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Thailand's Muay Thai Gym, Authenticity and the Escape from Capitalism | Agamben on The Highest Poverty


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The philosopher and critical theorist Georgio Agamben writes a curious book examining in arcane detail the debates and legal disputes surrounding the Franciscan order around the 13th century. In The Highest Poverty; Monastic Rules and the Form of Life he takes on the more-than-century-long wave of monasticism which sought to strip itself of "property" and to live a life, what Agamben importantly comes to single out as a form-of-life, in imitation of the life of Christ and the apostles, a life of the Highest Poverty. What he traces is how this form-of-life ambition and practice, as it grew, came to threaten the authority of the Church it was under, and how the struggle for power and autonomy between them played out in arguments over just what "property" was. Why does he take on such a historically obtuse subject matter? He feels that somehow this legal and intellectual dispute over what "property" is, and the way in which the Franciscan order organized itself - hermetically - in a rule-governed, highly disciplined way of life, in which practically ever hour of the day was performatively accounted for in prayer, liturgy recitation, readings, worships, silences, actually presages contemporary attempts to free oneself from the alienations and power of Capitalism. Just as Fransiscans sought to hollow out a living space under the Universality of the Church, a rule-governed poverty of sacredness in pursuit of making of their lives a form-of-life, so too might contemporary humanity relieve itself of the defining authority of Capitalism and its experiences of alienation. He is pursuing a certain logic of rule-governed life and examining the ways in which it may seal oneself off, or, return one to a more human mode of existence, and he uses the disputes over what "property" is as an intellectual wedge to explore this. 

What comes to me in the reading is actually the way in which the traditional Thai kaimuay (Muay Thai camp) and the Thai Muay Thai gym (here, gym spaces which are structurally open to westerners and non-Thais) actually embody something of this logic of the cloistered rule-governed space, and how the rigorousness of physical, mental and (even) spiritual practice in the kaimuays and gyms does in some way reflect this division of power, authority and meaning that Agamben is invoking across the centuries. I mean this perhaps in two ways, or from two directions. The first is the way in which the traditional Thai kaimuay itself is woven from pre-Capitalist social forms (to be very broad about it, Feudal relations of patronage and hierarchy), so that the kaimuay for Thais very well might be a place of counter-Capitalist meaning making; and the second is that as those spaces and practices have come to be structurally open to traveling westerners and non-Thais an attraction of those spaces and practices is the very relief they give to the Capitalist worldview which is over-permeated with representations and simulations of living. This is the say, just as Franciscans retreated from the ubiquity of Church practices to find an authenticity of living, to make of their lives a physical, temporal and spiritual reality which was what it was doing (collapsing representation onto practice itself), stays and various devotions to Thai gyms also are this kind of reach for authenticity and transformation. What is key here, is that this may hold no matter the degree to which one makes this commitment, whether it is a traincation where you play at the beach and then do some padwork, or if you journey to an Isaan kaimuay where English is not spoken and you sleep on the floor with the Thai boys. The pull is towards an authenticity, and importantly people are having experiences of authenticity in a vast array.

Here Agamben talks about how the Franciscan order disciplined life to the degree that monks became "living clocks":

I think for many who have come and devoted time to the kaimuay and Muay Thai gym experience the question of authenticity becomes a primary one. There is perhaps a tendency to judge the (less committed) authenticity of others, and also to fear that your own authenticity might be judged, much as perhaps happens in let's say Buddhist meditation retreats or even yoga practices. One can always do more, be more committed, or rule-governed, more immersed, by degrees. Significantly though its best to see that more or less everyone is having authenticity experiences, and these come from the isolating, rule-governed, physically and emotionally demanding practices, the way in which the kaimuay and the gym segment off life in a structured expression.

For any who are feeling that the comparison of the Muay Thai gym to a Buddhist retreat or temple is a stretch, in Thailand sociologically and historically there is actually great overlap. From the Thai perspective the idealized masculinity of the Nak Muay shares many qualities of that of a monk: read up on this here, Thai Masculinity: Positioning Nak Muay Between Monkhood and Nak Leng – Peter Vail, in fact the custom by which boys are brought to a wat to become novice monks (to earn karmic merit for their families) and may be brought to a kaimuay (to earn financial support and perhaps esteem for their families) are not too dissimilar. They involve a form of adoption into a highly regimented and challenging way of life, a form of labor which is meant to produce value and surplus. Both historically have been social practices which involve the inculcation and self-fashioning of an idealized masculinity, in a cloistered world. And both are pre-Capitalist in their formation. There has been a kind of fighting spirituality in the Thai kaimuay, historically.

