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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Gender Expectations, Self-Control and How Thai Maechi and Nakmuay Ying Are in Parallel

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I'm reading a really informative and well-written study of the Maechi (or Mae Chii) of Thailand, MAKING FIELDS OF MERIT Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand, you can download it here (300+ pages): 

MAKING_FIELDS_OF_MERIT.pdf

It details the field study of a class of women in Thailand who have devoted themselves to religious pursuits, vowing celibacy, taking on the ascetic life. They are often referred to as "nuns" in rough cultural approximation, and exist in a kind of no-mans-land of social status. Women cannot ordain as monks (Bhikkhunī) in Thailand, even though historically Bhikkhunī existed for centuries after Buddha established the order, largely due to a much argued over technicality in the laws of ordination. I'm not hear to discuss that dispute, but rather draw an compelling parallel between the struggles of religiously devoted women in Thailand, the female fighters as well. I am not making these equal ambitions, but suggesting that this study draws out facts about the Maechi struggle that shed light into the nature of Muay Thai and the deeper social significance it plays in Thailand's culture. In making the Maechai situation clear, some aspects of gendered Muay Thai also become clear.

I'm going to try and cut to the chase a bit, and not build out too much context. Maybe more context can be added in responses, or in a coming Muay Thai Bones podcast where it might be great to discuss this with Sylvie. I'm going to focus my thoughts on just two short passages. The first describes the "Ideal Male" in Thai culture, in the context of expected short terms stays in monk hood by most males in the society. And the second speaks of the dismissive position Maechi find themselves in, having renounced worldly attachments and devoted themselves to religiosity.

On the Ideal Male

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The key sentence for me is the last sentence of the first paragraph. The "ideal male is an ex-monk who is an householder". In the flow of society, the ideal male proves his ability to abstain, to have self-control --- for a short period of time --- than then assumes the householder position having proven, or graduated into adulthood. It is important that the author is making a kind of discrimination of what "ideal" means. In the stronger sense of ideality, monks in their life long self-control, form the ideal, but in a more connotative, practical sense, it is the process of touching upon that ideal, and then taking your place running a household, that is the ideal.

 

On the Non-Ideal Female

528895041_ThaiGender3.jpg.0c685a0902e8d7d09210dcd09f150d14.jpg

 

Here is where it gets really interesting, and indeed painful. While striving toward what one would assume is a genderless Buddhistic ideal, non-attachment and religious devotion, Maechi are actually downgraded and cast as social failures. They are, by a stereotype, heartbroken or destitute in some way, falling out of their gendered role, and simply taking the refuge of Buddhism (ironically enough, in the pledge you make to convert to Buddhism in Thailand you are asked to take the Sangha,the "Church" so to speak, as your refuge). While men are lauded for their self-control, even for a short period of time, Thai women can be doubted and even side-glanced.

 

The Maechi and Nakmuay Ying

This double standard as to devotion to self-control commitments, and assuming social roles plays out in very suggestive way when we shine the same light onto Muay Thai, not just as a sport, but as a social art of self-cultivation and individuation. To understand more on how the Nak Muay personifies some of the same values and experiences of monkhood for Thai boys and men, read: Thai Masculinity: Postioning Nak Muay Between Monkhood and Nak Leng – Peter Vail. It's enough to say that one of the main fabrics of Muay Thai, not only in it's aesthetic, but also in it's core coming of age experience, of boys becoming men, is the hypermasculine way it asks a fighter to embody self-control. This falls directly in line with the ideal of masculinity expressed in the passage into monkhood by Thai men. (And this is one reason why international kickboxing inspired "beast mode" fighting aesthetics being projected onto Muay Thai in Thailand are so painfully tearing at the very meaning of what Muay Thai is.) In any Muay Thai gym in Thailand that is raising young Thai fighters you are witnessing the same self-control project that is expressed through monk hood. In monk hood this self-control is perhaps quite widely stereotyped as sexual desire (though it is much more than this, of course), in the Nak Muay it is controlling the extremes of emotion (anger, tears at loss or physical pain, overt pride). These are both projects of control. Control yourself, then become a man. Young teen Thai fighters are also often denied girlfriends, and one of the reasons why females were kept out of traditional gyms is likely related to this same "self-control" project of personal transformation.

The question I'm opening up is found in the rough parallel between the fact that the same self-control project when taken up by Maechi (Thai female religious devotees) is not taken up as admired, or in some important sense of even having a home in society. Often the Maechi are seen as a kind of celibate "wife" of monks, cooking and cleaning at the temple. Her devotion to one of the highest, and theoretically genderless aims of human existence (which at the face of it will be admired in the abstract), becomes in a sense, unreadable. Part of this is there is no place for it. Women cannot become Bhikkhunīs (monks). They cannot take the place of recognition and institutional support that would make their devotion readable to the people. And, I hope this does not appear as too much a stretch, but Thai Nakmuay ying cannot fight in (or even touch) the National Stadia of Thailand. Thai female fighters can devote themselves to not only acquiring the skills and experiences that make them the best fighters in the world, but also steeping themselves in the same social conditioning, submitting to the same "self-control" inculcation that turns Thai boys into men, as Nak Muay - but, their accomplishments ultimately become unreadable against the backdrop of gender role expectations, in the family. The values of self-control that make up a great Muay Thai fighter in Thailand indeed become esteemed and admired, whether they appear in a young male fighter or a young female fighter, just as a devoted female meditation-ist, or a male meditation-ist would be esteemed and admired, but for each vocation there is no readable place for the female devotee to graduate to. There is no Lumpinee, there is no monk hood. And the reason for this, ultimately, is found in the way that Thai women are asked to relate to their desire, and the role it plays in society at large.

 

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To follow more some of the essential idea proposed here, the study trades on the dichotomy or contradiction in that the spiritual emptiness and non-attachment of Buddhistic practice necessarily goes beyond identity (which is attachment), and therefore gender. The aim itself is toward genderlessness, while the social conventions which structure that practice are quite gendered and hierarchical. I would suggest that the very same thing exists in Thailand in terms of fighting. Thailand has a Fight Culture which celebrates fighting, or "chon" (clashing) in a pure sense. For this reason men fighting, children fighting, women fighting, chicken fighting, and even beetle fighting all participate in the same essential thing, the chon of spirit. You can check out Sylvie's articles on Bettle Fighting in the North to see aspects of this:

Muay Thai Clinch is Not Boring – Gwang Chon – Battle Beetles of Thailand - Part 1

Underground Gambling, Beetle Fights, Heart and the Clinch of Muay Thai - Part 2

These transcendent views are really part of the way in which Thailand can be very freeing for western female fighters. There is a real sense in which female fighters are just part of the chon of a universal spirit of battle, and that as long as the spirit is exhibited, it is celebrated.

 

A nexus point in a possible comparison between Thai Maechi and Thai Nakmuay Ying is the way in which there is an operative transcendent, gender-less apex of celebration, something which unites all participants, but also, a hierarchy of laddered social striation which can lead both also unreadable, or at least very hard to read. 

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I replied to this earlier but it disappeared.  Nothing very intelligent, just that I appreciate your ongoing investigation of gender.  I've been thinking a bit about the specifics of playful fight insults here in America ("don't be a little bitch", etc).  These are obvious, broad sexist statements but there is also a lot of affection in them.  Fear in other words is gendered female (at least in my American context), but there is also a playful understanding of the omnipresence of fear.   I love these people tossing around the insults so I am not going to take them personally because why but..  its very useful to get a window into gender roles in two openly striated Thai zones, since things are ostensibly more "open" here (although they are not, really). 

