching two grown men knock seven bells of shit out of each other. So it was with some excitement that I made my way to Rajadamnern Stadium to watch the spectacle of violence for the sake of sport for the first time live.
Muay Thai Ticket Trouble.
After seemingly being asked if I wanted to buy a ticket by every ticket tout in Bangkok, I made my way to the counter where I produced an already purchased ticket.
I had bought my ticket from a cinema the previous day after reading I could do so on a website somewhere, (wow, so precise with my information!). The lady peered at me through the small counter window. Without a word she gave me another entry ticket to replace the card, I had received from the cinema. Changing one ticket for another one seemed like a strange system to have, but all seemed to be going well. That was until a rather serious and tough man standing at the turnstiles checked my ticket. His face slowly began to change from severe and hard to really serious and hard.
I was escorted away from the turnstiles, and back to the ticket window, I had just left. It slowly became apparent that it seems nobody in the history of Thai boxing in this stadium (since 1945!) had ever bought a ticket to enter at a cinema and so they had never seen this type of ticket before.
Inside The Hallowed Walls
After what seemed like a rather lot of confusion and a brief sinking feeling that I may have to buy another ticket I was suddenly ushered through the turnstiles and into the inner walls of the stadium.
If you are a fan of Thai Boxing then here is a list of the fighters who were trying to elbow each other in the head for my entertainment.
It will help if you can speak Thai…
I had arrived early after reading that it was first come first served with the regards to the seating arrangements. As I entered an empty stadium, escorted to a seat in ‘Club Class’ I realised I was rather early. While one class down from ‘Ring Side’, in my experience you get a slightly better view of the fight.
Oh…here it is…
Yes, it’s not the best looking hot dog in the world, but it filled a hole. It was a tiny, minuscule, almost none existent hole but a hole none the less.
The History Of Muay Thai Boxing.
Thai Boxing as a martial art can be traced back 2000 years (that’s what Google says anyway). As a sport, you can find records of Thai Boxing from around the 15th Century. Thai Boxing is almost a national obsession and is known as ‘The Sport of Kings’ due to the Thai royal family promoting and taking a keen interest in the sport over many hundreds of years.
It began to gain popularity outside of Thailand during world war 2 when soldiers stationed here from Europe and America had their first look at Thai Boxing. Slowly, over time, Thai Boxing began to change, and more definite rules were introduced. Precise timed ’rounds’ began replacing the old method of waiting until coconut shells with holes in them had sunk to the bottom of a barrel of water!
Gloves were also introduced to replace the hemp rope or leather bindings. During its earlier years, fighters were known to soak their hemp gloves in a sticky resin before dipping their hands into CRUSHED GLASS!!! I kid you not!
Thankfully there was no crushed glass in tonight’s matches, just a crushed yearning for a hot dog.
The stadium was full by the time I had eaten my mammoth hot dog, and the theme tune for The Rocky film was blasting out of the crackling speakers dotted around the stadium. A small smattering of applause began to emanate from my left side. As I looked, I saw the first two boxers making their way to the ring.
Once inside the ring, the two boxers began a ritualistic routine called Wai Kroo which is done by all fighters before every bout. It’s a ritual that dates back hundred’s of years and looks like an ancient dance.
I found this moment mesmerizing, fashions and habits will always fall by the wayside, but when practices take hold in a culture, they will never go (for better OR for worse!) The Wai Kroo is performed to show honour to the fighters teacher, the sport itself and the country. Each fighter then made his way around the ring to touch each corner post signifying his respect to the spirits.
The rituals over, both men went back into their corner for some last-minute inspiration from their teachers and to say a few words to the spirits.
The Music Of Muay Thai Boxing
Then, ”Ding-Ding’, the match began, and a shot of electric excitement zipped around the room. The instant the bell chimed, I heard music strike up. I assumed it was fed into the stadium via the speakers. After a few seconds, I realised that it wasn’t, in fact, the latest CD of ‘The Greatest Thai Boxing Hits In The World…Ever’ but a group of four men in one corner playing traditional Thai music…
They sounded superb. I could have watched them all night, but I had come to watch men fight! As the first round wore on, I noticed that the movements of the two fighters mirrored the music. I began to wonder if they were following the tempo of the band or the other way around. To this day I can’t tell you!
The Sound Of Muay Thai Boxing.
And then it happened…
A sound that will stay with me for a long time. A sound that made my ears jump due to neither of them having listened to this sound before. It was the sound of one of the fighters barefoot striking the ribs of the other. It seemed to echo around the stadium. Then another strike and another. I began to feel something I didn’t expect to feel…uncomfortable. Uncomfortable that these two men were trying to batter each other into oblivion…
This fight was the first out of nine and in the third round when one of the fighters took an elbow to the head and fell in a heap, I felt…well, it’s hard to describe really. I felt numb, but not in a cold, hard way but in a dumb way. I’d never seen a man get hit in the head with an elbow before. Come to think of it I’d never seen a man slump to the floor like that in real life.
But before I knew it, the poor sod was being carried out of the ring and another two completely hard as nails looking men stepped in for bout two.
Over the next few bouts, my numbness receded. I began to enjoy myself more as each match ended with one of the men slumped on the floor without a clue as to what day it was. The more I watched, the more I began to pick up on what all the fighters seem to be aiming for. Thai Boxing isn’t about trying to knock your opponent out in the first round, it’s about wearing him down with kicks to the ribs and stomach (the red marks on the fighters ribs is a sight that sticks in my brain). The first rounds of every fight I saw were almost tame compared to what came towards the end of round 2 or 3. Out of the nine matches I saw, seven of them came to a very abrupt halt in the third round.
Baying For Blood
Despite the uneasy feeling at the start of the night, by the end of it, I was baying for blood. Well, that’s not entirely true but, and I don’t know what this says about me, by the end of the night I seemed to be anaesthetized to the brutality I was witnessing. Maybe it was because I had grown a considerable admiration for the men that participate in this sport. Or perhaps it’s just something we all have inside of us? Enjoying the spectacle of watching men do battle with nothing but their bodies as weapons. Maybe it’s a fleeting glance of a bygone era, of a time before we became dumbed down via the TV screen about the actual realities of violence.
Meeting A Fan
As we all made our way out the exit, I heard a voice call my name. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t catch his name, but he told me how much he loved reading my blog. He also said to me that when he hung up his gloves, he planned to be a writer like me. After a brief chat, he begged me for a photograph and not wanting to upset a fan, I duly obliged…
I truly recommend going to a Muay Thai Boxing fight one evening if you visit Thailand. I know violence isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it is a massive part of this country’s beautiful and varied culture. Just make sure you’ve eaten before you go…unless you feel tempted to buy 4 or 5 hot dogs.
If this has all been a bit stressful for you, follow the link to watch 26 seconds of video footage taken while sailing down one of Bangkok’s canals –26 Seconds Of A Trip Along A Bangkok Canal.
For more information about times and tickets for Rajadamnern Stadium follow the link below