What is Use, What is Property?

Key to Agamben's argument is how one thinks about use and property. What Franciscans sought was to live a life without property, a kind of holy poverty. In their attempt to define what they meant about use and property they appealed to the kind of use of things that animals have in the world, or children have in a family. Animals and children eat freely food, make use of the land because in a certain sense they are part of a Commons. A commons is a realm of resources to which everyone has access to, according to need. The fact of their need composes their right to use it. One can see rather quickly how this can escalate into utopian ideas about sharing and distribution, but, what is more important here is to keep an eye on the very rule-governed nature of how these commons are created. Agamben wants to argue that following rules is very different than following laws. Rules are a way of doing things. Yes, there are consequences if you break rules, and rules may not be entirely written out, but they categorically not like laws. Laws create divisions like "criminal" or "citizen". Rules are ways-of-life. And this goes into the ways in which a 13th century monastery (or a kaimuay) fashions a living experience which (ideally) does not separate itself out from its representation. One enacts what one is supposed to be, and does so in a highly heirarchized way of life. For westerners, because they largely do not speak or feel Thai, they do not read the hierarchies in these spaces. The orders which organize the life of the gym for Thais largely remain invisible to them. Instead though, they do experience the commons of a practice, of the living fight space, and they do experience the orders of training and some of its rite and ritual. And these are often experiences of authenticity, a respite from the copious simulacrum of Capitalist representations which otherwise organize a westerner's life (taking just for an example, social media representation, a recent layer upon many layers of representative, simulacrum life).

Here is Agamben on how all of our (Capitalist) lives have been turned into almost tours of museums, walking through things that no longer are, representations of what is Real, with the note on the rise of tourism. Ironically enough, tourism is a powerful factor in western visits to Thailand, and the Adventure Tourism of fight training and actual fighting plays a significant role in this:

This is where the question of tourism and the thirst for authenticity braid. There is a certain sense of Adventure Tourism in the Thailand Muay Thai experience, that westerners want to experience something exotic, and in that way unlike their own lives back "home". But I think as well, they are also drawn to the pre-Capitalist creation of a commons, and the rule-governed experiences of use, as they reach for a way-of-life, wherein representations are collapsed into the Real of what one is. These now, as as they are visited and submitted to, are hybrid spaces. They embody pre-Capitalist forms of life and practices of transformation, but they are also Capitalist businesses ripe with representations and commodification. And the flux of westerners, with their own blend of motivations spectrumed from the tourist to the cenobian, further hybridizes these spaces. There is no clean, clear view of exactly what is happening in them, as each is its own experiment and variation.

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If I have swept out too far in theory or even in example, let me bring it back down to basics. What does it mean when a Westerner is told "Now do 500 knees on the bag"? And, he does them in synchrony with Thai boys in the gym who may (or may not) be contracted to the gym, and held by invisible hierarchical strings the Westerner cannot see? He/she is participating in a form-of-life when synchronizing himself/herself to the command and its performance. The bodies literally synchronize up into a rhythm, and the longer and more devoted he/she is, the more thorough the synchronization, not only in body but in spirit. What does it mean to do those knees? Are they doing them in the same way? Under the same motivations? Or, is the question: Are they undergoing similar transformations? As a Westerner syncs up not only on the bag, but to the other rules of the space: where and when one sits, or drinks, body postures when resting, the timetables of practice and signatures of effort, deference, suffering, the human sharing of the body under rule creates a sympathy of experience, and because rule-governed an authenticity, the collapsing of representation and action.

With some complexity, if not outright irony, Agamben compares the temporal rigors of the 13th century monastery to what is otherwise assumed to be prototypical modernity, the assembly line of Ford and Taylor:

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One reason why Agamben appeals to rule following is the influence of Wittgenstein on Rule Following and the use of a Form of Life. He wants to emphasize that rule-following logically produces a common life. The common life is for Agamben associated with the commons of a cloistered life in which use is done without property. When we participate in the rules of a space we join, in some degree, the commonality of that life. We partake in it.

