Images of Muay Thai Arm Bands courtesy of Nick Soland: www.nicksoland.com
Muay Thai is a martial art of heavy cultural and traditional influences. It’s true for the art of 8 limbs than perhaps any other fighting art. This is because Muay Thai development as a sport is deeply rooted in the history of the nation.
Such close ties with culture and tradition mean that it will be visible in the art in one way or another. And in Muay Thai, one of the ways that it has been manifested is through the attire that a Nak Muay (Thai: นักมวย meaning: boxer) wears.
The attire of the Muay Thai fighters are simple enough. Of course, there are the obvious ones such as the Muay Thai shorts and boxing gloves. Then there are the ones that are unique to the sport, namely, the headgear and the armbands.
The headgear is known as the Mongkhon (or Mongkol) (Thai: มงคล) and the arm band is known as the Pra Jiad (Thai: ประเจียด). Both are essential to the spectacle of a Muay Thai bout, along with the pre-fight pageantry that is unique to this ancient Thai fighting art.
In this article, we will place our focus on the Pra Jiad – the Muay Thai armbands.
Origin of the Pra Jiad
Anyone who is familiar with the history of Muay Thai knows that it originated on the battlefield. It was developed to supplement the weapons of soldiers who fought for the land and the people. Muay Thai allowed the warriors to continue fighting even when they lost their weapons in the heat of fighting on the battlefield.
The origin of the Pra Jiad has close association with warriors going into the battlefield. In the past, Thai warriors would be given a piece of their mother’s clothing before leaving their home for battles. They tied the pieces of clothing around their arms to bring them good luck in battle so that they would return home safely.
Why do They Wear Arm Bands in Muay Thai
Competitors wear arm bands in Muay Thai primarily because it is a part of the Thai tradition. It has been handed down from the time when Muay Thai was used in warfare.
Muay Thai arm bands are not purely decorative. The Thai fighters connect the wearing of the armbands to their own spiritual or traditional beliefs.
These armbands are part of the colorful tradition that makes Muay Thai unique. Along with the pre-fight dance known as the Wai-Kru and the Mongkhon headband, the Pra Jiad reflects the spiritual nature of the art of Muay Thai.
Muay Thai practitioners consider both the Pra Jiad and the Mongkhon as sacred objects. A holy man (Ruesi) or a monk would bless the Mongkhon and Pra Jiad for auspiciousness so everyone needs to treat it with the utmost respect. Those objects should never touch the ground, especially the Mongkhon as they wear it on the head.
It’s also forbidden for any person to step over them as it would represent a desecration of those sacred objects. If it happens, Thai people believe that bad luck will hound the fighter.
Although it is not mandatory, many fighters wear the Pra Jiad because they believe that it brings them good luck in their fights. Many Thai fighters and trainers also visit a temple especially if there is an important bout coming up. For a fighter, some extra good luck is always welcome.
Pra Jiad – How to Wear
Fighters typically wear a pair of armbands, each on an arm, and specifically just above their biceps.
Contrary to some practice in Muay Thai gyms outside of Thailand, Thai fighters do not wear the arm bands during day-to-day training or sparring but only during competitions.
Muay Thai competitors wear the Pra Jiad not just before, but also during the course of the fight. This is in contrast with the headband, which is taken off in the ring after the Wai Kru and right before the fight commences.
What Material is the Pra Jiad Made From?
In the past, Pra Jiad is usually made from materials that are quite close to home. The traditional material used for the Pra Jiad is the sarong of the warriors’ mothers. In ancient times, the warriors included magic amulets for added protection when they engage in battle.
Modern Pra Jiads are mostly weaved using nylon or hemp threads. Some fighters continue to use pieces of fabric from sarongs. There are Muay Thai gyms that weave their own arm bands by hands. The majority now buy them from factories that mass produce Muay Thai arm bands.
If you want your armbands to be custom made, then that’s possible as well. When it comes to the colors, there is a much wider selection today than ever before.
The Pra Jiad and Muay Thai Ranking System
The Pra Jiad is also somehow linked to Muay Thai ranking system. And this is a controversial issue, to say the least.
The controversy arises from the fact that some gyms, particularly in the West, have used the Pra Jiad as a way to rank practitioners. They use it in a way that’s similar to how other traditional martial arts – such as Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, etc. – use belts for ranking.
Those gyms use those rankings as a form of validation for their students. This is especially common for young children to help keep them interested. Their reason is that it gives their students a sense of achievement that they otherwise wouldn’t have if the rankings didn’t exist in the form of the armbands.
There are also countries in Europe where there are governing bodies for Muay Thai. The associations require Muay Thai trainers and gyms to register with them and also conform to specific regulations including using ranking systems.
The problem with having such a system is that it does not exist in Thailand hence it goes against the spirit of the art. Many authentic Muay Thai gyms outside of Thailand do not have that system at all.
This practice is indicative of the different attitude towards martial arts and how they approach improvement in the art.
In Thailand and in other places with authentic Muay Thai gyms, the only way to prove one’s ability in the sport is by actual fighting or sparring. The best fighters win titles and championships and their skills and abilities don’t need the validation using an armband ranking system.
The Pra Jiad is an important element of Muay Thai. It represents the colorful and rich tradition of the sport as well as its strong ties to the Thai culture.
For some in the West, it also represents a symbol of one’s ability. To Muay Thai purists, it might not seem proper and is a misrepresentation of what the armband truly represents.
One thing’s for sure, though. And that is that the Pra Jiad is a piece of ornament that signals the time for some kickass Muay Thai action!