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The Essence of Muay Thai

I’m a Muay Thai fighter and a practicing Buddhist. My sudden cease in training Muay Thai during lockdown was challenging. Nothing takes the place of daily classes, but something from Easton Training Center endured in me mentally and emotionally, and a look into Muay Thai’s history gave me a hint as to why.

Buddhist philosophy is found in the origins of Muay Thai in Thailand. I mentioned this to a friend, and they looked at me quizzically. They blinked, briefly shifted their eyes laterally in thought and asked, “Isn’t Muay Thai violent? And, isn’t Buddhism all about non-violence?”

I can see how the two could seem like opposites at first. People kick each other in Muay Thai. They punch faces. But a closer look reveals some shared values and principles. There is an integrity in Muay Thai, a major focus on self-discipline, respect for the dignity of human life, and even an element of “non-violence.” 

“It is the heart that is important.”

Yes, fighters hurt and “damage” their opponent, but I see an important difference in a physical match between equals, and violence which is degrading, mean-spirited, or initiated unfairly by persons overpowering someone more vulnerable. That is not the kind of violence seen in Muay Thai and is the very opposite of the honorable code of conduct with which great fighters and great coaches at Easton operate. 

Great fighters are not propelled by emotional outbursts or reactive to insult. They have heart and grit. The essence of Buddhism is the belief that each person possesses the potential to overcome any problem or difficulty. Muay Thai trains us to control our bodies, our minds, and our emotions. The correct teaching of both Buddhism and Muay Thai lead a student to be the master of their mind. It acknowledges that we will have emotions, but we do not need to be ruled by them. We can gain control over our emotions and impulses by practicing self-control. 

Coaches at Easton know this well so the focus on control is paramount in their instruction. They protect not only the safety of their students but the essence of the art form. I can spar in that structure, and actively practice control of my mental goings-on, and all the thoughts which threaten to thwart my focus under pressure.  

That’s something I can take out into the world, into a challenging dialogue, into education and advancement for myself and others. The self-mastery learned on the mats, and the self-mastery gained by Buddhist practice, helps me grow stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually. Being part of Easton’s martial arts community prepares me to be an active participant in our global community.

Whether you’re training for a professional Muay Thai fight, or training to develop an invincible attitude in life, this quote from Nichiren Daishonin, a thirteenth-century Buddhist teacher, still rings true: “It is the heart that is important.” 

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