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Beetle Fighting, Muay Thai and the Health of the Culture of Thailand - The Ecology of Fighting


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This read will cover several topics in a cross section:

Buddhism, Northern Beetle Fighting, the film Ong-Bak, Cybernetics, Animism, Ecology, Thai Clinch, Thai urban vs rural tension, Anthropology & Gambling

What follows are just some notes I've taken in reading Stéphane Rennesson's article, which discusses the Fighting Beetles of Northern Thailand. Its a great piece on a form of Thai gambled fighting that few know much about in detail. Not only does it break down the rather obscure essentials, the concepts and practices of Beetle fighting, it also positions them within larger themes that help us have insight into Thai agonism, something which ultimately sheds light on unique aspects of Thailand's Muay Thai and gambling. In some senses, Thailand's Muay Thai has more meaning in common with Beetle Fighting than it does with let's say a combat sport tournament happening in the West. The article allows us to come at Muay Thai from an angle and catch aspects that we may have missed when we just assume correspondence with Western (or Global) practices of combat sports. The way that I've done this is basically passage by passage. Most of the article ends up being quoted (but its best to read it through of course). You can also jump around into any particular post as they read as their own segmented thought or focus.

Wrestling Beetles and Ecological Wisdom: How Insects Contribute to the Cosmopolitics of Northern Thailand* < read it here

Stéphane Rennesson

 

Sylvie and I have strongly noted the cultural homologies, the arguable connection and insight, between Northern Beetle Fighting and Muay Thai. Both are gambling driven rites of play and contest where the "fighter" symbolizes the vitality and knowledge of the player/kru, which is dramatized in/on the ring/log. Sylvie and I spontaneously recorded and wrote about these as we encountered Beetle fighting back in 2014, in these two posts. If you read these you'll get the sense of how it simply dawned on us just how much there is to understand about Muay Thai in Beetle fighting, when a kru from Sylvie's gym took us to see and participate in it. It was an underground fighting and gambling scene. You can read those two posts here, if you want background on our experiences:

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

At the time the strongest connection was for us the obvious two similarities. Sylvie was developing into a high level clinch fighters, and the Beetles essentially fight in clinch. And the gambling crowd sounded like and acted in a way that seemed identical to in a local Muay Thai fight. There are a great deal of correspondences and observations to make between the two,  but below I'm just sketching out meaningful light-shedding from Rennesson's writing. He has also studied and written on Muay Thai in Thailand, as an anthropologist, but in he does not explicitly connect the two in this article. The connection here is mine, and speculative, but it also seems clear that he himself is making the connection as an observer.

In a very broad brush I'm thinking about the basic dichotomy of urban center and forest wilds, in the symbolism of Thai culture. Urban centers, especially the capital, are seen as locus of high arts, cultivation, political authority, and sophistication. As one moves away from the urban center one travels toward the forest, which in Thai (and Buddhist/Indian) mythology/imagination can occupy a place of wild, untamed, magical powers. You can see some of that structural forest imagination in this tweeted graphic of the Thai Village social organization, the animal series structurally mirroring aspects of marriage, the ways of relating to the foreign:

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In any case, the figure of the forest monk, who retreats to the wild to develop special spiritual and magical powers is a well known one in Thailand. Thai Forest Tradition. This is only to say that the provincial villages, to some degree, in some of social imagination exist in the penumbra of the forest. There is a dialectical tension between the civilization of the capital and the wild of the forest, with provincial Thailand existing in-between. I argue that this dichotomy also characterizes the values and potencies of Thailand's Muay Thai.

Ajahn Sao Kantasīlo

above, the example of Ajahn Sao Kantasīlo of the forest tradition. There are many holy men in Thailand who are seen as connected to the spirituality & tests of the forest. The legend of the Himavanta forest, a home of magical entities, important to Buddhist cosmology, likely plays into the aura of the forest as wondrous, fearsome and powerful.

Rennesson interestingly traces how the figure of the fighting Beetle in Northern Thailand becomes emblematic, a "sentinel" of the quality of Thai soil, in an ecological sense. Due to pesticides, and perhaps many other "civilizing", progressive factors, strong beetles can no longer be found around human dwellings. He writes of a nostalgia for when you could just find a great fighting beetle in your yard. One remembers a time when living in a more robust connection to the potency of Nature and the environment, a potency that is expressed in the quality of beetle fighters. Today fight beetle scouts and collectors have to travel to the forests and National parks to find the good soil, and the good beetles. I'm not making a strong connection here, but I am drawing a parallel. It is well known that for decades, if not 100 years, Bangkok Muay Thai has relied on constant importation of strong fighters from the provinces, what Rennesson describes in his writing on Muay Thai as a "strong labor force". There have always been developed networks into the provinces, and now as Muay Thai's talent pool is dramatically shrinking, the scouting of the provinces is more required than ever. In some sociological sense Muay Thai is looking harder and harder for young Thai talent from "the good soil" so to speak. And, it is not without note, there is in urban Muay Thai a sense that young fighters do not develop now as they once did, due to a modernized culture of increased opportunity, social mobility, mobile phone culture, and to some degree a disaffected or bored youth. There may be a kind of social nostalgia that you used to just be able to find a strong fighter in your backyard, now much less so. increased affluence, a flexibility in social bonds and globalizing culture is changing the soil, so to speak. What is noteworthy is that there is an ecological argument underpinning the Beetle identity in the North. Modernity is poisoning the Beetle and its Soil.

Here are two relevant passages:

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We could sum up the whole idea of selection by saying that players are looking for the most fully developed, “perfect” specimen (sombun, สมบูรณ์). Players share the certainty that the fitness and thus the fighting skills of the beetles stem primarily from the soil substrate in which they grew up. This notably explains why it gets harder year after year to encounter the insects in question in the village area. The people remember with nostalgia the good old times when a good kwaang could be found in the garden under the first rays of sunlight. More recently, though, amateurs observe that beetles encountered in human dwelling areas are usually not very well developed. They blame this on the encroachment on forests, and the increasing quantities of chemicals sprayed on commercial crops, which kill the coleopteron in the egg. It is therefore not surprising that the way to get beetles is to collect them in wild areas. Gleaners have to search for beetles in remote places, notably in regional and national parks where the soil is said to be the most “fertile” (udom sombun, อุดมสมบูรณ์). When I was there in 2007, 2009, and 2013, the organizer of the world championship of beetle-fighting even dedicated a few days to collect kwaang in Chaiyaphum and Udon Thani Provinces (Northeastern Thailand), where the environment is supposed to be more pristine and conducive for the emergence of big, beautiful specimens, which make for aggressive and courageous champions. The idea was to inject in the local market (here in Chiang Mai area) a couple of weeks in advance the beetles they lacked, to hold a competition worthy of its repute (Cf. Fig. 2).