 

SO interesting about the absence of roles for women in Buddhism, how their self-control is "unreadable".  I love that formulation - it rings so true to me in many aspects of my own experience (and my work I've been told operates on a "dog whistle" level ie; its unreadable to many men )*#&*#%).  This baroquely complicated relation of person to feminine is the subject of my work as you might know.  I'm thinking about the renunciation of feminine sexuality that occurs when women train at a fight level here.  Usually bustlines diminish from weigh-cutting and overall secondary sex characteristics (thighs and adipose tissue) diminish.  Women are richly rewarded for this and a boyish figure is considered sexual here for women but its a boyish figure, not a maternal one or a zaftig 50's one.  When I've trained hard in my life I cease menstruating which is about as rejecting of the female as I could get.  I've had this exact discussion with a male friend who used to date a fighter but whose wife is not one, about how his eye and desire had to retrain from being attracted to a male type of female figure to adoring a female one.  I feel the urge to dispense with my own adipose tissue and be as lean as possible is an internalized dislike of the feminine as I was taught it (at home, passive etc).  But there are cultural prizes for doing so at least in a white American context!  Clothes look "good" and all that.  I have a heavy friend who tells me many men fear her extreme femininity (large breasts and hips) although of course culturally some men prefer it.  Complicated stuff.

 

Sorry if i have gone off the rails here.  Thanks for your post.  I will be thinking about it.  Your second post - it make me really want to come to Thailand (impossible now of course) for the "chon".  I love to watch anything, anything at all fight.  My rooster turns and runs from my guinea fowl cock and I am out in the yard shouting at him to grow a pair (talk about gendered). Its inspiring how you use the concept of "chon" to describe how the male and female cultural differences are bridged. I'm also interested in the connection of self-control to masculinity in fighting (laughing off a blow rather than "beast mode").  Have to think about it more.

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On 4/13/2020 at 3:01 PM, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

Thailand has a Fight Culture which celebrates fighting, or "chon" (clashing) in a pure sense. For this reason men fighting, children fighting, women fighting, chicken fighting, and even beetle fighting all participate in the same essential thing, the chon of spirit. You can check out Sylvie's articles on Bettle Fighting in the North to see aspects of this:

...

These transcendent views are really part of the way in which Thailand can be very freeing for western female fighters. There is a real sense in which female fighters are just part of the chon of a universal spirit of battle, and that as long as the spirit is exhibited, it is celebrated.

...

A nexus point in a possible comparison between Thai Maechi and Thai Nakmuay Ying is the way in which there is an operative transcendent, gender-less apex of celebration, something which unites all participants, but also, a hierarchy of laddered social striation which can lead both also unreadable, or at least very hard to read. 

These reflections and the concept of Chon are at the core of what I love about muay thai. I believe it links to some of the ontology of Nietzsche that Deleuze lays out in Nietzsche and Philosophy. It is what separates the buddhist-traditional muay thai and the vulgar western beastmode muay thai, I believe.

The beastmode fighter commits himself to a burden that is negation of both men within violence, and the winner only stands out as the ''least losing'' of the two. It is a scene of pure survival that reduces men to dying animals. What is at the core of this is negation, which is the opposite of affirmation. 

The nak muay of tradition could be said to embody the tragic of Deleuze; ''a logic of multiple affirmation and therefore a logic of pure affirmation and a corresponding ethic of joy. The tragic is not founded on a relation of life and the negative but on the essential relation of joy and multiplicity, of the positivity and multiplicity, of affirmation and multiplicity... Tragic - frank, dynamic, gaiety.'' What is at stakes in muay thai is the competing of two positives for the truth of their self-affirmation, and the result is determined by the excessive, overwhelming, truer, more beautiful and stronger nature of the bigger positive of the two.

This does not mean that the ''loser'' is negated at all, however, for even the act of commiting oneself to the chon is indestructibly self-affirmative; 'In its relation with the other the force which makes itself obeyed does not deny the other or that which it is not, it affirms its own difference and enjoys this deifference'. Here violence, the most extreme of human phenomenon, suspends itself as the negating totality of the beastmode arena, wherein humans can at most survive, and is forced into an ontology of medium for the showcase of self-affirmation in the fighter. This muay is not the destruction of man, it is never animalistic survival. It is a competition of dance, joy and song where the negating force of violence reveals it's true poverty in the face of the joy of man. That is why muay thai is the most beautiful art of all, because it expresses the unity of aesthetics and ethics that is at the core of mans ontology, and this unity reveals itself as beauty and joy.

Edited by Asger
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16 hours ago, Asger said:

The beastmode fighter commits himself to a burden that is negation of both men within violence, and the winner only stands out as the ''least losing'' of the two. It is a scene of pure survival that reduces men to dying animals. What is at the core of this is negation, which is the opposite of affirmation. 

The nak muay of tradition could be said to embody the tragic of Deleuze; ''a logic of multiple affirmation and therefore a logic of pure affirmation and a corresponding ethic of joy. The tragic is not founded on a relation of life and the negative but on the essential relation of joy and multiplicity, of the positivity and multiplicity, of affirmation and multiplicity... Tragic - frank, dynamic, gaiety.'' What is at stakes in muay thai is the competing of two positives for the truth of their self-affirmation, and the result is determined by the excessive, overwhelming, truer, more beautiful and stronger nature of the bigger positive of the two.

I really don't mind the turn to metaphysics here! And I like how you picture "beast mode" as a negation, while traditional Muay Thai as an affirmation. There is something genuinely Dionysian I think about Thailand's traditional celebration of the art (and I suppose something of Apollo of course). It is that ascending spark, through the hierarchies of Being, or at least it feels like that. It is no accident that a Muay Thai fight begins with a dance.

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19 minutes ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

 really don't mind the turn to metaphysics here! And I like how you picture "beast mode" as a negation, while traditional Muay Thai as an affirmation. There is something genuinely Dionysian I think about Thailand's traditional celebration of the art (and I suppose something of Apollo of course). It is that ascending spark, through the hierarchies of Being, or at least it feels like that. It is no accident that a Muay Thai fight begins with a dance.

Agreed! I always pictured Dieselnoi as the archangel of Dionysus; this massive embodiment of pure, raw, ecstatic force of overwhelming (becoming!) that upon his inability to express the fabric of his being ceases to want to exist. No one rivals the active force of Dieselnoi; he is just undeniable in a way that has epistemological implications, as the dionysian does in The Birth of Tragedy. His body is the articulation of that truth that is active force and of which science and consciousness knows nothing: ''What happens is that science follows the path of consciousness, relying entirely on other reactice forces; the organism is always seen from its petty side, from the side of its reactions... The real problem is the discovery of active forces without which the reactions themselves would not be forces.''

This discovery (discovery is always epistemological) is possible within a dionysian framework, and the body of the fighting Dieselnoi would be the domain of that undertaking: ''The body's active forces make it a self and define the self as superior and astonishing.'' Dieselnoi is the agent of the kind of nature that Nietzsche conceives as dionysian in BoT, this active force. Dieselnoi in the ecstasy of his fighting lets us see the truth of the active force; this bodily self is expression of pure force that is just irrefutable and which is all Dionysus. 

I always thought a lot about something Sylvie has told of Dieselnoi, which is that he despised weakness of his opponents in the clinch, as if that weakness was something despicable in itself. To me this is also a declaration of his dionysian nature. The ''beast mode muay'' would welcome this as a break, a breather, a hole in the armor and thus an end to the burden of the fight and the reciprocal negation. But Dieselnoi hates this end to the chon, he hates the result; he wants the fight in its non-finality, in its becoming - the potentiality of the fight, the never ending waves of affirming life and active force. That is truly dionysian to me. 

