Thailand is known for its culture. Its own trends. The country is a whole new universe on its own. There are traditions practiced there that I have not seen in any other place in the world. And I have been to a fair number of other locations around the world. However, nothing beats the exceptionality that Thailand holds. However, there are certain events and traditional practices that take place that not many people approve of. I got to learn that the hard way, when I was in Thailand a couple of years ago.
Muay Thai or as it literally translates to “Thai boxing” is a sport that is played all over Thailand. I was aware of the nature of this sport to this extent only. I, however, was not informed on who exactly the boxers are and their identities. A friend of mine who was travelling with me, mentioned it as he had a craze for such sports and games, he insisted that we go. I agreed, thinking that this would be a normal wrestling match between 2 men that naturally the crowd would bet on and it would end as it usually does.
Oh, the surprise I was faced with!
A fighter of Muay Thai bowed in prayer on the ring where he just fought.
Muay Thai, is not meant for wrestling men but instead kids below 15 are trained and left to spar against each other as a jeering crowd cheers them on. At least, the match that I attended was made up of 2 small boys with skinny bodies aiming killer kicks and jabs at each other. To say the least, I was shocked and wincing every other second.
The Boys Will Live, or Will They?
My friend who was super passionate about this sport briefed me on all the important details that have to do with this sport. No lie, it reminded me of the scene in Game of Thrones where Daenerys attempts to close the fighting pits in Meereen after she conquers the land. However, she is pleaded by her advisors to not do such a thing as the fighting pits hold a great significance in the history of Meereen and many people make a living off of the sport. And some even gain a reputable name through their relentless fighting in the pits.
Same is the case with the Muay Thai practice in Thailand. They hold a very deep and historical importance for the people and the land and regardless of the brutalities and incidents that occur in the rings; the sport is still cheered on. There are kids who are knocked out bloody, but does the crowd care? No!
The screams and exclaims of delight as one youngling strives to knock out the other unconscious are deafening. My first experience in the crowd felt like a daze. I remember feeling lightheaded and blacking out after one kid flopped unconscious on the floor of the ring in front of me with blood seeping out of his mouth. What can I say? I’m squeamish!
why did you stated that there have been MANY deaths? Where did you get this from?
It is admittedly a very shocking thing to see when you enter into the arena expecting to see 6 foot men with biceps bigger than my face looking like human stone statues…and instead all that I saw were 2 sunburnt Thai kids, their arms scrawny and their faces stripped of emotion. They have a look of determination on their faces. Not the one you see on the faces of kids playing soccer on their school field, trying to score a goal. No!
Their eyes are dark like steel in the night and they are stiffened by their own pressure and the crowd’s cheering. Their legs poised and their torsos lined with moisture as they pounce and retract. I could count muscles on their bodies that I didn’t even have as an active 28-year old. They are inspiring and disturbing at the same time.
I found myself repeatedly asking my friend this question after I emerged from the arena. “Why?”
His answer was simple and precise. “For the money, man!” He proceeded by chortling and stating “What else could drive a child to behave like a tiger in captivity?”
And that is true! That is the truth behind these children’s stone hard determination and that is what keeps them going regardless of how many noses or teeth they break. The kids are sent for training at ages as young as 4 or 5. Their trainers are usually ex-child fighters who survived the multiple rings and opponents pitched against them . They grew up to the ripe age of 50 and 60 and now they train other kids to be like themselves.
Maybe that could be another reason why these children are so driven! They see the respect and glamor their trainers receive and have received from their reputation.
“Some even view their trainers as their own fathers!”
This sentence uttered by my friend rung in my ears for months after my first encounter with one of these fights. It is their families’ need for money mingled with the ache of being recognized as their own person, which pushes these kids to such inhuman extents.
The fights are wild and super nerve-wracking as the poor small kids are not even equipped with protective equipment to save them from the merciless blows delivered on them by their opponent. The kids use all the possible parts of their body for fight. So much so that the sport is broadly labelled as the “art of 8 limbs”. Each kid can use their elbows, knees, feet and fists in attempt to knock out the other as quickly as possible.
Usually as the fights start, the kids’ parents are seated in the crowd or watching their child on live TV. It is some of their proudest moments to watch their child struggle and fight like a warrior in the ring. Even if the child loses, the parents still view their kids as ‘warriors’.
There have been numerous attempts for the removal of kids from this sport but the general public is with it and even tourists come from far and wide to witness a Muay Thai child boxer fight. Political bodies and heads are scared to make such a big change in the country’s traditions and history since that will only anger the people. Besides there are more than 10,000 kids who are already registered with trainers so as they can grow up to be winning fighters. If you ask me, I would immediately put an end to these fights without sparing a single thought for traditions. We have progressed as a humanity on the whole and to stay lingering on to old practices only proves our dullness and dog-mindedness. If old traditions and historical traditions should be carried forth then we would all still be practicing the golden implementations of the Stone Age, no?
I was visibly angry and distressed after my squeamishness and pity for the kids wore off and naturally my friend took it lightly and joked it off.
“You can’t change traditions as old as time brother, you gotta just enjoy them while they’re here!” he exclaimed jollily before changing the subject.
It is undoubtedly understandable the circumstances from which these small kids pass through on daily basis. Who doesn’t want to be the hero in their family and earn a living for them? But, to me the fighting rings are worse than child labor. They incorporate child abuse as well as child labor without even an iota of mercy. The kids are programmed to just beat the hell out of each other, grab their winnings and go home.
The Other Side To Them
It is scary to think of children being tuned out of their humanity and turned into fighting machines. However, as bad as it seems out in the rings, it is not as bad as it seems. The kids still love their families and their diligence in the sport shows how far they are willing to go for their loved ones. They have their humanity in them, they just choose when to utilize it. And that is sparsely!