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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

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  1. A View from 270+ Fights Losing feels invariably bad and I do think there are some very profound reasons for this, but it also can be understood as so much more, especially in the service of growing as a fighter, or in support of the development of fighters. And, I do not mean this in the kinds of hyperpositive truisms that get passed around like "You win or your learn". I mean this in the sense of thinking of fighting as a personal path towards whole person nurture, the idea that fighting is an art, and fighters are in some very real and important sense artists, which is to say, creators. Their canvas is their bodies, their emotions, human instincts, the ring and the ropes, the opponents they face, the 1,000s of hours, but they are growing something, becoming something. They aren't just "winning" something. It's from seeing fighters as doing something with their Life Force, however you want to define it: anything from spiritual "woo" to just material energy. Some of these reflections came out of Sylvie's last fight against a fighter that many who surrounded her felt she should have beat. There was 5 kg between then, sure, but there was this expectation. In my view, it was really just a small technical issue, that if solved would have produced a very different outcome, but it was a close enough fight and very easily could just go to "water under the bridge" for a fighter who has fought 260+ times. Fighting, we've always understood, is a process. It's part of training. But this time I had a different set of thoughts. Losing is like pruning. We like to think of fighters on a very broad arc of development. They learn, they strengthen, they reach a period of peaking, then they decline. And because of this we try to create this peak middle level part of the arc and really extend and push for it. We imagine a period of extended growth that we just keep magnifying, improvement upon improvement, like a bush that just keeps flowering and flowering over and over again, every minute there is a flower, a state of constant bloom (much like how we see economic booms in the world)...until it suddenly doesn't. I'd like to invite a different conception, something that changes our ideas about losses. Now, believe me I'm no gardener, but we bought this plant, some call a Desert Rose, sold on the side of the road when we were driving through Isaan after a fight. Karuhat was with us and he told us that the Thai name meant something like "show stopper" because its blossoms are so stunning they gather a crowd around them (if I get that right). We've since had a little trouble in its care, reading up on it quite a bit, never being gardeners ourselves (that's its first bloom coming in above). In any case, one of the things we've run into - and of course actual gardeners are very familiar with this - is that flowering plants need to be pruned (or sometimes pinched), in order to flower better, more completely. The cutting back on the growth of the plant at certain stages, in certain places, allows it to direct its life-forces towards the next blossoms. And cutting away a blossom after it has reached its peak ("deadheading") also will further its future flowers. You do not hang onto blossoms after they've bloomed, and a plant does not just blossom richly if you just let it grow however it wants. There is no natural state of blossom on blossom-ness. Flowering plants need to be cut back, if we are moving towards a particular aesthetic. This is what losing it. It is an involuntary cutting back of the plant. It hurts. The plant suffers (it is injured). It is not "learning" so much as it is redirecting its energies, no longer in that direction. We picture things like undefeated records, or even winning streaks as a good thing, but one of the interesting things about Thailand's Muay Thai is that even legends of the sport experienced extensive losing (because fighters always were forced into matchups that gamblers wanted to bet on). Fighters would be forced up in weight, or be forced to face opponents that gave them trouble, if they had a winning streak. And any extended winning streak was a kind of artificial creation, something accomplished because fighters had excessive political control over who their opponents were. After a brief stretch those streaks often ended a career. The weave of fighting involves losses. When you fight well over 260 fights you see deeper patterns. You see progress and valleys, you see aspects of a fighter or matchups strengthen or weaken over time, and training or promotions shift. But, in considering the nature of losing itself it seems much more apt to think of it as a pruning process, the cutting away of a plant to make way for the possibilities of flowers. Now, a plant can definitely be cut back too harshly. You might cut into a plant's capacity to grow and support itself, but, in a deeper way in order to flourish a flowering plant needs to be cut into. There isn't really a "natural" uninterrupted continuously amplified growth to flower. We need to think in terms of cycles, and energies, pathways to growth, even in fight careers that last 10 fights, or 20, and not 100. We've always felt that if you are facing the right kinds of opponents you should be losing 20-30% of your fights, if your aim is to become the best fighter you could possibly be (and not just to be "top dog" of a pool of fighters in some way, which can also be important). This insight unto pruning gives greater sense to this instinct we've always had. Losing, in the right portion, at the right time, is productive. It's part of the redirection of the plant toward flowering. Its one reason we've also said that fighting a lot is really important too, because it taps you into these different deeper cycles. If you are fighting rarely this meaning, this use of pruning loses its context. It moves fighting into other processes, other meanings. As an artist in development, the plant moves through stages, and these stages cycle through. It isn't just flower after flower. And the plant likely lives and blooms through many more cycles than one might imagine, if you just think in terms of one defining arc of performance. And, there is pruning in training. There is pruning in the work.
  2. Here is a Thai TV piece on Beetle Fighting featuring $100 prized Beetles (they have very short life spans). You can see the Beetles in action:
  3. Totally. It's really all the fabric of the culture that holds Muay Thai together, and which made it become a sport (art). Every signification in the ring has some meaning. And I suspect Thais (Siamese) have been betting on ring Muay Thai for 500+ years, much longer than modern nations have been around. The roots of it run very deep in the culture.
  4. To add a bit of the anecdotal from our own lives. Two brief vignettes. We were driving back to Pattaya passing through lots of rural land by Ubon, sprawling fields of rice clustered with Ox or cow, very very verdant. It just feels like another time out here. Karuhat is in the car and we are talking about Muay Thai, and about the land here. Karuhat somewhat spontaneously talks about the culture of the land. He says that out here people just tend and and take care of animals. His gestures and body language say how simple and natural it feels to him. This is a way of life. Karuhat lives in the bustling center of Bangkok, and prefers it that way, but he is wistful in that moment, and even says that he would like to live not far from a highway and take care of plants and animals. There is a distinct ecological, romantic picture of this mode of living. The second one is from Sylvie and her sparring with Yodkhunpon, the Elbow Hunter. They talks between rounds and she asks him what this particular food she kept seeing signs on the highway for, way up in Isaan. He tells her that its Ox placenta, it comes in season, and it isn't food. It's used in a preparation. He then says: They used to know how to prepare it, now they don't. And, as an aside he says "they used to know how to prepare Muay Thai" also. There was a parallel of a feeling of a lost knowledge connected to a more ecological way of the past. Yes, if they are selling the placenta people are using it, but perhaps there is a sense that even that knowledge is disappearing, just as the preparations of Muay Thai are disappearing.