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What Agamben is setting up is a conceptual contrast between the kind of "common" use involve in rule-following (habitus) and the inability of "use" involved in Capitalist spectacle and property rights:

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By this I don't mean to say that Thailand kaimuay and Muay Thai gyms are spaces of resistance to Capitalism - though there is a very interesting suggestive history in this starting from the 1902 Religious Bangkok reforms which outlawed non-Thammayut Buddhism mahanikai practices in wats which also probably also had the effect of restricting the cultivation of Muay within their walls, moving the practice of Muay into secular camps and colleges. In that they are largely structurally pre-Capitalist in hierarchy and patronage driven the Muay Thai gyms contain practices which serve as oasis to the alienating experiences of Capitalism, with the possibility of personal transformation which is life-enriching and meaning driven. But lures of rule-following authority and authoritarianism in the fight genre always ethically haunt the liberative world. For now there is a Capitalist buffer between Westerners and the kaimuay, a layer of commerce and representation which insulates (and romanticizes) the Thai kaimuay reality, almost all western practitioners float out beyond the pure orbit of its control - though the increasing value of western fighters in Thailand is producing changes in control itself. At this point it is to recognize that the relatively pre-Capitalist forms of life of training and fighting are providing experiences of authenticity and transformation which relieve the alienation of Capitalism itself, in the shared self-suffering of a common life, and this participation is increasingly being folded into the Muay Thai gym's reality and even ancillary purpose.

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It is worth noting, and certainly worthy of study, that many of these counter-Capitalist experiences are likely also found in Western fighting gyms which also can trade on pre-Capitalist social forms of authority and rule following, whether they be inspired by military command, or orientalizing approximations of Asian martial arts. The transformation of the spirit in a bodily experience of authenticity in a group through rule-following can relieve the alienation of Capitalism. The question would turn to the differences between experiencing this within one's own culture, and traveling to a foreign land and submitting to them in their custom and history. As I've argued elsewhere, leaving behind the framework of one's culture can provide lines of transformation well beyond those of home. This comes from two directions: First, your person (gender, age, motivations, class) will likely be reframed in a culture you are unfamiliar with, and in this sense you can experience liberties from this reframing, or simply be blind to the constrictions placed on you (because you don't speak or feel Thai); secondly, the methods of social control and shaping just will likely be unlike those of your own culture, so rule-following itself more readily becomes your guide. There is a de-centering of the immersion in rule. Further, because you may be surrounded and synchronized with many unlike yourself culturally the sense of a base, uncultural commonalty, the "common life" may be more impactful. If training with Thais, and feel "like a Thai" for instance, this can (at least illusionarily) relieve you of determinations of race, class and gender which have shaped you throughout life. The cloth is cut differently, and more importantly, woven differently, and much of the direction of that warp and weft is something you may not recognize. The rule-following shows through. I wrote about some of the cultural difference in authority, instruction and rule-following in Thailand in this article: The Slow Cook versus the Hack – Thailand Muay Thai Development. The Thailand kaimuay does seem to lean much more towards the creation of a commons, as a mutualized experience, and less toward direct displays of authority (like overt instruction, though this is changing due to commercial pressure).

This is not to say that the Thailand Muay Thai gym or kaimuay experience is necessarily more meaningful, or even more efficacious in the question of relief from Capitalist alienation and personal experiences of authenticity, as there are no doubt many in-culture spaces of rule-following mutual labor and synchronized endeavor in a commons in the West. It is only to recognize that this very likely is a rich and understated reason why training in Muay Thai and fighting in Thailand has such strong appeal.

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For much of this I've referred to the alienation of Capitalism as if it is obvious to all readers. It's true that such an alienation has become something of a Marxist/leftist trope of resistance. It's an alienation that is found and argued about at length in endless academic treatises. But what really does it come down to, and how does Agamben approach it? There is a certain level at which all the discussion of alienation comes down to one thing: meaningful, enriching work...and, the ability to meaningfully and richly live the life that surrounds that work. In this sense often ideals of craft, or craftsmanship come to fore. Someone who works with tools they are familiar with, in a lineage of knowledge of techniques and customary way of being, who creates something of value. It's being connected to one's work...and in the craft idealization, also to a way of life that surrounds that work. We can leave aside whether historical manifestations of craft and craftsmanship were more liberated than Capitalist labor forms (whether that be imagined-to-be soulless factory hours, bureaucracies, illegal sex trafficking, retail boredom, immigrant exploitation, struggling in a wage market without safety net, the examples are multitudinous). The craft example here serves more as a perspective of criticism to Capitalist labor extraction, pointing to what is missing. One is alienated from one's labor. And, perhaps more subtly (because it is more perfuse), in an age of commercialized representations of living, whether they be television shows depicting everyday life, or billboards, or product promises, or Instagram lives of sexy smiles, there is a sense in which we have come to live in a simulacrum. Everything that surrounds us, and from which we take our bearing is a representation of something (supposedly "real"), and the circulation of these images has become unmoored from anything other than commerce itself. It's just images pushing images, in what Baudrillard called the "Hyperreal" (Baudrillard an inspiration for the film The Matrix). This is what Agamben is thinking about when he talks about the loss of the ability to even use things. It is both the sense of the craft in which tools in which one is invested in are picked up by the hands and used, in a fundamentally human way, and how the things of our lives, the objects that surround us are no longer available to us. They are instead something we "own" and which we "consume". We never really use them, especially not as part of a commons, as a form-of-life. That's the context in which we are talking about the meaningful experiences of the Thai Muay Thai gym and the kaimuay for westerners. The sense of craft, of embodied and spirit-rich investment AND the sense of a world of use, of things that are in common, participating in a form-of-life, if even for a short time, is in contrast with the generalized ills or malnurishments of Capitalist alienations.

