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Ruup - Why Should a Fighter's Posture Matter? The Art in the Art of Muay Thai

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Grace Even Amid The Most Violent

I came across this statue of the Buddha (photo at top) from the Sukhothai Kingdom and like electric lines of force it came to me just how important ruup is in Thailand's traditional Muay Thai. Ruup is the quality of one's posture, the very visible form that one presents to the world, attached to idea of public expression. One's ruup is a veritable visual signal to your inner states, and in a wider sense, one's character - what one is. For many who come to Muay Thai, or perhaps consume it, this is incomprehensible. How one stands, or moves, or expresses oneself physically, aesthetically, must be secondary to things like "effectiveness", or worse "damage done". It is not understood why things like balance - perhaps falling off a strike - or, more subtly physical stiffness would much matter. But it does. There are pragmatic reasons why a fighter would need balance, would need a certain physical limpidity without which her or his capabilities would be diminished. But why, if in the happenstance of the fight there is no deficit exposed by actual damage, by the failures of the opponent or the randomness of the clash, should it matter? 

To me this walking Buddha, returning to Earth from a Heaven, seemed to fill in the gap in explanation. Perhaps you too will see what came to me in electric lines of visual jolt when I saw this Buddha, full of upright grace, nothing and everything in surplus. Perhaps it is that the Buddha is in motion, whereas he is usually still. Somehow this communicates itself to the image of a fighter. But it is the sense that the human being, the fighter under duress can be a visual poem. It is the dimension of fighting that supersedes the Entertainment Value of a fight. It is the dimension of meaning. Why does a fighter's posture, a fighter's tempo matter?  Like Rilke's Apollo's Torso, there is in a fighter a composition, that goes well beyond intent, and thus is displayed in ruup. It is the sum total of their endless hours of training, their conflicts in the training ring, their meditations on their selves, and all of their fights. It goes to the root of them, deeply burrowed into the Past, but it is not anchored there. It is also the line of the arrow that is shot from from that flesh, and that stack of thoughts that make up their lives, into a continuity of what they will be, and in that sense what will be. The clash of the fight, the terrible flame of suffering that sparks again and again as fear mounts and turns training dumb, the clash is only there to expose the ruup of what is. The performance of duress is for that purpose, and x-ray into the unseen. This is why the fighter's ruup, the poem of the human being, is so beautiful. This is why we visit the epic men men of the past and ache toward their impossible physical poetry. Because the flint of fighting exposes the shape of a Soul, and much like the form of the Buddha, says something that cannot be said. Something unspeakable.

In the line of the shoulders, in the sway of arms, in the dignity of standing, the fighter's ruup speaks. It invokes a future.



In a more Western conception:


Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und brächte nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.





I'm writing more often by hand lately. Perhaps you'll get a different feeling about my words if you watch them in time.

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I wonder why this statue spoke to me so strongly at this moment in time. There is something generous in its formalism, open and free even though stylized. There is something unexpected. The fighter trains, ultimately or at least principally, to hold themselves together under great duress, under all the signs of violence. And in the public arena of shame. We tell the fighter that there is no shame in losing, but in a very real sense that is a lie. The shame of a loss is what puts value and risk into a fight. It's not a question of damage. In a loss one leaves the ring feeling lessor, no matter how valiantly, or expertly one has fought. It is the shame of the social dimension of a fight, and it likely goes back to some very old human experience of rite and ritual. It is because fighting is the theater of this shame - as much as we throw light beams upon the winner - that fighting acquires a near-metaphysical meaning. Or perhaps I could say theological. This is the nature of ruup in a fight. It is the hand-craved expression of Self, cut right out of the heart of a person as if they were both the sculptor and the stone, put on display under the threat of its disintegration. It is the self-assembly of dignity, substance really, not only under physical assault, but under mental, emotional and even spiritual erosion. There is a firm line that runs down from a fighter's present moment of ruup - exactly as it is presenting itself, in this fight - to the histories of shame and loss of dignity they have endured as a human being. It is a living nerve-line. This is why how all the parts communicate amongst themselves, the continuity of their being and expression, matters. There are indeed culturally shaped armatures for this sculptural expression of the Self, a grammar of cohesion and dignity as it is read to be free, and there are real-world physical boundaries, a physics of how the body moves, and compositions under which it can defend itself and attack. These make up the art of the sport (art). One builds oneself according to these grammars, and this physics, to be assembled when under the duress of what ultimately is the ring's shame. There is something about this challenge, and the juxtaposition of this particular Walking Buddha that unlocks, for me, a kind of acme of what a fighter is doing, at the deepest level. This is why matrix-like analogies of certain fighters like Karuhat, Saenchai or Samart feel so apt, or Roy Jone Jr., Leonard, Ali. And this is also why the tough, enduring men of the ring, who seem to undergo the worse of it, survive and then thrive, also communicate a liberating ruup. And everything in between. The fighter makes a physical poem of themselves under the most tested of media, the heart sinews under the shadow of shame and fear. And its true, even (or especially) the losers have nothing to be ashamed of, noble is their submission to the contest, they carry the shame of loss and dissolution, as an extra burden. This is the blessing of the ring. 

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The Western preoccupation with "techniques" of Thailand, the unique geometries and bio-mechanics of a wide variety of elbows, knees, kicks, clinch locks & trips, etc, through which it largely appropriates the art, exporting it piece by mechanical piece does contain some elements of ruup. Which is to say that the mechanical mindset of "parts" does have a very strong attachment to "form"...and ruup is form. (I wrote about this some in 2016, in Precision – A Basic Motivation Mistake in Some Western Training.) As elbows are learned, weight transfers approximated with careful attention, limb and joint arcs traced in the air, kicks analyzed, trips executed, sometimes reconstructed from video examples, there is great focus on something like ruup (form). But, as the West sees something technical in form - and that is the word they use, really aesthetically - in Thailand its seen as a living thing, and importantly, as part of an overall composite expression of Self. The forms of techniques only make expressive sense in the context of a much more holistic, full-body form. And here form includes rhythmic as well as postural aspects in space. And these too in the West there are some aspects of attention: for instance the Muay Thai "rock"; or, the Muay Thai "stance". But, what appears to be missing, or lost in translation, is that the ruup of Thailand's Muay Thai comes from a feeling. It is not a tracing. This is why training in Thailand has a very particular advantage. While this feeling-born ruup of Muay Thai is seldom seen outside of the country, it can be found in practically any gym, and being in the presence of such ruup, as a matter of mirror neurons and the efference copy of our body in building motor skills, one gains a subterranean access to the development of Thai ruup, at the level of feeling...if one can put it that way. This is also one of the reasons why we elected to film informally, but at length, for the Muay Thai Library documentary project. We wanted to document, as much as possible, the full range of the ruup of great ex-fighters, living krus, and legends of the sport. It's because the art and understanding of any techniques that are captured only really gain their meaning in the overall dispositional nature of their ruup, as men. Among these are some of the greatest poets of Muay Thai Golden Age, people's whose ruup approached something special, unique, and meaningful. The secrets of techniques are found in the broader contexts of disposition and physical comportment, and it is this which really shouldn't be lost. This is also the invitation to look to the ruup of fighters and teachers, and not only to their techniques. Invitations to feel what it is like to be them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

More Resources and Video Discussion on Ruup


Here is Sylvie's video discussion of what Ruup is, and how to train it in a Technique Vlog (you can get the full length technique vlog as a patron: Training Ruup :



Here is a video compilation of the discussion of the Thai principle of Ruup:


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