Muay Thai dates back to the middle of the 16th century with a deep spiritual history with various different spiritual practices, one such practice is the Muay Thai dance.
What exactly is the Muay Thai dance and why do Muay Thai fighters do it before they fight?
The Muay Thai Dance or the Wai Kru Ram Muay is a pre-fight ritual used to warm up and stretch and for fighters to pay respect to their teachers and other people who helped them on their fight journey. “Wai” is a Thai greeting and “Khru” is teacher, “ram” means dance, and “Muay” means Boxing.
However, the Wai Kru Ram Muay is only one part of the deep spiritual practice of Muay Thai,. To truly understand it you need to understand the rich history of Muay Thai and know why Thai fighters wear headbands(Mongkhon) and armbands(Prajied).
Are you ready to find out?
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What Is The Wai Kru Ram Muay?
The Wai Kru is a pre-fight ritual performed by fighters before fighting in Muay Thai competitions. The style of the Wai Khru has even spread to muay Lao(martial art) in Laos and pradal serey(martial art) in Cambodia where it has local names.
As the Wai Khru exists in pretty much all Thai performance arts from Thai traditional music to classical Khon dancing and other Thai fighting arts such as Krabi krabong(sword fighting) it is important to understand Thai culture itself and the meaning behind the words Wai Khru Ram Muay.
Meaning Of Wai In Thai
The traditional gesture used to show respect in Thailand is called”Wai” and is used for both hello and goodbye and the following other uses.
- Showing general respect
You perform a “Wai” by slightly bowing your head with your hands pressed together covering your face in prayer. The higher your hands compared to your face, and the lower the bow your more respect you are giving.
Meaning Of Kru In Thai
Kru is the Thai form of the Sanskrit word for “Guru” meaning teacher. For Muay Thai your teachers refer to anyone who has to given you the skills that you have now, this could be your current Muay Thai teacher or ones in the past.
In the words of Kru Yadtong Sınanan a world reendowed Muay Thai grandmaster who has coached countless fighters over the years, your Kru is anyone who has helped you on the path and in your Wai Kru, you pay respect to all teacher in your life, not just in Muay Thai.
Meaning Of Ram Muay In Thai
Ram is the Thai word for classic “dancing” with Muay meaning “boxing”, so Ram Muay means the dance of boxers or boxers dances. The Ram Muay is used as both a stretch and a physical and mental warmup before the fight.
Every fight camp and teacher will have their style of Ram Muay, some will be very complex whilst the others are quite simple. Fighters with different teachers and different regions in Thailand or countries Ram Muay will all be unique, as a way to express their own unique backgrounds and roots.
The dancing is important physically, mentally and even artistically and everyone’s Wai Kru will be different even those from the same gym/teacher.
You might think the Wai Kru is a Buddhist custom but you would be wrong as it does not conflict with any other religious beliefs the Thai boxer has.
Certain Muslim fighters, particularly in the south of Thailand and Malaysia(high Muslim population), will perform the Wai Kru by wearing their Mongkol(headband) on top of their Keffiyeh which is a traditional Arabian headdress
If you want to learn more about why Thai fighters wear headbands and all the Thai pre-fight rituals in more detail, please check out my post here.
In Thailand you perform the Wai Kru otherwise you cannot fight, and performing the Wai Kru poorly is seen as an insult to both your fellow fighters and your gym, so it should be treated with the utmost respect.
What Is The Yang Sam Khum? (Muay Thai Shuffle)
This part of Wai Kru looks like normal footwork in a fight situation, it is also called the three steps movement.
To perform it, stand in your fighting stance and in time with the music step forward lifting your forward foot and then return it to the floor, after the move a few steps forward and then lift your back leg forward and do the same in the other stance and then repeat the movement, see the above video for an example.
When you step in from your back leg it will almost look like a checking a kick as you raise the knee as you step. Yang Sam Khum is very useful in a fight situation as you can gain distance between your opponent quickly and safely.
What Is The Sao Noi Pa Pang? (Wai Kru Sitting)
The Sao Noi Pi Pang happens around the middle of the Wai Kru when the fighter is sitting down. The whole movement is mimicking a young maiden who applies talcum powder near a riverfront Thai legend.
