Wai Khru Ram Muay, sometimes called just Wai Khru or Ram Muay, is an essential and very important part of every Muay Thai boxer’s training and competition ritual. Designed to show respect to the trainers and teachers who have given their knowledge to their students but also used as a way to show remorse for the violence involved in boxing when it was performed in front of a king or other ruler, it continues today as a show of respect and as a demonstration of a fighter’s style and skills before the match even begins.
Because Muay Thai fighting styles vary depending on where a fighter was trained, it sometimes also is representative of that fighter’s particular form of boxing and where they came from. Sometimes, fighters also wear special clothing during this portion of the match, though this is not required. Music may or may not be played, again depending on the fighter’s particular style and how he or she likes to be portrayed. This is one of the most unique aspects of Muay Thai, as a similar ritual is not undertaken by practitioners of most other martial arts.
What is Ram Muay?
Wai Khru Ram Muay is technically referred to as a “warmup activity.” In the Thai culture, it is used to show respect to the leaders, teachers, and trainers who have given their time to help train a fighter in this skill. Wai is an indication of respect—rather than meaning respect, it is a word that indicates an action that denotes respect. In Thai culture, it is extremely important to show respect to one’s teachers and trainers, especially in a sport that is physically stressful and takes years of training and coaching in order to perfect.
Khru means teacher. Any fighter who wants to become any kind of Muay Thai master has to work with a teacher or trainer who really understands the sport. These teachers were often fighters themselves, but even if they were not, they have spent decades studying the sport. Because most fighters owe their skills to their trainers and teachers, even if they are equipped with some natural ability, it is extremely necessary to acknowledge their input and help before a match. In a culture that values respect above many other characteristics, showing respect to one’s teacher is very important.
Ram means dance, more specifically, it means ancient dance. It is not a dance like many people might think of today, but rather a dance modeled after old, traditional Thai dances. Because the Ram is associated with boxing, it is designed to show the fighter’s skills and strength, before the boxing match even begins. While this can sometimes be used to intimidate an opponent, it is more frequently considered to be a testament to the work done by the teachers, trainers, and mentors, as well as by the fighter. Most Muay Thai boxers will have some sort of dance choreographed to this effect.
Muay means boxing. In the early days of this sport, matches only took place at festivals in front of local leaders or for the king. While these fights were usually for entertainment only, part of the Wai Khru Ram Muay was to apologize to the local leader or king for the violence that was about to take place. While Muay Thai is one of the most “violent” boxing styles in the world and unlike competitions in other countries, the fights are not staged or choreographed, this was also considered a sign of deference and respect, to the King, who might have disapproved of the brutality that was about to occur.
In short, often called just Wai Khru or just Ram Muay, it is a dance of respect for one’s teachers and trainers. But the history and cultural significance of Ram Muay makes it much more than just a dance. Muay Thai found its origins in a culture that highly values respect and dignity, and that is what the dance is designed to display. Starkly juxtaposed to the violence of the boxing, these dances are just as significant when it comes to the matches. It is not just tradition, it is an important part of any fighter’s training to learn respect and to show respect.
Aside from the cultural significance, however, these dances are often used to as a preliminary insight into the match. For those who have been around Muay Thai for many years, they will be able to recognize a fighter’s style and where they were trained, based on the Ram Muay that they perform.
It is a series of simple, controlled movements that demonstrate the fighter’s training. Each fighter will have a different dance, tailored to his skills and style of fighting. In the ring, both fighters perform at the same time, giving spectators a glimpse of the fighting to come.
While each fighter will usually individualize their routine, here is a very basic and simplified routine that someone might perform. Again, Ram Muay can be as simple or as complex as a fighter wants and as fits their individual style.
1. The fighter starts in his corner of the ring. Some fighters, usually only those trained in Thailand, will put on a headband called the Mong Kon. Both the fighter and the trainer pray.
2. The fighter then approaches the center of the ring and kneels down to pray in the direction of his home. In this part of the ritual, he is showing respect to his parents, home, beliefs, trainer, and sometimes even to a friend or relative that has died.
3. In the center of the ring, he bows to show respect to his country, beliefs, and king.
4. A fighter now shows respect to his teacher and demonstrates his fighting style by doing a short serious of motions. This part of the dance will depend on the fighter individually and his training. New fighters may learn a generic dance, but many will personalize it.
5. Before ending the dance, each fighter usually goes to the other’s corner and stamps their feet. According to tradition, this is to show the other fighter that you do not intend to kill him during the fight. In some rings, it is considered very rude not to do this and may actually incite your opponent to try to kill you during the match, since you have indicated that you will try to kill him.
6. At the end of Ram Muay, the fighter returns to his own corner and prays one last time.
Why Do They Do Ram Muay?