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There is an additional observation or note when taking up the maturation process of Thai boys through Muay Thai, and monkhood regimes of self-control. And that is if we take them to be parallel developmental paths, it perhaps sheds light on something that has always mystified me. Former fighters who fall to drink, who become alcoholics, have serious social stigma attached to them, even from within the community. As a westerner this just strikes me as just another vice, common among any in the population...but alcohol in particular seems to have an excessive strain to it. For a long time I just took this to mean that alcohol in its history in the culture just developed certain associations. There are legends of the sport who just became slotted very low, socially, because of their functioning alcoholism. It never quite added up. But, if Nak Muay are held up and esteemed, in the art, in part because of the very same self-control values that monks are idealized with (by degrees), then the fall from grace, the contrast of control vs a lack of self-control, just might really feel morally stark. We think of these great fighters and are like: How can you forget with they were!? (and in a way, still are). But, if you had a great monk who then at a certain point didn't abstain from celibacy in a vivid way, you really would not be thinking back to what a great monk they once were. Instead you would just get a very strong feeling for the depth of the fall.

I'm not entirely sure about this, but it does lend itself to this analysis of value through displays of self-mastery and control. And the social shame that comes with falling from those states.

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On 4/15/2020 at 1:38 AM, Asger said:

These reflections and the concept of Chon are at the core of what I love about muay thai. I believe it links to some of the ontology of Nietzsche that Deleuze lays out in Nietzsche and Philosophy. It is what separates the buddhist-traditional muay thai and the vulgar western beastmode muay thai, I believe.

The beastmode fighter commits himself to a burden that is negation of both men within violence, and the winner only stands out as the ''least losing'' of the two. It is a scene of pure survival that reduces men to dying animals. What is at the core of this is negation, which is the opposite of affirmation. 

The nak muay of tradition could be said to embody the tragic of Deleuze; ''a logic of multiple affirmation and therefore a logic of pure affirmation and a corresponding ethic of joy. The tragic is not founded on a relation of life and the negative but on the essential relation of joy and multiplicity, of the positivity and multiplicity, of affirmation and multiplicity... Tragic - frank, dynamic, gaiety.'' What is at stakes in muay thai is the competing of two positives for the truth of their self-affirmation, and the result is determined by the excessive, overwhelming, truer, more beautiful and stronger nature of the bigger positive of the two.

I can really buy into this at a kind of fundamental level of philosophical critique of the west and "beast mode" negation. But...I might have some difficulty making the pure equation between "chon" and affirmation. I mean, when you write:

On 4/15/2020 at 6:51 PM, Asger said:

Agreed! I always pictured Dieselnoi as the archangel of Dionysus; this massive embodiment of pure, raw, ecstatic force of overwhelming (becoming!) that upon his inability to express the fabric of his being ceases to want to exist. No one rivals the active force of Dieselnoi; he is just undeniable in a way that has epistemological implications, as the dionysian does in The Birth of Tragedy. His body is the articulation of that truth that is active force and of which science and consciousness knows nothing: ''What happens is that science follows the path of consciousness, relying entirely on other reactice forces; the organism is always seen from its petty side, from the side of its reactions... The real problem is the discovery of active forces without which the reactions themselves would not be forces.''

This discovery (discovery is always epistemological) is possible within a dionysian framework, and the body of the fighting Dieselnoi would be the domain of that undertaking: ''The body's active forces make it a self and define the self as superior and astonishing.'' Dieselnoi is the agent of the kind of nature that Nietzsche conceives as dionysian in BoT, this active force. Dieselnoi in the ecstasy of his fighting lets us see the truth of the active force; this bodily self is expression of pure force that is just irrefutable and which is all Dionysus. 

I always thought a lot about something Sylvie has told of Dieselnoi, which is that he despised weakness of his opponents in the clinch, as if that weakness was something despicable in itself. To me this is also a declaration of his dionysian nature. The ''beast mode muay'' would welcome this as a break, a breather, a hole in the armor and thus an end to the burden of the fight and the reciprocal negation. But Dieselnoi hates this end to the chon, he hates the result; he wants the fight in its non-finality, in its becoming - the potentiality of the fight, the never ending waves of affirming life and active force. That is truly dionysian to me. 

This really communicates a great deal of what you can FEEL off of Diesenoi when you are right there in his presence, to this day, a kind of tragic joy of affirmation. It's incredible. But, in Thailand there is also a kind of laddered critique of "chon" that is built into the scoring aesthetic, and the ultimate eternal battle between Muay Khao (chon, the bull) and Muay Femeu (su, the matador). What is so incredible about the Samart vs Dieselnoi fight, and finding it after all these decades, was how definitively the Muay Khao fighter just dismantled and broke the illusions of control of the fighter who is otherwise regarded as GOAT in style. In Thailand the Muay Femeu fighter, all things being equal, will always be more esteemed than the Muay Khao fighter. As Thais may say: Animals "chon" (clash), humans "su" (fight). So while there is a kind pan embrace of fighting "chon", there is also a scale on which it is judged.

I always think back to this fight between Samart and Namphon. Namphon was one of the better Muay Khao fighters of his day. We have only a highly edited version of the fight, but from this fight edit it is almost impossible for me to see where Samart won this fight. It is clear that he did, you can see the frustration and resignation on Namphon's face, but it looks like Samart just "dangle-armed" his win. He went into a theater of play and superiority, and this theater (and his reputation) just stole the show. (You can see Samart trying to do these same dangle-arm tactics in his loss to Dieselnoi and his final fight vs Wangchannoi, but where they just appear as lost attempts at dignity):

 

Samart in some ways is Vishnu, the conquering god who does not break a sweat, who with his lazily flung destructive arrows vanquishes demons. He embodies the "Bangkok" courtly Muay Thai that claims almost moral superiority to the Muay Khao, lower class clashes of the Muay Khao fighters of Isaan. He is princely. Almost all Muay Khao fighters have to fight against the stigma of just being "chon" fighters (low IQ, super strong and enduring, work animals). Dieselnoi has to explain how he was an accomplished, strategizing fighter. Chamuakpet is named "Mr. Computer Knee" to emphasize his intelligence. Elbow fighters have to use elbows artfully, and not with too much force or repetition (this is one reason why Yodkhunpon's career is vastly under appreciated by Thais, because he didn't). All of this is to say is that as much as Thailand celebrates a "chon" of fight culture, and an incredible tragic joy of affirmation, it also has a parallel path, a secondary channel, which overlays a story of transcendence, which also is quite hierarchical, political and ideological.

But, you see this not just in Thailand or Muay Thai. The same thing played out between the "working man" Joe Frazier and Ali in western boxing.

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Here is the great ideal hero Rama (Vishnu) in the Ramakien, perfectly balanced as if in repose, firing his deadly arrows. This is Samart and his dangle-arms:

489990353_VishnuRamawithhisbow.jpg.79eeb913ccee8236d49c8ec41ef7829f.jpg

 

How does one balance out, or rectify the continuous becoming of Dieselnoi, that tragic joy of affirmation, which counters the "beast mode" of negation, and the Princely cancellation of "beast mode" clashing, found in the elevation of Samart and figures like Rama? Are these the twin, and perhaps irreconcilable philosophies of Transcendence and Immanence?

In this famous photo of Samart and Namphon, you have the princely transcendence of the future movie star Samart, and the bloodied Muay Khao man from a small Isaan town, cut by "intelligence" and "art" (I use these descriptions to bring out the dichotomy of judgement, not because they are real or fair). Ironically enough, Namphon's little brother Namkabuan would go onto to somewhat fuse these two aesthetics, the handsome, dashing technical fighter, and the relentless, explosive Muay Khao stylist:

1647030779_SamartandNamphon.jpg.a7deda1b8508ceb8502671f916db1ae5.jpg

 

Interestingly, when we talked with Samart he told us, quite proudly, "I have never lost to Muay Khao" (despite losing quite dramatically to Dieselnoi). These are very loaded and powerful aesthetic judgements.

 

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Fantastic thoughts Kevin, thank you! I am in no way up to par in either knowledge of golden age muay nor thai culture as you, and so I will try to respond somewhat nondirectly to some of your points through this deleuze-nietzschean framework. I am still reading and so don't claim to master this work at all yet. I have thought a lot about the active/reactive dichotomy and its relation to the muay khao/muay femeu dichotomy these past few days, however.