The dance starts walking along a river, followed by bathing in the river(hip opening) and then applying powder to the face, which you can see in the above video. Noog Toom the legendry transgender Thai fighter (see more here) popularised this version of the Wai Kru.
What Is The Hong Hern? (Swan Dance)
This is a modern aspect of the Wai Kru and will be seen in many gyms across Thailand with slight modifications. In the dance, the fighters will move to each side of the ring, and whilst standing on one leg and stretching they will do movements mimicking a bird flapping its wings.
You can see the legendary Muay Thai fighter Buakaw perform the movement at 5:12 in the above video.
What Is The Pra Ram Tam Gwang? (Arrow Mimicking)
This movement is a homage to the Hindu epic when Rama the hero of the God Vishnu kills Marchica a demon with a bow.
The movement has a lot of kneeling with bringing the hand to the brow to shield your eyes from sunlight to get a better clean shot of the imaginary animal. You mimic the drawing of arrows, stringing them into your boy, and then fire.
In 6:59 you can see Buakaw missing three times which is common in the dance, certain people when performing the Pra Ram Tam Gwang after missing a shot will even get closer with their opponent playing along and reacting to the arrows! The last arrow will always hit, and then the fighter will return to his/her corner.
How Do You Do Wai Kru Ram Muay?
- Began by entering the ring from your corner, and whilst keeping your right hand on the top rope make your way through the ring in a clockwise direction
- Stop at each corner and slightly bow 3 times, here some fighters will say a prayer whilst others will just tap the ring padding and move on. This is where the Wai Kru is unique to your style
- Circle the ring 3 times with your hands by your chest this is where you can do the Yang Sam Khum if you choose to do so
- Walk to the center of the ring and perform a “Wai” to give respect to your teachers in life, here certain fighters will not bow the whole way, see Namsaknoi in the above video as he doesn’t fully bow as he is of the Muslim faith, in a traditional competition you will face both sides of the ring but with TV constraints fighters don’t have enough time
- After making your way towards the center of the ring, face the crowd on each side and your Wai Kru is finished!
If that sounds confusing, please watch the above video to get a better understanding on how to perform the Wai Kru Ram Muay.
What Do Muay Thai Fighters Wear On Their arms?
The Muay Thai armband called the Prajiad traditionally is blessed by a monk to give good luck and confidence to the fighter. Typically they are made out of material from a close female family member’s clothes like a mother’s dress. In modern times gyms outside of Thailand have used the Prajiad as a ranking system, similar to a belt in Karate.
The history of the Prajiad and the headband Mongkohn(headband) dates back to ancient battle-worn Thailand when Thailand was called Siam.
Fighting was very common during this period and Thailand was constantly at war such as the Burmese-Siamese wars(wiki link) fought between the 16th and 19th centuries; this is where Muay Thai developed as an unarmed combat system on the battlefield.
The ancient Siamese warriors had their unique pre-fight rituals that involved usually female family members tieing bandana like cloth around their heads and arms before heading to battle, to bring good luck and protection to their sons & husbands before going to war.
The rituals are the same today but instead of going off to battle, the Prajiad and Monkohn are protecting the fighters from injury during a Muay Thai fight. Muay Thai is rich with spiritual history and these practices have barely changed for 100s of years.
Certain fighters will wear one Prajiad whilst others will wear two, traditionally they are kept in high or well-revered places as if someone steps on, or steps over the Prajiad, or drop the Prajiad it will lose its mystical power.
In some gyms in Thailand but mostly in the west Prajioud is used as a ranking system similar to belts in traditional martial arts, with white being the beginner level and black being the highest level you can achieve, see the above video by Flaviboi to see how he is using the Prajioud.
Now, this has nothing to do with the culture of Muay Thai, but the practice has been adopted by Muay Thai teachers to encourage their students to reach a goal and achieve a certain level in Thai Boxing as Muay Thai does not have a ranking system as since it’s a combat sport you do your talking in the fight!
If you want to know more about why Muay Thai doesn’t have a ranking system, and how other ranking systems work in different martial arts, please check my post here.
