Muay Thai originated in Thailand many hundreds of years ago, and although it has become a widespread form of combat sports, Muay Thai has a long history entwined with traditional Thai beliefs.
But is Muay Thai really spiritual? And do you need to believe in these spirits to practice Muay Thai?
We find out more about the origins of this ancient style of martial arts, and its spiritual background.
The Origins Of Muay Thai
To find out about the spiritual aspect of Muay Thai, it is important to take a look at the origins of this popular sport.
Muay Thai goes back all the way to Thailand’s very first king. Although the true origins are still a matter of debate, there are a number of different tales and stories that mention Muay Thai.
These tales often tell of ancient warriors that used Muay Thai as a way to strengthen their bodies and minds for upcoming wars.
Muay Thai is typically also called the ‘art of eight limbs’. This refers to the different contact points of the body, including elbow, hands, legs and knees.
Each of these body parts is essentially used as a form of weapon, and they also symbolize these weapons. For example, the forearms in Muay Thai resemble a shield, while the hands stand for a dagger.
Muay Thai And Meditation
But ancient Thais did not just believe in the power and the potential of the body. They felt that the body and mind have to be in perfect harmony and balance to win a fight.
That’s why, Muay Thai is closely linked to meditation. You will find that many Muay Thai fighters often say a Buddhist prayer before their matches.
Some trainers even ask their fighting students to meditate before training sessions to ensure that their mind is well-balanced and ready for practice.
Emerging out of a Buddhist tradition, Muay Thai has also been used by many Buddhist monks to bring their religious beliefs together with the physical exercise of martial arts.
This mix is still present today, and many Muay Thai fighters carry this traditional belief within them.
They even show it in some Buddhist symbols printed on their armbands, headbands or shorts. These are typically worn as good luck symbols.
The Spiritual Side Of Muay Thai
We already touched a little on the spiritual side of Muay Thai. Thailand is still a deeply spiritual country with a range of different spirits.
Thais believe that there are different invisible spirits walking on earth. Some of them are good and some bad.
The good spirits help to protect you from misfortune, while the bad spirits can cause harm. People conduct different, small rituals to ward off any bad spirits and gain the favor of the good spirits.
This belief has been handed down to many generations, and therefore Muay Thai has also inherited these spiritual teachings.
Traditional Muay Thai fighters do not just meditate but they also ask for permission from the good spirits to fight.
This is said to ward off any bad luck and it is supposed to help a fighter win. For this reason, many fighters wear a ‘mongkol’ (headband) and a ‘pra jiad’ (armband) as a way to keep the bad spirits at bay.
The Muay Thai Prayer
Commonly, Muay Thai isn’t perceived simply as a type of martial arts by its fighters, but also a spiritual practice.
Muay Thai as a combat sport can be dangerous and it can cause serious injuries, so fighters often pray for support for good spirits to help them fight, and win.
Before The Fight
There are a number of small rituals that a Muay Thai fighter and trainer perform before a fight.
A coach can place the lucky headband on the fighter’s head together with a short prayer.
He will then secure the armband to the fighter’s arm. The headband will be taken off shortly before the fight, but the lucky armband will be worn during the fight.
Once these two items have been placed, the trainer will sprinkle the head of the fighter with some water, while saying a spell.
When Entering The Ring
Then the trainer and the fighter enter the ring, the fighter will typically perform an old ritual dance before the actual fight. This is called ‘wai kru’.
After this brief dance, the coach removes the headband and gives the fighter a final drink with a short prayer.
After The Fight
After the fight, the fighter performs a final ritual paying his respects to the opponent.
Spiritual Muay Thai Tattoos
Another way to show deep, spiritual belief as a Muay Thai fighter is through tattoos.
Ancient Muay Thai fighters used to go to their local temple or medicine man to have specific Thai inscriptions tattooed onto their skin.
These are special markings that are said to ward off any evil spirits and bad luck. They were also used as a more permanent form of protection against these spirits.
These tattoos can look differently, depending on what the Muay Thai fighter feels he needs. Some of these tattoos can grant courage, strength and even a long life.
Some Muay Thai performers still have similar tattoos and symbols on their skin. Some fighters even rub essential oils onto their skin to create a ‘shield’ against injuries and pain
Good Luck Amulets In Traditional Muay Thai
Muay Thai fighters even wear special amulets, called ‘kreung rang’ that are said to have magical powers.
These amulets typically contain inscriptions that help protect the fighter from any misfortune in the ring.
Muay Thai is not just a combat sport, but it is an ancient tradition that brings together the strength of the body with the power of the mind.
You do not need to be religious to practice Muay Thai but many fighters believe that small rituals help them fight better.
And even if you do not believe in the rituals themselves, they can help you focus on your mind and give you confidence.