To the untrained eye, the movements are unusual, the music is strange and the point is often missed. The Wai Kru Ram Muay is a very traditional part of Muaythai competition, and often neglected by non-Thai organisations. But what is this mysterious tradition, why do they do it, and what does it all mean?
To understand the Wai Kru Ram Muay you need to understand a little bit about Thai culture. The traditional gesture used to show respect in Thailand is called the “Wai”. It consists of a slight bowing of the head, with the hands pressed together in a prayer-like fashion in front of the face. The higher the hands in relation to the face, and the lower the bow, the more respect is being given. It is both a greeting and a farewell. The “Wai” is also used when apologising, saying thanks, praying, and showing respect in general.
This is the Thai form of the Sanskrit word for “Guru”, meaning teacher. Your teacher or teachers are the ones that have given you the skills you have now. If you have a good one, they pay attention to your growth and development as a fighter. They encourage you when you are low and build you back up, but they also will warn you if you step out of bounds and lose discipline. A good teacher will earn your respect rather than demand it, and be someone that inspires you.
The Wai Kru Ram Muay is a Muay Thai ritual in which students show respect and gratitude to their teachers, parents, and ancestors.
Ram is the Thai word for “dancing” in the classical style, and Muay simply means “boxing”. Literally then, this is the dance of the boxers, or boxing dance. It is both a stretch and warm-up, as well as reflection of gratitude to your teachers, opponent, and everyone connected to you relating to your fighting life. Each camp typically has its own style of Ram Muay, and the dance-like movements may reflect this. Some may be very complex, and some very simple. They all have subtle variations based on the region and the teacher, and are ways of “showing off” your roots.
Despite subtle differences, many at least start in the same way. Once the traditional Thai music (Sarama) starts and the rhythm is set, fighters will circle the ring counterclockwise and “pray” in each corner of the boxing ring. They’ll often spiral inwards to a point near the center and begin a sequence of movements. Often the bow is completed three times, with the fighter touching his head to the mat each time. Once this part is completed the variation can be huge. Generally, a fighter will come up on one knee and begin the dance. Movements can symbolize salutes to the Thai royalty, or even to various Buddhist deities.
It’s beautiful, graceful and mysterious to watch the Wai Kru Ram Muay in its entirety, and it’s one of those things you truly need to see in the flesh to really appreciate.