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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Accounts of the History of Muay Thai - Muay Thai: A Living Legacy Vol. 1

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A conversation over on Reddit lead to me to film the first 40 pages or so from one of the better historical accounts of Muay Thai, from a pretty good book. This stuff isn't easy to come by. You can see it below:

You can get the book on Amazon here:

https://www.amazon.com/Muay-Thai-Living-Legacy-Vol/dp/9749293703

1719249005_MuayThaiHistoryLivingLegacy.thumb.png.4af5f8f065149e4100b36e78973ec7de.png

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Answering a Redditor question as to why there are no complete and detailed books on Muay Thai history in English, this was my guesstimate:

 

Quote

 

It's been a long time since I looked into this, but just reflecting on my past reading there are probably a few reasons. 1. There are huge gaps in the historical record before 1900 or so, just small fragments or tales. For instance the famous story of Naikhanomtom, the celebrated "Father of Muay Thai", is based on only 12 lines of poetry in a Burmese epic. Not a lot has been preserved, and that which has been has often been elaborated on and mythologized some, to create ideological narratives (so, not really "history"). 2. Muay Thai has been held as a culturally low activity it seems, somewhat "beneath" Thai academia. Politically it is important for National identity, but as something to be studied and reconstructed less so. There are only a handful of academics who have focused on it. This is changing in the last 10 years, it seems, as Thailand seeks to preserve its cultural heritage in the art and sport, but over the last century it really wasn't a focus of historical study very much. 3. Much of the history that might be recorded is likely found in Thai sport magazines over the decades, not in books. 4. With so little to draw on from the Thai - much of its history being oral history, rather than written - there will be even less in English, necessarily so. It takes fluent-in-Thai English speakers who want to do the work of reconstruction and historical telling. This is one reason why Sylvie and I are spending so much time trying to interview Thai ex-fighters. If we can just preserve the oral history that is kept in the men who fought, there is a chance it could help inform the historical record assembled in later years. I think much of "Muay Thai history" thorough out the last century was an oral history.

Again, this just my guess/approximation from being around the sport, attempting to document it, and also some deep dives into English language academic articles a few years ago. Just broad brush guesses.

 

 

If you dig into some of the English language academic articles on this page, you can find some solid treatments of aspects of Muay Thai history:

https://8limbsus.com/muay-thai-thailand/text-academic-articles-muay-thai-masculinity

 

In general though, take with a grain of salt and a critical mind forms of historical knowledge that are not of a direct lineage, or supported by historical documentation, I would suggest. I'm certainly though, no expert in this, just my take.

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Hello, your response was very interesting. I am very curious where you get the info from Nai Khanom Tom and the Burmese epic? Do you know where to find this Burmese version of the tale? I have looked online, but I was not able to find it. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

The information that I gathered is that the tale of Nai Khanom Tom was composed in a poetry by Prince Prichit Prichakorn. I have shared the story here.

Source: Nai Khanom Tale discussed in Thesis

"During the reign of King Rama V [r.1868-1910], Prince Phichit prichakon, the King's half-brother, wrote a poem to reinterpret a life of a boxer who came from the city of Ayutthaya. Following a chronicle of Burma, in 1774, after the fall of Ayutthaya, Burmese troops captured and took war prisoners, including members of the royal familyand commoners, to Burma. Nai Khanom Tom, a war prisoner and a boxer taken from Ayutthaya, participated in boxing matches against Burmese boxers in a religious ceremony in Rangoon.162In Prince Phichitprichakon’s poem, he reinterpreted that Nai Khanom Tom represented “Siam” as “the nation-state of the Siamese” to fight against the Burmese. The social unit of Ayutthaya Kingdom was not united as a “we-group” identification of a nation-state.The Ayutthaya Kingdom frequently encounteredcentrifugal tendencies. During that period, the Burmese were understood to be the enemy of Buddhism rather than the Siamese nation.This poem could be seen as the elite’s attempt to nourish the idea that violence had to be 3done only in the name of the state. Besides, violence would be used at the inter-state level. Following the Prince's poem, he stated:...There was a Siamese, whose name was Khanom Tom, Volunteered to fight and the Burmese recognised [him as] the master of boxing. [He] kicked, hit, [and] punched with loud bangs.[He] threw a hook. A bunch of the Burmese lost.The Burmese dared not fight back.More than ten [Burmese] were knocked out before the second round.The Burmese King groped his chest and said: No matter how crucially the nation of Siam fell into trouble, The [Siamese] people, though being unarmed, can survive any danger...Through a reconstruction of a boxing story, the government propagated the idea of self-pacification within the nation-state while legitimising the use of violence at the inter-state level."

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11 minutes ago, MuayThaiHistory said:

The information that I gathered is that the tale of Nai Khanom Tom was composed in a poetry by Prince Prichit Prichakorn. I have shared the story here.

