Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Muay Thai and Tomoi.



Today, I want to write something about the sports of Muay Thai. I must thank the Blogger Pak Zawi of Laisi for sharing with us his report of an International Tomoi or Muay Thai Festival in Kota Bharu. I am an ardent fan of this sport, hence the blog name, Sakmongkol.

In Malaysia, it is known as Tomoi, or silat Tomoi. It is widely practised in the east coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang. It is also popular in Kedah and Perlis, undoubtedly because of the Thai influence. Mostly it is popular with people of Kelantanese origins. Maybe it is due to their nature as martial people( as described by Deminegara).

It holds a special fascination for me. The Muay Thai or tomoi is a sports full of tradition and discipline. It enunciates the following principles.

People fight and show their martial prowess in the ring. The ring symbolises a permanent structure with boundaries. If one fights, do it in the ring, subject yourself to the rules and regulations. You don’t fight outside the ring. You fight using the moves and techniques sanctioned by Muay Thai.

For politicians, the art of Muay Thai imparts important lessons. You fight your opponents in the ring. Don’t spill your fight into unsanctioned territory. You don’t defile fathers, father in laws, one’s private lives etc. you fight using sanctioned moves and legal techniques. You are not allowed to hurt your opponent when he is down.

Here is a short history of Muay Thai. Muay Thai's origin in Thailand can be traced back to its ancestor Muay Boran ("ancient boxing"), an unarmed combat used by Siamese soldiers in conjunction with Krabi Krabong, the weapon-based style. Eventually Muay Boran was divided into:

Muay Korat (Northeast) emphasized strength. A technique like "Throwing Buffalo Punch" was used. It could supposedly defeat a buffalo in one blow.

Muay Lopburi (Center region) emphasized movements. Its strong points were straight and counter punches.

Muay Chaiya (South) emphasized posture and defense, as well as elbows and knees.

Muay Pra Nakorn (North) emphasized speed, particularly in kicking. Because of its faster speed, it was called as well "Ling Lom" (windy monkey or Loris).

There is a phrase about Muay Boran that states, "Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao. (หมัดหนักโคราช ฉลาดลพบุรี ท่าดีไชยา ไวกว่าท่าเสา)".

Perhaps the most interesting ritual associated with Muay Thai /Tomoi is the Wai Khru Ram Muay. This is essentially a pre-fight ritual dance paying homage to your Muay Thai teachers. I have inserted a short video clip above to show what Wai Khru Ram Muay is.

Wai Khru Muay Thai is a tradition which goes back to ancient times, it is not an optional ritual or reserved for special occasions: the official Muay Thai regulations specify that both fighters must perform the Wai Khru Ram Muay before each and every bout. It's a tradition in which fighters pay respect to their teachers, parents and things they hold sacred and pray for their safety and victory. The ritual has been developed in different ways, in different regions, even under different teachers and therefore it is theoretically impossible for two fighters to perform identical Wai Khru.

The Wai Khru is graceful and aesthetic ritual, both practical and spiritual. In a practical sense, it functions as a final pre-fight warm-up and gives the fighter some time alone before the fight to collect his thoughts. It can be divided into three main sections:

  • The Royal Homage Sequence

This was originally intended to show devotion to the King, going back to the days when fighters were selected to display their skills in front of him. It has three subsections: Prostration, Outstretched Arms and Act of Homage.

  • The Kneeling Sequence

This section is performed in a kneeling posture, one knee on the ground and the other leg out in front. the fighter pivots around on the spot to repeat the same sequence facing all four sides of the ring, a tradition which comes from Krabi Krabong.

  • The Standing Sequence

In this section, the fighters go out from the center of the ring in one direction, to perform the Dramatic Interlude. Some fighters imitate the motions of "Rama Shooting an Arrow" from the Ramakien, a hunter, a soldier, or an executioner. Some fighters use this ritual to attempt to scare their opponents, commonly by stomping around them. But in a deeper sense, the fighter is expressing religious devotion, humility, and gratitude. Transcending both physical and temporal limitations, he opens himself to the divine presence and allows it to infuse his heart.

My personal favourite is the King Rama Pheang Sorn. The fighter simulates shooting an arrow into the opponent. It is both graceful and ominous for the opponent. .

The Wai Khru (Paying respect to teachers) is one of the most sacred traditions of Muay Thai. Teachers are highly respected in Thai culture so the ritual is really vital and necessary for a boxer to become a real Muay Thai fighter. The Wai Khru is sometimes performed in brief while some fighters take some time to finish and can really stun the crowd with their brilliant performance. It is believed that a judgment on the winner can be predicted by the way the two fighters perform the Wai Khru in the ring.

4 comments:

Ridzzy 22 November 2008 12:30  

Salam,

Interesting post.
The recent event was in the news few days back if not mistaken. I was not paying attention as I was attending to something but I think I overheard something about an issue on crowd control? Must have been a hit among Muay Thai enthusiasts and every one wanted to catch a glimpe of the action.

PS- I love the blog, please keep it up.

Best Regards

mekyam,  22 November 2008 15:06  

a most enlightening post. thank you, tok sak!

between you and pak zawi, i'm beginning to realize how popular this sport is.

i guess i have a confession to make...

i was actually googling for "muay thai" when i stumbled upon your blog.

after i got over the initial surprise of reading about UMNO boxing instead of the thai boxing i expected, i thought to myself, "oh-em-gee! yet another intelligent man inexplicably gaga over a sport that involves thumping each other senseless. what IS the deal with this muay thai thang..." ;D

you see, my roomie took this thing up over the summer. every weekend a.m. and often twice more weekdays in the p.m., he'd cycle to the park to meet-up with other tomoi enthusiasts. they'd pick a corner of the great lawn, on the strawberry fields side, set up a makeshift ring and proceeded to muay thai each other silly [reads: clobber each other with everything they've got].

"onlookers and passers-by often asked to join us," exulted my roomie as he explained why he packed extra gloves and guards and tapes and whatnots. "they must be nuts and probably fellow sufferers of overactive testosterones," i'd mutter under my breath.

anyone seeing his bulging backpack would think he was running away from home. what with the occasional yellowing bruises on his arms and legs, i'm sure i now have a rep as a spouse-abuser in the neighbourhood.

i thought when the cold weather is here, they'd be muy tired of the whole thing. so much i know! now they tomoi each other indoor at boxing gyms pulak. it seems many gyms in town have provisions for muay thai. [sigh!]

Zawi 22 November 2008 18:14  

Datuk Sak,
Thank you for the very informative article. I am now more knowledgeable about Muay Thai which I have never had the least interest until the assignment to cover it. It will be a great source of reference for me. Thank you sir.

mamasita 22 November 2008 18:20  

Excuse me again sak,tq..Mekyam,kelakar betul cerita you.I ingat sak je crazy pasal this Tomoi stuff!Your hubby pun?hahaha..
I tried watching the fight once.Mula2 ok lah with the ancient sound music and their opening rituals and dancing about.Macam red Indians!
Start je diaorang berlawan,I kept putting my fingers over my eyes peeking in between to see whether its over and whether ada yang luka or terbaring!hahaha..not for softies and cowards to view!Pengsan and scarier than a ghost movie!Puteri mungkin brani!hahaha

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