  5. This is also one of the challenges to the common Western (and global) attempt to export Thailand's Muay Thai techniques, piece by piece, bio-mechanically. As if this strike, this kick, this counter can be taken out of the fabric of its ruup (the full cloak of traditional Muay Thai) without losing much of its potency...and its meaning. As a technical cog it might be quite effective in other somewhat mixed if not Frankensteined fighting styles, because they are honed from a century of modern fighting, but like a word taken from a language a great deal of what it means and importantly what it does. And significantly, was Western and International values of training start to enter into Thailand's pedagogy itself, as Thais and Thai trainers start to put on the cloak of the Westerner (in part driven by the rise of Entertainment Muay Thai, but also many other factors), the meaning and use of those words becomes lost to Thais as well. (I write about the rise of the combo in Thai training: A faith renewed in the hope and future of Muay Thai, beyond its Farangification). In a certain sense the roots of Thailand's Muay Thai do not lie within its techniques, or its traditions, but in the conditions under which that Way-Of-Life underwent its living, in the kaimuay throughout the entire society, the dispositions and cloaks of its cultural expression.
  6. One does not have to indulge in magical or even spiritual beliefs in order to appreciate some of what is being expressed here. There is a famous fragment from the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus (popularly known for his supposed assertion that all things change). This fragment is often translated as "Character is fate" (“ethos anthropos daimon", ήθος ανθρώπω δαίμων). It's a very difficult phrase to translate because of the multiple meanings of ethos and daimon (a multiplicity that Heraclitus probably intended), but here it is best to point out that ethos, from which we get "ethics", means something like "disposition" but also "manner" and "habit". Our way of being, of appearing through its repetition, is what makes up our destiny. Daimon can mean destiny or fate, but it also can mean life-guiding, life-determining spirit. We get the word "demon" from it (as Christianity positioned it that way). It is not unlike the kinds of spirit guides that are invoked by the Chewong. The ultimate meaning of the phrase from Heraclitus is disputed, but it probably means something like: "The way you have been, the way you have conducted yourself is the way you will go". We can see the connection between "appearance" and "capacities", and how it relates to identity. The Chewong see animals (and plants) as persons who have a Way-of-Life, an ethos, which shows itself in how it appears (its cloak). If you put on that cloak, with cool eyes, you enter that Way-of-Life, and you acquire the ability to see in a certain (altered) way. Your daimon, your spirit, your fate, becomes aligned with your altered manner. In Thailand when a young nakmuay (traditionally around the ages of 10-14) enters a kaimuay (camp) he is inculcated into a Way-of-Life, which is not only the patterns and manners of the kaimuay (what the Sociologist Bourdieu would call its habitus), but also the specific ethos of a nakmuay. The dispositions of ruup, of postures and emotional shapes and reactions of how a nakmuay should be, not only in the ring but also in life. The ethos of the boy is being changed, cultivated, no differently than it would be changed if he had entered into a monastery and learned that Way-of-Life, those dispositions, those constellations of ruup. One does not have to be a believer in spiritual things, or of animism or magic to see this. Through habit and practice we change our appearance. And as one's ethos, one's manner, is changed, so too is one's fate or destiny (one could say one's capacity). Following the Chewong, so also changes your eyes, the values and particularities you pick out in the world when you engage in it. If you shape one's appearance, if you change one's cloak, you change your capacity in life. You can live among a different people. And, much of what draws the Westerner to Thailand and the beauty of its Muay Thai is that unique cloak...(and in its authenticity, its capacity, its eyes).
  7. I want to open up the idea that the cultivation of specific ruup and form in Muay Thai, traditionally, is not altogether different than the taking on of a sakyant form (magically, spiritually), at least within a logic of spiritual animism. The training of the body to be relaxed, upright, fluid (thammachat, natural), balanced, explosive, achieved in Thai kaimuay through arduous, repetitious work, interactive play, kru aesthetic shapings, are not just about learning techniques biomechanically, but rather in acquiring the cloak (the robe) of a certain form of expression, and this form of expression is tied to the capacity to see in a certain way. Sylvie and I talk a great deal about the "eyes" of Golden Age legends, that they can literally see the fight, the opponent differently than others do. In the study of Karuhat this is most pronounced in the way he is able to read weight-shift, and spatial closures which produce great anticipation. But Karuhat's own ruup is quite special. Below (video) is the painful receipt of Sylvie's Tiger Sak Yant by Arjan Pi. She wrote about her experience here: Transformation and Belief: Receiving my Sak Yant Sua Ku and Takroh This isn't to say that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the receipt of a sakyant, in sincere belief and practice, and the rigorous development of putting-on-the-cloak of Thai ruup in a traditional Muay Thai kaimuay, but there does seem to be an underlying regard for the power of representation and putting-on a shape, that it can change one's eyes, and one's capacities (and not always for the better). The Jangwah (rhythms) of Muay Thai, its postures, are earned transformations of perception that likely is in coincidence with the animistic beliefs of sakyant reception, especially in a traditional context. The "image" in Thailand (and SEA) carries with it a perceptual force, one might argue, that is quite different from the Western traditions (in Philosophy, but also culture) which have regarded image as dangerously false, going all the way back to Platonism. The cloaks of the Chewong, when used by those with cool eyes, contain a kind of trans-cultural capacity of perceptual shifting, and with a capacity for action. It does not go too far to see that the postures and rhythms of Muay Thai, in its tradition, also contain these analogous capacities...and possible dangers. As one seeks to gain the "eyes" of the other, to see as they see, one alters one's form, if we follow the Chewong.
