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15 December 2010

Muay Thai

6th December 2010

Why would I go to a kickboxing match in Bangkok when I’ve never been remotely interested in going to a boxing match in England? In part I suppose the oriental martial arts have a lot more “cool” attached to them than good ol’ Marquess of Queensbury rules. I like martial arts films (in moderation). I could also claim some interest because it is the national sport of Thailand. Then again, I’ve never sought out a baseball match in the States. So it’s probably just a case of succumbing to something you’re meant to do as a visitor in Bangkok.

Bangkok certainly isn’t a city for just wandering the streets admiring the historic architecture and green spaces – there’s precious few of either that I can see. So you

need to find things to do. It has a bunch of key attractions, and we dutifully went to look at the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Pho today. Dutiful because I just know that the main tourist draws of the capital city are never going to be my favourite memories of any country.

These grand temples and palaces all turn out to be impressive architectural concoctions, lavishly covered in a thousand bright colours and encrustations of golden bling. But if colour and bling are part of the national Thai character, as the guidebooks imply, then why are all the secular, residential and commercial buildings in Thailand every bit as drab as an industrial estate in Swindon?

The muay thai fight has a natural rhythm, almost a formula. Before the fight begins the pugilists dance, to get in with the spirits of the ring and to out-psyche their opponent. Yes, dance. The first two rounds of the match still seem touched with this dance, as they feel each other out with lots of feints, blocks and flashy kicks, all to the bobbing rhythm of the wailing music that makes a background to the battle. Only in the last three rounds does ballet give way to brutality, the main aim being to get into a good clinch with the opponent where you can deliver many crashing knees to his midriff unblocked while preventing him getting many back at you. After five rounds, the ringside judges deliver the tally and the verdict. Only in one bout did we see a knock-out, or whatever the correct term is for taking far too many knees to the gut, so that you fall to the floor in agony and have to be stretchered off with probable cracked ribs.

This bout left an impression. There were lots of other impressions too. The age and size of some of the competitors, who seemed like shrimps next to their trainers and couldn’t have been even sixteen. The enthusiastic yelling of onlookers, some of them coming right down to ringside to offer vehement advice and magic smelling salts to their chosen fighter. The grubby concrete statium, exactly what I expected a boxing stadium to be. The good atmosphere and obvious enjoyment of fans and fighters alike.

So I’ve signed up for a two week muay thai course at a gym in Bangkok, starting tomorrow.

Perhaps not. But I will say that the evening spent watching muay thai has left me with more lasting impressions than the day spent touring palaces and temples.

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