One of the main premises I believe is that one can't draw a parallel between muay khao/active and muay femeu/reactive. Since the dionysian ontology of becoming operates with a multitude of forces, we have a world of constant confrontation. Deleuze defines force as that which can (La force est ce qui peut) and thus has an element of potentiality to it (I must investigate the ontology of Agamben with regards to this at some point).

All force that interacts is in a relation of attempted dominating/dominated. The internal element of force is the will to power, which is what allows the determination of the clash, the confrontation; ''Thus it is always through the will to power that one force prevails over others and dominates or commands them.'' The becoming of the muay of the golden age is always both a clash of forces (chon) and an evaluation/interpretation (victory or dominance of the participating forces) of this clash. 

The last point I want to establish before going further stems from these two quotes: ‘’It is clear that there is affirmation in every action and negation in every reaction. But, on the other hand, action and reaction are more like means, means or instruments of the will to power which affirms and denies, just as reactive forces are instruments of nihilism.’’ These thoughts establishes the modalities of force as subordinated to becoming itself; ‘’Affirmation and negation extend beyond action and reaction because they are the immediate qualities of becoming itself. Affirmation is not action but the power of becoming active, becoming active personified. Negation is not simple reaction but a becoming reactive.’’

With this established, I believe we have somewhat of a framework to consider what is the ontology of the (dominating, victorious) muay femeu fighter. At first glance they appear as the angels of reaction, the negators of the bull of the muay khao and the establishing of order, civility and as you write, intelligence. They are the human answer to the violence of nature, the sheriffs of muay thai. But I’m not sure that is what is at the core of the victorious muay femeu. I believe the muay femeu to be just as much affirmation and becoming, just as much force and will, as the muay khao, albeit in another aesthetic and narrative.

The muay khao challenges the muay femeu (‘’agresses’’ a relation of force) who in turns engages (affirms his own becoming in the face of an aggression seeking to dominate this) towards the clash. Although chronologically secondary in the chain of events preceding the clash, the muay femeu is not reduced to reactive becoming, since a clash of forces necessarily presupposes an answer to an aggression within the ontology of force-pluralism that Deleuze operates with. What is important in this view is not the chronology of the events, but the modality or quality of the force-expression (active or reactive).

I believe this reciprocal affirmation of the fighting parts is what plays out aesthetically and narratively throughout the entirety of the fight. And so the muay femeu, albeit playing out the part of the accepting the challenge (which manifests in the aesthetics of the technical, controlling and elegant torero), is not in a state of becoming reactive but always in a state of becoming active. Maybe what makes the femeu so esteemed in Thailand is that he not only dominates and affirms his own force through the mastery of his muay, but even affirms and dominates the force of the opponent through the manipulation, control and nullification of the attempted domination. In this manner he would be the conductor of the clash of forces, immanent within this very clash. He does not overwhelm his opponent, he absorbs him - and so increases the quantity of forces in his becoming for him to affirm. 

One must imagine the muay femeu happy. His work is not the negating of the opponent, but the affirmation of his own becoming in the face of an attempted domination of his own. Where the affirmation of Dieselnoi is a tsunami of becoming, the affirmation of the femeu is laughter. The muay femeu not only fights to express the superiority of his becoming, he turns the domination of violence into music, and so dances and laughs.

Edited by Asger
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3 hours ago, Asger said:

I believe the muay femeu to be just as much affirmation and becoming, just as much force and will, as the muay khao, albeit in another aesthetic and narrative.

Yes, I would in no way suggest that Muay Femeu is reactive. The matador leads the bull. The whole point of Thailand's scoring biases is to affirm the control and dominance of artful imposition. What is interesting is that the classic pairing Muay Khao becoming and Muay Femeu becoming are in tension with each other, but also rest on a hierarchy of ascension. What is one to make of this really ideological and even politicized hierarchy? Is the Muay Khao fighter necessarily "lessor", and if so, on what anchored basis?

 

3 hours ago, Asger said:

One must imagine the muay femeu happy. His work is not the negating of the opponent, but the affirmation of his own becoming in the face of an attempted domination of his own. Where the affirmation of Dieselnoi is a tsunami of becoming, the affirmation of the femeu is laughter. The muay femeu not only fights to express the superiority of his becoming, he turns the domination of violence into music, and so dances and laughs.

I like this.

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8 minutes ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

What is interesting is that the classic pairing Muay Khao becoming and Muay Femeu becoming are in tension with each other, but also rest on a hierarchy of ascension. What is one to make of this really ideological and even politicized hierarchy? Is the Muay Khao fighter necessarily "lessor", and if so, on what anchored basis?

And also, what does this ideological and politicized hierarchy represent? Why does it resonate with us so profoundly? Because muay khao and muay femeu speak not only of thai culture, but something universally human. Which two forces are these paradigmatic fighters allegories of? Some part of me can't help but think that there's deep gender connotations to the dynamic; the ecstasies of the primordial masculine and feminine, their zones of indistinction and overlapping, the life of them. The arena of forces within a closed unity, the collision of becoming and becoming of collision. 

And is this ascension of the victorious not always a disappointment and an aporia in some way? In muay thai we don't care for the comeback, because comebacks imply a kind of personalized attachment (a sentimentality) to the identities of the fighters, rather than an appreciation of their clash. Rather a dignified accept of the dominion than a desperate attempt to shortcircuit the fabric of being. The comeback is essentially an act of ressentiment and thus reactive I think. 

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51 minutes ago, Asger said:

Because muay khao and muay femeu speak not only of thai culture, but something universally human. Which two forces are these paradigmatic fighters allegories of?

This. Totally. What is so interesting is that for decades now, with the fight lost to history, Samart losing to Dieselnoi was but a blip in his career. But when the actual fight video surfaced you see Samart being basically destroyed by Dieselnoi, totally overwhelmed in a way that had never been recorded before. Samart's sheen of the undisturbed fighter completely fell off. Before that video surfaced it wasn't even questionable who the GOAT was, but then it became questionable. Yes, you see the size difference, but you also see the art in Dieselnoi. And you see that Samart performed much worse than, say, Chamuakpet did facing even greater size differences like Sangtiennoi. The entire "story" of femeu inherent superiority falls away a bit, like a myth, because honestly the only people who saw that fight in the stadium, actually saw what happened. The aftermath of that fight, one would think, would have catapulted Diesenoi into GOAT status, the Muay Khao becoming proved itself, it won the eternal battle. But instead Dieselnoi said "No one would choose to have my life". Samart went into further glories, then movie roles, singing performances. The princely becoming continued its ascent.

One cannot also, in this dichotomy escape the real sense that the poor and rural lay on one side of the Becoming divide, and the educated, urban, cosmopolitan on the other. It feels as if a myth is at work. An eternal myth? Or a particular ideological one?

51 minutes ago, Asger said:

Some part of me can't help but think that there's deep gender connotations to the dynamic; the ecstasies of the primordial masculine and feminine, their zones of indistinction and overlapping, the life of them.

There is a very interesting gendered quality to Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu, in how fighters (and probably fans) think of it. Dieselnoi will joke and giggle, saying "Samart hits like a girl" (they are very, very good friends). I recall Samson Isaan, when he filmed with Sylvie with Karuhat present, would imitate a Muay Femeu fighter, dancing away like a girl, waving goodbye in an effeminate way. The "art" of Muay Femeu can contain strong feminine overtones when parodied. To the old school Muay Khao fighter the Muay Femeu fighter is not manly. While Karuhat would then make fun of Samson, pretending that if they fought Samson would just keep stumbling and falling, tripping over Karuhat's deftness, like a dumb man. There is an amazingly gendered (and also class) quality to this. But, going back to the original point of the post, women, female fighters, do not have access to this "feminine" (or maybe androgynous) ascension, by virtue of their sex. Female Thai fighters tend to adhere to the Muay Femeu aesthetic, for just this same gendered aspect, but it lacks transcendent powers for them.

