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Muay Chaiya: Concussion and Compassion

Muay Chaiya sarakadi 30
Muay Chaiya sarakadi 30

Imagining being faced with an opponent standing before you in a position you’ve never seen before in all your years of training. His hands turn slowly, rhythmically in a circle as his head sways back and forth. His body, propped up on one leg, seems to bob up and down in a controlled manner. Unconventional at best, he seems to almost be off balance, and for so long you’d been taught to attack when your opponent was off balance. Though you both have yet to engage one another, now seems like the opportune time to strike. That in mind, you ball your fist, take your stance, and commit your first and last mistake.

The position you mistook for “unbalance” in your opponent is a signature stance of Muay Chaiya, one of but many traditional Muay Boran systems. Styles and disciplines varying from region to region, Muay Chaiya hails from the south of Thailand and is renowned for many key tactics. Of them is one of their standing positions; a one-legged posture called “Tah Kru” or “The Master’s Stance”. As opposed to more conventional and traditional stances, Tah Kru places the fight on one leg instead of two. The raised leg is bent at the knee which is aimed at the opponent. The toes of the foot of that same leg are pulled back as well, exposing the ball of the foot as yet another offensive striking point. Above the waist, the arms are bent at the elbows; one fist positioned just in front of the middle of the brow and the other poised in front of the pit of the throat. In this position, all the body’s natural hardest surfaces are primed and aimed at the opponent, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. The misleading one-legged posture requires not only great balance but greater agility to shift from one leg to the other quickly to exploit vulnerable angles of the opponent. The moment you charged in, you mistook the Chaiya boxer’s preparedness for a lack thereof and thusly, took one step closer to defeat.

The “punches-in-bunches” you’d worked so hard to ingrain into your thought is doing nothing but hurting. Held against another gem in the Chaiya combative crown is their defensive system, otherwise know as “Pong Pad Pid Perd” (to block, to swipe, to open, to cover). This intricate network of parries and various elbow blocks are designed to not only deflect but destroy incoming attacks. The fist thrown so intently shatters upon collision with the ready elbows of the Chaiya boxer. Quickly and seamlessly, the elbows seem to shift and reposition in the blink of an eye, warding off some attacks and impaling others upon thorns of bone. If that weren’t enough, the kicks you’d spent so long conditioning crash into the Chaiya boxer’s knees, the bones of your shins rattling and cracking in agony with each strike. Struggling to regain some composure after the failed attacks, you’re picked at with precision punches and kicks. Each one snaps out and recoils only to be followed by another that stings another location. Their rapid succession is blinding, and there’s only one recourse before you completely succumb to the Chaiya boxer’s devastating barrage: take him to the ground.

Contrary to popular opinion, Muay Chaiya does have a ground-fighting component. This grappling system includes not only the joint-locks and chokes found in other arts such as Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, but a system of striking bent on a single principle: smashing. This little-known component is now more than evident to you, the Chaiya boxer quickly maneuvering in and out of your joint-locks and guards before he’s pinned your arms down and positioned himself atop your chest, elbow raised to strike. You wait for what can only be seen as the inevitable; a downward elbow strike that would easily fracture your skull against the hard earth beneath you, but it never comes. Instead, the Chaiya practitioner lowers his arm and rises to his feet, extending his hand down to help you up. This exchange, agonizing as it was, was not a contest to the death. A follower of Buddhist principle, the Chaiya boxer will not take life unless absolutely necessary. Today was such a day, and before he leaves, he bows and smiles at you before turning to walk away.

Your body battered and slightly bloodied. Your skin scratched and bruised from the checked blows and rolling on the ground, all you can do as the Chaiya boxer walks away is think to yourself, that in the presence of a man with such skill with such formidable weapons at his disposal, you could have been severely injured, crippled, or even worse. But you’re alive, you’re standing, and though you’re just a little humbled, you’re in awe just the same of the exotic art of Muay Chaiya.

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