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AND

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The same people used to be part of those who tried to breed beetles as another way to cope with the scarcity of good specimens. Since rhinoceros beetles are more and more difficult to find in Northern Thailand—because of the reduction of their natural habitat, claim the players; or due to the intensification of the use of kwaang for the sake of the game, say their critics—some amateurs have tried to develop beetle-farming methods. Drawing on hormonal enhancement techniques of the soil, thanks to more or less natural materials, some influential players have tried to select beetles to produce genuine fierce prizefighters. But the little animal resists all efforts done to try to breed him. As a matter of fact, I am unaware if, after a few years of selection, specimens out of kwaang farms could compete with those collected from the wild. If some experiments have led to the production of big and beautiful coleoptera, they have never proved to grant players with a daring specimen that one can find among “forest beetles” (kwaang paa, กว่างป่า). At best, there could have been competitions dedicated to farm beetles, but this idea has not been brought into being. Well, not totally at least, since among the couple of “traditional kwaang festivals” held each year, they organize a “kwaang beauty contest” in conjunction with the fights themselves. So even if the breeders have failed to produce good fighters, they are still very proud to get some really good-looking specimens that can compete with others.

There are two lessons to be learned from these breeding experiences. First, some of them are incidentally documented in the museum of life. The curators seem to nurture the idea that these farming tests demonstrate the Lanna people’s mastery of kwaang’s life cycle. Obviously this knowledge is in turn considered as proof of the intimacy that inhabitants have developed with the local natural environment, to the point of paying attention to the well-being of insects. The survival of the game, which is presented as an old local tradition, is associated to the survival of the kwaang. By highlighting the danger of the intensification of agricultural technique for the insect, the small animal is presented as a kind of sentinel of the quality of the soil as much as of the vivacity of Lanna identity.

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It is not too far of a stretch of the imagination to also draw parallels between the attempted urban breeding farms, given the shortage of quality local fighting beetles, and various urban kaimuay, on differing scales. The tension between a Science of the Beetle, and the Naturalism of the Beetle I think also exists in the symbolism of fighters, and urban fighter development.

 

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I've long reasoned that the best ethical argument for the preservation of Thailand's Muay Thai (its art, practice, culture, sophistication, knowledge) is an ecological one. In a certain sense the last 100 years of Thailand Muay Thai (and perhaps the 500 years of Siamese Muay Thai before that) present a kind of Amazon Rainforest of human cultural fight knowledge, and much like rain forests, we don't even fully know the cultural value of all the complexity that has developed in this. We do not want to just monocrop this subculture and its traditions, and we bend towards globalizing, effacing markets. So, there is a natural ecological standpoint here, between the Beetle and Muay Thai.

Here Rennesson positions the ecological within the Thai notion of thammachat (a concept that Sylvie has pointed out as very important in Thailand's Muay Thai). Thammachat is a helpful bridge concept, "the order of things", when speaking ecologically about Thailand and its practices.
 

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In order to fully acknowledge what this means, we have to decenter our thoughts such that we can move away from any ethnocentric truisms. According to Philippe Descola (2013), we have to open our mind to other cosmologies. Kwaang amateurs do not separate as clearly socio-cultural fact from biological ones, such as in the case of the modern, Western worldview. Players and their beetles belong to a localized and situated nature, not an objectified one: we speak here about the Thai idea of thammachaat (ธรรมชาติ, literally order of what is)—a nature that is not mentally constructed in contrast to culture, but to disorder. Nature is a world in itself, where everybody has to find their place so that everything, every phenomenon is in order . . . or not. The construction of Thainess (khwaam pen thai, ความเป็นไทย) or other regional identity like Lanna, is thus articulated with a distinctive way of building one’s relationship with their own environment, be it cultural, natural, or whatsoever, as already underlined in the specialized literature on Thai Studies.3) It is a question of a Thai nature and obviously, it emerges from the relations that the Thais nurture with what is around them. Rather than acknowledging “one world, many worldviews,” we need to recognize multiple worlds. We should not therefore limit ourselves to “representations,” “symbolism,” or “belief,” but also investigate alternative realities. As such, kwaang may be said to contribute to the making of the local identity along with their human mates, beyond what we are prone to distinguish as natural and cultural realms.

The real contrast in the Thai cosmological model is between the civilized center of the mueang (เมือง, a term which denotes the idea of human polity) and the peripheral zone where the influence of the king and the Buddhist institution vanishes as we move further away and approach the “wild” (pa thuean, ป่าเถื่อน) areas, from where kwaang are found, preferably.

 

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Importantly, he positions Thai Culture not in contrast with Nature, but as an attempted finding-of-one's-feet within the order of things, something that includes what we characterize as Nature.

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  • Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu changed the title to Beetle Fighting, Muay Thai and the Health of the Culture of Thailand - Ecologies

Below is a wonderful passage with many touch points to the framework of Muay Thai symbology and past sociological arguments I've thought on:

 

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Generally, the great majority of players rely on the “traditional” collect of wild specimen—still regarded as the most interesting to play with. The beetles thus get their strength from wild areas and untamed territories. Deep forests are, for example, widely regarded as highly potent places, where you may have the opportunity to master the risks (either animals or malevolent spirits) and transform them into personal spiritual power such as baaramii (บารมี, prestige, righteous power, virtue, charisma) to be used for political and economic purposes (Jory 2002; Jackson 2009). One can notably think of the tradition in which Buddhist monks wander out in the forests to experiment “the Buddhist Law” (thammachaat), and allow themselves to be confronted with their own fears, pains, hunger, and thirst (Tiyavanich 1997). Even if the game of kwaang is definitely a question of channeling and mastering raw forces out there, I am not aware that outstanding specimens or even skillful players would be regarded as showing (a high level of) baaramii. Yet, players speak of a “king of kwaang” (phayaa kwaang, พญากว่าง), referring to a single specimen that can be found every year, and which has “magical/supernatural power” (ฤท, rit) that enables it to beat any other beetle. But the question remains: what do the beetles get when they are from wild parts of the country; that which the “king of beetles” best embodies? In this regard, the scientific environmental argument is weakened by the breeding experiments, and this is the second lesson to be drawn. Even without chemical inputs and with best efforts to emulate the composition of pristine forest soils, players admit that these do not always work. Instead, they only produce beetles for beauty contests to celebrate the simplistic idea that the value of a beetle depends on how it looks like. The vast majority of amateurs think it impossible to reproduce the miracle of the life force that stems out of the wild. The difficulties and hazards one has to undertake with beetles are obviously not on the same level as those faced by wandering monks. We thus have to underline what makes the game’s very specific features. If it is not a question of baaramii building, then how can the vitality of the kwaang be transformed and become meaningful for both players and beetles? Obviously, the beetle-fighting game cannot be reduced to the opposition between wilderness and civilization, as with the forest monks’ practices. We thus have to leave behind us the symbolic potential of animals and scale down to a kind of phenomenological cosmology—close enough to the players/beetle interface in order to have a chance to decipher what is at stake in the game. As we shall see, players seem to build on the difficulty to canalize the fighting instinct of the animal, whatever level of fitness it will ultimately demonstrate in the game.

