INTRODUCTION Pre-Contest Rituals Before any Muay Thai contest can commence, a series of traditional rituals have to be undertaken: 1. Approaching the Ring Rites (Kuen Suu Weitee) 2. Ritual Dance of Homage (Wai Kru Ram Muay) 3. Removal of the Head Circlet (Pitee Tod Mongkon) According to legendary chronicles and historical records of Thailand, Muay Thai competitions were customarily organized on celebratory and festive occasions. It was also used as a means of selecting men with great fighting skills to serve in important positions in the military. The most important question today is how are we to preserve this beautiful and gracious art from disappearing or from losing its authenticity? There are many ways to answer this question, but first of all we must fully understand the importance of the WAI KRU ceremony. To train for Muay Thai a fighter must have a mentor. Perhaps a fighter will be directly taught by other fighters, but all in all, every fighter is considered to have a mentor, and it is customary that all fighters must respect their mentors. One of the most important virtues of the Thai people is the showing of true respect and sincere humbleness towards teachers, masters, mentors and instructors. They are considered to be second from their true parents. Instructors are full of knowledge, love and kindness, ready and willing to transfer their skill and knowledge to the students, so that the students in turn will be of value to society and to the country as a whole in the future. All instructors should be respected and revered by their students. As the future inheritors of all the knowledge and skill, it is the duty of the students to swear allegiance to endure the hardship and to persevere to achieve the final aims. Those students who respect or revere their mentors will benefit from the following results: The opportunity to be endowed with all their knowledge and skills. The ability to use the knowledge learnt to benefit him and others. Life of prosperity, those students who truly respect their mentors, are consistent in behaviour and humble will always be looked after and taught, giving the student less chance of doing wrong as the students will always think before actually doing anything. The ability to adapt and advance the knowledge and skill, which the student had been trained for, to further heights. Approaching the Ring Rites (Kuen Suu Weitee) In ancient times, Siamese people believed in the power of incantations and protective amulets. They thought that everywhere was ruled or inhabited by unseen spirits, and that places were either cursed or blessed. Because of these beliefs, it was necessary to perform special rites before a fighter entered the ring, asking the spirits’ permission to do so, propitiating them, and destroying any evil which may be lurking there. The rituals were also thought to protect the fighter and lead him to victory. Even today, the rites involve a strong element of psychology as the fighters psyche themselves in readiness for the imminent bout. Dust on the head (ritual) A small superstition that is fading away is the Nak Muay act to put dust on his head. You may notice the fighter, while on his way to the ring, picking some dust from the ground and touch his hair with it. This may be from the times of Muay Boran, when boxers fought open air, on the ground, and needed to know the ground’s composition (sandy or solid). In those days fighters also used to pay homage to the goddess of the earth, Mae Torranee, by picking up some soil when they were kneeling down and raising it to their forehead. Even in these days of concrete stadiums, some fighters can still be observed pressing their thumb on the floor and then on their forehead. This, like everything else in this particular ritual, is very much a matter of individual preference these days, with no prescribed rules. Wai Kru – Origins and Explanation of the Rituals Wai Kru for the training of Muay Thai: The Wai Kru is a vital part in every stage of training in Muay thai, and can be explained in the following sequence: 1. Submission as a student, Keun Kru or Yok Kru – Keun Kru or Yok Kru is when the instructor accepts the student and the student accepts the instructor to be the one to train him. In the past, the student must serve the instructor for a period of time before actual training begins. During this period the instructor will study the student to ensure that the student is trustworthy, honest and able. Once the instructor is satisfied with the student’s performance permission is given by the instructor to conduct the Keun Kru ceremony, in some areas it is called the Yok Kru ceremony. This ceremony is where both the instructor and the student accept one another and the student must abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the instructor. The Keun Kru ceremony is conducted on Thursday because in ancient times, Thursdays are considered to be an auspicious day for such occasions. The student must bring along some personal items for the ceremony. As for money, it depends on each individual instructor. The ceremony is conducted in front of a Buddha image and the student will pledge his loyalty to the instructor. 