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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Highly Distinct Genders In Thailand - Ka and Krop and everything in between

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One of the most interesting things for those interested in Thailand's Muay Thai is how Muay Thai itself is a highly stylized expression of Muay Thai, or what some call hypermasculinity. One of the more striking things about Thai language for those first learning it, coming from the west, is how speakers end speech with a gendered polite particle, ka or krop, basically positioning the speaker, as gendered in an almost constant process of self-declaration. This performed division of the genders may even have helped give rise to the very notions of gender fluidity that allow trans persons to simply adopt the particle of the trans- gender they are moving toward. In this sense Thailand is both rather rigid, and also fluid.

But, this is really what I'm writing about here. This gendered division, along with very hyperstylized versions of gender both feminine and masculine, is thought to not even really BE Thai, at least in a certain dimension of analysis. The stark distinctions between genders is thought to have arisen in the early part of the 19th century when Thailand (then Siam) faced extraordinary pressure from the west to "self-civilize"). In otherwords, "you better become a lot more like US, or you will get colonized (ie, civilized)". The division of the genders both visually (gendered dress was government imposed in the periods that followed), and also in terms of speech (I believe the imposition of these gendered particles) came from this somewhat radical, and also Thai-flavored adoption of western gender values, with those Victorian roots.

Of note, this self-civilization also is what likely brought about the adoption of gloves in Muay Thai (then simply Muay). So, when you say "ka" or "krop" at the end of a Thai sentence, you are also reliving the forces that also gloved the hands of Thailand's boxers.

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Are there any links to this you got? For the linguistic history of the m/f versions of the same words?

Loads of other languages have this. Places in Eastern Europe, even your name. Like, if your surname was Kevin it would be 'Kevinski', but if you were a chick it would be 'Kevinska'. Pretty cool.

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Interesting! I just wanted to drop this article here, too - How Thai Language Reinforces Hierarchy and Perpetuates Social Divides

Quote

 

"In a lot of cases, Thai pronouns are strictly gendered.

The word phom, in Thai, can be used to describe two different things. It acts as a pronoun for Thai men to address themselves and also a noun that describes hair.

“And that is not a coincidence,” said Dockum. “Phom refers to the hairs on the top of the head and as an exalted part of the body.”

On the other hand, Thai women face a wider set of pronouns navigate through, from di-chanchanraonhoo, to even addressing their own names.

Let’s look at di-chan as one example. It is a pronoun Thai women often use to refer to themselves, but most Thai women and Thais alike are likely unaware of its origins.

Di-chan is a pronoun that has been eroded over time, but it originally came from the word de-raj-chan, which means a beast or animal.

Another somewhat endearing term, nhoo, has a more direct and straightforward meaning. When you are referring to yourself as nhoo, you are basically calling yourself a mouse.

“Why condone oneself to such a level? You are not a mouse, no matter how sweet or endearing it is. It is incorrect and truly offensive,” Tuptim said.

“It comes from an infantilisation of women and of keeping them youthful,” explains Dockum, “I remember I saw a woman in her 40s talking to a man in his 60s and calling herself nhoo. She was basically saying ‘I am a child in this position in relation to you,’ and therefore treating him with respect.”

When you are navigating Thai pronouns, you are also navigating your own identity, worth, and power  — where you ultimately stand in society."

 

 

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2 hours ago, Oliver said:

Loads of other languages have this. Places in Eastern Europe, even your name. Like, if your surname was Kevin it would be 'Kevinski', but if you were a chick it would be 'Kevinska'. Pretty cool.

Yes, this is quite different than what I'm talking about. This isn't really the gendered, vestigial grouping of words for things in the world. This is the declaration of your own gender, after every sentence or extended expression, through a polite particle. It is a constant, and some might say continuous political act embedded in the very act of speaking. It is repeated over and over and over, positioning the speaker.

I don't have links for this, it's just something I've come upon in my reading. You can search for papers around the term "semi-colony" or I believe "self-civilizing" for discussions about Thailand's move to western modernity. As to the polite particle, I can't recall where I read that this use was a modern invention. Several papers discuss that the visual distinction between the genders was part of the modernization of Thailand (according to Western values), in fact there were laws passed during dictatorship which pressured this change. Siamese/Thais were basically forced to dress like "men" and "women" in a western fashion, as part of the modernization of the Nation.