Never wear your Prajiad whilst training as you should only wear it before and after a fight. Prajiad has become very mass-produced so if you want a genuine one you need to go to Thailand where a monk can create one for you and bless it. Click here for more information about how monks bless objects for Thai fighters, and for a video showing a monk bless TigerMuayThais official Mongkol.
Remember if you go to Thailand always treat the spiritual objects with deep respect, even if you don’t believe in the mystical aspect as it is the respectful thing to do.
NEVER put a Prajiad on the floor, step on it, play with it, or disrespect it in any way. Otherwise, you will lose face with your trainers and gym partners and maybe even get kicked out of the gym!
What Do Muay Thai Fighters Wear on Their Head?
The Muay Thai headband known as the Mongkol, or “Mongkhon” is blessed by a monk or Rusei(shaman) and is traditionally worn by fighters before they enter the ring and taken off by their trainer before they perform the pre-fight dance ritual. It is meant to protect the fighter and bring good luck.
Why Do Muay Thai Fighters Wear The Mongkhon?
Traditionally the Mongkhon is blessed by a monk or shaman and is only worn during the Wai Khru(pre-fight dance ceremony) which is meant to show respect for the fighters teacher, family, and the art of Muay and Thailand as a whole.
When the Wai Kru is finished, the fighter will return to this corner, and prayer is whispered between the main coach and assistant coach with the Mongkton being removed before the fight and hung near the corner of the room u high up; as the sacred headband must be kept high to the ground and never pass under the ropes or between the ropes before entering the ring.
This is why male fighters must step over the ropes before entering the ring with the Mongkhon worn. The Mongkhon will be placed on the male’s fighters head by the trainer before he enters the ring, over the top ring ropes.
For women, it is forbidden to wear a Mongkhon as it brings bad luck, and traditionally women should enter the ring by going underneath the ropes. Unfortunately Muay Thai still carries with it a lot of sexist traditions but it’s important to still respect these traditions if you train in Thailand.
Although the attitude towards women doing Muay Thai is changing and certain Muay Thai schools will allow the women to wear a Mongkhon and perform the Wai Kru.
You can see the young Thai fighter Jodie McCarthy performing the Wai Kru whilst wearing the Mongkhon in the video below.
In Thailand, you will only receive a Mongkhon from your coach if you’re a fighter, and when he/she believes you have trained hard enough and can represent your gym with complete honor and respect.
Fighters wear Mongkhon to pay respect to the coach, their gym, and the practice of Muay Thai itself and to pay gratitude for following the fighter through the difficult journey of preparing for a fight.
Individual gyms and training camps have their own unique Mongkhon that is blessed with the spirit and strength of the gym and the master instructor. It is worn on the head as the head is sacred in Thailand and blesses the fighter with good fortune and luck in their fight.
History Of The Muay Thai Headband
The history of the Mongkol Buddhist tradition dates back to ancient battle-worn Thailand when it was still called Siam. Fighting was very common during this period and Thailand was constantly at war such as the Burmese-Siamese wars(wiki link) fought between the 16th and 19th centuries.
The ancient Siamese warriors had their unique pre-fight rituals that involved tieing bandana like cloth around their heads before heading to battle.
The Mongkol has many legends about how it was made even including a method using a live snake! This is from the book page 70 of Muay Thai: A Living Legacy that you can purchase from Amazon via the link here.
… when the selected snake opened its mouth, its tail was rammed down its own throat, forming it into a circle, in which state it was placed in the sun to die and dry for seven days and nights. The Mongkok was then woven around this shape.”(p. 70, Muay Thai: A Living Legacy)p. 70, Muay Thai: A Living Legacy)
Thailand and Muay Thai have deep spiritual roots and whilst the Mongkok snake origin cannot be proved or disproved it showcases the importance of magic in Mongkol’s history, it does also make sense because of the string shape of a Mongkol.
The mongkol was usually made of cloth or talisman from. a loved one like a mother and was blessed by a monk and supposedly filled with memories of their loved ones so they come back safe from battle.
The incantations purpose such as Gam Baan Nak Muen” which meant “the clenched-fist weighing many thousands” blessed the fighter with power and luck in preparation for battle.