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The arguments against the falsity of representation and the real of oneself likely go back to the very beginnings of language use. I often recall the shield of Amphiaraus in Aeschylus's play The Seven Against Thebes (467 BC), a shield that he left blank whereas all the other warriors had embossed fearsome figures of power on theirs. He said he left his empty because he wanted to BE fierce, not to appear fierce in battle. He refused any representation. This is no small refusal because in traditional societies images are thought to actually convey power to the user, and not just represent powers. Arguably the Franciscan order was making the exact same move as Amphiaraus. They were seeking to strip themselves of nearly all representational spirituality, and make of themselves the very substance of what religious symbology represents. To be the very thing. And, Agamben argues that this is why their strivings against property were a threat to the Church. They were undermining the very representational powers of the Church, which exercised its power through representation. This played out in disputes over whether an official priest retained moral authority even when immoral in his life, simply by virtue of his office (the office represents his virtue regardless of character), or the Church's power to signify change in real world objects through the sacrament (turning wine into the blood of Christ, bread into the body of Christ), wherein the representation becomes transformative of the real. The Franciscans sought to get beneath representation, in a way perhaps to cast it off. 

Agamben discusses the role of Law, signification, "essences" and the Franciscan resistance here:

 

Much as in the Philosophy of Spinoza there is an effort to collapse the realm of representations into lived experiences and performance, and in taking up the tool use of a craftsman analogy, imagine oneself to be something like a tool in the hand of God. We find this argument at the level of Spinoza's view of the human, likening our lives to that of a hatchet. I wrote of this in this article post:

Checking Heidegger’s Hammer: The Pleasure and Direction of the Whirr

Seventhly, this knowledge also brings us so far that we attribute all to God, love him alone because he is the most glorious and the most perfect, and thus offer ourselves up entirely to him; for these really constitute both the true service of God and our own eternal happiness and bliss. For the sole perfection and the final end of a slave and of a tool is this, that they duly fulfill the task imposed on them. For example, if a carpenter, while doing some work, finds his Hatchet of excellent service, then this Hatchet has thereby attained its end and perfection; but if he should think: this Hatchet has rendered me such good service now, therefore I shall let it rest, and exact no further service from it, then precisely this Hatchet would fail of its end, and be a Hatchet no more. Thus also is it with man, so long as he is a part of Nature he must follow the laws of Nature, and this is divine service; and so long as he does this, it is well with him. But if God should (so to say) will that man should serve him no more, that would be equivalent to depriving him of his well-being and annihilating him; because all that he is consists in this, that he serves God.

The Short Treatise On God, Man and His-Well-Being, part II, chapter XVIII “On the Uses of the Foregoing”

 

This is the difficulty of "hand of God" imaginings. We can use them to understand spiritual labor like those of the Highest Poverty, but we also know that some of the greatest crimes of humanity have been conducted under this sort of imaginary relationship. Authoritarianism of every kind appeals to this sort of "I am but a tool" subjectivity. And, the fighting arts, in every century, have been aligned with authoritarianism, in our fractured age even more worrisomely so. This authoritarian limit serves as a circumscription of martial endeavors, perhaps, wherein the effacement of subjectivity (and morality) align with a machinic inhumanity. This is far from the tool-in-hand craft of grounded self-creation. An eye must be kept out for pre-Capitalist forms of authority which exact themselves in abuse or exploitation, in part because they hold the potential to relieve the alienations of Capitalism.