51 minutes ago, Asger said:

The comeback is essentially an act of ressentiment and thus reactive I think. 

That's a really interesting thought. Maybe? I mean, they definitely appreciate the comeback, when it happens and succeeds, but there is a certain stench of desperation in even the attempt. A sense of shame, I think. Part of this though is that, for instance, in America and other mythologies of the Self, social mobility is highly encouraged and celebrated. The individual is cut free from the fabric of his/her conditions. Whereas in Thailand and the karma of community and rebirth, there is no such thing as the "self made man". Social mobility is quite rare on the whole. Facing a 5th round where you find yourself well behind in a fight, is a condition you have made for yourself, and I think there is a kind of embrace of that that creates a dignity, at times.

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One should say, also, if talking about the archetypal dichotomy of Muay Khao and Muay Femeu that many Golden Age Muay Khao fighters will really complain about the clinch fighters of the present era. They will complain how the game has become just a strength game, that all the art (femeu) has been lost in Muay Khao fighting. So the carriers of the High Art of Muay Khao, who themselves were demoted in the ideological pairing, use the same qualifiers to complain about the Muay Khao fighters of today. I'm not saying it isn't a fair criticism, it is for real and accurate I believe, but it is ironic to hear legends of the sport who were downgraded, aesthetically, use the same ruler to measure the next generations.

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4 minutes ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

This. Totally. What is so interesting is that for decades now, with the fight lost to history, Samart losing to Dieselnoi was but a blip in his career. But when the actual fight video surfaced you see Samart being basically destroyed by Dieselnoi, totally overwhelmed in a way that had never been recorded before. Samart's sheen of the undisturbed fighter completely fell off. Before that video surfaced it wasn't even questionable who the GOAT was, but then it became questionable. Yes, you see the size difference, but you also see the art in Dieselnoi. And you see that Samart performed much worse than, say, Chamuakpet did facing even greater size differences like Sangtiennoi. The entire "story" of femeu inherent superiority falls away a bit, like a myth, because honestly the only people who saw that fight in the stadium, actually saw what happened. The aftermath of that fight, one would think, would have catapulted Diesenoi into GOAT status, the Muay Khao becoming proved itself, it won the eternal battle. But instead Dieselnoi said "No one would choose to have my life". Samart went into further glories, then movie roles, singing performances. The princely becoming continued its ascent.

One cannot also, in this dichotomy escape the real sense that the poor and rural lay on one side of the Becoming divide, and the educated, urban, cosmopolitan on the other. It feels as if a myth is at work. An eternal myth? Or a particular ideological one?

I mean there's no doubt that Samart was fucking destroyed and in my mind no doubt about the superiority of Dieselnois self-assertion in the plurality of its meanings. And yes, you see the exact same thing in the Chamuakpet - Sangtiennoi fight (A former thai fighter of Sangtiennoi happens to be the Kru that introduced me to muay thai, actually). If you will allow me this almost autistic focus on the Deleuzean-Nietzschean framework to explore the movements of muay thai, maybe one could argue (which Nietzsche certainly did) that the buddhist Thai culture is essentially nihilistic and thus reactive, negating and thus slave moralistic. I have also learned from you and Sylvie that there are strong animistic and polytheistic forces at play in thai culture, that might signify the (now taboo) self-affirmative master morality which still seethes under the established buddhist framework and which is let out and appreciated in muay thai, but which must always be sublimated the femeu as strong representative of buddhist values. In this manner Samart remains the posterboy of the civilized slave morality of thai buddhism and Dieselnoi is the publically frowned upon - but undeniable - manifestation of the self-affirming dionysian force and becoming.

 

Quote

There is a very interesting gendered quality to Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu, in how fighters (and probably fans) think of it. Dieselnoi will joke and giggle, saying "Samart hits like a girl" (they are very, very good friends). I recall Samson Isaan, when he filmed with Sylvie with Karuhat present, would imitate a Muay Femeu fighter, dancing away like a girl, waving goodbye in an effeminate way. The "art" of Muay Femeu can contain strong feminine overtones when parodied. While Karuhat would then make fun of Samson, pretending that if they fought Samson would just keep stumbling and falling, tripping over Karuhat's deftness, like a dumb man. There is an amazingly gendered quality to this. But, going back to the original point of the post, women, female fighters, do not have access to this "feminine" (or maybe androgynous) ascension, by virtue of their sex.

Yes man, and the muay femeu/muay khao gender dichotomy is very obvious in this way, but under the surface I believe there is a reversal of this. The anonymous feminine, the raw, pure, sexual, natural dionysian force (the dionysian is illustrated as the great mother, the matriarchal in The Birth of Tragedy) against the ''cultural'', the identity and individualized, the named, male of the femeu, the civilized caesura in the fabric of nature. In this layer of the dichotomy, which now reveals itself to be a dipolarity, the roles are changed and the muay khao is the feminine and muay femeu becomes the masculine. Put somewhat poetically; the muay femeu is the volcano, but the muay khao is the sea. And so the feminine and the masculine energies or forces intersect and cross and divert in the specific muay of the fighters in a zone of indistinction. Maybe that is also why the muay khao are shunned; what we at first glance consider masculine in the muay khao fighter might actually be the feminine.

 

Quote

That's a really interesting thought. Maybe? I mean, they definitely appreciate the comeback, when it happens and succeeds, but there is a certain stench of desperation in even the attempt. A sense of shame, I think. Part of this though is that, for instance, in America and other mythologies of the Self, social mobility is highly encouraged and celebrated. The individual is cut free from the fabric of his/her conditions. Whereas in Thailand and the karma of community and rebirth, there is no such thing as the "self made man". Social mobility is quite rare on the whole. Facing a 5th round where you find yourself well behind in a fight, is a condition you have made for yourself, and I think there is a kind of embrace of that that creates a dignity, at times.

Yes man! Thank you! Exactly what I was trying to get at. It is a dignified accept of the superiority of the opposing affirmative force without compromising the original self-affirmation that made one enter the ring at all. Deleuze would probably say of the losing fighter in the fifth round that he isn't giving up (which the not-knowing would see), but instead joyously affirms the difference of the forces. Maybe, haha. 

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57 minutes ago, Asger said:

If you will allow me this almost autistic focus on the Deleuzean-Nietzschean framework to explore the movements of muay thai, maybe one could argue (which Nietzsche certainly did) that the buddhist Thai culture is essentially nihilistic and thus reactive, negating and thus slave moralistic. I have also learned from you and Sylvie that there are strong animistic and polytheistic forces at play in thai culture, that might signify the (now taboo) self-affirmative master morality which still seethes under the established buddhist framework and which is let out and appreciated in muay thai, but which must always be sublimated the femeu as strong representative of buddhist values.

I would be wary of the opinions of the East from a 19th century European, who had his self-centric problems with race and stereotypes, to be sure. This does sound pretty reductionist to take his lead, but it certainly is a line of thought as well. Nietzsche probably knew very little of the lives of actual Buddhists, and all of it filtered through the prism of ideology. There is an ascent being performed in the Buddhistic ideals of self-mastery I would insist, which are reflected in the scoring asethetics of Thailand's Muay Thai. The artful matador is ascending over the bull, in one way or another. The bull of the Other, or the bull of oneself. The bigger debate seems to be about the bull. The bull is both blind instinct, in the cul-de-sac of its circuits and drives..."dumb", and also the progenitor of its own brilliant, un-guidable Becoming (...perhaps).

