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The modern version of Muay Thai we see today was first developed in the 1920s. As the years progressed, there were accounts of women getting into the combat sport and fighting in small competitions that were never fully organized. The rarity of women in the sport was not just because of gender oppression, but also attributed to the fact that the women during these times were just not into it.
During the time when Muay Thai was purely a means of attack and self-defense used in real life situations, the women of Khunying Mae-yamo, meaning ‘respected mother,’ fought alongside the men who used Muay Thai to fight off territorial invaders.
When the gender renaissance swept the world during the 60s and 70s, things began to favor the female demographic. Fights were set up in Rajadamnem participated by daughters of well-known gym owners, and even the government-owned Lumpinee Boxing Stadium ran a series of female fights. However, this female surge in the sport was just momentary.
The real reason why women were hindered in getting involved with Muay Thai is a mix of the nation’s deep religious and superstitious beliefs. Since Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, it is Muay Thai tradition for monk to bless fighters in a moving ceremony, with the monk walking over a fighter’s limbs. Women can’t engage in this ceremony since Buddhist monks are forbidden to be in physical contact with women. They believe that women represent desire, which must be suppressed to achieve nirvana—a belief that is not something to be taken lightly.
This religious belief was reinforced by an incident that happened at an event in Rajadamnem during the late 70s. A female television producer stepped into the ring to direct a shoot, after which every match of the night ended with the fighters seriously injured. Naturally, her presence in the ring was blamed, proving that women did not belong anywhere near the ring. An unofficial ban was imposed on female fights and they were not even allowed to so much as touch the fighting rings in gyms and stadiums.
Fortunately, the ban was temporary. Women in families that owned gyms continued to train in Muay Thai, and it didn’t take long for female bouts to eventually resume. If there was someone fighting worth placing a bet on, the men allowed the women to fight, but just not in Bangkok’s main stadiums or the larger ones upcountry. Female bouts were then scheduled last, so the beliefs the people adhere to won’t be affected, and they even had them go under the top rope when entering the ring, so they do not set themselves higher than the spirits.
As the years slowly passed, the women attending fights at larger stadiums grew in number. As the standard of female fights improved, the betting stakes increased and the interest exploded. And with help of the World Muay Thai Council, an organization run mostly by foreigners, there was more openness in promoting female fights, further boosting its popularity.
Today, both female and male fights in Thailand are on the same level, with five, three-minute rounds that allow elbows. However, the stakes involved are still greater in the men’s bouts. Regardless, the women in Muay Thai have come a long way since then, and it looks like there is no stopping them from soon dominating the sport.
Bio: Marie Felipe is an online writer for more than 6 years now promoting the importance of being fit and healthy. She realized it is quite difficult to stay fit especially if you work online and just sits every day. Luckily with a help of a little diet and hours in a Muay Thai gym she stays fit.