2. Kronb Kru – Kronb Kru is a ceremony conducted for the student on the completion of his training. The student has now the ability to transfer his knowledge and skill to others and at the same time is able to adapt and apply his skill to suit the situation; the student is ready to compete in any competition with pride. In this ceremony the student is given the Mongkon according to the tradition of that training camp. Again, this ceremony is conducted on a Thursday before noon at the home of the instructor or at the temple. 3. Yearly Wai Kru – “Yearly Wai Kru” is a tradition that Thailand has carried forth since ancient times, we Wai Kru to respect our mentors because if it was not for them we would not have the knowledge and principles that we abide by. It is these two virtues that enable us to carry on fulfilling our tasks. In this ceremony we again pledge our respect and memories to our teachers past and present. Even though some of us have long finished our education or training we still give our teachers the greatest of respect. The day chosen for the Wai Kru is Thursday as it is believed to be “the day of the teachers”. The Wai Kru literally means “pay respect to the teacher” and reflects the feeling of gratitude for the master, who is often a fatherly figure for the young Nak Muay. The wai Kru is also a way to warm up and loosen up all muscles before the fight. In older times, each school had its own variations of wai Kru, so from the sequence of movements one could guess where the boxer was from. This is no longer true nowadays, but there are still a few styles of wai Kru, which usually last 3 minutes and ends with the practicing of Yang Saam Khum steps. Each wai Kru gesture has its own history and ritualized meaning. The art of Muay Thai from past to present has a tradition that every fighter must perform the Wai Kru before every competition. Wai Kru is performed as a means of paying respect to the chairperson of the competition or in the past as a way to pay homage to the King who would normally be a spectator on almost every occasion. It also symbolizes the gratefulness of the fighter towards his mentor who had trained him and as a means of concentrating himself mentally for the competition. If we further study the roots of the Thai culture we will discover that the Wai Kru is not just a way of paying respect to only our mentor but what this ritual is actually doing is paying homage to mentors before and long before him since the dawn of humanity. Hence, the Wai Kru is a way of worshipping past instructors and the way up to the holy spirits in heaven. The role of the art of the Wai Kru ritual: For those who have studied or have trained in the art of Muay Thai, many are quite confused and many have asked why do we have to do the Wai Kru ritual? Is it for beauty, entertainment, commemoration or exercise? Not all these answers are wrong, but to go deeper into the reasons why we do the Wai Kru ritual is due to 3 beneficial reasons as follows: 1. To merit and worship God: If we consider the roots of all different types of art, it can be seen that religion plays a vital and influential role in its direction. Therefore, all different form of art attempts to bring man closer to God (If you do not believe in God then it is quite difficult for you to understand art, especially the art of Muay Thai and the Wai Kru ritual). Hence, the Wai Kru and its music are to worship all the gods, especially the god Pra Isuan, the creator and the ruler of the universe. It is then appropriate for Nak Muay to invite and accept the holy spirits into their bodies and minds. 2. Heart & Soul: Other than the invitation of the holy spirits, the art of the Wai Kru is to prepare the boxer’s heart and soul to another level – the level of divine and supernatural conditions. Physical body and time must be forgotten so as the Muay Thai boxers can take on this divine force. The problem that often occurs is whether the boxer can reach this spiritual being or not. It can be achieved, but only if the boxer concentrates during the Wai Kru with true sincerity and respect. But what will happen if we do not perform the Wai Kru? One of two things could occur, firstly the art of Muay Thai would not exist and secondly the boxers would not fully understand the art of Muay Thai. Therefore the Wai Kru ceremony is very important. We may not be able to see this auspicious force but the boxer himself can feel the existence of his mentor by his side. 3. Entertainment & Strength: The God, Pra l-Suan presented humans with the gift of music and dancing so that people can enjoy true happiness. True happiness without greed and selfishness will induce us to forget our own body and time, Therefore, during