This Self-Mastery, owned in the Buddhist ideal, is a potent path. I remember talking about Samart with Krongsak (a powerful, forward-fighting, Muay Maat fighter who drew with Dieselnoi). Krongsak nearly spat out disgust over the very accomplished femeu fighter Robert of JockyGym. All he does is run. He's not even a fighter. Its as if he was saying, he's not even a man. But, when he turned to Samart his eyes melted. For Thai fighters of the time nobody moved like Samart. Nobody existed in the space like Samart. He just shook his head in awe. (He also humorously said, when asked who would win between Somrak and Samar, "What promoter would book that fight? Who would pay a ticket to fall asleep!"). I'm just saying that if we are really going to get a handle on this dichotomy you can't reduce this incredible beauty of Samart, the femeu ascension, to just a "civilized slave morality". This is a performed transcendence that was very real in terms of violence in the ring. We have to account for the effect of Samart...or, you can replace Samart with someone who is even an more interesting aesthetic fighter, Karuhat.

I realize that you are just free-wheeling in associations and ideas, which is, after all, where lots of good perspectives can come from.

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5 minutes ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

I would be wary of the opinions of the East from a 19th century European, who had his self-centric problems with race and stereotypes, to be sure. This does sound pretty reductionist to take his lead, but it certainly is a line of thought as well. Nietzsche probably knew very little of the lives of actual Buddhists, and all of it filtered through the prism of ideology. There is an ascent being performed in the Buddhistic ideals of self-mastery I would insist, which are reflected in the scoring asethetics of Thailand's Muay Thai. The artful matador is ascending over the bull, in one way or another. The bull of the Other, or the bull of oneself. The bigger debate seems to be about the bull. The bull is both blind instinct, in the cul-de-sac of its circuits and drives..."dumb", and also the progenitor of its own brilliant, un-guidable Becoming (...perhaps).

This Self-Mastery, owned in the Buddhist ideal, is a potent path. I remember talking about Samart with Krongsak (a powerful, forward-fighting, Muay Maat fighter who drew with Dieselnoi). Krongsak nearly spat out disgust over the very accomplished femeu fighter Robert of JockyGym. All he does is run. He's not even a fighter. Its as if he was saying, he's not even a man. But, when he turned to Samart his eyes melted. For Thai fighters of the time nobody moved like Samart. Nobody existed in the space like Samart. He just shook his head in awe. (He also humorously said, when asked who would win between Somrak and Samar, "What promoter would book that fight? Who would pay a ticket to fall asleep!"). I'm just saying that if we are really going to get a handle on this dichotomy you can't reduce this incredible beauty of Samart, the femeu ascension, to just a "civilized slave morality". This is a performed transcendence that was very real in terms of violence in the ring. We have to account for the effect of Samart...or, you can replace Samart with someone who is even an more interesting aesthetic fighter, Karuhat.

I realize that you are just free-wheeling in associations and ideas, which is, after all, where lots of good perspectives can come from.

You misunderstand me. Reducing the beauty of muay femeu to slave morality is in no way what I am arguing, which should be clear from my previous ode to muay femeu above. I am speculating on the origins of the cultural glorification of muay femeu over muay khao, and am trying to localize that in the negating nihilism of buddhism and the taboo of the uninhibited (or even un-controlled) force of the muay khao. But yes, I am definitely free-wheeling at this point. 😁

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8 minutes ago, Asger said:

I am speculating on the origins of the cultural glorification of muay femeu...

Ahhhh! I can see that, much has been made of the coming of the Buddhist State as Siam passed into modernity in the early 20th century, ironically enough, the same period in which Thailand saw the birth of Muay Thai as a sport (and even as distinct art), in the pattern of (civilized) British boxing.

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1 hour ago, Asger said:

I have also learned from you and Sylvie that there are strong animistic and polytheistic forces at play in thai culture, that might signify the (now taboo) self-affirmative master morality which still seethes under the established buddhist framework and which is let out and appreciated in muay thai

This brings up a very interesting parallel. One of the characteristics of yodmuay, especially femeu yodmuay, is their charm. Karuhat and Chatchai complained that the superstars of today no longer have charm. What empowered Samart, perhaps more than anything else, was his charm.

The-qualities-of-Monk-and-Nak-Leng-in-Nak-Muay.png.6ca05b9216586178066723999fb7e3c8.png

This is a list Sylvie and I compiled from Peter Vail's article on the hypermasculinity of the Muay Thai fighter, borrowing from the image of the gangster and the monk. You can read about that here. I want to bring out that the "art" of femeu fighting isn't just a pretense, but it also has a kind of mysterious power that is like magic. You get this in Ancient Greek thought as well, where the artfulness of a person's speech contains a kind of magical control over you. Persuasion is magic. This is why seductive women are not to be trusted. Or someone who could make elaborate plans. Odysseus was "the man of many turns". On the nakleng side above you have "Ittiphon" which is just this kind of artfulness, the "aura" of someone, their power, and it was linked to their unkillability, their Ittirut. Klaew, Dieselnoi's Godfather manager was shot with endless machine gun fire with his magical protective amulet in his mouth, for just this reason. I would suggest that the aura of the femeu yodmuay contains this kind of magical sense of power. The reason why Samart can just dangle his arms and float around when Namphon is rushing at him, is not just because he is displaying self-control, in a Buddhistic sense, but also because he is displaying that kind of Ittiphon and Ittirut, his charm and invulnerability, which strongly partakes in that polytheistic/animistic tradition of beliefs. He is jai yen like a monk, but he is also magical like a monk (the great monks of Thailand in the early 20th century were known for their magical knowledge and powers). So you touch on something really interesting in the dichotomy. The artfulness of the femeu yodmuay is not just a kind of rarification of the Self, but the skill also creates a positive (effective) aura of magic, which draws on the older beliefs.

You've helped me work towards the positive assertion of the Muay Femeu fighter, the assertion of power. But not physical power.

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1 hour ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

This brings up a very interesting parallel. One of the characteristics of yodmuay, especially femeu yodmuay, is their charm. Karuhat and Chatchai complained that the superstars of today no longer have charm. What empowered Samart, perhaps more than anything else, was his charm.

The-qualities-of-Monk-and-Nak-Leng-in-Nak-Muay.png.6ca05b9216586178066723999fb7e3c8.png

This is a list Sylvie and I compiled from Peter Vail's article on the hypermasculinity of the Muay Thai fighter, borrowing from the image of the gangster and the monk. You can read about that here. I want to bring out that the "art" of femeu fighting isn't just a pretense, but it also has a kind of mysterious power that is like magic. You get this in Ancient Greek thought as well, where the artfulness of a person's speech contains a kind of magical control over you. Persuasion is magic. This is why seductive women are not to be trusted. Or someone who could make elaborate plans. Odysseus was "the man of many turns". On the nakleng side above you have "Ittiphon" which is just this kind of artfulness, the "aura" of someone, their power, and it was linked to their unkillability, their Ittirut. Klaew, Dieselnoi's Godfather manager was shot with endless machine gun fire with his magical protective amulet in his mouth, for just this reason. I would suggest that the aura of the femeu yodmuay contains this kind of magical sense of power. The reason why Samart can just dangle his arms and float around when Namphon is rushing at him, is not just because he is displaying self-control, in a Buddhistic sense, but also because he is displaying that kind of Ittiphon and Ittirut, his charm and invulnerability, which strongly partakes in that polytheistic/animistic tradition of beliefs. He is jai yen like a monk, but he is also magical like a monk (the great monks of Thailand in the early 20th century were known for their magical knowledge and powers). So you touch on something really interesting in the dichotomy. The artfulness of the femeu yodmuay is not just a kind of rarification of the Self, but the skill also creates a positive (effective) aura of magic, which draws on the older beliefs.

You've helped me work towards the positive assertion of the Muay Femeu fighter, the assertion of power. But not physical power.

This is incredibly interesting! I haven't paid much attention to magic ever, but it lends itself incredibly well as a description of what we're trying to get at, that je ne sais quoi of the greats. I fell over this performance which to me expresses this masterly display and expression of self that almost surpasses the human: 

The beauty of her body, her eye contact, the voice, the lyrics and images, the moves, the sovereignty - it all comes together to just fucking blow you away. What is expressed and created here is made of the same stuff as that which is expressed and created in the Yodkhunphon - Namtaotong fight (my all time favourite - that fifth round elbow!) The modalities are very different, but the magic is the same, the ecstasy, the force and self-affirmation and exteriority. You can't not be seduced and taken, you can't help but affirm that power which overpowers you and still raises you. It is really an aura of magic. 