 

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What goes on unstated in this examination is actually one of its most important points. When indeed we are looking for respite from the endless simulations and representations of Life, the chains of images of what our lives should be, when we innately feel that we are surrounded by what seems a culture of false coin, or at least a certain malnourishment, or substancelessness, caught in Baudrillard's hyperreal, fighting itself, the clash of bodies and intentions, feels like one of the most deflationary acts, an anchor point of rock stability, for what is Real. So while there may be innumerable spaces and practices which might provide relieve, cloistered reals cut off from the endless duplication of image, the Thai kaimuay and Muay Thai gym is practicing an art, a craft of the body, meant to be tested body-to-body. There is something inherently truth-telling about fighting. Bodies can only move in so many ways. The clashing of wills that spark in bodies speaks to an order of that which cannot be faked, cannot be duplicated. There is a near-spiritual dimension to the art of fighting which cuts across the very domain of Capitalism, everything that speaks to Spinoza's hopeful sobriety: "We do not even know all the things a body can do." When fighters enter the ring, or even spar, there is a sense in which we have left behind representation altogether, and there are only bodies, only intent. It collapses the image-machine.

Of course Capitalism works hard to reappropriate this Real, and put it under its auspice. Belts are manufactured, manipulated as signatures of "what is real". Matches and promotions chain together images to simulate authenticity, greatness and achievement, commodifying the sanctified banality of what a fight is. Fighters get caught up in representations, and use them to stake out places on the mountain of authority. Gyms, promotions, fans, scramble up upon the heap of images and commodity claims. But all of that is because there is a kernel of Real, of the physical, emotional and actually spiritual clash of the fight itself. Even in manipulated fights, in over-hyped belts, even in bad matchups or weakened rulesets, or decisions, even in the worst of Capitalism's falsity, there is the shining sense that something very Real and grounded has happened in a fight, something that defies the promotion, the decision, the belt. This is the gem of the practice of the fighting arts, and the anchor of its rite.

The body is the shore of the Spirit. Clashing bodies produces the Real of the Spirit.

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Tough reading for my level of English! 

 Agambed have an high degree of thinking that is difficult to me to catch the most of it. Still it's something that I find interesting to try to understand how the  economical environment have a strong impact on our ways to perceive our world/reality. As an "westerner" the lack of what is common in the aspects of meaning (shared meanings with a large community) seems strong and our way of living feel and think seems to be really oriented towards materialist matters that didn't seems to fill the gap made  by the atomisation) separation of the people in capitalist societies and as I think I understand what you said, a boxing or martial art gym (in a validist point of view) seems to wipe a lot of categories that exist my society. You can be look up as a great fighter/martial artist by some "bourgeois" people that could look you down if you meet them in other kind of situations. For example in my position I'm not a big fan of the police institution as it is today but I can meet some police man and have a frame to share, talk and work with them in an...nice way(even if I keep in mind that we are not on the same side of the barricades).