  8. Concepts of Form, Animism and Embodied Difference A few notes and an extended citation from the reading of "Seeing and knowing Metamorphosis and the fragility of species in Chewong animistic ontology" by Signe Howell. Philosophically its quite an interesting piece in the way that the animistic conceptions of the Chewong reflect on modern experiences of crossing to other cultures, learning from other cultures, and also thinking about experiences of alterity, political pluralism and study in the land of another. Principally it discusses the Chewong beliefs that shaman and others of a species can put on the "cloak" of another species, marry into, live as that other species, gaining the "eyes" of that species, and in some cases simply become (trapped?) in that species, or expelled. A man may become and live as an elephant, a frog or spider may become and live as a human (wearing that cloak). Meaningful aspects of these transformations include the idea that if you gain the other species "eyes", you learn to see the world as they do, and this different mode of seeing is what distinguishes them from human beings. All species are indeed of a single culture (it can be described in that way), all species in an instance can be understood and experienced as "person" -- there is an animistic principle that a person could be defined as anyone or anything you exchange or share with -- but when wearing their cloak (their outward appearance) you gain their eyes. This sight is what separates species and kinds. Ruup As a Way of Seeing I'll drop the relevant page screencaps below, but a few notes on this in terms of the study of Muay Thai in Thailand, and the experience of living in Thailand as a Westerner. The first one is something that Sylvie and I have discussed a great deal on, the notion of ruup. Ruup is your outline, your form, as a fighter your basic posture. Thailand's fighting styles have particular ruup, and when learning how to fight in them, if you are going to do it at a deep level, you need to learn this ruup. These involves attitudes of stance, principles of high and low, symbolic expressions of ease or strength, physical response patterns. In fact the ruup of a style composes an entire vocabulary or even a visual language of expression. What the Chewong's animism study alights us too is that putting on the ruup of another, what is called its "cloak", changes your eyes. It changes how you actually see, an importantly in this, in terms of fighting styles, the values by which you perceive things. The things that will stand out to you. When wearing a cloak of "another" the world itself as it is understood and is valued, changes. This is a complicated causal relationship because its not entirely clear that the wearing of the cloak (changing one's outward appearance) directly changes one's eyes, but it is implied. In terms of Thailand's traditional Muay Thai we can gain insight into the importance of ruup itself. It's not just an assumed physicality, but rather an entire semiotic disposition to one's opponent and the ring, the sport, that alters perception itself. And, there can be a sense that not everyone can put on the cloak of ruup, in a transformative sense. There are ways in which Western fighters "put on the cloak" of Thailand's Muay Thai that read more as a kind of "Muay Thai drag"...the eyes have not changed yet, or they lack the shamanistic cross-cultural capacities...they do not have "cool eyes" in the Chewong sense. At the very least the Chewong example opens up this principle of ruup appearances and perceptual change. Becoming a nakmuay, in the more traditional sense, is to have the cloak that changes your perceptions. You see differently. This isn't a belief of Thailand, per se, but the study of it may shed light into generalized SEA animistic principles. I've written about animism and Thailand's Muay Thai here: Toward a Theory of the Spirituality of Thailand's Muay Thai. What the Chewong beliefs do is create a perspective on inter-cultural transformations, the kind of which happen in the more authentic attempts to learn and live the practice of Muay Thai in Thailand, and I take note of some small parallels I've seen in Thai examples. There is the story of the Naga (a snake people, who adorn the staircases of Thai wats) who wished to be a novice monk so that he could practice Buddhism, and who disguised himself as a man...and much like in the Chewong mythology was also found out. In Thai magical mythology there are several stories of shape-shifting shaman (lersi, sian), were- stories, or shaman who take on the heads of animal spirits. We recall attending the sak yant blessing ceremony of Arjan Pi, who has given both Sylvie and myself our sakyant. In these events very devoted followers would occasionally become possessed by the yant they had been given, a monkey (Hanuman) or a tiger. Arjan Pi would admonish and warn that if you have been possessed this is a bad thing. You lack control over yourself and that energy. It is controlling you. This is a basic Muay Thai principle as well, just mastering the energies of fear, aggression and anger, channeling them. This is to say that these notions of cloak-wearing, and value changing do occupy Thai conceptions of spirit and human capacity, and they are thought of in terms of dangers. The stories of the Chewong help fill out this animistic picture, and perhaps the realities of what it means to take on the values and experiences of another culture, the eyes of another way of being. Some of Muay Thai is about that. And, alternately, if Thais (Thai fighters) are urged to take on the ruup of Western or other cultures, wear the cloak of those cultures, then they took will experience a change of eyes.
  9. Anthropology, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Ecology and Muay Thai It's not absolutely necessary, but in order to understand Rennesson's ecology of Northern Beetle Fighting, and to build from this an ecological view of Thailand's Muay Thai its best to anchor into some metaphysical concepts. Rennesson mentions the innovative biologist Jakob von Uexküll who had a significant impact on philosophers. Below I attach a PDF of a solid summation of von Uexküll's influence and inspiration on Deleuze & Guattari, and their attendant Spinozism. Its worth reading to acquire the framework within which these arguments are made: excerpt from "From ontology to ethology: Uexküll and Deleuze & Guattari" by Felice Cimatti From ontology to ethology PDF.pdf << download here, chapter 10 of the book Jakob von Uexküll and Philosophy_ Life, Environments, Anthropology-Routledge (2020), by Francesca Michelini and Kristian Köchy. The excerpt leaves out constrastive passages on Heidegger who is not important to our view. Broadly speaking though, the notion is captured in a Web Of Life conception, the idea that all aspects of Life are interconnected and dependent upon each other. The Uexküll inspired Deleuze & Guattari concepts of Nature as a music, or a filled with musics that code and recode (variant to each other), or as circles upon circles is what helps us read what is happening between the handler and the beetle in Rennesson's argument. The music of the beetle, the music of the handler, the music of the gamblers, of the Language Game of Beetle Fighting all harmonize and interbraid with each other, and the beetle is awarded a position of subjectivity within that music (within an Animist conception), because there is exchange and sharing. The ecology within this appeals to the Thai ideas of thammachat, the way things are ordered. The harmony of the Beetle Fight (that music) works within a deeper sustainability with the beetle itself (a nostalgia of a time when modern pesticides had not killed off all the strong fighting beetles around human dwelling. The appeal in the case of the beetle is that the thammachat of Beetle Fighting is in harmony with the thammachat of the beetle and the forest. It is a sustainable interaction with the insect-forest world, and a cultural enrichment of a relationship to that world, imbuing it with additional meanings and appreciation. These notions of life made of circles within circles of interconnections has some correpondence with the Autopoietic Theory of Life, which argues that living forms are organizationally closed systems which structurally couple with other organizationally closed systems, in feedback loops, as perhaps typified by cells in tissue. (If you want to go far afield, you can read some speculative thinking involving Autopoiesis here.) In any case, our move towards the Animism of Southeast Asia carries with it the possibility of this rigorous dimension of Philosophy, a metaphysics of Deleuze & Guattari, of Spinoza, or of Autopoiesis. The important part is appreciating a Web of Life perspective in which our human patterns rely on, exchange, share with and rely on the patterns of animals and the environment, and the sense that following von Uexküll every animal has a "world", even insects as simple as a tick, and certainly a beetle. I should take up the arguments from Animism next.
  10. It is just incredible history in the making. And even these numbers need context. This is done in Thailand, where the talent pool of fighters is just incredibly deep, deeper than any country in the world, especially near Sylvie's weight. This is the homeland, the motherland, the fatherland. All of it. And, because of this, understand that historically almost every Western fighter who fights regularly in Thailand fights with a weight advantage, and often a significant one. This is just basic match making, from the smallest fights to the biggest. Some of this is just that farang are just larger bodied people and at the upper ranges there have to be weight differences, but most of it is just giving Thais a necessary handicap in terms of skill differences. This is not a judgement of other fighters. Fighters have little control over their matchups in Thailand, its just bringing real context to fights in the country. What Sylvie has done going the other way, repeatedly and systematically taking BIG weight disadvantages over 100s of fights is just unheard of in the history of the country's National sport. This was all necessary in order to fulfill Sylvie's (and my) belief is that you grow as you fight. If Sylvie had regular weight advantages (literally impossible because she's a sub 100 lb fighter) her record would have been absurd...and nobody would fight her after maybe 30-40 fights. (As it is now, we've been told by numerous promoters nobody within 2 or 3 weight classes will fight her in actual Muay Thai, she's just had too big of an impact on the sport). Its enough to say, when you look at the numbers, the sheer human effort, this is not even on the scale. Its way, way, way off the scale. To fully understand her achievement there is another unseen dimension of this incredible fight record, related to the first; its that it was accomplished almost completely outside the aid and political power of big time gyms or promotions in the country. She's fought literally the best fighters of the Nation, across multiple weight classes as a sub-100 lb fighter, but did so without an active backer (which is very significant in Thailand). As a fighter you want weight behind you. It gives you respect, it clears pathways. Strong gyms & promotions have powerful effects on the careers of foreign fighters. A powerful gym will fashion favorable opponents for their fighters (of course you want your fighters to succeed); it will produce wins and belts that help the image of the gym. The same wind in the sails can happen through promotions. Sylvie walked so hard, so far outside of the power structure of Thailand's Muay Thai she almost never had the big hand lifting her up, putting the thumb on the scales in her favor so to make her a star. In fact it would be impossible to fight with the sorts of disadvantages she's taken on within the power structure of Muay Thai. It could only be done on a solitary path, which is quite arduous to walk. Everything has been earned fight by fight. No hype, all grind. Other very intense things are just the stitches she's taken, nearly 250 to the face vs fighters who know she's coming in as a pressure Muay Khao fighter and just waiting for her with elbows. She's taken all those stitches, an epic number. The single time she was knocked down - it was more than 10 years ago now- in literally over 1,100 rounds, despite being substantially small, is an incomparable informal record of combat sports. And then the fights she's taken 4, 5, 6 weight classes up, against experienced stadium fighters, what the hell? She's 15-4 in those absurd battles. 15-4. And then there are the meaningful, deeper historical aspects of her fighting. She has devoted herself to the disappearing art form of the Muay Khao style, a style that has been eroding for years, and that some newer forms of promotion have been focused on either eliminating or minimizing. And, she's learned this style from the actual men, the legends of the sport who were the most elite with it in the Golden Age of the sport, many of whom no longer teach it to the Thais of active fighting. This knowledge includes not only lost details and specific techniques, but much more importantly more subtle aspects of rhythm, timing and strategy developed in the Golden Age of fighting. Great legends like Dieselnoi, Samson, Chamuakpet, Panomtuank, Langsuan, Yodkhunpon, Cherry, Petchdam, and the late Namkabuan (RIP brother), she's sought these men out and studied with them, taking their largely forgotten knowledge into herself, into her own style, her own tactics. She herself is a living, reflective legacy of this fading style, and she has used it to supreme effect within female fighting. Along with this, and you would not know this unless you watch her fights, but in a very large number of them, because she is so well known in the community her fights are reffed with an acute bias against the clinch and have been for years, despite being traditional Muay Thai fights where clinch and knee fighting is considered a viable, rewarded style. For a very long time she's faced very fast clinch breaks, momentum stops, just in an effort to handicap her and to make the fights closer. Well before Entertainment Muay Thai started making clinch-less fighting Sylve has swam uphill in fights just at the level of breaks. This isn't a complaint, I love how Thailand is, how it adapts, its only an acknowledgement that what Sylvie has done as an old school Muay Thai fighter has been done swimming up an invisible stream. And all that swimming has made her incredibly strong, both mentally and physically. The number one impact on a clinch fighter is clinch breaks. How fast they come. Reffing can seriously steer a fight against a Muay Khao fighter. A clinch fighter needs time to develop positions, to build momentum and get an opponent into a position she can finish them in. So, way down in weight, swimming against clinch-breaks, facing the best fighters in the country, for 100s of fights, she's done this. Its not only that she has climbed a mountain nobody has climbed, but she she's done it with 100 lbs on her back, no oxygen. It's just beyond comparison. I write all of this in admiration, as a first hand witness to everything that has unfolded. It really is stunning in the history of all combat sports.
  11. A small note on the film Ong-Bak and the framing of gambling in Thailand's Muay Thai. Today's gambling is both more atomized, with lots of action happening on mobile apps, and also driven by powerful interests that lack counterpressures, but historically, and still, gambling on combat sport fighting is a very old heritage in the culture, and the culture of South East Asia. It makes of these kinds of events a social glue, a rite where merit & karma & Social Capital (sometimes read as spiritual power), shifting social alliance play out in actual fights. The gambling aligns social groups. This was one thing that helped define the Muay Thai of the Golden Age, as fighters were part of strong regional identities. Villages and towns, provinces rallied around fighters. Karuhat told us of the bus loads of people from his hometown of Khon Kaen (Isaan) loaded with his community, pockets full of gathered bets to be placed on him, arriving for each of his fights in Bangkok. The gathering of the sidebet from a small community or group pitching in is part of a social rite of ring fighting. This community logic of taking the substance of a group and placing it in a kind of bet on the fighter is played out in the film as the entire village gives Ting all their bare savings to aid him in his trip to the Capital, money that ends up getting bet on him as a fighter in the fight club facing hyperaggressive, ragey farang. If you read the influential anthropologist Clifford Geertz's essay "Deep Play Notes on Balinese Cockfighting" you will see the underlying logic of community and social capital that is involved in betting on fighting type sports. There is the strong moralizing position of Buddhism that gambling is a vice and addictive, a destructive force in society (with solid ethical arguments to be made), but there is also the perhaps 1,000 year or more cultural fabric in which gambling in community acts as social glue within groups, whether they be in villages, or in support of fighters traveling to the Capital, or in local urban communities where kru & padmen and various kaimuay personages worked on fighters and then would bet on them, or would partake in any winnings. The villagers in Ong-Bak are in a symbolic, cinematic sense "betting on" Ting. But in these scenes you can also read the moral admonishment. The moral fortune of the village and the actual currency of its saved wealth are bound together in this film. Ting is furious that his village's life savings have been bet on him. You cannot place all that village substance on odds, especially in a seedy environment. Ting's Muay Thai wins out, out of its physical (& moral) superiority, but you can feel the dichotomies. This composes a long running tension in the history of Thailand's provincial gambling and the Capital. In the early 20th century farmers would save their money literally in the ground. They would bury it. This meant that a substantial portion of the new Nation's wealth would become inactive and uncirculating. One of the perceived benefits of various lotteries and gambling activities was the circulation of money in a wider economy. (In the early century the Siam treasury at one point was taking in upwards 25% of its wealth from gambling taxation). Gambling would get the money out of the ground, feeding businesses and National growth. But, the numerous Chinese gambling houses in Bangkok (a very formidable industry) also became notorious places of economic ruin as well. Provincial farmers would come to Bangkok and become flush with cash, which they would then immediately lose in these dens of modern iniquity. Households would be ruined, people and family put into debter's slavery. Gambling ate at the fabric of functioning economy and community, when it became acute. This ultimately led to wide scale gambling moral reform in the Nation in the 1920s, closing all the gambling houses, outlawing it from Bangkok Muay Thai even (something that then was reversed in 1927). A great resource on the above is Gambling, the State and Society in Siam, c. 1880-1945 by James Alastair Warren: Gambling, the State and Society in Siam, c. 1880-19.pdf As one looks to the moral and societal problems of gambling, and even thinks about its corrosive action on Stadium Muay Thai, there is also an important sense in which the custom of gambling is folded into the very conception of local, or once regional community, even if these elements have diminished over the last decades. Gambling in Muay Thai at the local levels, from where Muay Thai is still born, holds this form of social glue. It's as old as ring Muay Thai itself in Siam/Thailand, if not older. Its part of a layered ethical calculus. This is one of the compelling lights shown on Muay Thai by the Beetle Fighting example, the degree to which gambling is the very fabric of the contest and its meaning when it is defined and experienced by community. The example helps draw that thread out and make it more visible. In these moral questions we perhaps find some of the historical layering of National Buddhism and the animism of community bonds, an animism which also partakes in and is expressed in Buddhism. Muay Thai is reflected through this kaleidoscope of meanings.
  12. Ecology and Muay Thai There are 3 independent levels on which Muay Thai relates to an ecological perspective: 1. perspectives on Thai cultural health, the preservation of diverse 2. invested knowledge richness (ie the rain forest analogy) 3. an animist conception of intersubjective relationships to the environment. The first of these is present in (and Muay Thai is implied by Rennesson) in his article on Beetle Fighting. The Fighting Beetle became a local ecological figure because pesticides were seen as weakening & killing off the beetle around human dwelling, especially in the muang. The Beetles that were found around the city were not strong fighters. One had to travel to the good soil (and Beetles live under the soil for the first 8 months) of National Parks and forests to find the strong fighters, the fighters more in keeping with Nature. Rennesson brings about the same sort of ecological perspective in an Isan Arjan who sees the fighters of Bangkok as weakly "bred with jasmine rice and Chinese noodles". (It is an Isaan adage that eating sticky rice will keep you from being knocked out, for instance. The kru sees village, provincial life as being lived much more in harmony with Nature, the natural order, culture and environment in sync, and fighters trained in this subculture are not only more inline with Nature, but also with Buddhist precepts and practices. The Isaan fighter, the land, and Buddhism form a healthy whole. The reference to Chinese noodles is an ethnic judgement of the higher class Sino-Thai of Bangkok, who run a great deal of promotional Bangkok fight promotion. See "Networking of a Polymorphous Clinch" Whether this picture of the rural boxer is factually more ecological, it is enough to understand that his (her) position is understood in an ecological, anti-modernist sense. The argument is for ways of life, and the agrarian manner which has produced great Muay Thai fighters for decades, if not centuries. The urban degeneracy depicted in the film Ong-Bak stands in strict opposition to this idyllic picture. There is an ideology of ecology here. The second ecological argument is simply that over the last 100 years, in continuous dialogue with the West, within the cultural laboratory of perhaps 1,000,000 ring fights, Thailand has developed an incredibly rich knowledge base and tradition of fighting. Techniques, training methods, customs of development, meaningful rites & ritual present an extremely varied, textured body of wisdom. And globalizing market forces which tend to monocrop and drive labor-to-revenue streams would threaten this hard-won body of knowledge and cultural richness, just as it would a rainforest or wetlands. Much of the value of generational, embodied knowledge is just how unreplicateable it is. It is so sedimented, composed of so many thousands and thousand of endeavoring lives, one would not want to lose that resource to sheer market force. Instead, a global markets expand and encroach a genuine ecological warrant for preservation should arise, protecting the diversity and complexity of what the Thai people have developed. We want fighting's Library of Alexandria not burned to the ground...either slowly or quickly. We want to preserve the cultural environment as much as the physical one. The third ecological argument is found within animism itself. (I'll try to get into the deeper Philosophical concepts of a proposed ecology of animism further down. If you follow this thread as a member you'll get email alerts to new posts).
  13. To get a feeling of the sensate communication that Rennesson is drawing on, these are a few short videos: The Beetles responsive to touch of the stylus (click) Through rolling the stylus or tapping vibration carries stimulation (click) A stylus may even be equipt with bells (click) You can find these videos also on Stephane Rennesson's alternate version of the article's material. As you can see these are very rudimentary modes of communication. To appreciate the inner world simplicity that he has in mind read on Von Uexküll and his envisioning what it is like to be a tick - a good blog summation: Me, My Umwelt, and I. (Deleuze & Guattari take up Von Uexküll on this with substance.) Suffice it to say, even very small experiential difference thresholds can make up an inner world, even for an insect.
  14. What Rennesson finds at the heart of the Beetle Fight is the idea that there is an openness to types and kinds which are part of an economy of flow, one in which "human kind does not have a control over an objectified nature and that fostering uncertainty in relationships can prove to be virtuous". This decentering of the human, and of control itself seems the most promising value presented here. If we try to extrapolate to Muay Thai, in the place of the low animal species of insect we have the fighter, principally the provincial fighter, who (broadly) exists in a lower strata of economics and social capital. A fighter is not an insect, but the diagnositic of the insect stretches out the framework of analysis to its furthest limit. Hierarchies are very real in Thai culture, pervading every social structure and occasion, but...the cybernetic, empathetic, "pure experience" of uncertainty in a fight, as positioned by Rennesson, reaches out for an ecology of soil, of the presumed dignity of the fighter, in a matrix of co-habitations that offers ethical promise. This is a promise though established on indeterminacy itself, that fighting expresses itself in terms of influence & uncertainty of cause, projected well beyond the ropes. In such occasions there is much room for mystification, power abuses, manipulations, and exploitation, both historically and in the present day. But, what is evoked is the cybernetic, self-organization of the fight itself, all the goodwill intensities that bring gambling and fighters and krus and camps together in a pursued and lived virtue. In this regard an ecological approach is the strongest ethical one, something which empathetically considers the flourishing of all participants. Speculatively I would offer a Spinozist conception of the Good, which is numerically qualified as an increase in the number of ways one can be affected by (or affect) the world. Such a regard would include the care of the "soil" which produces the vitality of the fighter, and a prophylactic position against its pollution.
  15. Combat Sport, Cybernetics & Ecology Quite radically, especially if we draw the line from Beetle Fighting to Muay Thai, Rennesson reads the practice and events of Beetle Fighting as a transformation of raw, natural power (from the soil), through the beetle, and the handler, into social prestige. (Returning to my theory of Soul Stuff and Muay Thai.) As he sees it, there is a kind of cultivation or harvest from the very soil of Thailand (unpoisoned by modernity's pesticides), which becomes the fruits of "kiat" (and presumably baaramii บารมี, prestige, righteous power, virtue, charisma. We are tracing the production of social merit through a necessarily stochastic (cybernetic) art, but notably, one that is still within a logic of ecology. There is that potential in this framework to resist the lean of exploitation, because necessarily it is an assembled form, between species, and between the mueng (city, town) and the soil. The figure of the beetle as the victim of modernity's progress (pesticides, maximizing the production of the land) speaks to a ecological value and to the very value of indeterminancy itself. The ways in which we affectively participate with others, and the other. Thailand's Muay Thai As "Pure Experience" If we are allowed to draw the hypothetical, diagnostic line from Beetle Fighting and Muay Thai, then it is the very indeterminancy of outcome in gambled Muay Thai which produces something akin to pure experience. It invites a kind of egalitarian analogism, an empathy, and a relinquishment of the Will to Control. The Will to Control, which for many actually characterizes fighting itself, is also closely connected to issues of ecology. Instead of imposing control (and extraction), the invitation is to be one of the listening and mutually sharing perceptions, composing together...which some might argue is the highest form of Muay Thai fighting aesthetics. The agonism of a co-authored fight, one in which a fighter is reading and sensing his/her opponent at the level of pattern creation.