Each fighter’s reason for their Ram Muay is deeply personal. The reasons behind the dance range from showing respect to their teachers to worshiping God. While many may not consider Muay Thai to be a spiritual pursuit, many of the people who practice this martial art do see it that way. Because the entire basis of the Ram Muay is to show respect and thanks to one’s mentors and leaders, it makes sense that for those who live spiritual lives, it would have a spiritual element. For many fighters, the spiritual element is extremely important, while for others, it might not be. Only the fighter himself knows all of the reasons behind his Ram Muay, but the following are some of the most common reasons for performing Ram Muay and why it is important to those who practice Muay Thai.
One of the underlying reasons behind Ram Muay is entertainment. Those who come to see a match want to be entertained, it is often their entire reason for coming, though so may also enjoy the gambling that goes on in many stadiums. Ram Muay is often a show before the real show. Not only does it prep the fighter for the match, it also primes the audience. As many people who watch Muay Thai watch the sport faithfully, they get a preview into the training of the fighter, as that fighter shows respect and thanks to his trainer. While this could take place outside of the ring, before the fighters come out, having the Ram Muay in the ring enables the fighters to entertain the audience a little bit before the actual fight begins.
It also serves to warm up the fighters before the match actually begins. Physically, it is important to warm up before any kind of exertion, especially Muay Thai which can be extremely hard on the body. While this dance is not necessarily intended to completely warm a fighter up for the match, it can help keep a fighter warm and ready to go while they are waiting for the match to start. Depending on how involved and complex the routine is, it may help a fighter get in “the zone,” so he can be as mentally prepared for the fight as he is physically prepared.
Many also believe that this ritual is designed to “seal” the ring from outside influences, leaving the match just up to the two fighters inside the ring. When the ring is sealed, the opponent can no longer be influenced for good by their trainers or teacher or for evil by those who would want them to be harmed. Mentally, this allows a fighter to just concentrate on his opponent and training and to ignore the cheers of the crowd outside the ring.
At its very base level, it shows respect. Respect to whom? To trainers, spectators, Kings, and God. The whole purpose of Ram Muay is to show respect, mostly the teachers and trainers, who have enabled the individual to get where he is today. While there are other reasons for this ritual and other traditions that it fulfills, if the dance was only to show respect to the trainers, it would be reason enough. Those who practice Muay Thai have to train long and hard with skilled masters in order to learn the fighting style, and showing respect for those teachers is never a bad thing.
It is so integral to the sport that many people see a poorly performed Ram Muay as an insult to the sport, to the spectators, and most importantly, to the teachers. For fighters, it is just as important to learn the Ram Muay and perform it well as it is to learn the tenants of fighting Muay Thai and perform well in matches. Because it embodies confidence and respect, failing to perform it well makes the fighter look weak and disrespectful.
Spiritual Aspects of Ram Muay
Spirituality is a big part of Ram Muay. It is often used to call on the spirits of the gods, to ask them for their presence and help during the coming fight. In the early days of Muay Thai, it was a deeply spiritual ritual. Many believe that the sport itself, being an art form, brings the fighters closer to God, and that a large part of Ram Muay is to show respect to God and invite holy spirits to the fight.
Even if a fighter does not believe in God, Ram Muay can still have many deeply spiritual aspects. It prepares the boxer’s heart and mind for the fight, whether he attributes that to a God or not. Anyone who takes part in a sport knows that a huge part of being physically able to do something is being in the right mindset. Most fighters find that they feel much more prepared for the fight after they have done the Ram Muay, as it helps get the mind into the right mindset for boxing. It warms up the heart and soul before the match actually begins, so that when it is actually time to fight, the boxer does not have to waste time getting into “the zone.”
As a ritual, because it is designed to show respect for the teacher and to display some of the boxer’s skills, confidence, and strength, helps to rid the boxer of greed and selfishness. Instead of incorrectly thinking that they are responsible for their skills and confidence, the Ram Muay reminds the boxer that many, many other people were involved in their training and the contributions of those people are just as important as their own effort. This lends a humility to the boxer that enables him to fight better. Instead of going into the match with the egotistic belief that they are going to win because they’re the best, the humility allows to think about and draw on his training.
Benefits of Doing Ram Muay
There are many benefits to doing Ram Muay before a fight. First of all, it is a tradition deeply rooted in the culture surrounding Muay Thai. It gives due recognition to the long line of trainers and fighters that have come beforehand. It also shows respect—again, something very important in Thai culture—to all those who have come to watch the fight and those who have given their time and energy towards training the boxers. Why is this beneficial? Because it creates a much better atmosphere for this fight.
Most of all, it benefits the boxer and the mentor. While many see it strictly as a way to intimidate an opponent, this is not the true purpose of Ram Muay. It honors the mentor who has given so much time and energy to the boxer.
Aside from the spiritual benefits, it upholds the integrity of the sport. Muay Thai is an ancient sport and is therefore steeped in tradition. These rituals help to keep the sport grounded in its roots, which helps to stabilize the sport and to help it grow throughout the world.