Kiddy Kombat

**WARNING: Some may find this post disturbing**

Earlier I wrote about witnessing my first Muay Thai fight in a local bar. The experience was one that had me intrigued, excited, and thoughtful. Later on, I visited the Chiangmai Boxing Stadium for a full night of fights. Even I couldn’t expect what I would witness…

The stadium itself was a smaller-medium size with ringside seats going for $30. Being on “Thai time” meant that the action didn’t begin for about a half hour after the designated start time. Before any of the action began, I turned around and witnessed a fighter and coach performing a pre-fight prayer.

 The fighter couldn’t have been older than 16. 

Muay Thai fights are a different kind of show than watching a boxing or MMA match. They are very adamant on paying tribute to the traditions laid before them. Each fight begins with a traditional “Wai Khru Ram Muay” (that can be shortened to Wai Khru) which roughly translates to “war-dance saluting teacher”. This dance is performed by the fighters to show respect and gratitude to their teachers and coaches, as well as their family and the King himself.

The bell sounds and the fights begin. I won’t delve too deep into the style of fighting (as there’s NO way to do it justice on a single post) but it’s very different from other fighting styles. Whereas boxers are taught to “hit-without-being-hit”, Muay Thai fighters never get out clean. The sport is often referred to as “the art of eight limbs” that includes fists, elbows, shins, and knees as weapons used in a fight.

The fights were brutal…

Shin bones cracking against shin bones, elbows digging into skulls, snaps of punches echoing above the crowd. I’m not exaggerating, these fighters were putting everything into these fights and risking even more. They were exciting, nerve-wracking, and humbling. For a guy who trains in combat sports, I could never see myself competing full-on like the way these warriors do. I don’t like to blame it on my late start, but what I saw next would make me question otherwise…

I saw this little guy cornering the 3rd or 4th fight, looking on at the action with a studious and fearful eye most likely considering this as his calling in the years to come. But it wasn’t years that would take for this little half-squat to enter the ring.

30 minutes later…

This kid was most likely 8 years old.

At first, I was lost, confused at what was happening in front of me. There was no way these little kids were going to square up and go toe-to-toe till one couldn’t no more. But that’s exactly what happened. Snappy leg kicks and sloppy punches were thrown at one another resembling both a masterful training session as well as an after school rumble by the bike racks. Brutal knees to these underdeveloped bodies were coupled with prepubescent grunts of toughness. There was no denying the warrior within these kids. The only difference in these fights was the threshold for pain these young boxers could withstand. A few well-placed leg kicks and the youngster was down.

Upon immediate reflection, I was a bit turned off. These young kids were undergoing physical damage that would have had many people back home up in arms about child cruelty and CTE worries. And there’s no denying the risks involved with ALL martial arts and combat sports. I wasn’t used to it. I couldn’t change it, but as I watched and learned more, I put my Western perspective in the backseat and did what we ALL should do when traveling and experiencing different cultures…

I embraced it.

This isn’t my home. In Thailand, Muay Thai is the country’s national sport. In order to be the best you have to start at a young age and get those fundamentals in check. This is conclusive around the world in any discipline. Yet, full on fighting is the difference. Thailand is a very family-oriented place (something I admire greatly about it) and everyone is keen on providing what they can for the family. For many kids, fighting is the only avenue they have and will go on to fight for crowds to bring home a couple bucks in support. Fighting at a young age has been a part of many cultures throughout human history, so it shouldn’t be seen as shocking or horrific to see it still in action. After taking all into consideration, I understand and respect these young boxers more than many fighters I’ve witnessed in my time. I can’t say I have a definitive opinion on these young kids fighting at this age, but there is a sense of respect and humility there.

There are no participation trophies or post-game orange slices in Muay Thai. Someone wins, someone loses, and everyone gets hurt. Yet it stands far above the glory of many other sports out there. Keep at it, you rascals.

About the author: JackCrowe

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