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The pursuit of baaramii (บารมี, prestige, righteous power, virtue, charisma) , I've argued is essential to the values & aesthetics of Thailand's Muay Thai. In this essay-thread I lay it out in speculative fashion: Toward a Theory of the Spirituality of Thailand's Muay Thai.

There are other significant Muay Thai connections to spiritual pursuit in the form of hypermasculinity, as Peter Vail argued in his dissertation: Thai Masculinity: Postioning Nak Muay Between Monkhood and Nak Leng – Peter Vail, laid out briefly on the left hand side of this graphic

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I think Rennesson is right on target with his note on baaramii (บารมี). It is a characteristic of these dramaticized rites of battle, and the investments of the players. Also telling is how the farmed, science-aided beetles are thought to be mere beauty contest winners, lacking the raw "power" of a natural soil development. One can think of the rise of weight lifting and other western training regimes (the West historically considered a foreign wisdom of modernity), modern Thai fighters in International, Global markets that look impossibly swole (however it is achieved through Science), and even the exhaustive marketing of these fighters as commodities of idealized male beauty.

Ong-Bak and Science

You encounter these same themes of Science vs Natural Powers in the contrast between the hero fighter of the village Ting, and the super human End Guy in Ong-Bak (2003), itself a film about the true path (and efficacy) of the temple-taught Baan Fighter from the provinces, and the corrupting, degenerate Bangkok environment, something toned down for international audiences (in the Thai edit of Ong-Bak Muay's sister dies of a drug overdose). There is a positioning of Urban artificial development and the "natural" (thammachat) fighter of the Provinces that corresponds to urban Beetle farming and the Beetle of the Wild, if only at the level of symbolism. Here is the end-guy villain taking a massive needle injection straight into his heart to make himself impervious:

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The film's province vs city ideology is really something that needs to be brought out to fully enjoy what is being said in this classic action packed film, as it relates to Muay Thai itself. The Old Ways are presented as not only more potent, but importantly significantly of higher moral composition than the "fight club" International, anything goes fighting of Bangkok. And it is not without significance that the film Ong Bak opens with what will become an ecological-moral crisis, which Ting is sent with his temple Muay Thai to resolve. The holy Buddha head has been stolen to be sold for profit, the village will be been caught in a drought as a result of the loss of this loss of moral anchorage (It's not without complication that King Rama IX and his dynasty claimed power over the elements of water and the rains, and was also progressive in the use of technologies of land cultivation). It's enough to say that even in this martial arts classic the strong bond between traditional Muay Thai, Buddhism and ecological flourishing, a sense of thammachat (order and disorder), come forward as dominant themes.

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above, the drought that happens with the loss of Ong-Bak.

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above, a cameo of Master Yodtong, the famed Arjan of the Sityodtong gym, the greatest of the Golden Age of the sport, known for his preservatation of old, traditional techniques, here as a lowly, urban cigarette vendor, taking note of a Boran fight move by Ting, something he has not seen in years.

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Here Rennesson dives right down into descriptions which clearly reflect his experiences and writing on the Thai kaimuay (Muay Thai camp). Implicitly the beetles and the fighters find themselves in a similar social position, the assessment of their value and development in a group. Fighting Beetles are essentially "clinch fighters" of Muay Thai, and the care given them can be insightfully compared.

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A good-looking kwaang is a promising beetle, but not mechanically a champion. It is not enough to be from the forest and look good; rather, it takes some know-how to validate (or not) the initial diagnosis and to help one’s coleoptera to express all their potentialities. More than anything, a good kwaang is an animal that has been well taken care of. If wild specimens are regarded as being the fiercest, a beetle is not ready to go into the ring right out of the forest. Instead, the insects have to be closely looked after for weeks beforehand. First, they have to be nurtured with high intakes of sugarcane on which they dwell, night and day. They are also sometimes given a real glucose dope (sugarcane juice) to boost them when needed—a few minutes before a fight, for example. Second, they have to be well trained, tested in opposition to challengers of various morphotypes: they are endlessly stimulated on a daily basis. Only then is there a chance that among the 30 or 40 insects with whom you spend at least a couple of hours a day, there may be five or six ready-to-clinch gladiators every weekend—a few really outstanding fighters for the entire season.

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This is where, I would argue, we encounter the concept of a wicha (a knowledge, an art). Even at the "low" level of insect intelligence and thymos (energetic spirit), there is some sense of knowledge and art on the part of the developing player (in Muay Thai the kru), and the fighter/beetle. The performance of the combatant will express the wicha of the player/kru insofar as he/she embodies it. Rennesson wants to argue that even at the "low", divergent phylogenetic level of the insect in the social form of Thai beetle fighting ultimately the beetle is seen as a co-author of the fight and his fighting style. As I've argued, wicha is the medium between animality and divinity in Thai culture, their synthesis. Even between beetle and handler there is wicha, a wicha of care but even of technical performance, a transmitted wicha.

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Wicha is an art & knowledge that draws on, in a developing way, the Thammachat (natural order of things), such that the raw (magical) power of the wild, the forest, is shaped. It is not just urges. This has a strong Buddhistic element to it. If we allow the rough Nakmuay vs Beetle analogy, you may find a very strong young fighter/beetle in "the wild" (not in the urban, modern, culturally degenerating centers), but they must be cared for and developed in the wicha of the art. The vitality may be regarded as coming "from the soil", but the rite of contest requires some (Buddhistic) control over urges and found states  which cannot succeed alone. In the West many of these stereotypes map onto our notion of the Primitive. The primitive can be regarded as both undeveloped, but also as raw, Natural and powerful. In terms of connotation, the wicha of combat rites, and Buddhism itself can be considered practices of developing the primitive without diminishing its power. In the ideologies of fighting in the West we carry pictures of the Primative in racisms and ethnicities. The "country strong" or "naturally tough" fighter or athlete (Bo Jackson was described this way as a football player, Big Country in MMA, just to name a diverse imagistic few of 1,000s and 1,000s). This can be racially applied, or applied by class. The working poor fighter, is a classic image in American boxing. This is something comparable to how the provincial, agrarian fighter can be read in the dominant ideology & hierarchy.

