Muay Thai is more than just a combat sport. It is a martial art with centuries of history, steeped in traditions and spiritual beliefs. In its country of origin, Thailand, Muay Thai fights are accompanied by ethnic Thai music while fighters can always be seen donning unique headgear called Mongkhon and armbands known as Pra Jiads.
The Mongkhon (sometimes Mongkol) is unique to Thai boxing and not worn in neighboring countries in their respective fight sports. The Mongkhon is perceived by Thai people to possess special powers that confer protection and good luck on its wearer. Mongkhons are traditionally handmade with rope and cloth by teachers or trainers in the camp. They are then blessed by monks before being passed down within the camp to the fighters. Mongkhons may sometimes contain bones of a fighter’s ancestor or the hair of a loved one but more frequently adorned with sacred amulets. Nowadays, headgears can be purchased in Muay Thai specialty shops but the practice of weaving the Mongkhon remains within many traditional Thai gyms.
The tradition of wearing Mongkhons can be traced back to ancient Thailand when warriors would tie cloth around their heads and chant Buddhist prayers prior to battles. This practice can be seen to have modernized in Muay Thai competitions. Mongkhons are worn just prior to entering the ring and during the Wai Khru Ram Muay dance prior to the fight. Upon completion of the dance, the fighter returns to his corner where a trainer or camp owner removes the Mongkhon while chanting a prayer. This is seen in Muay Thai fights all over Thailand but has also transported beyond the borders to around the world wherever Muay Thai is practised.
In addition to the headdress, another item that can always be seen on Muay Thai fighters are the fabric armbands known as Pra Jiad (sometimes Prajet or Prajioud). Like the Mongkhon, Pra Jiads are believed to grant good luck to the wearers with origins tied to the ancient times when the country was constantly at war. The armbands were usually fabric torn off a mother’s dress and tied around the arms. The symbolic act represented a mother’s blessing for the safety of the wearer. Worn on one or both arms, they are now made with fabric, rope or a combination of both materials. Unlike the Mongkhon, Pra Jiads are worn not just during the pre-fight Wai Khru but also during fights.
As the sport of Muay Thai spreads outside of Thailand, the armbands are incorporated in some foreign gyms as a kind of belt system similar to that in Karate or Taekwondo. Such ranking systems, however, do not exist in traditional Muay Thai camps.
Both Mongkhons and Pra Jiads are looked upon as sacred objects and should be treated with respect at all times. They are handled with care and must never be dropped, stepped on or over. The traditions of Muay Thai are what make the sport distinctive and special - it is truly one of the most enchanting combat arts in the world.