The siamese warriors blessing each other created the tradition of the master created the Mongkol to pass it to their students. This is continued to this day with modern Muay Thai preserving the tradition.
The Mongkol is still important in Muay Thai culture not only for Buddhist fighters but also for fighters from other religions. Different religions have separate methods of putting power into the Mongkol to provide strength and protection.
Certain Muslim fighters, particularly in the south of Thailand and Malaysia(high Muslim population), will place scrolls of verses from the Quran inside the Mongkon. This will wear their Mongkol on top of their Keffiyeh which is a traditional Arabian headdress
What is The Mongkol Made Out Of?
When Thailand was still called Siam the Mongkol was usually made out of hair from a loved one or pieces of material from a treasured piece of clothing like a baby’s birth towel, or the bones of a fighter’s ancestor. Occasionally Mongkol will be blessed with sacred amulets.
Traditionally a Mongkol will always be something personal and venerable to the fight, you can see on page 69 of Muay Thai a living legacy.
strand of [the fighter’s] father’s hair or even a thread from [one’s] mother’s paa-tung (sarong) used at the time of [one’s] birth.”p. 69, Muay Thai: A Living Legacy)
In the west, birthing clothes are not that common, but a Mongkon can be made out of any piece of clothing that’s personal to you or related to your family like a mother’s dress.
Tiger Muay Thai(their website) one of the best Muay Thai Gyms in the world, Mongkon has a sacred tiger amulet woven into it and was blessed in the Wat Chalong temple located in southern Thailand.
Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu a Muay Thai fighter had her Mongkol made from her mother’s skirt fitting the Thai tradition. They shredded the skirt into strips and twisted the strips into cords to wrap around the tubing at the center of the Mongkol which gives the structure and shape.
You can see Slyvies’s beautiful custom made Mongkol in the video below
What is Muay Thai Music Called?
The Muay Thai music known as the Sarama is rhythmic music that is played during Muay Thai fights and the pre-fight ritual known as the Ram Muay. It is performed by four musicians playing either one or two kinds of flute, a pair of Thai drums and symbols. The Sarama is to build a fight atmosphere and increases in intensity a the fight goes on.
I will briefly explain the main four instruments used in the Sarama.
What Is The Pi Java? (Javanese Clarinet)
Coming from India it is also be called the Pi Kaek. It has been changed a lot since the original version by the Javanese(wiki link). The sound is high pitch and perfect for a Muay Thai fight.
What Is The Klong Kaak?
The Klong Kaak is a set of two drums, with one drum making a high pitched sound called a male drum, and the other makes a lower-pitched sound called a female drum.
The drum is around 58 centimeters long, with the bigger drum called “Narai” having a diameter of 20 centimeters and the smaller one called “Nathan” having a diameter of 18 centimeters.
The drum is covered with special material, and there have to be two drums for the Sarama, players will place the drums on their laps and use both hands to create the rhythmic beat
What Is Ching?
Ching are symbols made of brass or iron connected with a piece of string to keep them in place. They are small but in the Sarama they are the leader of the band.
Shaped like a teacup or a hollow cone, they are played by being hit together, the diameter of each one is 5.5-6.5 cm.
What Is Kong Mong?
Kong Mong is a drum that comes from the south of Thailand, and like the Pi Java is used to create action and increase the pace of the fight. Thai like other Asian languages have names that come from how the object sounds, Kong Mong comes from the sound the instrument makes namely the “Mong” sound.
In ancient times the Kong was used to announce what time it is almost like a clock, but Thai and Indian culture in general, have had gongs and drums in their music for a very long time.
If you want to see photos of all these instruments and learn more about them, please check out this post by muaythaifighting.
What does Nak Muay mean in Thai?
If you are a Nak Muay you are someone who practices Muay Thai. Western Muay Thai fighters are called Nak Muay Farang which means “foreign” boxer Muay Thai is a fighting art that involves all 8 limbs being used, fists, legs, knees, and elbows and has standing wrestling known as the clinch.
A Nak Muay is not to be confused with Nak Muay Nation which is a vast selection of online muay Thai training videos and e-books available as a one-off purchase or on a subscription basis by Sean Fagan aka the Muay Thai guy on Youtube.