We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
Author’s Note: I have had the honour to train and spar with a number of very tough and yet very relaxed Muay Thai fighters over the years! All have been hardened fighters with a gentle spirit and respectful spirit. Muay Thai fighters (along with Goju Ryu Karate men) are amongst the few opponents in the world that I can trust with me hitting them ‘full-power’ with ungloved-hands during free-fighting. In return, their blows are sharp, powerful, decisive and repetitive! I have the utmost respect for this Thai Buddhist martial art! ACW (5.5.2021)
The deep-rooted foundation of Muay Thai – or ‘Thai Boxing’ - do not lie in the brightly and well-funded gymnasia of the modern Thai city, but exist in the poorest areas of the jungles and the remotest of Thai villages. Depending on where the art is still practiced, Muay Thai is often linked to an ancient local Buddhist Temple – with esteemed Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) acting as the instructors and preservers of the tradition. The cultural basis of Muay Thai represents the psychological and physical reality of what it historically means to be born ‘Thai’. Thai Boxing is form of ritual veneration for the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha – as well as the King of Thailand, the government and the Thai people. As a consequence, Muay Thai has no other purpose in its most traditional form.
Muay Thai is much more than preparing a fighter to compete in the modern ring. Muay Thai is a fully-fledged medieval military art designed to train Asian infantrymen as they advance into battle escorting battle-elephants (the infantry ‘protects’ the vulnerable underbellies of the elephant from enemy attack, etc). The male and female warriors are psychologically and physically ‘toughened’ so to produce effective and hardened soldiers fit to fight in prolonged hand-to-hand engagements on the battlefield. Through harsh and brutal training all day long – the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘purified’ so that all greed, hatred and delusion are uprooted and eradicated in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya Discipline. This is why a Muay Thai warrior is a ‘Buddhist’ warrior to venerates and applied the Buddha’s Teachings (‘Dhamma’) in every facet of his or her life. This activity is regulated by the educated eyes of the Sangha (or the ‘community of ordained Buddhist monks’).
We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
This is the ritualistic vow that every Muay Thai warrior repeats with a total and complete devotion early every morning as they rise from their simple straw mat which they use as a ‘bed’. After toileting and drinking a little water – the daily training begins by running two or three miles at a steady pace around the temple and local villages. The pace is slow but steady. Speed is not the purpose – but rather stamina, strength and endurance. Rubbing the shins and fore-arms with wooden rolling-pin type devices slowly develops into the anatomical weapons being sharply ‘struck’ by these heavy objects (at the advanced level – this includes striking different parts of the skull). This leads to rope-work (or ‘skipping) to work-up a sweat before body-conditioning begins.
After working on the strengthening of the bones it is time to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Different Masters use different types of sit-ups, squat-kicks, back-raises, press-ups and loosening and stretching exercises. Relaxation coupled with strength and endurance is emphasised. All this voluntary suffering is designed to ‘burn-off’ the bad Kamma produced in the endless previous lives that have been lived by these Buddhist warriors. Next is the technique of striking, blocking, kicking, punching, head-butting and elbowing, etc. This includes groin-kicking and how to defend against groin-attacks. Devastating knee-attacks delivered at various (and unpredictable angles) are used to break ribs and paralyse the diaphragm of an opponent. This progresses to many different kinds of pad-work and bag-striking. Some bags are full of sand and others of small stones and the fighters must learn to punch and kick each with no injury or loss of stamina or will-power.
This leads to various forms of ‘sparring’ in the ring either with or without gloves. Nowadays, even the most traditional Muay Thai training temples usually ‘wrap’ the fighter’s hands early in the morning – although there are some traditional ‘hand-toughening’ exercises that involve punching trees, blocks of wood and various other objects. The hands are then treated with special (traditional) medicine. As violence is prohibited within Buddhism – greed. Hatred and delusion must be uprooted through long hours of seated mediation (usually in the evenings) and the reading of the Buddha’s Suttas. This distinctly ‘Buddhist’ training is the true foundation of Muay Thai and is the hidden conditioning ingredient to all the martial technique that this art involves.
