‘A successful work of art is not one which resolves contradictions in a spurious harmony, but one which expresses the idea of harmony negatively by embodying the contradictions, pure and uncompromised, in its innermost structure.’
Theodore Adorno

Many western Nak Muay can be seen robed with Thai tattoos. Prayers and incantations adorn their backs, arms and body. Animals such as tigers and monkeys, elephants and lizards are emblazoned across their chest or back. ‘You are what you wear’ may well be a statement for the fashion conscious but if it is a Thai Roi Sak (tattoo) that adorns your body then this saying is literally true.

Tattooing is one of the oldest art forms on Earth having been ubiquitously a human practice for at least 5,300 years.

Early tattooing was used to symbolize the fertility of the earth and of womankind, preservation of life after death, the sacredness of chieftainship and other cultural factors.
Since the dawn of tattooing, people have been marking themselves with the signs of their totem animals. On the outer level of meaning, they are trying to gain the strengths and abilities of the totem animal. On a more inner and mystical level, totem animals mean that the bearer has a close and mysterious relationship with this animal spirit as his guardian. Totem animal tattoos often double as clan or group markings. Modern dragon, tiger, and eagle tattoos often subconsciously fall into this category

Tattoos for general good luck are found world-wide; a man in Myanmar (Burma) who desires good luck will tattoo a parrot on his shoulder. In Thailand, a scroll representing Buddha in an attitude of meditation is considered a charm for good luck. In this charm, a right handed scroll is masculine and a left handed scroll is feminine.
Today in the West, you can see dice, spades and lady luck tattoos, which are worn to bring luck. Tattoos have served as rights of passage, marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, sexual lures and marks of fertility, pledges of love, punishment, amulets and talismans, protection and as the marks of outcasts, slaves and convicts.

In Thailand the Thais opt for arcane symbols such as mythical creatures, figures from classical mythology like the monkey god Hanuman and esoteric texts known as khathaa (verdict spells) written in the ancient Khmer script known as Khom.

It is possible that the custom of tattooing in Thailand came from the ancient Khmer who were a powerful presence prior to the 13th Century birth of the Thai nation.

Tattooing remains common in Thailand today and has acquired a certain stigma in the modern age. The Roi Sak is popular with laborers, manual workers or among professions such as Muay Thai, boxing, police and the military.
Contrary to the Westerner the Thais do not wear their tattoo for aesthetic taste but rather it is indicative of a fundamental distinction. Tattoos in Thailand are magical, in that they serve the express purpose of providing supernatural protection.
There are two types of strength that the Thais believe they can acquire from these ‘magical tattoos:
•    Kwam yu yong Kong kraphan – This is physical and provides the wearer invulnerability from weapons or strikes. The Tattoo will supposedly prevent the skin from being punctured by knives and bullets.
•    Metta Mahaniyom – This Tattoo has the power to attract admiration and love and the tattooed person is said to be able to exert a positive influence over others.

Researched, compiled & written by: Kru Shaun Boland