Every year, more than a thousand people flock to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya for the Wai Kru Muay Thai ceremony. There, they learn about the history of Thailand’s national sport, pay respect to great Muay Thai masters, witness live matches, and even try some techniques out for themselves.
However, this event isn’t only for Muay Thai enthusiasts. For anyone who’s interested in learning about Thailand’s rich culture and history, there’s a huge amount to offer. Here’s what you can expect from the 15th edition of this annual event.
Honor the Legend of Nai kanomthom
The annual Wai Kru ceremony is centered around the story of Nai Khanom Tom, an ancient figure who is revered as ‘the father of Muay Thai’.
In 1774, he was held as a Siamese prisoner of war in Burma. After hearing about his exceptional fighting skills, King Hsinbyushin (also known as King Mangrai) invited him to take part in a tournament against his best Burmese boxers.
During this time, the sport that we now know as Muay Thai, with gloves and three-minute rounds, didn’t exist. Instead, fighters competed ‘kard chuek’ style, with only ropes covering their fists and forearms, and used ancient ‘Muay Boran’ techniques. Without a knockout, there was no winner, and fighters battled it out for as long as they had to without breaks.
Nai Kanom Tom ended the first match quickly, and another opponent was immediately introduced. The next one met the same fate, and Nai Kanom Tom was subsequently pitted against a total of 10 opponents, defeating them all with equally vicious knockouts. As a result, the Burmese king granted him his freedom, along with the other Siamese prisoners. Now, March 17th is celebrated as Nai Kanom Tom Day.
Learn the Meaning of ‘Wai Kru’
‘Wai Kru’ means to pay respect to one’s teacher. The Wai Kru festival is an opportunity for Muay Thai practitioners to pay homage not only to those who taught them the art, but also to the masters ranked above them, famous Muay Thai fighters, and the ancient warriors who came before them.
This includes Nai Kanom Tom, as well as ‘Tiger King’ Phrachao Suea, who reigned from 1703-1709. During this time, Siam was not at war, leaving the army idle. The Tiger King ordered soldiers to practice Muay Thai, triggering a rise in interest in the sport across the country. He loved Muay Thai so much that he even disguised himself so that he could secretly compete in village tournaments. In doing so, he once defeated three of the country’s greatest fighters in one night.
Participants honor these historically famous Muay Thai figures by joining a mass Wai Kru ceremony. This includes the ‘Wai Kru Ram Muay’ a ritual that is performed by fighters in the ring before every bout. They bow their heads three times – once for Buddha, once for the King, and once for their teacher. Then, they perform a beautiful, elaborate dance. Traditionally, each Muay Thai master or camp has their own individual Ram Muay style, which displays their specific strengths and skills while intimidating their opponents. This breath-taking spectacle will take place at sunset against the backdrop of Ayutthaya’s ancient ruins, beginning at 6 pm on March 17th.
Watch Live Muay Thai Fights
The celebrations will begin with the Miracle Muay Thai Festival, which is organized by the Professional Boxing Association of Thailand in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Attendees can watch professional Thai and foreign fighters in action, some of whom will be competing for world title belts. The event takes place at Wat Langkha Khao from 2 pm until 6 pm on March 16th, and 1 pm until 5 pm on March 17th. Entry is free for all spectators.
Explore Thai Culture through Ancient Arts
Displays of Muay Thai and Muay Boran (ancient Thai boxing) will take place throughout the festival, but these aren’t the only Thai martial arts on show. There will also be Krabi Krabong (Thai sword fighting) exhibitions. Those who want to get involved can try their hand at techniques and drills as taught by Muay Thai masters. They can even test their strength by kicking banana trees.
As well as martial arts, the festival will give participants a chance to witness other ancient Thai crafts such as Thai dance, Yantra writing and tattooing, and Aranyik sword making. Of course, there will also be an array of traditional Thai food and hand-crafted souvenirs available from street stalls in the area.
Whether you’re a Muay Thai practitioner, an avid fan of the sport, or simply a lover of Thai culture, you’ll be entertained by the range of activities at that the Wai Kru Muay Thai festival. While you’re there, you can explore the ruins of the Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya national park, soaking up the history and enjoying the majesty of this ancient capital.
Click here to read more about the this year’s Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony.