Life Stages – My Sangwan Rahu Experience – Sak Yant by Arjan Pi Bangkating Chiang Mai

above video: my thoughts on just coming out from the 2 hrs of tattooing...

[Update May 2015: Here is my account of the Backward Facing Tigers I received next]

above video: my thoughts on just coming out from the 2 hrs of tattooing my sak yant. As one can see, I was significantly affected by the experience, but was in good spirits. It is a lot to digest.

Sylvie-von-Duuglas-Ittu-Sak-Yant-Muay-Thai - Rahu Sangwan Tattoo-w1200

What This Sak Yant Meant to Me

People may not realize it from the fact that I post online and blog, and even sometimes write about very personal things, but I’m an extremely private person. And even though I have probably put more out there about myself than any female fighter in history (over 1,000 videos, pretty much from the start of my training, for instance and sharing all my flaws and all my fights), I still do have a hard time sharing things that mean a lot to me or that feel deeply personal. It’s just against my nature. But I’m also a person of principle, and when I made the commitment to blog and video about myself for the benefit of recording my experiences and sharing with other fighters, especially female fighters, it meant that I really had to go against my nature a lot of the time. And in the case of this sak yant by Arjan Pi, these two things really come into conflict. If I went with my composition, I might not mention I got a tattoo and wouldn’t really say anything about it, let alone post photos or video and if anyone ever just happened to see it because tattoos are sometimes positioned in places that are visible, I’d probably not engage in conversation about it then either. Tattoos are a kind of “secret”…but they are a contradiction, also, because they are worn on the skin and can be very exhibitionist in their connotation when made public.  Maybe there are women out there who can relate to the notion that simply being in public seems to imply to some folks that you – your appearance or your activities or bio – are open to public discussion.  Tattoos in particular seem to incite this in the west, as if they are “conversation pieces” on display.  And for some persons they are exactly this.  For me, they simply aren’t.

All that said, this sak yant is part of my Muay Thai experience and it’s part of my Thailand experience.  So even though it’s difficult for me to do so,  I want to talk about it here.

Sesame Oil Sak Yant - Arjan Pi Bangkating - Chiang Mai - Thai Sacre Tattoo

an example of an “invisible” sesame tattoo

Most sak yant are not largely visible – for those that don’t know, sak yant are traditional spiritual forms of tattoo, painfully tapped out by hand, drawing on Buddhistic and animistic beliefs and magical practices. Aside from examples of actual invisible ones like that above (an entire back still raw from sak yant done in sesame oil, by Arjan Pi Bangkating), almost all sak yant are put in places that are hidden by clothing. (And, certainly in the conservative north, men don’t walk around shirtless very much and women rarely wear strapless or backless attire, which would reveal the most common location of sak yant since they almost never go below the waist.) When we went to Arjan Pi’s annual Wai Kru Day which happened to be two days after my tattoo, attended to by maybe 150 – 200 followers (all of whom have at least one sak yant, whether sesame oil or ink) who were paying respect not only to Arjan Pi, but also his teachers and spiritual guides, we noted that we (my husband, my friend Pook, and I) were just about the only people whose sak yant could be seen. Full backs of spells are hidden beneath shirts, and even Arjan Pi who is practically covered from neck to toe has bare arms so that he can wear an elbow-length sleeved shirt and not show a line of ink. Additionally, if you look at the examples of the Muay Thai fighters that fill the top stadiums (Lumpinee, Rajadamnern, Channel 7, Aswindum, etc) almost none of them are visibly tattooed – and they don’t wear much in the ring. As much as westerners seem to think of sak yant as “Muay Thai Tattoos”, they simply are not – not only because visible tattoos on prominent fighters are certainly the minority, but also because a great majority of sak yant are on non-fighters. A notable Muay Thai exception is that if Saiyok Pumpanmuang, who happens to have a Sangwan (ceremonial necklace) tattoo, as do I, and a large tiger across his chest (photo below). But this is extremely rare, at least as far as I have seen. Visible sak yant are by and large socially disreputable in Thailand (maybe why sesame oil “invisible” sak yant are utilized), perhaps akin to how biker tattoos were in the 1960’s, but with the added meaning that one is engaged in magical warfare, calling on supernatural and spiritual powers; dangerous stuff. Even my founding teacher Master K, who is now 76, speaks in embarrassment about a sesame sak yant he received decades and decades ago. It can be seen as a sign of the lower-classes, of ignorance, of the countryside.

Saiyok Pumpanmuang - Sak Yank - Sangwan

Saiyok Pumpanmuang at a Thai Fight show

So what does it mean for me, a very private person to get such a large sak yant in a forward facing public place, especially as a fighter? A yant that is socially disreputable in a culture for which I have great affinity and respect? Additionally, this is a tattoo is a strictly masculine tattoo. I would wager that no Thai woman in Thailand has one like it (a frontal Sangwan design); the necklace yant is specifically traditional of warriors and fighters, fighters of ancient Ayutthaya Kingdom times, something that carries a strong, perhaps even ultimate masculine connotation. Because Muay Thai is beautifully an essential performance of Thai masculinity, you can see why it’s not a “gender neutral” design. And further, my Sangwan in particular is of Rahu (pronounced la-WHO??? with the second syllable rising), a God of Darkness, a figure that makes many Thais uncomfortable as he’s largely associated as a figure to be feared.    When I first told Arjan Pi that I wanted a Sangwan he threw his head back and exclaimed, “ah! Syl-vee-ah!” before miming reactions from stunned Thai onlookers upon seeing a woman with this tattoo.  But he didn’t attempt to talk me out of it – he knows I’m a fighter – and when I told him I wanted Rahu at the center he became more interested and said he could do it.  The combination was somehow more serious that the mere shock of a woman with a Sangwan yant.

A few weeks ago I got a custom shirt made with a sak yant design of Rahu on the back.  I’ve worn the shirt as a fight top twice and on my second outing with it my friend Eh sheepishly asked me prior to the fight why I liked Rahu.  She asked so carefully, as if talking about a ghost or something.  I explained why I was drawn to Rahu and she told me with slightly more confidence that Thai people generally are afraid of him; that they believe that when bad things happen it’s because of Rahu and he must be placated or scared away.  I know this.  But I don’t believe in polarity that is separable, but rather in holistic polarities.  That sounds so hippie, but bear with me.  Take for example Ganesha, who is seen as the “placer and remover of obstacles.”  If you are blocked in an endeavor, it’s Ganesha – you’d be feeling negatively about that and maybe try to placate him in order to help you get past this obstacle.  And then he removes the obstacle and you feel positively about it and you want to give him offerings in thanks.  Ganesha is responsible for both the blockage and its release; both.  So, too, is Rahu’s powers.  If his power allows him to bring chaos to one’s life, then certainly he has the power to do the opposite – his main superpower is consumption, eating the sun and the moon, as well as darkness; so he can eat your darkness, too.  Power is like energy, it’s not good or bad, it’s just directed.  So if there is a deity that is the director of a power, you can be standing in front of it and receiving or standing behind it and be protected… it’s all in where you’re standing.  So, for me, I see Rahu as a magnificent protector and a ravenous warrior for righteousness (which, depending on where you’re standing, might also be called vengeance).  Eh was surprised by my answer and said she’d never though of it that way.  She actually seemed softened by it.  I don’t think she’ll go put a statue of Rahu in her house, but she might just consider seeing the threatening silhouette soften into an ally.

This is the same for sak yant.  My first is a 16 point yant on my elbow, which serves both as protection and luck, as well as to imbue my elbow strikes with great power.  I was instructed, more than once, by Arjan Pi to be certain that I never strike a child with my right hand, which is also imbued with power from the yant – it would permanently damage the child in some way.  The trainers at Lanna have been wary of the sak yant on my elbow as well, showing a degree of intimidation if I shadow a strike with it or miss the focus mitt.  To those who truly believe in the magic of yant, it’s like I’m waving around a loaded gun.

I wrote about my first sak yant from Arjan Pi here, a small elbow yant and about sak yant in general.

Sylvie Muay Thai Sak Yant Elbow tattoo

What Does It Mean?

