Celebrate Thai New Year With A Serious Head Beating

My mother is Thai, my brother is a former Muay Thai kickboxing champion, and I have 30+ Thai cousins and assorted other relatives still living in Thailand. While this doesn’t make me an expert on all things Thai, it does provide me with an overly inflated tone of superiority when discussing Songkran (Thai New Year), which will be celebrated in Thai Town this Sunday, April 5 as part of the 6th Annual Songkran Festival.

Muay Thai Fighter Perdforming the Wai Kru. Taken at Sityodtong Muay Thai, Pasadena, CA, February 9, 2008
Muay Thai Fighter Performing the Wai Kru. Taken at Sityodtong Muay Thai, Pasadena, CA, February 9, 2008

Like all festivals of this sort, there will be overpriced food stalls offering mediocre Thai food, displays of traditional Thai dance, raffles, religious ceremonies (Note to the Ladies: Do not ever touch the monks!), beer tents, and the 2nd Annual International Curry Festival. However, year-after-year, my favorite event of Songkran is watching the Muay Thai fighters duke it out in the ring.

All Songkran Festival events are free to spectators, so this is an excellent opportunity for first timers to introduce themselves to the rad sport of Muay Thai. From what I can tell, there is no obvious boxing schedule posted anywhere on the Songkran Festival site (please let me know if you find one), but from past years, the fights seem to go on from mid morning through late afternoon. If you happen to catch a match this Sunday during the festival, here are some things you should know about the sport.

Before Entering the Ring

Thai people believe that spirits are everywhere. Spooky, eh? For this reason, Muay Thai fighters perform special rites before entering the boxing ring to ask the spirits permission to enter, to gain favor with the spirits and to destroy any evil or general bad vibes lurking in the vicinity.

Performing the Ram Muay or Wai Kru

Official Muay Thai regulations specify that both fighters must perform the Ram Muay or Wai Kru, which means to give respect to one’s teacher (and other assorted beings deserving respect) before every bout. The Ram Muay is dance-like ritual, lasting about five minutes and is done through a series of elegant movements performed in rhythm to ringside musical accompaniment.

It is disrespectful for the audience to interrupt the Ram Muay with any noise.

Formal Ram Muay ceremonies contain three sequences:

  • The Royal Homage Sequence

  • The Kneeling Sequence

  • The Standing Sequence

Some fighters use the standing sequence to scare their opponents, usually by stomping around them, known to Westerners as an “Oh no he di’int!” moment.

Removal of That Head Thingy

After the Wai Kru, the fighters return to their corners for the Removal of the Head Circlet Ritual (Pitee Tod Mongkon) where the coach utters an incantation and blows three times on top of the fighter’s head before removing the headband (Mongkon).

After all this and a glove shake, the contest finally begins.

Keeping Up With Points and Rounds

The main difference between Muay Thai and Western boxing is that Muay Thai allows kicking, kneeing and elbowing, in addition to punching. Points are scored for every blow landed on an opponent. Points are deducted when a contestant violates any of the rules. Unlike Western boxing, blows below the belt are allowed, but the groin is not considered a valid target.

Muay Thai matches are broken up into a maximum of five rounds of three minutes. Similar to Western bouts, Muay Thai matches can end with a winner by knockout, a technical knockout, winning by points, or a draw can be declared.

Songkran Festival, Sunday, April 5, 2009 in Thai Town (Hollywood Boulevard between Normandie and Western) from 8:00 AM – evening.

Why drive? Take the Metro Red Line to Hollywood/Western.

4 Replies to “Celebrate Thai New Year With A Serious Head Beating”

  1. Des Moines’ annual all things Asian festival “CelebrAsian” has asked me to be one of emcees. I haven’t gotten back to them yet, but if they include Muay Thai Fighting I will insist they assign me to be master of those ceremonies. Unlike Los Angeles’ Songkran Festival the Des Moines CelebrAsian has a website http://www.celebrasian.org

  2. Hey John! That is too funny. CelebrASIAN – sounds too much like abrasion! But yeah, at least you have a decent web site. Thanks for the comment!

  3. That looks awesome. The two years I studied martial arts were some of the best years of my life. Had so much fun, and felt like I was really in charge of my body. So inspiring to watch these athletes beat the stuffing out of each other.

  4. I know there are a lot of ex ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers in Los Angeles. They know martial arts well and one old man even detained me even though I thought I could break free. Every so often you get surprised by the amount of hidden martial arts in Los Angeles

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