Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is the national sport of Thailand with a long-standing tradition, especially in the rural northeast, where I shot these images.
Mostly farmers, they had to protect themselves with no money for swords or any other weapons. It was also seen as an opportunity to earn money with having had little education or opportunities for work and a fighter would have provided for the whole family and that still stands today.
What may seem strange to westerners, is that also young children are sent by their parents to train and fight, in the hope of earning money by winning fights, to help support the family.
In local culture, however, they don’t see anything wrong with it, on the contrary. It is also considered an educational thing, keeping the kids away from the streets and from drugs, etc. helping them develop fighting spirit and courage.
Of course, there are those with children who are corrupted by money and make their kids fight too much etc, but again just like children’s beauty pageants or football, it’s about having safeguards and people of good judgment in control.
The children’s weight has to be within a few kilos and the child gets an opportunity to say I don’t want to fight the opponent for whatever reason (has been beaten by him before or just doesn’t fancy it. Still, it’s very unlikely for a child to withstand the pressure exerted on him/her by parents).
The whole family will travel with the child. Mother, aunt, uncles, cousins, it’s a big day out for all the family and as often is the case a meal will be eaten and the fights are often at venues where other entertainment is ongoing, singing, and the sale of everything imaginable. So far from being disliked it is an essential part of Thai culture, embraced and loved.
When the training of mind, spirit and soul is done correctly, It will stay with the kids through life. As was once said, ”Teach a boy well till the age of seven, and I’ll show you the man”.
Words by Sebastian Herwin.