Muay Thai fighters no matter what nationalities will often wear headbands and a string on the bicep, but why is this? I decided to find out.
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 when they perform the Wai Kru dance. It is meant to protect the fighter and bring good luck.
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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 a 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 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 Mongkohn
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.
… 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)
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.”Muay Thai: A Living Legacy Vol 1., 2nd Ed.
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.
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
Mongkol/Muay Thai Traditions
A mongkol can never touch the ground. Mongkol should be kept as high as possible. Usually, in Thai gym, the Mongkol will be kept on a hook high up far away from the ground as even being near the ground is bad luck.
Thai’s view the feet as being the least sacred part of the body since they are dirty and connected the ground. The Mongkol is put on the head as Thai’s view the head as sacred and of course, the head is furthest from the ground.
The Mongkol must not touch the ground – In fact, it must be kept as high as possible. In Thai gyms, you’ll usually see the Mongkol hung on a hook high above the ground as Thais believe that it is bad luck if it were to touch the ground or even be near it.
Thai’s view the head as the cleanest and most sacred part of the body, while feet are the dirtiest. Thai fighters traditional Say Yant tattoos have the more important tattoos closer to the head to influence the tattoos towards the lower body.
You need to enter the ring by the top rope whilst wearing the Mongkol. The Mongkol must be kept as high as possible and nothing can pass over it as its sacred.
Make sure to never duck your head to enter the ring through the middle ropes as you are putting your Mongkol closer to the ground and under the top ropes which is a great disrespect to Thai culture and is very unlucky.
If your a girl always enter over-under the top rope not to offend. Sadly the rules are quite different for females.
For women, you need to enter the ring under the bottom rope which is why the Mongkol is put on a female fighters’ head after they’ve entered the ring. It is Buddhist superstition that because females menstruate they have the power to destruct any blessed object so they cannot pass over the top rope.
The Prajioud origin is similar to the Mongkol and was traditionally made from a torn piece of mother’s clothes to protect her son from battle and to wish them luck and protection.
Unlike the Mongkol they are not mandatory to wear but you will still see fighters all around the world wearing them but this is probably too look cool. If they aren’t tied properly they could be annoying and even distract you from the fight.
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.
Now, this has nothing to do with the culture of Muay Thai, but rather it’s been adopted by some Muay Thai teachers to encourage their students to reach a goal as Muay Thai doesn’t have a ranking system and apparently it works!
You can see this ranking system spoken about in the video below.
Wai Kru Ram Muay(Pre Fight Dance)
Like the Mongkhon the Wai Kru Ram Muay is a way to show respect to your teacher and who helped you on your fight journey. When Thai fighters fought in front of royalty this dance also paid respect to the King.
The word “wai” is a traditional Thai greeting with the palms together to show respect. With “Khru” meaning “teacher”, lastly “ram” is the Thai word for dancing in a classical style and “muay” meaning boxing.
When fighters enter the ring, they will circle the ring in a counter-clockwise direction and pray in every corner, whilst bowing their heads three times in salutation to Buddha, Rama(Hindu God), and the sangha(community of monks).
The dance is always accompanied by music giving rhyme to the fighters movements and each dance is unique and will depend on the gym and the fighters individual religion. You can see how John Wayne Parr and Buakaw’s Wai Kru’s are very different around 7:00 minutes in the video below.
The Wai Kru also helps pre-fight anxiety and helps put you into that flow state before a fight, it is known to fight evil spirits and bad luck and to showcase your ability to perform the dance itself, as well provides a stretch and loosening. the fighter’s joints.
Whilst you don’t have to do the Wai Kru if you fight I would recommend doing so, as it shows respect to your trainers, gym, and the culture of Thailand and Muay Thai itself.
The Wai Kru is what makes Muay Thai special and unique, and preserving these traditions are important. If you want to know-how. to perform the Wai Kru by one of the best Muay Thai fighters ever Yudthagarngamtorn please view the video below.
Mongkol Monk Blessing
Since Mongkol is a sacred object they are blessed by Buddhist monks regularly before a fight, for Muslim fighters the blessing is done by an Imam(a Muslim priest).
The ceremonial blessing involves Buddhist incantations and prayers with the placement of Buddhist prayer scrolls in the tail of the headband, the monk will hold the Mongkol in their hands whilst chanting and he will blow on it as he chants.
Monks and women cannot touch each other so when a Monk blesses a females Mongkol they will return it via a folded cloth which is used as a vehicle to transport things between women and monks
You can see for yourself a monk blessing a Mongkol in the video below of a monk blessing Tiger Muay Thai’s new Mongkol.
Sak Yant Tattoos
Like everything spiritual in Thailand these tattoos such as the tiger and the 5 lines are meant to give the fighters good luck, success, and anything to help them fight.
Historically the tattoos should be done by Buddhist monks with bamboo needles, I’ve seen this in Thailand and the practice takes much longer and is way more painful than modern tattoos guns used in tattoos shops. It’s bad luck to get a Sak Yant tattoo done by someone who isn’t a Buddhist monk.
If you want to respect Thailand’s traditions or want to be blessed with the try supernatural or sacred power and believe these in the supernatural then make sure you get your tattoos done by a monk.
Watch the vice documentary below if you want to know more about the sacred tattoos of Thailand.