Watching a Muay Thai player inside the ring, sweat dripping over their focused eyes as they anticipate their opponent’s next kick and simultaneously scan the perfect hitting spot that guarantees a win, one cannot think of anything related to his origin or age. The only question surrounds his qualifications and whether he will take over the other.
Although the first time ever the combat sport saw the light was in Thailand, Muay Thai currently has a wide base of fighters all around the world, including Egypt.
Thousands of miles separating Egypt from Thailand didn’t stop or even slightly prevent Egyptian fighters from passionately practising one of the heritages of Thailand’s martial arts: Muay Thai. Despite having the opportunity to practise several other combat sports, the charm of Muay Thai has been taking over Egyptian fighters recently, leaving them professionally training for the sport—an unbreakable part of Thai legacy.
Egyptian fighter Alaa’ Mansour won the Muay Thai Live Competition against his Algerian opponent earlier this month in Thailand. The fight took place at Asiatique The Riverfront, a large open-air mall in Bangkok, Thailand.
This came after a one-week intensive training in one of Bangkok’s elite camps. The training was adopted and funded by the Thai embassy in Cairo with the help of Thailand’s ministry of tourism. Throughout the week, Mansour—along with three other professional fighters—were trained by the hands of “Kru Kae”, one of Thailand’s most prominent Muay Thai trainers. During the training, the fighters were intensively subjected to the tricks of the sport, which enhanced their experience in the fight, as well as the guidance of how to improve their skills.
“Muay Thai is the best thing I can do in my life,” Mansour said. He added that “it’s like I was born to master this sport.”Along with tens of other fighters, Mansour practised Muay Thai in the Arabic Ultimate Fighting Championship (AUFC), one of the only three Muay Thai training gyms in Egypt accredited by the World Muay Thai Federation.
Almost five years ago in Egypt, Mauy Thai started spreading as a martial art. Mansour is one of many fighters keen to use both their arms and legs in one martial art, as this gives more dexterity and agility.
At age seven, Mansour jumped between several combat sports before he settled on Muay Thai.
Jumping between different sports helped him explore his strong points, which he believes Muay Thai “develops them all and improves his abilities to use them.”
“I believe that I’m most talented in fighting,” Mansour assured.
Ahmed Ali, 32, is one of the Muay Thai fighters who had also travelled to Thailand for the training programme. For him, the sport combines the privileges of different martial arts. “Mauy Thai is the only combat art that makes use of punches, kicks, and elbow and knee strikes. This camp helped a lot in learning the simplest details of the sport, things I would never have learned without training in Thailand,” he said.
Both players train and fight under the name of AUFC, the gym in which they have been mastering martial arts for years. They have participated in many national competitions under its umbrella.
Mohammed Ibrahim, the owner of AUFC, is also a previous Muay Thai fighter. From his point of view, Muay Thai is the most advanced form of martial art. Despite the fact that AUFC provides training for different combat sports, Ibrahim believes the main goal his academy achieves is the spreading of Muay Thai culture in Egypt.
“This sport is one of the most effective martial arts. All body limbs are used as weapons—something that cannot be found in different combat sports,” Ibrahim explained. For four years, Ibrahim and his partners successfully trained around 300 fighters of all ages eight in different types of martial arts, one of which is Muay Thai.
“I’ve been trying to spread Muay Thai’s perception among youth over the past years. To train them in an unusual martial art is the change I aim to achieve in Egyptian society with my main partner, Mahmoud Saeed,” he assured.
“Despite the large base of Egyptian Muay Thai players, we barely find any sort of backing either from the Egyptian government or from the local sports federation. We financially support our players because we believe in this sport,” Ibrahim explained.
Muay Thai has spread far less in Egypt and MENA than it did in Europe. From the players’ points of view, martial arts in Egypt, generally speaking, are rarely supported by any governmental or private institutions, due to the domination of football over the masses.
The origin of Muay Thai, or the “the art of eight limbs”, goes back to the 18th century, when in 1767 the famous Thai fighter “Nai Khanomtom” was captured in the war between Thailand, Burma (Myanmar today), and the Konbaung Dynasty. Known for his expertise in hand-to-hand combat, Khanomtom was asked to fight against several soldiers with his eight limbs for his freedom. After he won, his combat-fighting style was named Muay Thai.