the Wai Kru the boxers should let their soul leave the body and let the Holy Spirit take over. Boxers who practice the kah-tah (religions verse) during the Wai Kru believe that these verses will give them supernatural power. In ancient times, Thai warriors believed in amulets, charms and the occult to possess them in battle as a means of increasing morale. To use these supernatural powers, concentration is the main factor in controlling the fighter’s will. The majority of the ancient warriors would put their faith in the god of wars, such as Hua Jai Hanuman, Hua Jai Kun Pan, Hua Jai Kong-Kah Derd, Hua Jai Oran Pet, Hua Jai Pra-Lai Penk and many others, depending on what strength and faith they have in each of the different gods. For an example, below is one verse of the Hua Jai Hanuman Kah-lah to practice: HA NU MA NA ND MA NA HA MA NA HA ND NA HA ND MA It is used for meditation training as you must memorize the verse correctly and repeat the verse over and over again as quickly as possible which requires much concentration. It is a method of measuring your faith and will power. Simultaneously, during the chanting of the verses in your mind you must think of the Hanuman god, his bravery, his strength and his power until you can see him in your mind. In return you will feel and have the power and strength of the Hanuman god. From this inspiration of thoughts we can compare it to the Buddhist teaching as follows: Pabomyarn (Primary instincts) – concentrate on the Hanuman god: Wi-tok (thoughts) – think of the Hanuman god. Wi-Jahn (Considerations) – think of his power and bravery. Pi-ti (happiness) – pleased and satisfied to have faith. Ek-atarom (loyalty) – think only of the Hanuman god. Too-li-ya-yarn (Transcendent insight) – start to think that he is the Hanuman god: Pi-ti (happiness) – pleased that the Hanuman god has power. Sook (Content) – content with the Hanuman god. Ek-ataro (loyalty) – think only of the Hanuman god. Too-ti-ya-yarn (Meditative trance) – Hanuman god starts to posses: Soak (Pleased) – Pleased with the power of the Hanuman god. Ek-atarom (loyalty) – Hanuman god possesses the body. Ja-too-ta yarn (Absorption) – Hanuman god possesses the body. Oo-bek-kah (Impartiality). Ek-atarom (loyalty) – Has the same strength and power of the Hanuman god. Ancient Thai warriors had always held fast to these principles, which in turn brought them renowned for their bravery throughout the peninsula. It is an example that we the younger generation should follow and help preserve this Thai legacy. Today, the “Wai Kru ritual” is known as the “Wai Kru” for short. In Muay Thai competition, the art of the Wai Kru ritual is of a basic one. It is conducted to pay respect to the instructors, the opponent and the spectators. In reality the effectiveness of the ceremony is to demonstrate the gentleness and graciousness in the controlling of the body and the mind. In Buddhism, the true quality of being gentle and gracious hides the true power of authority. And if we can use this power together with the strength of our body and the wisdom of our mind, then this is the origin of all the magical power. Boxers should “Wai Kru” in the way it has been done by our ancestors in the past. It is a way to help preserve the art of Muay Thai from disappearing or from losing its authenticity. The first thing a boxer learns in Muay Thai is the Wai Kru. The Wai Kru is not designed to insult or show off to the opponent. It is a ritual in memory and in respect of the mentor who have given the boxer his knowledge and skill. Other than that, the Wai Kru makes the boxer concentrate on his Muay skill while practicing his balance. The Wai Kru 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. Removal of the Head Circlet (Pitee Tod Mongkon) After the Wai Kru Ram Muay ritual is completed, the fighters return to their own corners. Then, they go back to the center of the ring to be briefed by the referee on the rules of the coming bout and so on. Then, they return to their own corners once more for the Removal of the Head Circlet Ritual — Pitee Tod Mongkon. Step by Step: 1. Stand in your own corner, facing outwards, while your teacher (or an official representative personally appointed by him) stands outside the ropes. In a gesture of profound respect, lower your head and raise your hands to your chest in the panom mue wai pose. In response, the teacher then raises his own hands to chest-level to return the wai. 2. While you maintain the panom mue wai posture, the teacher utters an incantation and blows three times on the top of your head before removing the mongkon with both hands. Alternatively he caresses the top of your head with one hand while holding the mongkon in the other, before removing the mongkon as before. If you deeply respect your teacher, you may then prostrate yourself three times on the floor: this is entirely at your own discretion. On the completion of this ritual, the contest can commence.