 

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Rennesson then sets out the basic intellectual (Philosophical) framework from which he'll attempt to discuss the substantiveness of a care-giver-and-insect assemblage, one that is not polluted by anthromorphisms of varying kinds, and one that does not rob the beetle of ALL sense of subjectivity and world.

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We need here an analytic tool that will help us emulate the pragmatic stance the players take concerning the beetles, for they are forced to deal with these beings that are far away from us on the phylogenetic tree. Following the German-Estonian biologist Jakob Von Uexküll (2010), whose work is at the root of biosemiotics (Brentari and Von Uexküll 2015), let us try to understand what can happen between two beings living in very different “subjective worlds” (Umvelt). I assume Von Uexküll grants us with the most convenient frame to think about our interspecies device; to raise the question of what the two species can share. As a matter of fact, he remarkably does not speculate on the intelligence of animals, a perspective that always leads one to confirm the qualitative difference between humanity and the rest of animality. Instead, the idea is that every living being has an interiority that is not confined to the limit of its body; it emerges from the interaction with one’s environment. Interiorities are thus like built from outside; they go beyond the limits of the organic body and overflow into the environment, as far as one perceives and acts upon. An interiority is made of one’s capacity to extract information from the milieu and to project oneself in the latter. Through this feedback loop, every being is an actor of his own world that could best defined as what he is interested in, and what has some meaning for him, to put it simply. This “subjective world” is the reality as it exists for one being, a milieu that is different from the environment, from all the objects within the Euclidian space around (Umgebung). It is interesting indeed to note that a similar distinction is made in another cultural context a little bit closer to Thailand. Watsuji Tetsurô (2011), a Japanese philosopher, distinguishes the material environment (Shizen kankyô) and the milieu (Fûdo) (Couteau 2006). Yet these sensible worlds are not to remain closed in on them. I here make a reading of Von Uexküll that draws more on a pragmatist stance than a semiotic one. He bestows us the descriptive tools to shed light on the very empiric stakes of the interspecies playful encounter. Building on pragmatism as developed by William James and John Dewey, for example, I shall consider experience as the result of an interaction between a living being and its milieu that affects both of them (Debaise 2007, 8). If action conveys significations, it especially shows points of interests. So it is neither a question of pure subjectivity nor objectivity, but rather the idea that a common world can be elaborated during action. How can the interests of human beings and beetles be connected? We shall subsequently outline how and to what extent the respective milieu of human and beetles can meet over a playful device. How can an interspecific coordination of action be possibly established between animals that perceive the world and act upon it in quite a different way? How can we even communicate with them actually? What can we share with them?

 

This positioning is most relevant because taken to this extreme, the arguments for an ecological collaboration become stripped of a lot of cultural assumptions. It becomes a kind of test case from the edges of the spectrum. He will read this, especially in the act of fighting itself, within a fundamentally receptivity of the beetle to communications from his handler, and ultimately a creative feedback loop between these two, insect and human. This forms the basis of a theory of ecology, a world of co-created mutuality.

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Next the rules and the basics of engagement are laid out. One can see elements of correspondence between Muay Thai (Muay Thai clinch) and Beetle fighting. You have the stimulation through favorably vibrations (beetles) and the playing of the traditional music (Muay Thai), which drives the conflict. Non-Thais are often confused or even annoyed by the presence of traditional music, but this likely is the foundation of it. It, like an interactive movie score, will dictate fight tempo and intensity. There are also rules of loss which typifying the sub art of clinch, when an opponent distinctly appears not willing to engage (in Muay Thai this is put in tension with retreating, more femeu styles). And, like with Muay Thai clinch one has distinct moments of extended clinch, defined by locks & grips (which for beetles make up rounds).

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Notably, as both are gambling-driven sports, the ambiguity of the rules is part of the actual form of the contest. The negotiation of interpretation perhaps can be compared to cultural haggling. In the West, we want fix prices, just as we want fixed rule definitions. Instead, the push and pull of negotiation may be woven into the actual social practice. A feature, not a bug.

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External Influence

I have written about the historical aspect of Thai/Siamese gambling and the role of betting on other minds (the article dropped in just below). This is part of a larger sense, I believe, of what is happening within a gambled event is expressive of forces outside of the ring. There are many levels on which to read this influence. It's a bit of a detour from what we're discussing now, but those thoughts are here. They point to a differing sense of competition and the social form of combat rite, Thai to Western:

 

We find this idea of external influence embodied in the vibrational encouragement by both of the beetle players, and in their deft techniques of turning of the log. They are literally trying to influence their beetle, somewhere between the psychological and the physiological realms. They are stimulating them, but also in a sense, orchestrating them, guiding them, in an inter-species communication. But, as Rennesson points out, there is no real sense that the vibrational communication is only defined by its reception by one's own beetle. The whole log is vibrating. So the participatory agonistic, knowledgeable influence also has a communal aspect. It is spread throughout and part of the performance form.

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There is a saying in Thai that "animals 'chon' (merely clash), but humans have 'muay' (an art of fighting)". It is indeed the external influence, the cultivation of action, the participatory collaboration between player and beetle that speaks to a certain elevation of the fight in to a spectacle. If using this as a prime cultural sketch of some of the dynamics of Muay Thai, we see how a fighter is not only a lone combatant, but is a social expression of his kru, his camp, and the gamblers who have bet on him (including influence moments of bonus "injection"). The proposed intersubjectivity of the player and the beetle brings this up in the thinnest, but still distinct, of ways.

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**sidebar note: The relationship between Buddhism and gambling is complex. At one level it is plain. Gambling is considered a vice, and the government laws restricting it, and sweeping political acts against it are seen as moral reform. (The anti-gambling laws of HM King Vajiravudh between 1915-1926 are prime examples.) This is especially so when gambling carries images of compulsion and corruption. On the other hand many of the local, gambling-driven festival fights occur on Wat (Temple) grounds, and are under the provenance of Wats which are powerful social and political centers in community. And there is a sense in which having the good fortune (& power) of winning bets and fights is in keeping with a fundamental Buddhist logic of karma and merit, and works toward the production of charisma (social capital) aligned with outward indications of spiritual potency. In the milieu of gambling, a Buddhistic/Animistic spiritual principle of charm is operating. More on that here: Toward a Theory of the Spirituality of Thailand's Muay Thai. So, its fair to say that there is a kind of double level to Buddhism and Muay Thai: a principled, moralistic objection, and also a Buddhistic/animistic infused one. Both are important to this discussion of a possible ecology through Right Living in Muay Thai.