Most people outside of Thailand only encounter the kick-boxing element of Muay Thai performed in a modern boxing ring. Traditional Muay Thai is fought on a raised stone disc or dais (after each performs a ritualised martial dance to the Hindu God Rama and the and the Buddha) Fighters have their hands wrapped by a thin and course rope (not Western bandage-wraps). Sometimes the hand-wraps are dip in a type of glue and then dipped into broken-glass – depending on the purpose of the fight. A rattan ring is worn around the top of the head as a form of skull-protection from the powerful round-kicks delivered with bare-feet, etc. For the King of Thailand, not only are his most trusted bodyguards all advanced Muay Thai warriors – but at least two specialise in the technique of double-swordsmanship incase a traditional ‘beheading’ is required of a convicted criminal.
As the Muay Thai warriors hold the status of ordained Buddhist monks – all are ‘celibate’ whilst they live and train in the Muay Thai Temple. There is no mixing with females allowed and certainly no girlfriends, or wives, etc. When not engaged in the actual physical training of Muay Thai – such a warrior-monk is expected to engage in studying the Buddhist Suttas, meditating, cleaning the temple and humbly serving the monks, etc. As they start training and fighting as young as 5 or 6-years old, a Muay Thai fighter could well in excess of two-hundred fights by the time he or she is 25-years old! Unless a Muay Thai fighter ‘retires’ and leaves his or her status as a Buddhist warrior monk – there can be no relationships with the opposite sex allowed.
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has been adapted to the modern, Western-boxing ring very well. I am of the opinion that it is one of the best all-round striking, grappling and throwing martial arts in the world today, that has retained its deep spiritual roots in modern times. Westerners, by comparison, possess a psychology and physicality that is all incorrect for Muay Thai. They do not possess the deep Thai cultural connection to the Buddha or to Buddhist culture. They have no understanding of Buddhism or any respect for the Dhamma, the Sangha or the Thai King. They know nothing about quietening the mind and uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. They think and move like a Western-boxer from a Judeo-Christian culture that has ‘secularised’.
This mentality is shot-through with the capitalist ideology and a one-sided effort defeats a multisided foundation. Westerners place all their and determination in the wrong place (as can be seen from the above video). When confronted with the best Muay Thai Masters – they incorrectly believe that if they just try harder – their inappropriate manifestation will somehow ‘work’ despite never working in the past during similar situations. They employ a lateral determination against the ‘deep’ and ‘profound’ training of a celibate Muay Thai warrior monk – as this is the case – why should they win? Why should this disrespectful and entirely incorrect interpretation of the Asian martial art of Muay Thai be allowed to succeed? This is where Western notions of ‘effort’ fall flat on their face – with no sympathy from me!
Every genuine martial arts style or system contains a rich mosaic of principles and techniques that at the most brutal assist in the surviving of the combat experience, and at the most sublime provide a psychological and physical pathway of self-development and self-transcendence. The best styles of Okinawan and Japanese karate confirm to his blue-print, and I would say that Wado-Kai, Shukokai and Goju Ryu are prime examples of the best that this genre has to offer. All these styles (two Japanese; Wado-Kai and Shukokai – and one Okinawan; Goju Ryu) have their historical roots within Chinese martial arts which probably are linked to the Fujian province of Southern China. Indeed, Wado-Kai and Shukokai derive from the Okinawan karate of Master Gichin Funakoshi – the Okinawan martial artist accredited with transmitting his style of Chinese martial arts to Mainland Japan. I practiced these styles only as an accident of fate – they happened to be prevalent in the areas I lived in to pursue my education throughout the 1980s. No one at the time (not even my close friends) knew of my Hakka Chinese gongfu background. I saw no reason to explain this, an they saw my familiarity with certain techniques as me just being talented in these areas (I was viciously fast and very good with kicking and moving, as in the traditional Northern martial arts in China, a student perfects kicking first – whilst due to cultural differences in the West – it is punching that is perfected first with kicking usually appearing uncomfortable). On the other hand, as I entered my late teens, Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) directed me to develop my punching to a very high degree. This is where Wado-Kai (correct alignment) and Shukokai (correct hip and shoulder twist) assisted my development tremendously! Goju Ryu, on the other hand, has a special place in my heart. Its all-round body-conditioning reminded me of our own Hakka Chinese gongfu style which developed tremendous power, endurance and strength! The bones certainly hardened, whilst the mind became calm and broadly aware. Master Chan Tin Sang was an extraordinary teacher as he entrusted me to enter the training halls of other styles, dedicate myself to their ways, learn them fully and then integrate these lessons and skills into the Ch’an Dao System. This could happen as each karate style brought out a particular aspect of our own fighting system. I have the utmost respect for all legitimate styles of martial arts training and see no reason why there cannot be a positive cross-training that enhances rather than diminishes. As the US at the time was emphasising Japanese martial culture throughout the West as a means to side-line and obscure Chinese martial culture (due to the Cold War), European cuntries with no historical connection with Japan suddenly found themselves hosting (usually at their own expense) Japanese ‘ambassadors’ of various karate styles and associations. This arrangement all came crashing down when President Carter established full diplomatic relations with Mainland China in 1979, and Westerners started travelling en masse to China to train in gongfu – and Chinese teachers came to the West to teach – although the effects of this change would take around a decade to fully manifest itself. In the meantime, I trained in Japanese karate at the tail-end of this time period and consider it a very interesting and unique experience.