I'm interested in your point about Odysseus, because I love the essay of yours that treats the immanence/transcendence dichotomy of Achilleus and Odysseus, and I'd think that Achilleus would be the hero that functions as the paradigm for the active forces that we are investigating, whereas Odysseus seems to me the reactionary of the two. What do you think?  

PS: It is very much an honor to have helped you, considering you are my absolute authority on all things philosophical, poetic and artistic concerning muay thai. Your articles, photographs, texts and videos have been a massive factor in the development, aesthetic and philosophy of my muay. So thank you very much. 

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11 hours ago, Asger said:

I'm interested in your point about Odysseus, because I love the essay of yours that treats the immanence/transcendence dichotomy of Achilleus and Odysseus, and I'd think that Achilleus would be the hero that functions as the paradigm for the active forces that we are investigating, whereas Odysseus seems to me the reactionary of the two. What do you think?  

I think there are some parallels. Achilles is the complete man, the archetypal man of war. Not only is he the most skilled, most unbeatable, but also is portrayed as coming from a time, a Golden Age of men and gods, in which the arts of speech, song and performative oath are high. Odysseus is the "modern man" who uses his intellect and cunning almost like a villain, in comparison. There is a sense of fallen-ness. At least that is the juxtaposition in the play Ajax. I'm not sure that it all matches up, but when we talk of the heroic, the charm of Achilles feels like the same kind of charm of the yodmuay of the Golden Age, in a very rough sense. Like, there are no fighters like this any longer. And I think for fighters like Dieselnoi, there is a generation before that, when Wichannoi and even perhaps Suk reigned, which feels like another kind of man who no longer exists.

11 hours ago, Asger said:

you are my absolute authority on all things philosophical, poetic and artistic concerning muay thai. Your articles, photographs, texts and videos have been a massive factor in the development, aesthetic and philosophy of my muay. So thank you very much. 

Ha. I don't know about that! Authority in such cases is never too good. But, it is cool that you have read into my past essays of life before Muay Thai when I took such a deep dive. I'm glad to have them connected. I find it super fascinating how deep the art and sport of Muay Thai is when seen through the philosophical lens.

This was a very informing article about Old World masculinity in Thailand, and magic, which I really enjoyed. It helped shape my perspective on some of these things, including Thai concepts of magic, and a kind of old sense the West:

383302309_KhunPhanOldCowboy.jpg.ae84ae01b75deeb3affd7c5dda312675.jpg

Rural Male Leadership, Religion and the Environment in Thailand's Mid-south, 1920s-1960s

by Craig Reynolds

Rural_Male_Leadership_Religion_and_the_E.pdf

1750701400_Annotation2020-04-19065428.jpg.7306a4ec436f032983a0be227b7e486a.jpg

Ancient Greek Love Magic and studies such as these helped ground my sense of magic in the roots of Western thinking. I think that any perspective taken on Thai masculinity and Muay Thai that does not incorporate a perspective on magic is maybe incomplete. I was talking about this with Sylvie after my last post and I realize that my own view of Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu has maybe missed out on this dimension some. Muay Femeu is not just a negating power of deflection, or evasion, but ultimately is about - I think - asserting a positive kind of power, a magic (where maybe magic is read as a more powerful technology, a technos) over the technos of the other. I seem to recall that in the original poem lines that captured the fighting superiority of Naikhamtom before the Burmese, it was accredited to him the enchanting power of his Wai Khru/Ram Muay, which bedazzled his multiple opponents, not just his skill. You also get the coincidence of magic and masculinity in the story of Kuhn Pan, a story Sylvie has really fixated on, the great warrior/monk/mage/Don-Juan of the epic. I think you also get a sense of that magic in the nickname of Karuhat, Yodsian, which is really untranslatable. The Great Master, the High Guru, the Superstar, maybe even Midas Touch, not too far from some of the Hong Kong movie fighting masters who possessed magic powers and spiritual powers, in those wire-fu movies.

This was a really good book in understanding the relationship between magic and masculinity, and spirituality in Thailand:

925612025_TheLovelornGhostandMagicinThailand.jpg.896ef28c62a400dc53f52606175bc39c.jpg

The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand

by Justin McDonald

It does a really good job of outlining the kind of syncretism that we mentioned above, the old animistic beliefs, and the overlay of State Buddhism. If I recall the author suggests that this is Thailand's capitalism and commercialism's way of digesting multiplicity in a postmodern world. But, the figure of Somdet Do, one of the great monks of the 20th century, embodies some of that magical/man masculinity.

 

For me, this is why Aesthetics matter in Muay Thai, and they should matter. Aesthetics, like notions of magic, enable one to draw on the pre-rational affective forces of "Man" (in the humanity sense, put in the figure of a man). Spinoza's maxim: We do not even know all the things a body can do. The affective powers a fighter draws on, through aesthetics, go beyond the rational of exportable techniques. It's all the connective, inspired tissue that makes it a living art, a magic, and that magic is what transports and raises up the audience outside the ropes. The question is, starting back at the beginning, why cannot women also possess those powers and position of transformation and control? There is no doubt a great genealogy to this question's answer, but I sense it is not foreclosed. That it is possible. And maybe that the future of Muay Thai may depend on it.

 

 

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6 hours ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

I think there are some parallels. Achilles is the complete man, the archetypal man of war. Not only is he the most skilled, most unbeatable, but also is portrayed as coming from a time, a Golden Age of men and gods, in which the arts of speech, song and performative oath are high. Odysseus is the "modern man" who uses his intellect and cunning almost like a villain, in comparison. 

Wasn’t a major difference between them like, who had the bigger death wish? Each of them originally got a prophecy – Achilles, that he’d have a long, very happy life with a lovely family, but be totally unknown. Or, he could go to war where he definitely would die, but be famous forever. So he chose the fame forever. Odysseus got told that if he went to war he wouldn’t come home for 20 years, so pretended to have gone mad when he got drafted, because he really loved his wife and didn’t want to leave her. But then got busted for acting and had to go anyway. The cunning didn't save him from fate - certain things are just written. 

Achilles may have been the badass of all badasses with a spear, but his fighting ability wasn’t the point of the story. The righteous anger that drove him had to be levelled down in order for him to develop as a man – that anger cost him the life of his best friend as well as other soldiers when he refused to fight, all because of a beef he had over some chick.

The whole story really ended with the burial of the enemy. The grieving father came begging Achilles, the man who killed his son and mutilated the corpse, to return the body for proper funeral rites. Achilles felt bad for him, so did the right thing. That was his growth right there – that was his full circle, and the end of the book.

Odysseus wasn’t just the smartest soldier. Deeper than that, he was the most trusted by his friends, compassionate, charming, ladies’ man, entertaining story-teller, close adviser to the higher ups (bit like Tom Hagen in Godfather) and generally a well rounded, good, likeable dude.

Whole point of his story? That despite all the positive things about his nature he got chosen by destiny to suffer - even more than Achilles - and for 10 hard years even after the war was over. At the end, the most impressive thing about him wasn’t his intellect, but his ability to endure all that misery, struggle forward, and somehow make it out the other side.

Whether you are gifted with supreme physical skill or supreme mental skill? It really doesn’t matter. Neither one will save you, neither one can be your crutch. The gods above will exact a penance on that individual. In that way, Achilles and Odysseus have something in common. But Odysseus’ wider array of abilities, his goodness of heart, and above all being 'touched' in the mind - that got him screwed over more than anyone. And that’s…..well, that’s.....kinda what happens in life. Unfortunately.