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We, in the West, like to see the fight ring as ONLY between two combatants. The result of a match ideally is determined by their character and the firm application of well-defined rules. This is part of our inherited metaphysics which regards the material world as (relatively) inert, organized by physical laws, and animated by wills (which are ethically judged). It's our Cartesianism. Metaphysically, I would say, the Western sport fight ideal is quite different from the Thai, gambled fight. Instead, as Beetle Fighting brings out, it is the very "ambiguity of control" which sews all participants together, including the gamblers in the audience, and the beetles themselves. It is a looped energy of communication which goes well beyond the fight stage. The patterns of convergence emerge from an event, they are co-created.

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What Produces A Winner? Types of Fighters (Femeu vs Muay Khao)

Rennesson speaks of a kind of Ontology of Outcome, much of it perhaps in the understanding of anthropomorphistic projections, the kind of which can characterize animism. It is a braid of causal effects, some of which come from the player, some from the beetle, and some from their collaboration or mutuality.

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If you are familiar with the dichotomies of Muay Thai its hard not to see the basic split between Muay Khao and Muay Femeu (with all the attendant ideological and ethnic projections) upon the two types of beetles...those that are more sensate and need to be urged and controlled (for instance, there is the pejorative stereotype of the low-IQ, provincial, merely strong Muay Khao fighter who in negative caricature is "dumb like a Buffalo", the animal which pulls the plow), and the slimmer, more artful beetle, who has higher awareness and can be let to fight more freely on the log (body types do play into stereotypes of Thai masculinity and fighting styles). There is in Rennesson's report a kind of hierarchy within beetle fighting types that mirrors some of what if found, ideologically, in Thailand's Muay Thai.

 

The Muay Femeu vs Muay Khao dichotomy, including its ideological/sociological component, is found in Rennesson's discussion of how physiogamy plays into how a fighter's fighting style is assigned (one of the best passages on Muay Thai in all of academia), in his article "Thai Boxing: Network of Polymorphous Clinch":

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It is conceivable that Rennesson is reading his studied observations of Thailand's Muay Thai back onto Beetle fighting, creating a correspondence, but it seems more likely that his familiarity with the culture allows him to pick up on these important thematic divisions.

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The Social Form of Thai Combat Sports

One of the most difficult things to read, deeply, is the role of gambling in Muay Thai. It is far more than just entertainment. It is connected to displays of social power (capital), concepts of karma and merit, and an entire network of relations. One of the things that beetle fighting does is bring out the dimensions of combat entertainment that go against many of our Western expectations. In Beetle fighting whether a beetle even wins or loses is up for negotiation and social contest. This is quite far from Western ideals of fixed rules and transparent, impartial judgement. Instead the entire Kwaang battle is social and political, and in some cases it remains (necessarily) unclear why one beetle beat another, or even if they did. I remember having a very hard time understanding the advantages & goals of beetle fighting when we attended, but it seems that this ambiguity is somewhat baked in, and in another sense is part of a living lore of community perception. Westerners are sometimes surprised to discover that there is no actual rule book for National Stadium Muay, and that the rules are largely enacted through a "you'll know it when you see it" mutuality of knowledge. Beetle Fighting seems to take this to an extreme, and draws out this important thread of difference from other conceptions of sport.
 

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Yet, the final ranking of kwaang competitions does not celebrate one beetle over the others or a player over the others, but interspecific couples. The major tournaments are designed as such: the winner is a couple (man + beetle) that raised the highest sum of bets among gamblers. Thus, ultimately the game is oriented toward the greatest confidence players with their champions can inspire to the gamblers. And all players agree on one thing: kwaang cannot be tamed, and that a good player builds assurance along with the insects he selected and patiently takes care of on a daily basis. They call it a cohabituation process (hai koei chin kan, ให้เคยชินกัน), a reciprocal move where both parties have to learn to mutually acknowledge the other as accurately as possible.

Ultimately, by not choosing to make it a human game through insects or a pure animal game in which human would stay mere spectators, the players build on the radical difference of the worlds in which humans and beetles live. It is not only difficult to know if a beetle is a good fighter, or a better fighter than another; it is also tricky to decide if a kwaang is good because of its natural characteristics or because of the intimacy it built with a human player that was able to make the best of its potential. But it is even more fundamentally difficult to know what makes a coleopteron have the upper hand over another—a beetle winning the other. (What is going backward three times in a row for a beetle? When do they engage in a round?) The actions of the beetles are so difficult to frame that the endorsement of a situation is more than always the result of a more or less lengthy negotiation of the interpretation of the fights by the different parties. The game is even regarded by some players as the best school for politics.

When Pairat says that “we Thai know the true and deep nature of the kwaang,” I see from the close observation of practice a co-production of a culture of negotiation, where continuities and discontinuities between human beings and beetles are being constantly investigated. Both parties accept to be affected by the other and to experience as a consequence a kind of transformation; they are always open to new possibilities and potencies. I assume that this is an attitude that takes us to the very root of how these people think and practise the “harmonious” relations they foster not with but within their environment, as to emulate Tim Ingold (2000). The beetle ultimately imposes its sensory universe while leaving humans the possibility of appending code, meaning, and technique (Rennesson et al. 2012a; 2012b).

 

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It has been very common to complain that gamblers have too big of an influence on Thailand's Muay Thai, and there is a very powerful case to be made that gambling has had a deleterious effect. Our sense of fairness, of excellence is challenged. But, its also worthy to note that in its stripped-down parallel, the winner of Kwaang Beetle Fighting tournaments it is the beetle who inspires the most confidence from gamblers that wins! Empowered gambling interests in fact define the very social form of beetle victory. This is not to say that Muay Thai is Beetle fighting, but it is to say that they are very deep and meaningful braids within Thai (and Siamese) culture which make of combat entertainment a far more complex, social battle than just which participant is better under a predefined rule-set. 

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Rennesson appears a little bit rushed to conclude his article, as near the end he drops very quickly into theoretical/philosophical frameworks that outrace his previous descriptions. But, they are powerful thoughts. What he wants to embrace about Beetle Fighting is its in-determinant, stochastic nature of inter-species communication. Its the very unpredictable, but still customary and communication-rich nature of the practice of fighting, which he finds also characterizes an ecological way forward.
 

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If we draw on Charles Sanders Peirce’s typology of signs (1894) as ways to denote an object, it is not so much that coleoptera are the symbol or the icon of a harmonious connection built by human populations with their natural environment.4) Rather, the game itself is more a question of indexicality, of metonymy than of metaphor, and more about what happens in the intimate relationship between human beings and insects. Beetles can act so unpredictably that players are forced in a radical alterity that, in a way, gives credit to their ability to cooperate with “natural forces” which are more than often difficult to interpret. The logic here is thus not linear. Limiting oneself to add one technical action to another leads nowhere and there is no real recipe to become the best kwaang player; it even has almost no meaning if we consider how major competitions are won. It is more about some kind of a cybernetic loop where control is evenly distributed, and that is made out different feedback effects from beetle and human behaviors.

