MANY sports in the country don’t get as much attention as the big spectator games. Officials go about pursuing their discipline quietly, staging tournaments and hoping to gain more followers and disciples. It’s never an easy journey with funds always in short supply and the attention understandably being grabbed by the high profile events.
That’s why when my son Louie asked me if I wanted to join him to catch a Muay Thai tournament last Sunday, I readily agreed. I knew he had picked up the sport in college and was part of Muay Thai Ateneo. It was time for me to learn a new sport.
The event was the First Philippine Thaiboxing Association Interschool Amateur competition at the Ateneo covered courts. Muay Thai is the traditional martial art form from Thailand often been referred to as the “art of eight limbs.” Almost all body parts are weapons including fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet. Hitting while grappling is allowed. In ancient times, hits to the groin were allowed but the sport has evolved since then to disallow these dangerous shots today.
The tournament brought together a small collection of clubs from Muntinlupa, Manila, Bulacan and other places. Team members includes boys and girls as young as eight and as old as college students. As in most sports followed only by a few, the audience is mostly supportive parents, friends and classmates. And yet, you sense the passion of this collective: Countless hours have been spent training and there’s nothing like a tournament to test one’s skills.
Like most Asian martial arts, Muay Thai is rooted in ritual. Fighters pace the ring to “seal” it before the fight starts. A wai khru or form ritual is then done in the center of the ring by the fighters just before battle to honor the teacher who instructed them. Then, when the fight begins, there’s the unmistakable cacophony of Thai drum beats and horn blasts playing in the background.
The fights did not disappoint as young boys and girls showed sharp fighting skills.
Muntinlupa’s Winniefredo Enraya tagged Manila Babac’s Edner Enriquez with some lethal kicks and punches forcing the referee to stop the contest. Jord Domines Barco of Bulacan trounced John Lloyd Olimba while Muntinlupa’s John Arthur Olimba later outpointed Bulacan’s Miguel Renzo Gob.
The referee would halt contests when hurt fighters would be dazed or could not lift their arms for a fighting stance. This was clearly to protect the fighters who are, after all, students and amateurs. By the way, the combatants fought with protective head, body and shin gear to prevent any serious injuries. This is, of course, in contrast to professional fighters who do not don such protection.
In time, maybe television can catch the Muay Thai spirit because the bouts are as competitive as professional boxing. In Thailand, life comes to a halt when bouts are staged. Venues are filled and families and even entire villages mill around TV sets to watch.
In all, it was a fulfilling day for the Muay Thai Philippine participants. Their sport may not be as popular as the others that were played out that Sunday but it didn’t matter. They definitely got a kick out of practicing their sport and sharing it with others who cared about it as well.