It was all in the cartoon version of the Trojan War that was on TV when we were kids. The Troy movie was badass too, even if some people hated the acting, fight scenes were sick.

 

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7 hours ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

I think there are some parallels. Achilles is the complete man, the archetypal man of war. Not only is he the most skilled, most unbeatable, but also is portrayed as coming from a time, a Golden Age of men and gods, in which the arts of speech, song and performative oath are high. Odysseus is the "modern man" who uses his intellect and cunning almost like a villain, in comparison. There is a sense of fallen-ness. At least that is the juxtaposition in the play Ajax. I'm not sure that it all matches up, but when we talk of the heroic, the charm of Achilles feels like the same kind of charm of the yodmuay of the Golden Age, in a very rough sense. Like, there are no fighters like this any longer. And I think for fighters like Dieselnoi, there is a generation before that, when Wichannoi and even perhaps Suk reigned, which feels like another kind of man who no longer exists.

Ha. I don't know about that! Authority in such cases is never too good. But, it is cool that you have read into my past essays of life before Muay Thai when I took such a deep dive. I'm glad to have them connected. I find it super fascinating how deep the art and sport of Muay Thai is when seen through the philosophical lens.

This was a very informing article about Old World masculinity in Thailand, and magic, which I really enjoyed. It helped shape my perspective on some of these things, including Thai concepts of magic, and a kind of old sense the West:

383302309_KhunPhanOldCowboy.jpg.ae84ae01b75deeb3affd7c5dda312675.jpg

Rural Male Leadership, Religion and the Environment in Thailand's Mid-south, 1920s-1960s

by Craig Reynolds

Rural_Male_Leadership_Religion_and_the_E.pdf 141.88 kB · 0 downloads

1750701400_Annotation2020-04-19065428.jpg.7306a4ec436f032983a0be227b7e486a.jpg

Ancient Greek Love Magic and studies such as these helped ground my sense of magic in the roots of Western thinking. I think that any perspective taken on Thai masculinity and Muay Thai that does not incorporate a perspective on magic is maybe incomplete. I was talking about this with Sylvie after my last post and I realize that my own view of Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu has maybe missed out on this dimension some. Muay Femeu is not just a negating power of deflection, or evasion, but ultimately is about - I think - asserting a positive kind of power, a magic (where maybe magic is read as a more powerful technology, a technos) over the technos of the other. I seem to recall that in the original poem lines that captured the fighting superiority of Naikhamtom before the Burmese, it was accredited to him the enchanting power of his Wai Khru/Ram Muay, which bedazzled his multiple opponents, not just his skill. You also get the coincidence of magic and masculinity in the story of Kuhn Pan, a story Sylvie has really fixated on, the great warrior/monk/mage/Don-Juan of the epic. I think you also get a sense of that magic in the nickname of Karuhat, Yodsian, which is really untranslatable. The Great Master, the High Guru, the Superstar, maybe even Midas Touch, not too far from some of the Hong Kong movie fighting masters who possessed magic powers and spiritual powers, in those wire-fu movies.

This was a really good book in understanding the relationship between magic and masculinity, and spirituality in Thailand:

925612025_TheLovelornGhostandMagicinThailand.jpg.896ef28c62a400dc53f52606175bc39c.jpg

The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand

by Justin McDonald

It does a really good job of outlining the kind of syncretism that we mentioned above, the old animistic beliefs, and the overlay of State Buddhism. If I recall the author suggests that this is Thailand's capitalism and commercialism's way of digesting multiplicity in a postmodern world. But, the figure of Somdet Do, one of the great monks of the 20th century, embodies some of that magical/man masculinity.

 

For me, this is why Aesthetics matter in Muay Thai, and they should matter. Aesthetics, like notions of magic, enable one to draw on the pre-rational affective forces of "Man" (in the humanity sense, put in the figure of a man). Spinoza's maxim: We do not even know all the things a body can do. The affective powers a fighter draws on, through aesthetics, go beyond the rational of exportable techniques. It's all the connective, inspired tissue that makes it a living art, a magic, and that magic is what transports and raises up the audience outside the ropes. The question is, starting back at the beginning, why cannot women also possess those powers and position of transformation and control? There is no doubt a great genealogy to this question's answer, but I sense it is not foreclosed. That it is possible. And maybe that the future of Muay Thai may depend on it.

 

 

Thank you for the recommendations, those will be my priority when I finish Deleuze! I agree about the femeu, it is at least as much an establishing of a positive, an assertion of power and display of self affirmation. There's both the dynamic part: They aren't deer escaping wolves, they're the lion playing with its prey. But there's also the performative part: When Karuhat fights, he radiates; you aren't watching two fighters, you're watching Karuhat fight against this or that fighter. He's always the protagonist of the fight through his sheer presence. I don't know what to make of that philosophically yet, but I can't help but feel that is what happens. Very fascinating thoughts on the technos and magic of the femeu, I will definitely have to consider that. Maybe there's a correlation between the evaluative/interpretative character of the will to power, technos and the question of the clearing of enframing, which is not directly a negating phenomenon, but which does compromise the aesthetic and magic of the fighter dominated by the femeu. This may be far fetched, I'll have to think some more about it.

Interesting points about Achilles and his other attributes than sheer force of fighting (Probably his rhetorics, music and charm are derivative of the same thing that makes him the greatest fighter.) There is also the question of his immanence against the transcendence of Odysseus. The man purely conditioned by his immanence is absolute against the man of many turns, who can go in any way, who always has his foot halfway out the door. Of course one the same beauty and strength is never channeled in the case of Odysseus, because the stakes are never as high as they are with Achilles. The totality of his being is determined at every moment, he is always active becoming (You write beautifully ''He was something like a direct radiation of Being''); Odysseus however responds to the world, he survives, he begs. He lives in the end, but at the cost of becoming the first man of negation, ressentiment and reaction. The self-affirmation of Achilles is what is at stake constantly, be it on the battlefield or in the tent of Agamemnon; he is uncompromising in his dominion. What it always at stake with Odysseus is his survival (his bare life, as Agamben would put it.) Albeit understandable, this compromises the aesthetics of human life which according to Nietzsche is the only justification for life and existence as such. There is no doubt in my mind that Dieselnoi is the reincarnation of Achilles, then.

I'm sorry I cannot engage on the topic of female muay thai with you; I don't know enough about it to have any qualified opinion or thoughts on it. 

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1 hour ago, Asger said:

I'm sorry I cannot engage on the topic of female muay thai with you; I don't know enough about it to have any qualified opinion or thoughts on it. 

The only point re: Achilles and the Nak Muay Ying, is this:

Quote

He is not alienated from human beings as a class, for he gets along well with his Myrmidons who he leads, and Protroclus who he loves, and Briseis, and Phoenix his old mentor (despite disagreements), and his mother the goddess Thetis. He alienated from his moment in history, the condition he has found himself in, as an injustice has been suffered. And he experiences this not as a personal injustice, which it is, but as a crisis in leadership itself, in the unkingliness of the said King who does not fight nor act equal to his position. This is shown much later in the Hellenic games Achilles presides over, after Agamemnon has left the narrative, showing the correct form of generous rule. Fair is not a calculation. So Achilles’s is not an ontological alienation under which he is somehow removed from his very Being, but a contingent insufficiency of expression, wherein his constitutional bonds are stretched. In this way, Achilles creatively stretches the heroic form...

- The Sprache of Achilles: The Panoply of Speech

Like Achilles female fighters do not find themselves alienated from Being, but rather only from their contingent moment in history. Like Achilles they must find a language, I would argue an aesthetic language, a fighting rhetoric, in which to express themselves, within the heroic code. As might anyone need to do so, creatively, when their voice cannot be heard.

There are other interesting pathways, in regard to feminine and Achilles. The occult story of the time he spent disguised as a maiden before he went to war, for instance, the role the feminine might play in the warrior spirit, etc. But that's aside from this main point.

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