One cannot say who controls the game, and this absence of control is the quality of self-organized systems—cybernetic loops that are thought to reduce disorder, to bring down the entropy of the systems.5) Philippe Descola would surely have spoken of the fragmentation of the interiorities and the physicalities that are to be reordered in ritual context in analogic worldviews (2013).6) But if I actually do not know if Lanna people as a whole can be considered to be engaging their world with an analogist cosmology (which is a question that goes beyond the scope of this paper), what I witnessed in the beetle-fighting game is not so much about defragmentation than subtly cultivating a stochastic process, a general state of uncertainty. Flexible cosmologies, ontologies, representations, and technical control effects are all emergent features of the game, not its underlying causes.

Admittedly there is something that circulates and has to flow as much as possible. As such, the playful interspecific device works not that very differently from the well-documented rituals of the area, animal sacrifice for genius loci, protective spirit of places and gods of the soil for instance, which organize a triangulation between humans, animals, and the invisible realm to secure the benefits of agrarian activities.7) Yet, building on a more pragmatic stance and on Gregory Bateson’s conception of cybernetics (1971; 1979), I advocate that in the case of beetle-fighting, the proliferation of singularities is the very chaotic matrix on which possibilities of common worlds can come to light. No matter where the interiorities are or are not (or we risk to give in to old good dualism again), the whole system can be regarded as a mental process; a “Mind” if I follow Bateson’s terminology of an “ecology of Mind” (1971; 1979).

 

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In things that a Western mind might find repugnant in combat sport - indeterminacy, vagueness of outcome, external influence, ambiguity of cause - Rennesson sees self-organizing cybernetic loops, which circle around insect, player, gambler, and the created (performed) social form. The very stochastic nature of the fight provokes emergent properties, folding human handler and insect combatant into sensory communication, and which stimulates a social form of negotiation, interpretation and charismatic achievement. All the things we would remove from a combat event, from an idealized, Law-governed, modernist perspective, in fact thrive in the Beetle Fight...because they cannot be removed. We cannot say how much or why a beetle won its own fight. If we search for it we fall into a well of projections and speculations. 

 

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Combat Sport, Cybernetics & Ecology

Quite radically, especially if we draw the line from Beetle Fighting to Muay Thai, Rennesson reads the practice and events of Beetle Fighting as a transformation of raw, natural power (from the soil), through the beetle, and the handler, into social prestige. (Returning to my theory of Soul Stuff and Muay Thai.) As he sees it, there is a kind of cultivation or harvest from the very soil of Thailand (unpoisoned by modernity's pesticides), which becomes the fruits of "kiat" (and presumably baaramii บารมี, prestige, righteous power, virtue, charisma.

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We are tracing the production of social merit through a necessarily stochastic (cybernetic) art, but notably, one that is still within a logic of ecology. There is that potential in this framework to resist the lean of exploitation, because necessarily it is an assembled form, between species, and between the mueng (city, town) and the soil. The figure of the beetle as the victim of modernity's progress (pesticides, maximizing the production of the land) speaks to a ecological value and to the very value of indeterminancy itself. The ways in which we affectively participate with others, and the other.

Thailand's Muay Thai As "Pure Experience"

If we are allowed to draw the hypothetical, diagnostic line from Beetle Fighting and Muay Thai, then it is the very indeterminancy of outcome in gambled Muay Thai which produces something akin to pure experience. It invites a kind of egalitarian analogism, an empathy, and a relinquishment of the Will to Control. The Will to Control, which for many actually characterizes fighting itself, is also closely connected to issues of ecology. Instead of imposing control (and extraction), the invitation is to be one of the listening and mutually sharing perceptions, composing together...which some might argue is the highest form of Muay Thai fighting aesthetics. The agonism of a co-authored fight, one in which a fighter is reading and sensing his/her opponent at the level of pattern creation.

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The proposal here may look similar to those of the circulation of a life force typical of the “hierarchical animism” advocated by Kaj Århem (2016), or in the animistic characteristics of potent places of Southeast Asia highlighted by Anne Guillou (2017). Nevertheless, it was shown that, in the case of rhinoceros beetles game, it is primarily a question of potentialities of connections between disparate elements. It is not essentially an issue about potency or agentivity understood as an animistic calibration of objects, places, or non-human beings in a symmetric intersubjective matrix with humans. Rather, the game develops as what William James (2003) calls a “pure experience,” a kind of pre-intellectual experience where subjects and objects are not the premises that make experience possible. It is instead the patient co-building of a common plan of experience, an area that lacks differentiation in which new kinds of relations and knowledge can come to light. Subjects show up with alternative realities only when it comes to linguistics, when the player’s verbal language kicks off and to which beetles are deaf. However, the game fundamentally has to sustain a field of pure potentialities. Beetles can thus be regarded as one of the conductive materials of a mental process emulating the immediate flow of life. The circular logic, on which the beetle-fighting game builds on, shapes what could be coined an “egalitarian analogism” in which the main injunction is to tend towards empathy and communion on the one side, to suspend conscious goals and the will to control.

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What Rennesson finds at the heart of the Beetle Fight is the idea that there is an openness to types and kinds which are part of an economy of flow, one in which "human kind does not have a control over an objectified nature and that fostering uncertainty in relationships can prove to be virtuous". This decentering of the human, and of control itself seems the most promising value presented here. 

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Interestingly enough, it is the figure of the “king of kwaang” (phayaa kwaang, พญากว่าง) which all players wish to find one year or another, that best exemplifies the methodological advantage to consider the game as a kind of flow economy. The “king of kwaang” is the only one that would not need any help from its owner, easily beating any opponents thanks to its “magical/supernatural” power (ฤท, rit). When you do not meet him, you have to resort to many never-ending experiments to track, channel, and nurture the flow of life. Could it be the basis of an original proposal in “cosmopolitics,” in the sense Isabelle Stengers conceives it (2005)—the fragile cooperation between two very different species keeping both politics and cosmos open to new participants potentially bringing in their distinctive characteristics? We do not know if Lanna people know the true nature of kwaang, but it seems like some of them accept that human kind does not have a control over an objectified nature and that fostering uncertainty in relationships can prove to be virtuous. Fascinatingly, they have selected and chosen a species with which they share a certain tendency for playfulness and reflect upon what it takes to make common worlds with others.