What is interesting is that the past has a way of reshaping itself before our eyes. When we come to Thailand we have the very distinct sense that we are witnessing something uber "Thai" when we encounter these gendered distinctions; it feels "classical", or extremely traditional, and in a sense it is. But what we don't sense is that this is in many ways just a reflection of ourselves, as the West exerted itself on the region.

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    • Great Step Taken. I would always admire Lumpinee as an inspiration!!!
    • I wanted to comment on this theme of MMA in regards also to what Kevin said on your last Muay-Thai Bones Podcast ep 26. Kevin spoke that he felt a red line had been crossed by allowing MMA in Lumpinee. He said He didnt want inferior MMA being shown there as one reason. He spoke of the inferior MMA of One Championship as compared to the UFC. Though the pool of fighters in One is smaller, it has for instance Team Lakay from the Philippines, and the Lee family of Hawaii:  Angela, Christian and now Victoria who could be champions in the UFC too, The UFC is best at exploiting and ruining the lives of its fighters who are subject to terrible contracts and endless bullying by this massive corporation.  Thank God One Championship exists, and many thanks to Chatri Sidyodtong for bringing Muay-Thai and Kickboxing into the program in 2018. The real problem of having MMA in Lumpinee is the problem of MMA itself. MMA usurped MuayThai years ago as the premier fighting art. In the early 90s when they had the first cage fights, it was also a contest of which style would prevail. Unfortunately BJJ 🤢 was the winner in those early years. Muay-Thai was only useful in standup, and striking could only prevail on the feet. If the fight went to the ground grapplers would prevail. Wrestlers, judokas jui jitsu, and sambo fighters could easily take down a stand-up fighter and submit or choke him out.  A third point which makes MMA the most attractive art is the streetfighting aspect which makes it more "realistic" to the bored average Western viewer. So MuayThai is seen as only one part, -and a less important aspect of MMA😢. What I am getting at basically is that from a Muay-Thai standpoint it would be better if MMA:                                         A) Never existed, or                                         B) Would just go away!😈
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Jaquet marks a foothold in the timeline with this sword and shield technical manual in 1305 (Liber de arte dimicatoria), one of the last documentations of an assumed and illustrated gendered equivalence, at least for purposes of instruction.     There is a great deal to think about in this topic at large, but here I'm most interested in the effects modernization, or rationalization of a fighting art can lead to ideas of gender equality, under fighting arts. And some of the ways modernization can push against it was well. Jaquet's finishing remarks (above) speak to this basic, rationalizing idea. Bodies are all different, they are all capable of differing physical actions, amounts of force being applied, speed of reaction times, etc. It follows, just as physical weaponry like swords or shields are force amplifiers, so too are the analogical "weapons and shields" (techniques) when practiced in a fighting art. If you know how to throw (or slip) a punch, you are within a force amplifier. The rationalization of fighting arts is a modernizing concept of extracting aspects of a traditional process of embodied knowledge practice, and classifying it, for pedagogic reasons, analysis, or commercial use. Seeing gendered bodies as force equations is rationalization. If you follow my writings you know that I have a great deal of hesitance regarding the eroding forces involved in the rationalization of fighting arts, both in terms of teaching and commercial performance (we can lose valuable and hidden habitus as we re-contextualize practices), but this does not mean that I wholesale resist rationalization/modernization. Instead it can act as a scissor, weaving and unweaving as it goes. As Jaquet points out, modernization itself also brings forth conventions which can regard important, liberating rationalizations of a fighting art. How Rationalized Jui-jitsu Changed the Early 20th Century Fight World What I'm really interested in is something that Jaquet does not pursue, and it's something that I have only touched on in my reading. What follows therefore is going to be only a broad sketch of intuitions that would be interesting areas of study. I was particularly struck by this 1905 photo included in his article: And the note tells us, this is the Duchess of Bedford training in Jiu-jitsu in England. I have not dug deeply into the history of Jiu-jitsu's immigration to England through Japanese masters, as well as other countries all over the world, but I assume this is part of a powerful rationalization impulse found in Japanese martial arts, much of it typified by Kanō Jigorō and his invention of Judo. Influenced by Western ideas of rational