Images courtesy of Kyle Ching: instagram.com/muaythaixl
Respect is one of the most essential aspects of martial arts.
At first thought, it can seem like contrast or a clash of ideas. After all, martial arts is a highly physical endeavor that obviously involves violence at some level. And the reality is that the combat aspect is given just as much emphasis as the art aspect, if not more.
Admittedly, that would be anyone’s first impression of martial arts in general. But if you delve deeper into it, you’ll find something much more meaningful.
Respect and Martial Arts
It tends to make sense when you think about what martial arts is truly about. Martial arts is all about achieving one’s full potential, not just in a physical sense but also in a mental and spiritual sense. It’s so much more than just mindless combat or perfecting fighting techniques.
At its very core, martial arts teaches all of its practitioners about discipline, wisdom, strength, perseverance, and of course, respect. Most martial arts originate from the East, and Asian cultures place a high degree of value in the traits that we just enumerated.
One of the main aims of any martial art is to help build character. Having respect for everyone, whether other martial artists or not, is an integral part of this character-building process.
Hence, the reason why it is drilled into each and every martial artist, regardless of rank or ability. But even as respect is highly prized and touted, not everyone practising martial art treats it the same way.
Respect in Muay Thai
And perhaps no other martial art best represents or embodies that high-level of respect than Muay Thai.
This is not to belittle or disparage other martial, particularly those known as traditional martial arts. They practice a great degree of respect as well. However, Muay Thai takes it to a whole new level.
Respect is evident in all aspects of Muay Thai. From training to the actual fights, practitioners and fighters are utterly respectful of one another and everyone else. Muay Thai has deep roots in Thai culture and tradition. This is perhaps the best explanation as to why its fighters and practitioners are very respectful.
The Thais are a very courteous and respectful people, with a warm and welcoming attitude for everyone. They don’t call Thailand the “Land of Smiles” for nothing. Thais also offer a great amount of respect for their elders and superiors. In Muay Thai that translates to the trainers and coaches. It then trickles down to the fight officials, opponents, and to the event promoters.
Muay Thai’s origin and history also play a part in this culture of respect. The art originated in the battlefield, as a means for the warriors to keep on fighting for their beloved motherland.
The art was not created and developed for the sole purpose of hurting or killing but for the higher purpose of defending freedom and keeping their land and people safe. Such a high level of idealism behind the fighting art could not help but instill honor, courage, and respect in the hearts of its practitioners.
Respect & Sportsmanship
Muay Thai is a brutal sport and even though it is the Thai national sport, it has been the sport of the lower class for a long time. It still carries this stigma as a spectator sport due to its heavy gambling presence.
But for the Thai fighters, Muay Thai is a career and a way out of poverty. There is also honor and pride in being a Muay Thai fighter if you make a name by winning championship titles.
They all come from humble backgrounds and share the same struggle. This is why there is no real rivalry outside of the ring. In fact, many rivals in the ring end up as friends. You often see them chatting heartily in the backstage before taking each other’s head off onstage.
There is never any insidious intention to harm. You will always see them showing genuine concern for their opponents after knocking them out. At the end of the day, Muay Thai is a sport that binds these people together.
What does respect entail in Muay Thai?
Besides showing respect for opponents, it also extends to all aspects of the sport. They show respect to the promoters for giving them the opportunity, ring officials for regulating the bout, gamblers for tipping them, their trainers and gym owners for the support.
Win or lose, you will always see them respecting the decision. The gamblers may disagree with the results but rarely the competitors themselves. If you go on social media, you may see fans arguing over the decisions but you rarely see Thai fighters doing that. Most of the time, they concede their defeat gracefully and give credit to their opponents.
Muay Thai fighters exemplify sportsmanship and martial arts values like respect and humility to the fullest. They don’t just talk the martial arts talk but walk the walk. This is what is so beautiful about Muay Thai that distinguishes it from most other combat sports.
Comparison with MMA
Let’s pause and compare the level of respect found in Muay Thai with what is perhaps the pre-eminent form of martial arts at the moment: Mixed Martial Arts or MMA.
MMA is the pre-eminent form of martial arts at present if only because of the global popularity that it enjoys. That is thanks in large part to the huge popularity of the premier promotional company in the sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC.
The way they market their fighters is a major reason why they’re so popular.
While there is a good level of respect between MMA competitors, the UFC promotes their fighters in such a way that puts emphasis on their personalities and their conflicts.
You often see the disrespect on display at the weigh-in press conference with fighters trying to take their opponent’s head off. Some of this feud continues on social media with plenty of trash-talking and fans and the media love it.
Some will point to the natural difference between Westerners and those from the East as far as attitude and mindset goes. It just showcases the difference in how they approach life, which then extends to other aspects of life, such as sports.
People from the West tend to have a more direct approach, which can easily translate to aggressiveness, especially in a competitive setting.
Some of the top UFC fighters are global superstar status. But many feel that something is lost along the way – the true essence and meaning of martial arts.
It can send the wrong message though, particularly to the young fans of martial arts. To their young and impressionable minds, it would seem fine to disrespect and mock your opponents and just be confrontational all the way.
You can’t say the same thing about Muay Thai.
In fact, the level of respect in Muay Thai applies not just to ordinary fighters. Even the biggest names in the sport display it and it’s not just for show. They have the same respect for their opponent’s, their audience, and for the sport itself.
It is worth mentioning Asia MMA giant, ONE Championship. The promotion takes an approach to its marketing that is in a complete opposite direction from UFC.
ONE puts heavy emphasis on martial arts values like humility, and respect which they use to market and distinguish itself. It helps that the promotion’s roster consists of Asian combat athletes from Thailand, Japan, Myanmar. They are known for being the most humble and respectful people.
What is our takeaway from all this? Simple enough – that Muay Thai is the pre-eminent martial art when it comes to being tied and connected to respect. It is deeply rooted not just in Thai culture and tradition, but its history basically guarantees it.
So if you’re seeking a martial art that truly embodies respect in all its aspects – and not just a mere lip service like it is for some – then it’s perhaps time to visit the nearest Muay Thai gym near you.
If you see yourself as a Nak Muay, embrace the violence but also remember the true values of what it means to be a martial artist.