Muay Thai rarely leaves someone indifferent. Considered the king of Thailand’s sports, it draws attention for the extreme difficulty of the practice and the ease to be poisoned by the mafia and betting.
In 2018 I had the opportunity to attend and photograph, for the first time, a Muay Thai show, thanks to the invitation of an Italian fighter who during that night would verify her strength in the ring.
I have to confess that I’m not the biggest enthusiast of martial arts. Maybe because of the hardness of the practice. Or the empathy towards the one who receives the hit. Or perhaps it’s a result of my ignorance. So I decided to challenge my prejudice and leave it at home to give it a new perspective on the way back.
And there I was, seated in the first row, about to witness “the fight of the free man”. And the ring. The fighters. The public. My 35 mm lens. The rituals and sanctity. Ethics and codes of conduct. The war dance that greets the teacher. And then the assaults. The nudges and sweeps. The pain. The frustration. The tactics. The bandages. The drops of sweat. The victory. The defeat. And the respect, my respects.
After the first contact with the show, I didn’t miss any detail of the warming up of my friend Luisa, the next one to get in.
I was able to understand what happened previously, observing each precise and well-planned action. The spirituality, that I could almost breathe in, made the violence, that is an inseparable part of most of the combat sports, significantly easier to bear.
And speaking of spirituality and females. Nowadays, despite the fact that women compete under the same rules as men, their presence is still considered, by some, an offense to the mystical forces that protect the ring, a sacred place of combat. Luckily, such an approach is less and less frequent, but the change is happening very slowly (which is very typical for culture-related behaviour).
One more challenge that women have to face is a notable discrepancy in money prizes between female and male competitions. It is just another of many examples showing that there is still a long way to go.
The experience definitely exceeded my expectations. Afterwards my camera and my mind, although exhausted, emanated enough energy to update my opinion about this extreme sport. Not only did I upgrade my skills (it was my first time shooting such a fast-paced sport), but also I became open minded. Nowadays, I still feel the intensity of that night in Chiang Mai everytime I see the shots.