I have a rather large, very significant tattoo that covers nearly my whole spine. It seldom appears in photos and people can know me for years and never know I have it. One of the worst questions someone like me can have to answer about one of my tattoos is: What does it mean? It almost makes me angry. I understand that it is a reasonable question, but it is a question that so far misses the mark about what tattoos are for me, it leaves me silent for the most part.  Certainly my tattoos all mean something to me and for me, but they are not messages.  It would be like hearing an overture of music and asking “but what does it mean?”  Sak yant are admittedly a different sort.  Unlike the western custom tattoo culture of trying to achieve something entirely novel and one-of-a-kind with tattoo art and a great deal of snark being acceptable in response to “flash art” that is just chosen off the walls of tattoo parlors by drunken Spring Breakers, sak yant are not intended to brand individuality. Rather, a sak yant is a thing, and they are largely similar (although not identical as the particular “spells” can vary between practitioners).  They are text for the most part, like choosing a prayer: you use the “Hail Mary” prayer for one set of situations and the “Serenity Prayer” for very different situations, to use a different cultural/spiritual example for comparison.  Sak yant are all protective, some give power of influence, some bring fortune, some imbue power or the qualities of animals – like the very popular tiger yant, instilling its wearers with power, strength, bravery, etc. – and all are entwined with Buddhism but with black magic roots.  They don’t mean something so much as that they do something.  Which is why receivers of sak yant must be careful.  Much like my interpretation of the polarity of Rahu’s power, sak yant are energy and they are power – so depending on where you’re “standing” they can be for you or against you; including if you are the person wearing the sak yant.

In this same vein, it’s very important who is giving the sak yant.  I contend that the success of any tattoo has a lot to do with the tattooer – not only in how it’s going to look but in the experience one has in receiving it and ultimately how they will feel about it.  I’ve had a positive connection to each of the men I’ve ever had work on me for my various tattoos, or any other body modification.  Trust is, of course, a huge element, but for me – and for sak yant in particular – the person giving the tattoo is literally putting themselves into it as well.  With a sak yant, the tattooer chants when the magical/spiritual words are inked and will blow on the yant when it is finished – who they are and what they stand for is massively influential in what kind of power is imbued into the sak yant.  And for me Arjan Pi Bangkating is inseparable from the sak yant, the magic, the spirit and the process.

 A Spell Was Cast

I wanted to get this sak yant on April 29th, as that was the second eclipse within one month – first a lunar eclipse on the 15th, followed by a solar eclipse on the 29th.  Rahu eats the sun and moon, so eclipses are believed by some traditions to be Rahu’s shadow passing over the heavenly bodies as he seeks to consume them.  Awesome.

A few days prior I had visited Arjan Pi and talked to him about the sak yant I wanted, hoping that he’d think about it in the days between (the video above is a few seconds at the end of that).  He’s an absolutely amazing artist – I’ve seen no one else who can do what he does with his lines; he actually puts movement into his animal yants – and he fits the designs to the wearer’s body better than anyone.  I didn’t know what my yant would actually look like, but I made an appointment for the morning of the 29th.  I went after training and, even though it was still early, I found myself fourth in line while one woman was having a yant finished on her back.  Arjan Pi talked to the two men who were waiting already and explained that I already had an appointment, but asked if I was in a hurry.  I’d already decided not to go to training in the afternoon (fresh ink and sweat don’t go well together) and said it was no rush for me and so one of the men went before me.  He got a really beautiful border of script and spires put around a back that was already full of maybe a half-dozen yant.  The woman who was finishing up when I arrived turned her back to me to collect some things to go change in the bathroom and I saw that she had also just received a Rahu sak yant.  I knew the day must have something to do with it but I was surprised nonetheless – regularly watch Arjan Pi’s Facebook pages and I don’t recall seeing him doing Rahu often at all.  She was kind of awesome.  Her hair was incredibly thick and tied up in a ponytail at the top of her head so it cascaded down the front of her face (useful while getting the tattoo, for sure).  It was also bleached to about as blonde as jet-black Thai hair can get and she had a very self-composed, somewhat assertive and somewhat ass-kicking attitude with which she moved around the room, putting donations in different trays on either side of the huge shrine of masks and statues, tiered behind where Arjan Pi is seated while he works.  I decided she was my “Rahu sister.” – two days later we coincidentally sat in the same area at Wai Kru Day (below, during the monk blessing, she’s with the blonde ponytail).

Rahu Sister - Arjan Pi - Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu

Her Rahu was bigger than mine, as it was on her back and mine goes on my chest.  As Arjan Pi worked on one man he told me to hold up a piece of paper with the Rahu he’d just fitted to my “Rahu sister.”  He made a displeased “tsk” sound and told me it was too big.  When it was my turn he had me sit in front of him and he started working with his blue marker to sketch out the outline of the sak yant, but he kept making this displeased sound.  He told me I’m very small and then went about digging through a bag of paper cutouts of various yant, searching for a smaller Rahu.  He pointed to a four-faced sak yant in his book and explained that this would fit better, that Rahu might simply be too big.  I said mai roo jaak nii (“I don’t know this one”) and he accepted, and kept looking.  Finally he found what he was looking for and held it up to my chest.  He didn’t look totally satisfied but he settled in to stencil it on to my chest.  I was so excited as he began; and I had absolutely no idea what it would look like or how big it would ultimately be.  But I trust Arjan Pi completely.

2 Rahu - Sak Yant - Arjan Pi Bangkating

the (smaller) Rahu yant Arjan Pi designed for me (left) and the larger one done earlier on my Rahu sister (right)

A few days after receiving my sak yant I saw my own photo and that of my Rahu sister (above) on Arjan Pi’s Facebook page.  I was amazed by how different they are.  Hers is a yant to itself, so the scripture goes around the image as a kind of seal.  Mine is part of the Sangwan, so the scripture gets pulled into the lines that run through, but both have the same letters (these aren’t Thai letters; they’re much older) on Rahu’s body and in the sun that he’s eating (although her’s has many more in the grid).  Mine is on the left: look at the clarity and position of his hands on the sun; further the armbands on her Rahu are a beautiful style but on my side they appear to actually be prajat (the amulet ropes on the arms worn by Muay Thai fighters and Boran warriors) – and on his head he appears to be wearing a mongkol on my yant whereas hers has more of a mantel on the head.  It would appear that Arjan Pi designed my Rahu to be a Muay Thai Rahu.  That’s “cool” in a design sense, but it’s doing something in the context of a sak yant.  Every time someone has expressed shock regarding my sak yant (in person while I was getting it and in comments on his facebook page) I’ve noted that Arjan Pi explains why a woman would have this tattoo, which he’s done by stating that I’m a nak muay, a Muay Thai fighter, as if this answers the question.

The Process

I listened to a podcast on tattoos about a month ago that was 90% explaining the process and maybe 5% history.  One of the podcasters, who has been tattooed but probably a long time ago and in a more impulsive experience than the “tattoo culture” might offer to those who seek out particular artists, said that if a tattooer doesn’t use a stencil you should probably go somewhere else.  He deemed “freehand” as a dangerous indication of inexperience or lack of artistry.  I disagree.  While I certainly wouldn’t want an idiot to “freehand” anything on me, I wouldn’t want an idiot to stencil me either.  For experienced tattooers and true artists, freehand tattooing is a brilliant way to create lines that move along the shape of the body in a way that stenciling simply cannot achieve – you’re attempting to fit a 2D sticker on a 3D object, so drawing directly on the 3D object would clearly be advantageous.  My elbow tattoo did not require a stencil and Arjan Pi just used his blue marker to outline the shape and gauge proportion – he actually does this a few times as he’s working.  For the Sangwan Rahu yant he stenciled Rahu onto my chest to get the image centered and to do the outline.  The Sangwan portion of the tattoo was completely “freehand” and he just used his marker to give himself reference points, fitting the curves and length of the lines to my body.

After the last little bit of completing Rahu, the first part of the tattoo, my body had quaked completely involuntarily, just a little shudder from being in shock, I think.  It’s a very painful area – all of it.  Arjan Pi offered to have me come back the next day to do the Sangwan part.  You can’t do a sak yant in multiple sittings, so I’m guessing that the Rahu and the Sangwan are considered two yant, even though they link together so beautifully.  I didn’t want to do two sittings and I knew I could sit for it now, so I stayed firm in wanting to continue.  I could tell that Arjan Pi was uncertain whether I could actually tolerate the pain as we moved into the larger, longer portion of the process. I understand that – he’d warned me several times that this would be a very painful tattoo and there’s simply no way of knowing what anyone’s threshold for pain tolerance is.  But he works incredibly fast.  I watched the 6 hour process of my husband’s full arm being turned into an elephant yant and when Arjan Pi needles in the letters of the script it’s almost like watching a typewriter – it’s just so fast.  So I knew that the Sangwan portion would be like this, just moving through the three lines in procession.

Arjan Pi Bangkating - Freehand spirtual tattoo - Sylvie

He used his blue marker to draw in the top line, then inked the text on top of it.  Then he marked out angles on my neck and shoulders that wouldn’t be tattooed, but that formed some kind of reference points for symmetry.  I don’t know how he does it but it clearly works well.  I could breathe through the pain and chanted in my mind as the needle pounded away, but what was peculiar (although it makes total sense) was how far off the feeling of the needle was from the actual location of the strikes.  When I’ve received stitches in my forehead and hairline I’ve always been surprised by how far back the “zing” of sensation will reach along my scalp.  The needle entering my forehead will cause an electric flash of pain all the way to the back of my head – a good 6 inches away.  It was the same with the tattoo needle.  It felt as though Arjan Pi was inking the spires up past my collarbone and onto my throat – I even lifted my chin thinking he was on the skin over my trachea at one point.  Wow, that is high up, I thought to myself, imagining that my tattoo was actually up into my neck.  It wasn’t until I got home and looked in the mirror that I saw how low-slung it is.  But as he was working he would stop and take out his blue marker to sketch out the next line or where the spires would go and I just kept thinking to myself, what is he adding?  I had no understanding of what was there already, how much more would be added, or even where all of this was located.  But fighting is like this, too.  You experience something in a fight that you won’t feel until later, or you don’t remember how you got it, or you think something happened in the second round that was actually in the fourth or vice versa.

Arjan Pi finishing up the yant

In order to tattoo the chest in a seated position, someone sits behind you as a kind of support so that you don’t involuntarily or through fatigue or whatever fall away from the needle.  So you sit back-to-back with someone.  Kevin, my husband, was initially recruited for this task but he has very bad circulation in his legs and has to shift position every few minutes.  Because he isn’t connected to the process of the needle, he can’t time his shifts with breaks in the work, as one could while receiving the tattoo.  So he shifted a couple times and Arjan Pi instructed the guy who had just received the border yant around his back to come sit behind me.  The guy did so dutifully and it was a strange experience.  Not only because I so rarely touch strangers, but because it’s a huge difference between leaning against my husband in a kind of intimate connection during an intense process and leaning against a man I don’t know.  His tattoo was around the rim of his back, so happily I wasn’t leaning on his fresh tattoo, which certainly would have caused him pain, but I did feel that this was a great favor on his part.  To have to sit there and endure not moving is not an easy task – it’s one that Kevin, who loves me more than anyone, could not physically do and now this stranger was asked to withstand it.

Arjan Pi works out of his house, so it’s partly his home and partly a shrine.  So you’re seated in front of this immense display of beautiful masks that I do not comprehend, statues that are old and anamistic and beautiful, and huge drawings and framed photos of Luang Po Guay, who appears to be the high monk in Arjan Pi’s lineage and the central figure around which a temple is being built.  And while there is a definite feeling of being in a heavily spiritual place (I define “spiritual” as those moments when I am moved by an experience without having full understanding or comprehension of what is being said, done, seen, etc.) and yet it’s also his home, so his various assistants come and go, his girlfriend appears and disappears and their 4-year-old daughter Amy might come and hang out with you while you’re waiting.  She’s got a very cool energy.  She’s very sweet and will alternately stand at a distance and just aggressively observe you, or she’ll come right over and plop herself down, leaning on me like I’m a pillow, and try to figure out games on her dad’s smart phone; it’s up to her.  My relationship with kids is generally that I steer clear of them, but occasionally our mutual bafflement of one another works out into strange and meaningful interactions.  I think that for this sak yant in particular, because it is so transgressive for a woman to be receiving it, it ended up meaning a lot to me to have Amy chilling out with me and then coming back midway through the tattoo and exclaiming “woooow!” at the image.  It somehow helped bridge the sacred and mundane, the almost certain prejudice of adult viewers and curiosity of child eyes – a kid who has spent her whole life watching her dad create these sak yant.

And really, the experience of sitting for a big tattoo is somewhat timeless.  It was an incredibly fast process, completed in maybe a little over 2 hours, and yet every time something was added I just kept thinking to myself that this might just go on forever.  There was no concept of “oh, well this is the last line, so we’re done in 10 minutes,” or something like this.  So instead the time is broken by the movement of people, by the non-sacred.  Arjan Pi stopping to clean off the sak yant and get a good look at it, to take a picture on his phone, his girlfriend or an assistant or his daughter strolling in to watch the process for a while… the guy behind me getting a chance to relax for a minute when the needle is put down.  All of these things go into the tattoo.  And when the needle is pounding into the skin there’s no sense of the lines.  I could feel the spires because they have a distinct shape and they went in in rows, but I couldn’t see them.  So all there was for me was pain and then a break from the pain.  I breathed steadily and chanted, but a few times I almost laughed.  The pain was funny to me for some reason; the comedy of just accepting that this will not stop through any will of my own.  I guess it would be like laughing at the realization that you’re upset by every drop of rain falling on you when you’re already soaked and are still currently standing in the rain – you’re not going to get dryer by noticing the drops.  But it will pass; it will be over when it’s finished and then you have this beautiful thing for a lifetime, pain-free.

photos of the process

The time of the tattoo coincided with the hours of a partial solar eclipse – about 11:00 am – 3 pm – over Antarctica, and seen in Australia and Indonesia.  Eclipses are believed to be the result of Rahu consuming the sun or moon.  This is the solar eclipse from April 29th.

April 29th - Partial Eclipse of the Sun

Wai Kru Day – Arjan Pi Bangkating

Two days after I received my yant was “Wai Kru Day” at Arjan Pi’s home.  Wai Kru literally means “respect to teacher” and so it can be any time one ceremonially pays respect (it is, in fact, part of the pre-fight Ram Muay that fighters perform in the ring before Muay Thai fights) and there is a national holiday for teachers in schools – so students all perform the bowing to teachers on this day – but it can also be organized by individual groups.  Coincidentally, there was a Wai Kru ceremony for/by the monk who does Den and Daeng’s sak yant.  I asked Den if it’s always on May 1st and he said that the date isn’t important but that it being on a Thursday is.

I’ve only attended one formal Thai ceremony when the gym was blessed by the monks after Pom did some renovations.  It’s very organized and there’s always a lot of chanting (which is incredible to hear – I hear it at the temple near our house on most holidays, lasting for hours), lots of food, and white string wrapped around the space.  So I recognized some of these things at the Wai Kru ceremony, but both Kevin and I were a bit apprehensive about the whole thing because 1) it would last about 5 hours, 2) we wouldn’t understand most of what was being said or going on, and 3) a great deal of ceremony is practice and since we are unfamiliar with practically everything we wouldn’t know how to do anything, so the risk of doing something taboo or daft was pretty high.  For the most part you can just follow what everyone else is doing and be fine; our friend Pook was there also so I could ask her questions and imitate her postures.  But, somewhat surprisingly, the entire experience was really inspiring.  I didn’t need to understand the words of the chanting and even the parts that had no explanation made sense.  For example, there was a grid of this white string above where we were all seated and along the graph were long pieces of string that could be unrolled down to each seated person.  We were to tie the string around our heads, with the other end still tethered to the grid, while there was chanting and incantations by Arjan Pi, who was doing some rituals with water, candles and oil over at a huge shrine with beautiful offerings of a pig head and hoofs, eggs, flowers, fruit, duck, and some bottled drinks with straws in them (you see these kinds of offerings – the pig head excluded – everywhere in Thailand).  As we all had these strings around our heads Arjan Pi had the end of the string, attached to the whole grid, in his hand through the ritual – so we were all connected.  Afterwards we could detach the string and keep it, most of us tied it around our wrists, as a kind of super-charged piece of protection and luck.  It required no explanation, it was just very clear.

the monks blessing with us under the string grid

When it was time to go into the room where Arjan Pi does his sak yant and where all the monks were seated for their chanting and blessing it became a bit more complicated.  You have to keep your head at a level below the monks, who are seated on the floor, so the moment you get into the space you must get down on your knees and kind of crawl around.  That’s not so difficult to do gracefully if you’re practiced; I’m not yet so practiced, although I was very happy that I already knew that I should do this.  We each had a beautiful little tray of flowers, tobacco rolled in banana leaves, and a candle to offer to Arjan Pi as we moved forward in a line to receive his blessing/charge.  I tried to imitate Pook and since she was wearing a skirt she sat sideways, like a mermaid, which was awkward for me and I was unfortunately a bit too far away from Arjan.  I also handed him the tray in the wrong way, not holding it with two hands and handing it to him but faultily placing it on the ground in front of him.  He corrected me with minimal chastisement, but that was really my only known gaffe.  In front of him we received clay on our foreheads while he spoke verses, splashed us with water that sprays off of a bundle of twigs (this is so cool, monks do it at temples when you go for blessings), and held two separate masks over our heads while he gave the blessings, blowing on us after each one.  (Your corner will do this when they remove your monkol in fights as well.)

I’d received the charge from the masks before – well, one mask, not two – when I got my first sak yant.  It must be an initial charging because it’s not done on subsequent sak yants, but the Wai Kru ceremony is once per year and I’m quite sure the sak yant are “recharged” through this process.  Some folks will be possessed by their animal yant in these ceremonies.  Only one man at this Wai Kru ceremony experienced a possession, seemingly by a tiger by how he moved, but at the ceremony that Den and Daeng attended there were apparently many like this.  Den was a little freaked out by it.  I thought it was beautiful.


Finding Arjan Pi

You can easily contact him on his Facebook Page (his English is limited, short and clear is advised for initial inquiries):

In addition to Chiang Mai he also is regularly in Bangkok, as well in Singpore and Taiwan.

fan Facebook page:

Twitter Page: @arjanpi_sakyan

His house in Chiang Mai is about 10-15 minute drive from the Old City. The Google Map below will give the exact location. The house is off the street, tucked behind another house on a residential street, although there is a large sign outside one house pointing (roughly) to where he is located. (There is also a sign on the bigger road, indicating where to turn off to find his street.)

The cost of the sak yant will depend on size, complexity, color of ink (if the colored inks are available; I’ve seen red, blue and white), as well as other factors of which I’m not aware.  To me, his prices are incredibly reasonable and given the quality of his work I would happily pay more than what I have for my two sak yant.  Be advised that with each sak yant the price will end in 29 Baht (529 Baht; 3,029 Baht, etc), so be sure to have that amount handy as “making change” in this kind of situation isn’t appropriate.  (In Thai the word for the number 9 (“gaow” เก้า) also means to step forward, so it is a symbolic number that has traditionally been incorporated into teacher/student ceremonies.  For example, in the old tradition a young man wanting to learn Muay Thai would give his teacher 9 Baht upon being accepted as a student – from Muay Thai: A Living Legacy by Junlakan Lesley.  I don’t know whether this is why Arjan Pi asks for the 29 Baht, which goes into a separate bowl from the rest of the cost, but it was my association, at least.)

If you have trouble finding his office in Chiang Mai you can tweet me and I can help you locate it. But please be serious about your sak yant, it is not a decoration tattoo in the western sense.  As with anything, be respectful and mindful.

398 Moo 5 Soi Chatone -128 Wat Pra Non Tambon Don Gaew, Ampher Mae Rim, Chiang Mai.

click to enlarge to navigate:Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu – Muay Thai Map

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see


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