Wai khru ram muay
is an action of respect in Thai culture tfhat is performed by participants in Muay Thai competitions. One of the most important traditions of Muay Thai is Wai Khru (Paying Respect to Teachers).
Though naturally significant to the basis of any martial art, Muay Thai is not solely about physical strength and combat skills. In its broader sense, Muay Thai incorporates traditional spiritual, and religious aspects, along with superstition, that mirror wider Thai society.
Wai Kru (paying respect to the teacher)
Wai Kru is an ancient, ritual ceremony still prevalent throughout contemporary Thai society. The concept of sharing invaluable knowledge down from teacher to student is held in high regard amongst Thais. Thai people perform the Wai Kru ceremony in honour and respect of their teachers, mentors, and elders notably throughout the spheres of the arts, and academia. Muay Thai is considered by Thais to be a heritage art, and thus incorporates the Wai Kru into its overall pillar of discipline.
Wai Kru in Muay Thai is invariably incorporated into the fight proceedings. Shorter in version than the lengthy and more involved Wai Kru ceremony, it is performed inside the boxing ring by both participating boxers just prior to a bout. It is coupled with a ritual dance the Ram Muay (boxing dance) that lends it the full title of Wai Kru Ram Muay.
The ritual, physical actions of a Wai Kru Ram Muay are quite evident. Initiated by a blast of shrill sound from an ensemble, they first involve each fighter walking alongside the ropes to each corner in order to seal the ring from bad spirits. Both boxers then circle the centre of the ring three times before kneeling prostrate on the canvas. Then, bowing from this position three times with the palms placed together in the wai gesture, the fighter proceeds to place his forehead and open palms onto the canvas.
The bowing act of the Wai Kru is performed in conjunction with each boxer reciting prayers that offer gratitude and respect to those that have taught and refined their martial skills. Aside from Muay Thai kru, ones parents, elders, Buddha, and the King are considered. All are perceived as having contributed to the boxers overall status and well being - the kings of Thailand notably being historic patrons of the art.
Upon completion of the Wai Kru component, each boxer - from a kneeling position - seamlessly commences the grounded stage of the Ram Muay, before rising from the canvas and moving into the upright posture of the dance.
Ram Muay (boxing dance):
The Ram Muay is an expression of graceful dance movements performed by each boxer from the centre - where kneeling movement is conducted - to the four inner sides, or corners of the ring.
The movements of the Ram Muay can be metaphorical, or convey specific meanings. Grounded movements and gestures for example can reflect the drawing of strength from the earth. Some, like the walking movement of the Yaang Sarm Khum (three strides movement) that carries the boxer to each side of the ring, represent the swiftness with which one can gain ground to despatch an opponent. This is drawn from the Ramakian - Thailand’s version of the Indian epic Ramayana - where the magical actions of the hero Pra Ram slay a giant demon. Other gestures, that mirror the beating wings of mythical birds (1.1), or arrows being fired (1.2), represent other character movements from various Indian/Thai mythology.
Whatever the chosen style or combination, the selected moves and gestures are segued together to create a continuous, harmonious dance. At the end of its duration it culminates in the opposing boxers bowing their heads to each other with a wai whilst facing each other from their respective corners.
Traditionally, the Wai Kru Ram Muay performed by Thai boxers differ from camp-to-camp. It is the objective of each boxer to out-perform his opponent even before a punch or kick has been thrown. It is said that that a boxer who performs an aesthetically beautiful Wai Kru Ram Muay emphasizes his grace and skill in combat to both his opponent, and the crowd. As a result a boxer may gain a psychological advantage over an opponent, and acquire ringside support from the watching crowd.
Don Tdri (music):
The synchronisation, and subtle nuance of movement throughout the Wai Khru Ram Muay performance is aided by music. A four-piece ensemble of Pii Jawa (clarinet), Klong (drum), Ching (cymbal), and Kong Mong (gong) create an inimitable shrill, rhythmical sound for the boxers to perform to. The sound produced is mantra-like and befits the ceremonial, and spiritual nature of the dance.
Mong Khon (headband):
The Mong Khon is an auspicious, talismanic item of headwear worn by each boxer whilst performing Wai Kru Ram Muay. Mong Khon are made from thread, or rolled parchment cloth that has been blessed by Buddhist monks. As such they bestow good fortune to the wearer. Mong Khon are traditionally given to boxers by their trainers when experienced enough to fight.