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If we try to extrapolate to Muay Thai, in the place of the low animal species of insect we have the fighter, principally the provincial fighter, who (broadly) exists in a lower strata of economics and social capital. A fighter is not an insect, but the diagnositic of the insect stretches out the framework of analysis to its furthest limit. Hierarchies are very real in Thai culture, pervading every social structure and occasion, but...the cybernetic, empathetic, "pure experience" of uncertainty in a fight, as positioned by Rennesson, reaches out for an ecology of soil, of the presumed dignity of the fighter, in a matrix of co-habitations that offers ethical promise. This is a promise though established on indeterminacy itself, that fighting expresses itself in terms of influence & uncertainty of cause, projected well beyond the ropes. In such occasions there is much room for mystification, power abuses, manipulations, and exploitation, both historically and in the present day. But, what is evoked is the cybernetic, self-organization of the fight itself, all the goodwill intensities that bring gambling and fighters and krus and camps together in a pursued and lived virtue.

In this regard an ecological approach is the strongest ethical one, something which empathetically considers the flourishing of all participants. Speculatively I would offer a Spinozist conception of the Good, which is numerically qualified as an increase in the number of ways one can be affected by (or affect) the world. Such a regard would include the care of the "soil" which produces the vitality of the fighter, and a prophylactic position against its pollution.  

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To get a feeling of the sensate communication that Rennesson is drawing on, these are a few short videos:

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The Beetles responsive to touch of the stylus (click)

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Through rolling the stylus or tapping vibration carries stimulation (click)

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A stylus may even be equipt with bells (click)

 

You can find these videos also on Stephane Rennesson's alternate version of the article's material.

As you can see these are very rudimentary modes of communication. To appreciate the inner world simplicity that he has in mind read on Von Uexküll and his envisioning what it is like to be a tick - a good blog summation: Me, My Umwelt, and I. (Deleuze & Guattari take up Von Uexküll on this with substance.) Suffice it to say, even very small experiential difference thresholds can make up an inner world, even for an insect.

 

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Ecology and Muay Thai

There are 3 independent levels on which Muay Thai relates to an ecological perspective:

1. perspectives on Thai cultural health, the preservation of diverse

2. invested knowledge richness (ie the rain forest analogy)

3. an animist conception of intersubjective relationships to the environment.

 

The first of these is present in (and Muay Thai is implied by Rennesson) in his article on Beetle Fighting. The Fighting Beetle became a local ecological figure because pesticides were seen as weakening & killing off the beetle around human dwelling, especially in the muang. The Beetles that were found around the city were not strong fighters. One had to travel to the good soil (and Beetles live under the soil for the first 8 months) of National Parks and forests to find the strong fighters, the fighters more in keeping with Nature.

Rennesson brings about the same sort of ecological perspective in an Isan Arjan who sees the fighters of Bangkok as weakly "bred with jasmine rice and Chinese noodles". (It is an Isaan adage that eating sticky rice will keep you from being knocked out, for instance. The kru sees village, provincial life as being lived much more in harmony with Nature, the natural order, culture and environment in sync, and fighters trained in this subculture are not only more inline with Nature, but also with Buddhist precepts and practices. The Isaan fighter, the land, and Buddhism form a healthy whole. The reference to Chinese noodles is an ethnic judgement of the higher class Sino-Thai of Bangkok, who run a great deal of promotional Bangkok fight promotion. See "Networking of a Polymorphous Clinch"

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Whether this picture of the rural boxer is factually more ecological, it is enough to understand that his (her) position is understood in an ecological, anti-modernist sense. The argument is for ways of life, and the agrarian manner which has produced great Muay Thai fighters for decades, if not centuries. The urban degeneracy depicted in the film Ong-Bak stands in strict opposition to this idyllic picture. There is an ideology of ecology here. 

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The second ecological argument is simply that over the last 100 years, in continuous dialogue with the West, within the cultural laboratory of perhaps 1,000,000 ring fights, Thailand has developed an incredibly rich knowledge base and tradition of fighting. Techniques, training methods, customs of development, meaningful rites & ritual present an extremely varied, textured body of wisdom. And globalizing market forces which tend to monocrop and drive labor-to-revenue streams would threaten this hard-won body of knowledge and cultural richness, just as it would a rainforest or wetlands. Much of the value of generational, embodied knowledge is just how unreplicateable it is. It is so sedimented, composed of so many thousands and thousand of endeavoring lives, one would not want to lose that resource to sheer market force. Instead, a global markets expand and encroach a genuine ecological warrant for preservation should arise, protecting the diversity and complexity of what the Thai people have developed. We want fighting's Library of Alexandria not burned to the ground...either slowly or quickly. We want to preserve the cultural environment as much as the physical one.

The third ecological argument is found within animism itself.

(I'll try to get into the deeper Philosophical concepts of a proposed ecology of animism further down. If you follow this thread as a member you'll get email alerts to new posts).

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  • Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu changed the title to Beetle Fighting, Muay Thai and the Health of the Culture of Thailand - The Ecology of Fighting

A small note on the film Ong-Bak and the framing of gambling in Thailand's Muay Thai. Today's gambling is both more atomized, with lots of action happening on mobile apps, and also driven by powerful interests that lack counterpressures, but historically, and still, gambling on combat sport fighting is a very old heritage in the culture, and the culture of South East Asia. It makes of these kinds of events a social glue, a rite where merit & karma & Social Capital (sometimes read as spiritual power), shifting social alliance play out in actual fights. The gambling aligns social groups. This was one thing that helped define the Muay Thai of the Golden Age, as fighters were part of strong regional identities. Villages and towns, provinces rallied around fighters. Karuhat told us of the bus loads of people from his hometown of Khon Kaen (Isaan) loaded with his community, pockets full of gathered bets to be placed on him, arriving for each of his fights in Bangkok. The gathering of the sidebet from a small community or group pitching in is part of a social rite of ring fighting.

This community logic of taking the substance of a group and placing it in a kind of bet on the fighter is played out in the film as the entire village gives Ting all their bare savings to aid him in his trip to the Capital, money that ends up getting bet on him as a fighter in the fight club facing hyperaggressive, ragey farang.

