The other morning I was in the ring with Nook, trying my best to stay composed and focused on my own goals whilst he did his best to turn the whole ordeal into a game that only he knows the rules for. Between rounds I looked out over the ropes of the ring and saw Boi, a 15-year-old Thai fighter, walking past looking a little disgruntled in his school uniform with a large white bandage over his eyebrow.
This is not an unusual sight at a Muay Thai camp. What was curious about it was that Boi has not recently fought, so a cut over his eye would have to have happened during training. But I’m always at training, so I would have been there if anything like this had taken place in practice.
Boi disappeared behind the gate to the main house and reappeared a moment later carrying a large, engraved silver bowl. I’ve seen such bowls before, but only in the setting of Buddhist temples. It was a strange thing for him to be carrying around – or unusual at least, if not strange. He placed the bowl under the rubber tap of a faucet behind the women’s ring and splashed a few cups of water into it before Den (Boi’s uncle, by the way) took over the task and instructed Boi to go sit down over by his room.
Den filled the bowl and then placed it on a plastic stool in the middle of the open plot of grass and dirt that serves as a yard and parking lot for the camp and the apartments adjacent. And there the bowl sat, the center of everything and surrounded by nothing, warming in the sunlight.
I turned back to Nook and asked him in Thai what they were doing. He paused for a long moment, choosing his words, before answering that it was for some kind of ritual bathing. The bandage on Boi’s eyebrow was not from training but from an accident (probably motorbike related) and it was good luck to go through this ritual purification after such an occasion. Like washing the bad luck of the accident off, so to speak. I nodded and got back to our padwork and the bowl sat there on that plastic stool for another 20 minutes.
When I slipped out of the ring I looked over and Den was dipping a plastic cup into the water and dumping it back in, like he was testing the consistency of the water. I wondered if there were another substance, like oil, mixed with the water. Boi came out of his room dressed in Muay Thai trunks and Den took the bowl in his hands and stepped up onto the stool so that he towered a few feet over Boi’s head. He then dipped the cup into the bowl and began pouring the water over Boi’s head, the water itself turning into comet sprays of silver in the sunlight. Boi winced , shuddered from the still-cold water but the bathing continued until the bowl was empty. I stood still until Den stepped back down off the stool and we all went our separate ways; then the plot of grass and dirt, too, was empty.