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Fashioned as it has been from at least 100+ years of continuous provincial fighting deep in its countryside custom - something that may stretch back multiple centuries - fortified and shaped by Royal and State warfare, itself composed of worldwide mercenary influences, from Japanese & Javanese merchant pirates to Persian & Portuguese regimented manpower, it stands as both a cosmopolitan fighting art, and still one which has been richly woven together as wholly Buddhistic Siamese and then Thai continuity. Channeled and informed by British Boxing's colonialist, pressuring example in its modernizing period (1920-1950s), what remains most valuable in Muay Thai are the ways it is like no other fighting art. It's a purity of difference. Both lab-tested in 100,000s of full-contact ring fights multiplied by generations, and expressive of wool-dyed Buddhistic principles, this is a synergy of provincial and the Capital fight knowledge, both martial and sport, like no other in the world. They just fight differently...and have arguably been the best ring fighters in the world. The at-top diagram juxtaposing two combat inspired board games, Chess and the game of Go, aims to draw out some of the deeper philosophical and conceptual differences between Thailand's Southeast Asian fighting art and many of Western conceptions of combat, especially at the dominant image of thought level. Chess is a game of some disputed origin approximately 1,500 years ago. It was not a Western game. It's largely believed to have come from India by way of Persia. The Western Chess vocabulary is etymologically Persian, and the Persian version of the game is closest to the one adopted in Europe. Interestingly enough, the birth of Chess and its dissemination throughout the world across tradewinds corresponds roughly to the period, 3rd-6th century AD, during which Southeast Asia underwent Indianization. Indian culture became powerfully adopted throughout mainland Southeast Asia, and importantly in the history of Siam significantly informed Khmer Empire (today's Cambodia) royalty warfare and statecraft, much of which would be adopted by Siamese kings to the West. Royal, court and State culture was Indianized, bearing qualities (language, social forms, knowledges) which were not shared by the common populace. The Indianization of Southeast Asia has been culturally compared to the Roman Empire's Romanization in of Europe. And to this day Thai Royalty, its Brahmin customs and practices, the common worship of Hindu gods within a Buddhist context reflects this 1,500 years of influence of Indian culture. This is to say, when comparing Thailand's Muay Thai to the West via the game of Chess, we are speaking of a game that was of Indian and Persian origin, something quite closely braided within Siamese history. For instance, King Narai of Ayutthaya in 17th century had 200 Persian warriors as his personal guard. The influence of India and Persia is profound. What I want you to see is that Muay Thai's historical past is likely quite imbricated. There are layers upon layers of historical segmentation. Within this history the Royal form in particular had a distinctly Indianized history, and Thailand's Muay Thai has had a robust Royal history surrounding the raising of armies, large scale wars at times with armies (perhaps fancifully) rumored to approach 1,000,000 men. This Statecraft heritage is likely something we can see reflected in the game of Chess itself, the game of Kings, castles and queens. And, the history that we have of Thailand's Muay Thai is almost entirely composed of this Royal-State story, as royal record and foreign visitors to Siam's kingdoms comprises our written history. The possible story of Muay Thai that involves provincial, rural, village, regional martial and sport practices has vanished seemingly just as much as houses of wood or bamboo will not be preserved. Yet, in the nature of Southeast Asian and Siamese fighting arts we very well may see the martial contrastive martial logic of the Siamese people, especially when compared to the visions of the West. Chess, Go, Striated and Smooth Spaces In this we turn to the 4,000 year old Chinese and then Japanese game of Go (the game of surrounding). wikipedia: Japanese word igo (囲碁; いご), which derives from earlier wigo (ゐご), in turn from Middle Chinese ɦʉi gi (圍棋, Mandarin: wéiqí, lit. 'encirclement board game' or 'board game of surrounding'). I have written about the historical origins of Thailand's Muay Thai that particularly bring out its logic of surrounding and capture, a martial logic that is quite embodied in the game of Go (The Historical Foundations of Thailand's Retreating Style, or How They Became the Best Defensive Fighters In the World). In short, historians of Southeast Asia point out that unlike in Europe where land was scarce (and therefore the anchor of wealth), and manpower plentiful, conquering land and killing occupying enemies formed a basic martial logic in warfare. In Southeast Asia where fecund land was everywhere, but population sparse (especially in Siam which had been one of the least populated regions of Southasia), warfare was focused on capture and enslavement. Enemy land capture was at a minimum, and even in the case of the famed and ruinous sackings of the Siamese Capital of Ayutthaya by the Burmese, the captured territory was not held. These are just very different spatial and aim-oriented logics, in fact opposite logics. I'm using the game of Go, which expresses a fluid rationality of edge control and reversible enemy capture (captured stones add to your wealth, and don't only subtract from one's enemy), opposed to the more centric, land-control logic of Chess. A Chess of Indian-Persian statecraft which resonated with European political and warfare realities. This juxtaposition between games is not mine, though I'm probably the first to use it to illuminate combat sport perceptions in today's ring fighting. It comes from the sociologically oriented philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. A notoriously difficult work due to its heavy reliance on invented vocabularies, and its opaque, keyed-in references to specific philosophical traditions, psychoanalysis and their theoretical problems, it still provides rich analysis of buried trends in Western social organization, and a