In Thailand, the history of the cultural sport is presented to the people in an entertainment live show called “Muay Thai Live: the Legend Lives”. The 45-minute show is performed by professional Muay Thai players, where the audience is introduced to the sport’s early beginnings and its journey until it became an integral and magnificent part of Thai culture today.
In a mixture of joy, tragedy, thrill, and excitement, the audience gets to live the fighter’s timeworn tragedies and current challenges.
In Thailand’s history, Mauy Thai was only limited to those who come from the lower social class. It was the only source of quick cash and income to those who won. Moreover, in some of the poor rural villages, some Muay Thai camps requested that families put their children up for adoption so that the children would become professional Muay Thai fighters.
“Kru Kae”, 39, recalls coming from one of those unprivileged families who fought to provide basic life needs to the children in one of Thailand’s rural villages. At age five, he was fond of several Muay Thai players he had seen at one of the village’s local festivals before his family decided to send him to a Muay Thai camp at age eight. For years, Kru Kae’s trainers and other students were the only family he knew.
“Generally, young people who come from the countryside in Thailand don’t have many opportunities in life. They don’t go to school, so they don’t have many working opportunities. For those who are physically powerful, Muay Thai used to be the only source for them to gain quick cash in order to financially support their families,” Kru Kae said.
However, the social taboo of only being restricted among the unprivileged has recently changed after the TV show “Thai fight” widely spread in Thailand, causing the legacy of Muay Thai to hit again as a modern sport. The show mainly presents the martial art as an entertainment show with music as background, while fighters are competing.
Currently, there are over 200 Muay Thai training centres in Thailand, some of which are located in some of Thailand’s most elite neighbourhoods.
“These camps are like a whole lifestyle, and these trainers are considered more as family than coaches. They teach you discipline, manners, and respect,” Kru Kae added. “Everything I learned about the sport, I gained from my years at the camp, starting from the basic Mauy Thai skills, like proper posture, to the ,tricks of quickly knocking out my opponent.”
From his point of view, Muay Thai is more of a spiritual activity than a physical one. Despite using all the body’s limbs in fighting, the combat sport requires fighters to be humble and patient.
“Fighters can stay for months only working on their posture and stance, something that many players cannot easily handle or accept,” he explained.
As a professional fighter who won several fights across the globe, Kru Kae has been training thousands of fighters from different countries. “Some fighters wouldn’t follow the training instructions, believing that coming with different techniques means creating their own unique style. Yet, the basic ritual Muay Thai revolves around is respecting the trainer, blindly trusting him, and following his instructions,” he added.
Rajadamnern Stadium is one of the oldest Thai podiums for Muay Thai fights. Known for being the house of vigorous fights, the stadium has the reputation of hosting fighters with high professional skills to fight. For years, players train only to take the privilege of participating in a fight in Rajadamnern Stadium.
Muay Thai fights take place in the podium four times a week. With nine matches every time, and hundreds of attendees to watch over the qualifications of each fighter, Muay Thai fights turned into more of an entertainment show at the stadium, listed as one of tourists’ must-visit places in Bangkok. Lumpinee Stadium and Rajadamnern Stadium are the two main stadiums used for modern-day Muay Thai.
The ticket prices vary from $7 to $40, depending on the day’s programme and participating fighters. The stadium could accommodate up to 8,000 visitors in one night.
Worldwide fighters, who come to settle in Thailand to absorb the details of Muay Thai from the source country, also anticipate joining the World Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony. The annual celebration welcomes hundreds of Muay Thai fighters who attend in order to show their respect to their teachers and past Muay Thai masters.
The ceremony also commemorates local Thai hero Nai Khanomtom for his victory over ten Burmese fighters. In its 13th round, which has taken place in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, fighters performed a series of dance-like movements accompanied by traditional musical instruments as a part of showing respect and commemorating those who spent their lives teaching and spreading the culture of Muay Thai.
“The annual World Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony has become a fixed date on the calendar for Muay Thai practitioners all over the world. The event allows international boxers to appreciate the more respectful and charming elements of this distinctly ancient Thai martial art,” Noppadon Pakprot deputy governor for tourism products and business told the Tourism Authority of Thailand News Room.
Photos Handout to DNE