For educational purposes, I lived in Hereford from September, 1984 – July 1988. Prior to this I had spent a year living in Reigate and Redhill. Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) had suggested that whilst travelling for education, I should attend whatever local martial arts training was available, and in the case of the karate styles, try to discern the Chinese gongfu roots. I spent a year training in Wado-Kai Karate-Do under Sensei Alan Bound in Reigate, but when I arrived in Hereford, I was swept along into the local Shukokai class taught by Sensei Tom Beardsley 4th Dan (I will write about this separately). However, in 1986 I was informed about a traditional Goju Ryu class in Hereford – I think from am advert in the magazine entitled ‘Karate and Oriental Arts’ - taught by Mr Tony Smith. This was in Hereford Leisure Centre (I think on Wednesday and Friday nights), with a Sunday training in the countryside. These classes were extraordinary and reminded me of our traditional Hakka Chinese gongfu style. The emphasis upon heavy (muscle and bone) body-conditioning was so familiar to me that it felt like a ‘returning home’. This Okinawan approach was obviously ‘Chinese’ in manifestation – just as Wado-Kai and Shukokai were typically ’Japanese’. The grading system of coloured-belts was similar (with some differences), but the gradings were so hard and infrequent that those that focused on Goju training had to psychologically and physically commit themselves to levels of dedication I had not seen in any other Karate Training Hall (or ‘Dojo’). Practitioners, led by Tony Smith and his assistants, trained to the point of utter exhaustion – and then moved into new dimensions of existence! As a 10th Kyu white-belt, I had to undergo a three-hour grading session (under ‘Sensei Bill’ 3rd Dan and his equally highly graded partner - whom I met again many years later, by accident at a dinner party) to earn my 9th kyu – a white belt with one black tag. As matters transpired, I was granted two grades in one examination (together with a friend named Ashwin Bulsara) and left with an 8th kyu grade – a white belt with two black tags which I still possess today, and am very proud of. I was living a double martial arts life at the time, being a practitioner of Hakka gongfu since a young child. I managed to train for about 18 months solid in Goju Ryu in Hereford, but trained for much longer when back home in Devon (between my required but secretive gongfu lessons). I made contact again in 2000 with Tony Smith via telephone and the internet and we became good friends. Since my formulative days in Hereford, I had married British Chinese woman born in Hong Kong, had inherited our family gongfu style and was teaching classes of my own. For about two months in 2005, I had a friend who was driving near to Cardiff once a week and she agreed to visit Hereford en route and we trained with Tony Smith in a different hall (somewhere near the centre of Hereford). Tony also stayed a few times in our home in South London and I was happy (and honoured) to meet his partner and sons. As an author, I wrote an article about Tony Smith and it was published (in two parts) in the ‘Traditional Karate’ magazine in 2007 (please see below). Around 2007 Tony introduced me to Mr George Andrews 8th Dan at his training hall in the Elephant and Castle part of London.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.