metaphysics for thinking about the history of the world as a whole. What Deleuze and Guattari want to do in contrasting Go with Chess is to think about the different ways that Space is organized and traversed by political powers and regimes of meaning. They propose that Chess is a striated (divided, segmented, hierarchical) Space, And Go more of a smooth space. This blogged description is a good summary of the two kinds of Space: The much older game of Go is a strategy of surround and capture, wherein you turn an enemy's wealth - by our analogy labor-power - into your own. This is mirrored in Siamese warfare as reported in 1688 by an Iranian vistor, "...the struggle is wholly confined to trickery and deception. They have no intention of killing each other or of inflicting any great slaughter because if a general gained a real conquest, he would be shedding his own blood so to speak" (context, Ibrahim), full quote here. We have at surface a strong homology between foreign reports and the structural nature of the game of Go. More can be understood of my position and the role of evasion, surround-and-capture principles in this extended thread here. Diving down into the more philosophical ramifications I provide the extended Deleuze & Guattari quotation comparing the game of Chess vs the game of Go: Rather, he is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, the pack, an irruption of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphosis. He unties the bond just as he betrays the pact. He brings a furor to bear against sovereignty, a celerity against gravity, secrecy against the public, a power (puissance) against sovereignty, a machine against the apparatus. He bears witness to another kind of justice, one of incomprehensible cruelty at times, but at others of unequaled pity as well (because he unties bonds.. .). He bears witness, above all, to other relations with women, with animals, because he sees all things in relations of becoming, rather than implementing binary distributions between "states": a veritable becoming-animal of the warrior, a becoming-woman, which lies outside. Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game's form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary's pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology. Finally, the space is not at all the same: in chess, it is a question of arranging a closed space for oneself, thus of going from one point to another, of occupying the maximum number of squares with the minimum number of pieces. In Go, it is a question of arraying oneself in an open space, of holding space, of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, with out departure or arrival. The "smooth" space of Go, as against the "striated" space of chess. The nomos of Go against the State of chess, nomos against polis. The difference is that chess codes and decodes space, whereas Go proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space; consolidate that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent territory; deterritorialize the enemy by shattering his territory from within; deterritorialize oneself by renouncing, by going elsewhere . ..). Another justice, another movement, another space-time. Deleuze & Guattari, "1227: TREATISE ON NOMADOLOGY—THE WAR MACHINE", A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia   Becoming and A Warfare of Capture What Deleuze and Guattari are invoking is a conception of warfare which is much more fully potentiated. Not locked into rigid hierarchies and roles of figures of power, it is a much more metaphysical battle that reflects aspects of what I have argued is the spiritual foundation of Thailand's Muay Thai, an animism of powers within the history of the culture that predates the arrival of Buddhism (Toward a Theory of the Spirituality of Thailand's Muay Thai). This logic of an animism of powers contains an essential aspect of captured power, the incorporated power of a captured enemy, founded on what historians of Southeast Asia have called "Soul Stuff", roughly equivalent of Hindu shakti (strength). This can be manifested in captured slave labor, or perhaps even in the prehistoric rites of cannibalism through which one consumed the soul stuff of an enemy. You can find a logic of Soul Stuff here, this graphic below helps represent the animism of contest. A primary source on soul stuff and a fusion of military and spiritual prowess can be found with historian O.W. Walters here. Thus, within the cultural origins of Siamese culture, even that which pre-dates the Indianization of the region, we have essential aspects of a smooth, tactical space in a Deleuze & Guattari sense, which potentially maps quite well into the game of Go, especially as it is contrasted to Chess.   Further in concordance with Deleuze & Guattari's philosophical concept of liberty is the way in which Thailand's Muay Thai can be understood as revolutionary in their terms. Deleuze & Guattari write of becoming-animal, becoming-child, becoming-woman, deterritorializing flights inimitable to human freedom. Thailand's Muay Thai (& broader Thai agonism) de-privileges these categories, along a continuous spectrum of thymotic struggle, which runs thru the social hierarchies of low to high, sewing them together. One could say a smooth thymotic space of trajectories. Thailand known for its (ethically criticized) child fighting, women have fought for 100+ yrs, and beetle fighting embodies much of the Muay Thai gambled form. In many important ways Thailand's Muay Thai avoids the stacked arboreal structure of Western Man (& its contrastive Others), favoring a continuity agonistic spectrum within its (Indianized) hierarchies. It has strongly weighted traditional hierarchies, but within this a thymotic line-of-becoming that runs between divinity and animality. see Beetle Fighting, Muay Thai and the Health of the Culture of Thailand - The Ecology of Fighting more on the division of divinity and animality by wicha here: Muay Thai Seen as a Rite: Sacrifice, Combat Sports, Loser as Sacred Victim Knowing-as-doing, the wicha of technical knowledge of how to do, runs between the axes of divinity and animality in a way that supports a mutuality of any figure's becoming, from the insect up to the heightened champion fighter, in a line of flight shared by others. Most Deleuzian becoming-animal, -child, -woman examples come