  16. Rennesson appears a little bit rushed to conclude his article, as near the end he drops very quickly into theoretical/philosophical frameworks that outrace his previous descriptions. But, they are powerful thoughts. What he wants to embrace about Beetle Fighting is its in-determinant, stochastic nature of inter-species communication. Its the very unpredictable, but still customary and communication-rich nature of the practice of fighting, which he finds also characterizes an ecological way forward. In things that a Western mind might find repugnant in combat sport - indeterminacy, vagueness of outcome, external influence, ambiguity of cause - Rennesson sees self-organizing cybernetic loops, which circle around insect, player, gambler, and the created (performed) social form. The very stochastic nature of the fight provokes emergent properties, folding human handler and insect combatant into sensory communication, and which stimulates a social form of negotiation, interpretation and charismatic achievement. All the things we would remove from a combat event, from an idealized, Law-governed, modernist perspective, in fact thrive in the Beetle Fight...because they cannot be removed. We cannot say how much or why a beetle won its own fight. If we search for it we fall into a well of projections and speculations.
  17. The Social Form of Thai Combat Sports One of the most difficult things to read, deeply, is the role of gambling in Muay Thai. It is far more than just entertainment. It is connected to displays of social power (capital), concepts of karma and merit, and an entire network of relations. One of the things that beetle fighting does is bring out the dimensions of combat entertainment that go against many of our Western expectations. In Beetle fighting whether a beetle even wins or loses is up for negotiation and social contest. This is quite far from Western ideals of fixed rules and transparent, impartial judgement. Instead the entire Kwaang battle is social and political, and in some cases it remains (necessarily) unclear why one beetle beat another, or even if they did. I remember having a very hard time understanding the advantages & goals of beetle fighting when we attended, but it seems that this ambiguity is somewhat baked in, and in another sense is part of a living lore of community perception. Westerners are sometimes surprised to discover that there is no actual rule book for National Stadium Muay, and that the rules are largely enacted through a "you'll know it when you see it" mutuality of knowledge. Beetle Fighting seems to take this to an extreme, and draws out this important thread of difference from other conceptions of sport. It has been very common to complain that gamblers have too big of an influence on Thailand's Muay Thai, and there is a very powerful case to be made that gambling has had a deleterious effect. Our sense of fairness, of excellence is challenged. But, its also worthy to note that in its stripped-down parallel, the winner of Kwaang Beetle Fighting tournaments it is the beetle who inspires the most confidence from gamblers that wins! Empowered gambling interests in fact define the very social form of beetle victory. This is not to say that Muay Thai is Beetle fighting, but it is to say that they are very deep and meaningful braids within Thai (and Siamese) culture which make of combat entertainment a far more complex, social battle than just which participant is better under a predefined rule-set.
  18. What Produces A Winner? Types of Fighters (Femeu vs Muay Khao) Rennesson speaks of a kind of Ontology of Outcome, much of it perhaps in the understanding of anthropomorphistic projections, the kind of which can characterize animism. It is a braid of causal effects, some of which come from the player, some from the beetle, and some from their collaboration or mutuality. If you are familiar with the dichotomies of Muay Thai its hard not to see the basic split between Muay Khao and Muay Femeu (with all the attendant ideological and ethnic projections) upon the two types of beetles...those that are more sensate and need to be urged and controlled (for instance, there is the pejorative stereotype of the low-IQ, provincial, merely strong Muay Khao fighter who in negative caricature is "dumb like a Buffalo", the animal which pulls the plow), and the slimmer, more artful beetle, who has higher awareness and can be let to fight more freely on the log (body types do play into stereotypes of Thai masculinity and fighting styles). There is in Rennesson's report a kind of hierarchy within beetle fighting types that mirrors some of what if found, ideologically, in Thailand's Muay Thai. The Muay Femeu vs Muay Khao dichotomy, including its ideological/sociological component, is found in Rennesson's discussion of how physiogamy plays into how a fighter's fighting style is assigned (one of the best passages on Muay Thai in all of academia), in his article "Thai Boxing: Network of Polymorphous Clinch": It is conceivable that Rennesson is reading his studied observations of Thailand's Muay Thai back onto Beetle fighting, creating a correspondence, but it seems more likely that his familiarity with the culture allows him to pick up on these important thematic divisions.
  19. We, in the West, like to see the fight ring as ONLY between two combatants. The result of a match ideally is determined by their character and the firm application of well-defined rules. This is part of our inherited metaphysics which regards the material world as (relatively) inert, organized by physical laws, and animated by wills (which are ethically judged). It's our Cartesianism. Metaphysically, I would say, the Western sport fight ideal is quite different from the Thai, gambled fight. Instead, as Beetle Fighting brings out, it is the very "ambiguity of control" which sews all participants together, including the gamblers in the audience, and the beetles themselves. It is a looped energy of communication which goes well beyond the fight stage. The patterns of convergence emerge from an event, they are co-created.
