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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

The Thai Notion of Greatness and the Aura of Fighters, Karma & their Advantages

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There is an element of That conception of "Greatness" that produces lots of misunderstanding in westerners. We in the west see "great" as a kind of technical thing, like you could extract a fighter out of their circumstances, out of history & download him as a "player". Thais instead do not divorce the fighter from the big purses they make, the powerful promoters or gyms that back them, the influences they have over others. "Famous" & "popular" are the same word in Thai. It means that there is an "aura". I say this because when we asked one of the greatest Golden Age Krus, Arjan Pramod, who his 5 greatest fighters of all Time were, he listed Buakaw as 4th. This is a joke between Muay Thai nerds. The surest sign that you don't know Muay Thai at all is putting Buakaw on a list. But he put him there because of his impact, his ambassadorship to Japan & the West. It wasn't about skill, it's about history. I'm still shaking my head about it, but its because I don't understand - fully - just how Thais see greatness. I think this comes from a deeper concept of "power" (Amnat) & charisma "ittiphon" that ultimately lies within spiritual karma. Those who have favorable circumstances have aura, and are in a way blessed. Samart had a powerful gym & connections & fought down at times forcing more advantageous matchups. For us it might be a critique of his Greatness. But for many Thais these advantages actually add to the substance of a fighter, and are not a detraction. His aura is composed not only of his fighting skills, his character, but everything drawn around it. His situation. Sure, people will quietly detract, make complaints or criticisms. But there is still a strong current of admiration. It is something like being *blessed*. Yodkhunpon once was talking to Sylvie about her drive to one day fight at Lumpinee Stadium. He didn't understand. The reason to fight at Lumpinee was so you could become *famous* (which includes idea of popularity & respect), to have an aura. He told her: You are already famous. It made no sense to him to do the work to have the aura, if you already have it. It's just his perception, but here was a guy who was a devastating fighter during his time, so many battles, but he never got the *aura*, the shine. He didn't have the power behind him to be made into something. I think this was what was behind Arjan Pramod putting Buakaw on his list, and part of why Thais see the substance of greatness quite differently than we do. It's why Dieselnoi will always be the lessor fighter than Samart, despite beating him. Yes, there are counter thoughts & arguments, ideas about who is a *real* fighter, but this stream of authentic admiration remains.

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We haven't published Arjan Pramod's list yet, but I do think in this specific case he was thinking of his own fighter's greatness, how Namkabuan not only dominated his weight class, but also was an international ambassador, fighting in Australia, etc. And this led him to think of Buakaw. But even the bare inclusion of Buakaw in the list (no other person we have polled would have put him anywhere near there), points to elements of Thai thinking that often are lost to the West.

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I will also say that often when we talk about "Thai" perspectives of sport, which we read as Asian, or uniquely Thai - things such as Narrative Scoring Structure, emphasizing dominance over aggression in scoring, the importance of how you "wear a strike" - these things are not uniquely Thai. We have lots of corresponding aspects in Western culture as well. When talking about the aura of greatness in Thailand, which does have Buddhistic roots, we can find elements of the same in the West. Mayweather is a great example. Yes, there persist all kinds of criticism of him and his perfect record, how he protected himself, dodged Pacquiao until both were old men, etc. But...along with Mayweather comes an aura that goes beyond his fighting in the ring, he's a man who set his own destiny, was able to build an empire, rolling in cash, dodge who he wanted to dodge. There is this larger sense that HE was the Man. It doesn't play out in the exact same way it does in Thailand, but similar things are operating. You get the same with Jordan, who beyond his stats, his game winning shots, was also a very manufactured persona. People may criticize him via this manufactured nature, how the NBA changed the rules for his sake, giving him advantages that past greats did not have...but ironically enough these kinds of critiques (though true), can actually work to further intensify his greatness, giving everyone the sense that he bent history around himself, almost gravitationally. This is only to say, when we think across cultures it is important to isolate themes that do not correspond to our own, especially our dominant theme, but, often it is a second move of insight-fullness to then recognize that these seemingly unique or differing themes do have correspondence within our own culture, often in a minor but still vital way.

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