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If you read the influential anthropologist Clifford Geertz's essay "Deep Play Notes on Balinese Cockfighting" you will see the underlying logic of community and social capital that is involved in betting on fighting type sports. There is the strong moralizing position of Buddhism that gambling is a vice and addictive, a destructive force in society (with solid ethical arguments to be made), but there is also the perhaps 1,000 year or more cultural fabric in which gambling in community acts as social glue within groups, whether they be in villages, or in support of fighters traveling to the Capital, or in local urban communities where kru & padmen and various kaimuay personages worked on fighters and then would bet on them, or would partake in any winnings. The villagers in Ong-Bak are in a symbolic, cinematic sense "betting on" Ting. But in these scenes you can also read the moral admonishment. The moral fortune of the village and the actual currency of its saved wealth are bound together in this film. Ting is furious that his village's life savings have been bet on him. You cannot place all that village substance on odds, especially in a seedy environment. Ting's Muay Thai wins out, out of its physical (& moral) superiority, but you can feel the dichotomies.

This composes a long running tension in the history of Thailand's provincial gambling and the Capital. In the early 20th century farmers would save their money literally in the ground. They would bury it. This meant that a substantial portion of the new Nation's wealth would become inactive and uncirculating. One of the perceived benefits of various lotteries and gambling activities was the circulation of money in a wider economy. (In the early century the Siam treasury at one point was taking in upwards 25% of its wealth from gambling taxation). Gambling would get the money out of the ground, feeding businesses and National growth. But, the numerous Chinese gambling houses in Bangkok (a very formidable industry) also became notorious places of economic ruin as well. Provincial farmers would come to Bangkok and become flush with cash, which they would then immediately lose in these dens of modern iniquity. Households would be ruined, people and family put into debter's slavery. Gambling ate at the fabric of functioning economy and community, when it became acute. This ultimately led to wide scale gambling moral reform in the Nation in the 1920s, closing all the gambling houses, outlawing it from Bangkok Muay Thai even (something that then was reversed in 1927).

A great resource on the above is Gambling, the State and Society in Siam, c. 1880-1945 by James Alastair Warren: Gambling, the State and Society in Siam, c. 1880-19.pdf

As one looks to the moral and societal problems of gambling, and even thinks about its corrosive action on Stadium Muay Thai, there is also an important sense in which the custom of gambling is folded into the very conception of local, or once regional community, even if these elements have diminished over the last decades. Gambling in Muay Thai at the local levels, from where Muay Thai is still born, holds this form of social glue. It's as old as ring Muay Thai itself in Siam/Thailand, if not older. Its part of a layered ethical calculus. This is one of the compelling lights shown on Muay Thai by the Beetle Fighting example, the degree to which gambling is the very fabric of the contest and its meaning when it is defined and experienced by community. The example helps draw that thread out and make it more visible. In these moral questions we perhaps find some of the historical layering of National Buddhism and the animism of community bonds, an animism which also partakes in and is expressed in Buddhism. Muay Thai is reflected through this kaleidoscope of meanings.

 

 

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Anthropology, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Ecology and Muay Thai

It's not absolutely necessary, but in order to understand Rennesson's ecology of Northern Beetle Fighting, and to build from this an ecological view of Thailand's Muay Thai its best to anchor into some metaphysical concepts. Rennesson mentions the innovative biologist Jakob von Uexküll who had a significant impact on philosophers. Below I attach a PDF of a solid summation of von Uexküll's influence and inspiration on Deleuze & Guattari, and their attendant Spinozism. Its worth reading to acquire the framework within which these arguments are made:

excerpt from "From ontology to ethology: Uexküll and Deleuze & Guattari" by Felice Cimatti From ontology to ethology PDF.pdf << download here, chapter 10 of the book Jakob von Uexküll and Philosophy_ Life, Environments, Anthropology-Routledge (2020), by Francesca Michelini and Kristian Köchy. The excerpt leaves out constrastive passages on Heidegger who is not important to our view.

Broadly speaking though, the notion is captured in a Web Of Life conception, the idea that all aspects of Life are interconnected and dependent upon each other. The Uexküll inspired Deleuze & Guattari concepts of Nature as a music, or a filled with musics that code and recode (variant to each other), or as circles upon circles is what helps us read what is happening between the handler and the beetle in Rennesson's argument. The music of the beetle, the music of the handler, the music of the gamblers, of the Language Game of Beetle Fighting all harmonize and interbraid with each other, and the beetle is awarded a position of subjectivity within that music (within an Animist conception), because there is exchange and sharing. The ecology within this appeals to the Thai ideas of thammachat, the way things are ordered. The harmony of the Beetle Fight (that music) works within a deeper sustainability with the beetle itself (a nostalgia of a time when modern pesticides had not killed off all the strong fighting beetles around human dwelling. The appeal in the case of the beetle is that the thammachat of Beetle Fighting is in harmony with the thammachat of the beetle and the forest. It is a sustainable interaction with the insect-forest world, and a cultural enrichment of a relationship to that world, imbuing it with additional meanings and appreciation.

These notions of life made of circles within circles of interconnections has some correpondence with the Autopoietic Theory of Life, which argues that living forms are organizationally closed systems which structurally couple with other organizationally closed systems, in feedback loops, as perhaps typified by cells in tissue. 

 

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(If you want to go far afield, you can read some speculative thinking involving Autopoiesis here.)

 

In any case, our move towards the Animism of Southeast Asia carries with it the possibility of this rigorous dimension of Philosophy, a metaphysics of Deleuze & Guattari, of Spinoza, or of Autopoiesis. The important part is appreciating a Web of Life perspective in which our human patterns rely on, exchange, share with and rely on the patterns of animals and the environment, and the sense that following von Uexküll every animal has a "world", even insects as simple as a tick, and certainly a beetle.

I should take up the arguments from Animism next.

 

 

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To add a bit of the anecdotal from our own lives. Two brief vignettes. We were driving back to Pattaya passing through lots of rural land by Ubon, sprawling fields of rice clustered with Ox or cow, very very verdant. It just feels like another time out here. Karuhat is in the car and we are talking about Muay Thai, and about the land here. Karuhat somewhat spontaneously talks about the culture of the land. He says that out here people just tend and and take care of animals. His gestures and body language say how simple and natural it feels to him. This is a way of life. Karuhat lives in the bustling center of Bangkok, and prefers it that way, but he is wistful in that moment, and even says that he would like to live not far from a highway and take care of plants and animals. There is a distinct ecological, romantic picture of this mode of living.

The second one is from Sylvie and her sparring with Yodkhunpon, the Elbow Hunter. They talks between rounds and she asks him what this particular food she kept seeing signs on the highway for, way up in Isaan. He tells her that its Ox placenta, it comes in season, and it isn't food. It's used in a preparation. He then says: They used to know how to prepare it, now they don't. And, as an aside he says "they used to know how to prepare Muay Thai" also. There was a parallel of a feeling of a lost knowledge connected to a more ecological way of the past. Yes, if they are selling the placenta people are using it, but perhaps there is a sense that even that knowledge is disappearing, just as the preparations of Muay Thai are disappearing.

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