  20. External Influence I have written about the historical aspect of Thai/Siamese gambling and the role of betting on other minds (the article dropped in just below). This is part of a larger sense, I believe, of what is happening within a gambled event is expressive of forces outside of the ring. There are many levels on which to read this influence. It's a bit of a detour from what we're discussing now, but those thoughts are here. They point to a differing sense of competition and the social form of combat rite, Thai to Western: We find this idea of external influence embodied in the vibrational encouragement by both of the beetle players, and in their deft techniques of turning of the log. They are literally trying to influence their beetle, somewhere between the psychological and the physiological realms. They are stimulating them, but also in a sense, orchestrating them, guiding them, in an inter-species communication. But, as Rennesson points out, there is no real sense that the vibrational communication is only defined by its reception by one's own beetle. The whole log is vibrating. So the participatory agonistic, knowledgeable influence also has a communal aspect. It is spread throughout and part of the performance form. There is a saying in Thai that "animals 'chon' (merely clash), but humans have 'muay' (an art of fighting)". It is indeed the external influence, the cultivation of action, the participatory collaboration between player and beetle that speaks to a certain elevation of the fight in to a spectacle. If using this as a prime cultural sketch of some of the dynamics of Muay Thai, we see how a fighter is not only a lone combatant, but is a social expression of his kru, his camp, and the gamblers who have bet on him (including influence moments of bonus "injection"). The proposed intersubjectivity of the player and the beetle brings this up in the thinnest, but still distinct, of ways. **sidebar note: The relationship between Buddhism and gambling is complex. At one level it is plain. Gambling is considered a vice, and the government laws restricting it, and sweeping political acts against it are seen as moral reform. (The anti-gambling laws of HM King Vajiravudh between 1915-1926 are prime examples.) This is especially so when gambling carries images of compulsion and corruption. On the other hand many of the local, gambling-driven festival fights occur on Wat (Temple) grounds, and are under the provenance of Wats which are powerful social and political centers in community. And there is a sense in which having the good fortune (& power) of winning bets and fights is in keeping with a fundamental Buddhist logic of karma and merit, and works toward the production of charisma (social capital) aligned with outward indications of spiritual potency. In the milieu of gambling, a Buddhistic/Animistic spiritual principle of charm is operating. More on that here: Toward a Theory of the Spirituality of Thailand's Muay Thai. So, its fair to say that there is a kind of double level to Buddhism and Muay Thai: a principled, moralistic objection, and also a Buddhistic/animistic infused one. Both are important to this discussion of a possible ecology through Right Living in Muay Thai.
  21. Next the rules and the basics of engagement are laid out. One can see elements of correspondence between Muay Thai (Muay Thai clinch) and Beetle fighting. You have the stimulation through favorably vibrations (beetles) and the playing of the traditional music (Muay Thai), which drives the conflict. Non-Thais are often confused or even annoyed by the presence of traditional music, but this likely is the foundation of it. It, like an interactive movie score, will dictate fight tempo and intensity. There are also rules of loss which typifying the sub art of clinch, when an opponent distinctly appears not willing to engage (in Muay Thai this is put in tension with retreating, more femeu styles). And, like with Muay Thai clinch one has distinct moments of extended clinch, defined by locks & grips (which for beetles make up rounds). Notably, as both are gambling-driven sports, the ambiguity of the rules is part of the actual form of the contest. The negotiation of interpretation perhaps can be compared to cultural haggling. In the West, we want fix prices, just as we want fixed rule definitions. Instead, the push and pull of negotiation may be woven into the actual social practice. A feature, not a bug.
  22. He then turns to the concrete, physical conditions of combat itself. He wants to think of animal inputs and communication loops between insects and handlers: We filmed this ourselves back in 2017:
  23. Rennesson then sets out the basic intellectual (Philosophical) framework from which he'll attempt to discuss the substantiveness of a care-giver-and-insect assemblage, one that is not polluted by anthromorphisms of varying kinds, and one that does not rob the beetle of ALL sense of subjectivity and world. This positioning is most relevant because taken to this extreme, the arguments for an ecological collaboration become stripped of a lot of cultural assumptions. It becomes a kind of test case from the edges of the spectrum. He will read this, especially in the act of fighting itself, within a fundamentally receptivity of the beetle to communications from his handler, and ultimately a creative feedback loop between these two, insect and human. This forms the basis of a theory of ecology, a world of co-created mutuality.
  24. Here Rennesson dives right down into descriptions which clearly reflect his experiences and writing on the Thai kaimuay (Muay Thai camp). Implicitly the beetles and the fighters find themselves in a similar social position, the assessment of their value and development in a group. Fighting Beetles are essentially "clinch fighters" of Muay Thai, and the care given them can be insightfully compared. This is where, I would argue, we encounter the concept of a wicha (a knowledge, an art). Even at the "low" level of insect intelligence and thymos (energetic spirit), there is some sense of knowledge and art on the part of the developing player (in Muay Thai the kru), and the fighter/beetle. The performance of the combatant will express the wicha of the player/kru insofar as he/she embodies it. Rennesson wants to argue that even at the "low", divergent phylogenetic level of the insect in the social form of Thai beetle fighting ultimately the beetle is seen as a co-author of the fight and his fighting style. As I've argued, wicha is the medium between animality and divinity in Thai culture, their synthesis. Even between beetle and handler there is wicha, a wicha of care but even of technical performance, a transmitted wicha. Wicha is an art & knowledge that draws on, in a developing way, the Thammachat (natural order of things), such that the raw (magical) power of the wild, the forest, is shaped. It is not just urges. This has a strong Buddhistic element to it. If we allow the rough Nakmuay vs Beetle analogy, you may find a very strong young fighter/beetle in "the wild" (not in the urban, modern, culturally degenerating centers), but they must be cared for and developed in the wicha of the art. The vitality may be regarded as coming "from the soil", but the rite of contest requires some (Buddhistic) control over urges and found states which cannot succeed alone. In the West many of these stereotypes map onto our notion of the Primitive. The primitive can be regarded as both undeveloped, but also as raw, Natural and powerful. In terms of connotation, the wicha of combat rites, and Buddhism itself can be considered practices of developing the primitive without diminishing its power. In the ideologies of fighting in the West we carry pictures of the Primative in racisms and ethnicities. The "country strong" or "naturally tough" fighter or athlete (Bo Jackson was described this way as a football player, Big Country in MMA, just to name a diverse imagistic few of 1,000s and 1,000s). This can be racially applied, or applied by class. The working poor fighter, is a classic image in American boxing. This is something comparable to how the provincial, agrarian fighter can be read in the dominant ideology & hierarchy.
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