education and theories of utilitarianism Kano had the dream of modernizing traditional Jiu-jitsu along educational and health lines, and spreading this modernized version all over the world, eventually making it an Olympic sport. Judo and other forms of modern-leaning Jiu-jitsu spread internationally at this time, and the Duchess of Bedford's Jiu-jitsu no doubt was a part of this diaspora of the fighting art. Famously, it reached all the way down to Brazil, eventually becoming today's Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, but at this time it it also reached Siam (Thailand). King Vajiravudh of Siam (reign 1910-1925) was actually raised and educated in England in his youth and young adulthood, for nearly a decade before taking the throne. He brought with him not only an appreciation for British Boxing (which would deeply shape the development of Siam's Muay Thai), but also, one might expect, Judo/Jiu-jitsu which had growing presence in Britain. In 1907, two years after the photo of Mary Russell the Japanese community in Bangkok is recorded as teaching Jui-jitsu, in 1912 Prince Wabulya returns from study abroad in London having learned Judo, and teaches it to enthusiasts and in 1919 Judo is taught at the very important Suan Kulap College, along side British Boxing and the newly named "Muay Thai". It is enough to say that the modernization of Muay Boran into Muay Thai in the 1920s, in the image of Western Boxing (at the time Siam is making efforts to appear civilized in the eyes of the West), was part of an even larger, in fact world wide rationalization effort lead by Judo/Jui-jitsu. When we see this photo of Mary Russell in England, this is part of the one-and-the-same British movements of influence that created modern Muay Thai over the next decades (gloved, weight class, fixed stadium, rounds). Rationalization is happening. Notably, this unfolds it is in the context of King Chulalonkorn's previous religious reformation of Siam which would have lasting impact on the seats of Siam's Muay Thai, moving it away from temple teachings and magical practices. Siam is becoming a modern Nation, and the reformation of Buddhism (along with Muay Thai) is a significant part of that process: from The Modernization of Muay Thai – A Timeline   Returning to the rationalizing efforts of British Jui-jitsu which will almost necessarily un-moor rooted gender bias, with even political consequences. As Jaquet writes, the medical/physical perspective of empowerment and health ended up expressing itself in the Suffragettes Self-Defense Club, to aid in physical confrontations with police:   Now, this certainly was not happening in Siam. In fact Siam/Thailand was busy "civilizing" itself in the eyes of the West by importing the strong Victorian views of powerful visual differences between genders. 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The schism between Thailand and Britain in terms of gender, under the guise of "civilization" recently and long last was symbolically bridged when women were finally integrated into Lumpinee Stadium promotion: The First Female Fight In Lumpinee Stadium Breaking the Prohibition. Note: the strong division between the genders of the late 1930s and 1940s in the "international-style" of work and dress is also in the context of the construction of Rajadamnern Stadium (1945) and Lumpinee Stadium (1956) under Thai fascism and Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Prime Minister    1938-1944 and 1948-1957). It is unknown what gendered Muay Thai practices may have developed without this heritage of an imitation of the West. As an contemporary outsider we tend to assume these "traditional" gendered differences as purely and essentially "Thai" and not a product of Western example or influence. 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Women in rings has grown out of the Suffragettes Self-Defense Club, not now equalizing themselves with embodied knowledge in the streets against police, but rather signifying their political and socio-economic heft to a globalized world. Yet, as all things bend back, the commercialized capture of symbolized female power in the ring is part of its re-domestication, as women's bodies become sites of judgement and eroticized re-packaging, problemizing any overriding narrative of liberty. As women are called to the ring under the auspices of aggression-first promotional fight theater in the double-bind navigation of globalized freedoms, the role of rationalization remains circumspect. Rationalization can and does lead to the re-codification of the genders, as we see with the conventions of institutional competition, as well as within the commodification of the female person and body by combat sport entertainment, yet it also holds the power to un-moor entrenched sexism and bias which work to restrict the possibilities of women as fighter who stands as proxy to the power of women in general.
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    • Great Step Taken. I would always admire Lumpinee as an inspiration!!!
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