There have been several Thai renderings of the tale, but the tale's origin, is from (only 8 [not 12]) lines of a Burmese Chronicle. I think this is the essay:

https://8limbsus.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Modern-Muay-Thai-Mythology-Peter-Vail-first-pages.pdf

If it isn't that essay, it's another by Peter Vail in the original link I gave. I followed the citations in my reading and did read the 8 lines (in translation) at some point. That it is the origin seems to be on pretty firm footing.

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Is this story in Thailand seen as proven truth or viewed more as a mythical story? I saw a Thai discussion on this where Thai people stated it's just a legend but we cherish him highly. More a symbolic thing. 

For example I'm Swedish and we take great pride that it was the vikings from Scandinavia that discovered America first, however we also see other viking legends as historical myths. We are still proud but we understand a lot is simply just historical tales/myths. From Burmese side, as this been a point of discussion (I won't go into the reasons here as we don't want this to be political) is that they are not really aware of the importance of Naikhanomthom in Thailand and they are embarrassed to talk about what they did to Siam in the past, because they (Myanmar) were so brutal. Also they are aware they were brainwashed by army in the school abt their own history. This comes from several sources including a historian. 

I'm happy to facilitate a translation of the Burmese script if I get it. 

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2 hours ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

There have been several Thai renderings of the tale, but the tale's origin, is from (only 8 [not 12]) lines of a Burmese Chronicle. I think this is the essay:

https://8limbsus.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Modern-Muay-Thai-Mythology-Peter-Vail-first-pages.pdf

If it isn't that essay, it's another by Peter Vail in the original link I gave. I followed the citations in my reading and did read the 8 lines (in translation) at some point. That it is the origin seems to be on pretty firm footing.

I have gone through all the sources from your link you provided. I have found a document which lists the source of the Burmese poem. It is listed in the following document:

Violence and Control: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Muay Thai Boxing (1998) 

It is unfortunately also the only link which can't be opened. Any idea how to get access to it? It is not anywhere on the web.

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1 minute ago, MuayThaiHistory said:

Do you mean the translation of the Burmese poem of Nai Khanom Tom? If so, then I'd would be very interested in reading it!

Yes. I'm in Myanmar and could facilitate a translation depending on the source and how "old" the language is. Burmese is a complicated language.

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1 minute ago, LengLeng said:

Yes. I'm in Myanmar and could facilitate a translation depending on the source and how "old" the language is. Burmese is a complicated language.

Well, I'm desparately looking to get the original source of Nai Khanom Tom tale. The problem is; I don't know which source it comes from. I do know now that it is listed in the document of Peter Vail: Violence and Control: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Muay Thai Boxing (1998).  However, this document for some reason is the only document that is not available online. So I don't know how to retrieve the source of the Burmese poem of Nai Khanom Tom.

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3 minutes ago, MuayThaiHistory said:

Well, I'm desparately looking to get the original source of Nai Khanom Tom tale. The problem is; I don't know which source it comes from. I do know now that it is listed in the document of Peter Vail: Violence and Control: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Muay Thai Boxing (1998).  However, this document for some reason is the only document that is not available online. So I don't know how to retrieve the source of the Burmese poem of Nai Khanom Thom.

It would be very interesting to read and translate. I'm so amazed by this region and the beautiful martial arts forms developed. 

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1 minute ago, LengLeng said:

It would be very interesting to read and translate. I'm so amazed by this region and the beautiful martial arts forms developed. 

Yeah, I hope I can find it. I think I will contact Cornell University and ask if it is possible to obtain a copy of "Violence and Control: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Muay Thai Boxing (1998) ", because I saw they are one of the few universities with a copy in their library. Then it would be possible to obtain the source of the Nai Khanom Tom tale. If anyone can provide me with more information in the meantime, I would love to hear it.

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23 minutes ago, MuayThaiHistory said:

I have gone through all the sources from your link you provided. I have found a document which lists the source of the Burmese poem. It is listed in the following document:

Violence and Control: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Muay Thai Boxing (1998) 

It is unfortunately also the only link which can't be opened. Any idea how to get access to it? It is not anywhere on the web.

Yes, this is Peter Vail's dissertation. I can't remember how I got a copy of it. I think I may have contacted, or had someone contact the university? I no longer have a copy though. I did read it, it may have been there that I read the original in translation.

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On 5/9/2021 at 9:25 PM, MuayThaiHistory said:

Yeah, I hope I can find it. I think I will contact Cornell University and ask if it is possible to obtain a copy of "Violence and Control: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Muay Thai Boxing (1998) ", because I saw they are one of the few universities with a copy in their library. Then it would be possible to obtain the source of the Nai Khanom Tom tale. If anyone can provide me with more information in the meantime, I would love to hear it.

I found Peter Vail's dissertation again. Unfortunately, he does not cite the Burmese Chronicle:

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Vail repeats the omission in his article: MODERN "MUAI THAI" MYTHOLOGY.

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