“The calmest man in the room has a superpower
And the crazier they get and the more they stress
The more your defiant resolute unreactive calmness is a superpower”--Illimitable Man
Behind the Scenes of a Muay Thai Fighter
Upon entering the Blue Arena stadium you’re immediately hit with an overwhelmingly potent, yet refreshing, aroma of tiger balm. To the left is the ring: a 24’ x 24’ elevated square enclosure where Thai kickboxing hopefuls battle it out in true modern-day gladiator fashion. Surrounding it are cold metallic bleachers filled with families, casual spectators like me, & loud Thai men betting on each fight.
Veer over to the right & what you encounter are two rooms: one for the blue (shorts) boxers & the other for the red boxers. Readying himself & surrounded by the love & support of his family is 12-year-old Theerapong Sidet, whose father is my Muay Thai trainer.
Unable to communicate with those around me, I’m forced to resort to not only typing my sentences out into Google Translate, but also to keeping my questions as simple “yes or no” questions so as not to require an incomprehensible response in Thai.
First step in this preparation process: wrap the fighter’s hands in tape so as protect it as much as possible from the blows he’s about to deliver. Steps two & three: change into the traditional Muay Thai boxing shorts, then get lathered in both Tiger Balm & liniment oil.
The Tiger Balm + oil combination serves several purposes, some of which include:
- Immediately warm up the fighter’s muscles
- Relieve any tension or aches & pains they may be facing
- Act as a lubricant to deflect any strikes that may land on the fighter
I take a step back to observe this process they’re all so familiar with at this point, which--to me--is still very much a new experience. As I look around I notice that despite the impending chaos & violence they're about to face, there's a surprisingly calm demeanor blanketed across each of the fighters' faces; inner peace & outward tranquility.
For such a brutal bloodsport, respecting thy neighbor seems to be held in such high value in this culture. It’s worlds different than the ego-driven, self-absorbed attitude so ubiquitous in the western world. Here in the Kingdom formerly known as Siam, you’ll find none of that.
We make our way out to the ring in an entourage of family & friends. But before entering the ringside, our fighter & his father recite another prayer for the Mongkhon (or headband) in the same manner as was performed for the armbands.
Upon entering the ring, traditional Thai music is played, called Sarama...and so begins the Wai Khru: a mesmerizing dance ritual performed at the beginning of every fight as a way for fighters to pay respect to their teachers. It’s during this captivating ritual that one comes to realize all the hard work the fighters must go through just to get to this point.
Breaking me out of my trance is the start of the fight. Little Theerapong is subject to five 3-minute rounds with 1.5-minute breaks in between each round. Despite how small they may be, I can’t help but wonder if each of these two child fighters realizes themselves how much of forces to be reckoned with they’ll become if they continue with their craft into adulthood.
Unfortunately, in the end, Theerapong Sidet lost the fight. But despite the unfavorable outcome, I still consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to witness such a fascinating event from right from the very beginning!