One of the things that is instantly recognisable about a muay Thai fighter, and differentiates them aesthetically from other combat sports athletes, are the sacred items worn as they enter the ring. The mongkol, or “mongkon” is the muay Thai headdress traditionally worn by Thai fighters (and now by western fighters) before they commence battle in the ring.
The birth of this tradition dates back hundreds of years and has become an extremely important part of muay Thai culture. If you fight in Thailand, it’s a compulsory accessory that must be worn in order to fight.
The placing of the mongkol is the last part of the routine before the fighter walks out to the ring. Once in the ring and the boxer’s robe has been removed, the ram muay music begins and the fighter commences the wai kru dance while wearing the mongkol.
When the wai kru ceremony is over, the fighter walks back to his corner where his trainer removes the mongkol whilst saying a prayer.
So, what is the significance of the mongkol?
Mongkol Creation and Ancient Beliefs
The mongkol represents the fighter’s respect and loyalty to his trainer, gym and family. Each gym normally has a single mongkol for all its fighters and is a compulsory accessory when fighting for the muay Thai camp as it is believed to safeguard the fighter who wears it and to bring good luck.
When the mongkol has been woven (see featured video), it is blessed by a buddhist monk for good luck and for the protection of the fighter who wears it.
In ancient Siam, Thai (Siamese) warriors had their own pre-fight rituals; they would tie cloth around their heads and shout Buddhist incantations. This began the tradition of the master creating and passing the mongkol to the student (1).
In the video above, Kru Toy from the Sityodtong muay Thai camp in Pattaya is weaving the rope to create a mongkol for one of the western visitors to the gym. Other materials are often woven in alongside the rope such as strands of hair from a loved one or pieces of material from a treasured garment like a Thai’s birth cloth.
Because Thai’s believe that the headdress is sacred, it must be treated with the utmost respect – but not in the way many westerners know it.
The mongkol must not touch the ground – In fact, it must be kept as high as possible. In Thai gyms, you’ll usually see the mongkol hung on a hook high above the ground as Thais believe that it is bad luck if it were to touch the ground, or even be in close proximity with it.
Thais view the head as the cleanest and most sacred part of the body, while feet are the most dirty.
You must enter the ring over the top rope whilst wearing the mongkol – Again, the mongkol must be kept at a height and not lowered towards the ground – nothing pass over it.
If you duck your head to enter the ring through the middle ropes then your headdress is brought to face the ground and the mongkol is essentially passing under the top ropes. This is considered unlucky and disrespectful.
If you fight in Thailand, always enter over the top rope – if you’re male.
If you’re female it’s a little different – you must enter the ring under the bottom rope, and for that reason, the mongkol won’t get put on your head until after you’ve entered the ring.
The reason for this is that, according to Buddhist belief, females are destructive of the power that any blessed object possesses and so they must not pass over the top rope.
Use of the Mongkol
Although I said it was compulsory to wear the mongkol earlier, I’m sure if you really didn’t want to wear one then you may get away with not doing so. I’ve seen western fighters in some of the smaller stadiums in Thailand enter the ring without one but I’m not sure how the promoters would look upon this. If you weren’t bothered about that then it would make no odds.
Muslims choose not to wear the mongkol directly on their heads, but place it on top of their keffiyeh.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but personally, I don’t believe in anything it stands for. To me it’s just rope and cloth. I’m not religious and I’m not superstitious.
But it’s not about me.
I have never been opposed to wearing one in Thailand because it’s what the trainers, promoters and just about every other Thai wants to see – It’s an important part of their tradition so I go along with it for those reasons more than anything else.
I believe it’s important to keep up the muay Thai traditions of Thailand so that’s good enough for me. If I was fighting outside of Thailand then it may be a different story.Follow MuayThaiScholar