About the Muay Thai Mongkol (Mongkon).
Any one who has had the pleasure of watching a traditional Muay Thai show has seen Nak Muay (Muay Thai fighters) approach the ring wearing a traditional head piece. And while this is an incredibly common practice, not everyone understands the meaning and history of this tradition.
Literally translated, Mongkol (sometimes called Mongkon) means holy spirit, or luck and protection. It’s origin goes back in history to a time when Thailand was in a constant state of unrest and war. The warriors, in an attempt to protect themselves from evil spirits and bad luck, would wrap strips of cloth around their arms and head before going to battle. These pieces of cloth were usually adorned with personal items from loved ones and religious leaders. It was also not uncommon for a warrior to take a page of written Buddhist prayers, roll it up, and wrap it around his head. As the fighting techniques of that time evolved into the modern competition we see today, the tradition of the Mongkol carried over.
There are also interesting practices that developed around this headpiece. Today when a coach believes his fighter is ready to represent his gym in the ring, he will place the Mongkol on his fighter’s head. It is considered bad conduct for the fighter to touch the Mongkol himself before a fight. It is the job of the coach to take care of the Mongkol, the team, and the individual fighter. If getting into the ring while wearing the Mongkol a fighter must always go over the top rope. The top of the head is sacred in the Muay Thai culture, as is the Mongkol, and therefore must go not go underneath less worthy objects. In fact while not being worn the Mongkol should never be placed on the ground but rather in a high place so as to preserve its sanctity. Once inside the ring the fighter will “Seal the Ring” by walking around the entire ring with one hand on the top rope in order to keep out bad luck and allow for a safe and fair place to compete.
Once the ring is sealed it is time for the Wai Kru, which is a beautiful and intricate dance performed for the same reasons the Mongkol was placed on the fighter’s head. The Wai Kru is an opportunity for the fighter to show respect for his coach, team, and family. This is such an important ritual that it deserves its own blog post, and will be covered more in depth at another time. After the Wai Kru the fighter will approach his coach who usually utters a short and quiet prayer, removes the Mongkol, and places it high on the corner post for good luck. Then and only then do the fighters actually get to fight.
All of this is a complex and time consuming ritual, so many western fight promoters choose to only allow the headline fighters the opportunity to perform it. However, it is important for all fighters and spectators to know that performing this ritual is a statement of commitment, loyalty, and respect to all of the people who brought you to this place. It shows solidarity and appreciation for your coach, your team, and your family. A single Muay Thai fight is not comprised of two fighters and a referee. Muay Thai purists believe that their fight is really an expression of ALL of the people in your life that contribute to your accomplishments. Wearing the Mongkol as well as performing the rituals around it is a physical representation of this sentiment.
Ben Brown is the founder and Head Coach at PHAS3 Martial Arts, a Muay Thai focused martial arts school in Santa Rosa, California. PHAS3 offers a family atmosphere that welcomes students of all skill levels from beginners to the most competitive fighters. PHAS3 is a Woodenman Certified Muay Thai training school.