from the arts (sometimes the bedroom), but instead in Thai, gambled agonism we have the becoming of actual animals, children, women & the projective affects of an equally agonistic audience undergoing its own becoming-as. When I say revolutionary, I say "Thailand's Muay Thai has something to teach the world about the nature of violence and its meaning." Learning From Chess in How to See Thailand's Muay Thai Keep in mind, this isn't an direct one-for-one comparison of the contemporary game of Chess (and Chess Theory) and the ring sport of Muay Thai. It compares the dominant image of thought in the conceptual trend. Some have pointed out that my gross picture of Chess leaves out its post-1920s modern Chess Theory development, which often eschews central forward advancement. What is important in the Chess example isn't how Chess was played in 1960s, say, but rather that Chess over the sweep of its history allows us to see how it expressed the martial logic from which it came, ie, how some battles were fought in the field, with advancing lines, and a central capture of territory focus. Chess I would argue contains a martial logic fingerprint in its organizational structure, just as the real life political powers of Kings, Queens, knights and bishops made their impact on its rules & formation, the increased power of the Queen on the board said to be a fine example of this (see: A Queen in Any Other Language). Even in the Hypermodernism of Chess one might say that the center still holds importance, as there are just other ways of controlling or managing it.  Hypermodernism for instance may have reflected the increased use of cannon & then WW1 artillery. Between the two games of Chess and Go are differing Martial Logics. It doesn't mean that there is zero fighting for the center in Muay Thai (or in Southeast Asian warfare...siege warfare is prominent in Ayutthaya history for instance, though with influence from the Portuguese, etc), or that there is zero edge or flank control in Western European warfare or Chess (flank maneuvers are numerous in European warfare). The contrast is really meant to exposed how we perceive conflict spatially, and that these are things we've culturally inherited. You see these inherited concepts, for instance the centrality of territory capture in common Western scoring criteria like "ring control". Centralized conflict is part of our past and informs how we judge fighting styles, just as edge conflict is part of Southeast Asia's past. And importantly this also informs our ideas of violence, with a European tendency toward "kill" (to control land, ie the center) and a SEA tendency toward "capture"(to control labor, ie the edge).  
    • Hey so im an ammateur fighting in europe mostly at DIY events. The thing is even though every fight I improve I am never able to win and its starting to get to me.  I have 5 fights in total 2 k1 and 3 muay thai and iv never won a muay thai, won 1 k1 cos my cardio was better than the other girl and I just out brawld her.  People say wow your technique is so much better than the fight I saw you in last year etc but it still feels bitter to constantly lose. I know i am improving but feel that I always just get tougher and tougher matches, the last 3 fights I lost have all been very close fights. One I lost cos my opponent got injured and broke her ankle when I bloked with a knee but she was able to hide it, another one I lost cos she was using more clean techniques and I was brawling (this one I agree with 100% cos I was landing but it was sloppy.)  The last one I lost cos my cardio was bad which is also fine. I am fine with losing, its just starting to get to me that I never win. It also kinda annoys me that the only fight I ever won was one that I just outbrawled the other girl. Feels like my improvements havnt really helped me cos I just get matched with tougher and tougher opponents each time.  Im wondering if I should give up on decision fights for a while and just do non decisions to get my condifence back up or whether I will eventually break through and be able to win. I am also kinda old at 32 so even though my technique is improving my strength, reflexes and reactions will begin to fade soon. 
    • Don't know if this brand offers shin guards but might as well check them out. I bought a few pairs of shorts from them a while ago and was genuinely impressed. https://siamkickfight.com/
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    • Don't know if this brand offers shin guards but might as well check them out. I bought a few pairs of shorts from them a while ago and was genuinely impressed. https://siamkickfight.com/
    • Hi all, I have paid a deposit to a gym in Pai near Chiang Mai to train at in January. I am now concerned about the pollution levels at that time of year because of the burning season. Can you recommend a location that is likely to have safer air quality for training in January? I would like to avoid Bangkok and Phuket, if possible. Thank you!
    • Hi, this might be out of the normal topic, but I thought you all might be interested in a book-- Children of the Neon Bamboo-- that has a really cool Martial Arts instructor character who set up an early Muy Thai gym south of Miami in the 1980s. He's a really cool character who drives the plot, and there historically accurate allusions to 1980s martial arts culture. However, the main thrust is more about nostalgia and friendships.    Can we do links? Childrenoftheneonbamboo.com Children of the Neon Bamboo: B. Glynn Kimmey: 9798988054115: Amazon.com: Movies & TV      
    • Davince Resolve is a great place to start. 
    • I see that this thread is from three years ago, and I hope your journey with Muay Thai and mental health has evolved positively during this time. It's fascinating to revisit these discussions and reflect on how our understanding of such topics can grow. The connection between training and mental health is intricate, as you've pointed out. Finding the right balance between pushing yourself and self-care is a continuous learning process. If you've been exploring various avenues for managing mood-related issues over these years, you might want to revisit the topic of mental health resources. One such resource is The UK Medical Cannabis Card, which can provide insights into alternative treatments.
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