Pre-Fight Warmup and Process for Muay Thai in Thailand
A couple people have asked me to describe what the warmup process before a fight is and what I do and don’t like about it. I was asked about my experience, so that’s what this is. I’ll start by saying that the warmup in Thailand is almost not even a warmup. The oil massage is with a mentholated liniment that is thermogenic, so the body temperature rises and the muscles warm without moving around very much. So the oil massage kind of is the warmup for most Thais, although light shadowboxing is certainly common, as is some light stretching, like the “butterfly” for the groin and maybe swinging the arms around. Not a lot.
But there’s not hitting of pads that I’ve ever seen and I’ve been to over a hundred events here, so I’d say my sample size is pretty good. Obviously people do different things, but other than the Muay Farang team in Pattaya very lightly tapping at mitts, I’ve never seen anyone hit pads prior to a fight here.
Step 1: Handwraps
So it pretty much goes like this: you get to the venue and relax. Generally you sit down and don’t do anything at all. There’s a mat where you can sit or where you will lie down for your oil massage, the Namman Muay oil, Vaseline, tape and thin Thai handwraps or gauze, and a bucket with ice and water. That’s pretty much all your gear for the warmup. I’m usually the 6th fight of the night (or around there), so at around fight 2 we start wrapping my hands. If there are a lot of knockouts, they wrap faster, but rarely sooner. Den says you shouldn’t have your hands wrapped for “too long” because it can cramp your hands. I’ve never experienced that, but I don’t doubt that a few hours with wraps on might be uncomfortable. If we’re in a rush I might have two people wrapping my hands, one responsible for each. I don’t like this because the wraps are never the same and it’s somewhat disorienting to pay attention to two different processes, opening one hand while making a fist with the other, etc.
The Thai wrapping style is unlimited in the amount of tape you can use, it can go over and on the knuckles, and “plaster casts” are reused over time (this is technically not allowed and you won’t see this in big promotion fights, but the masses do it all the time) and are fitted over the back of the fist. They’re made of tape. It goes tape, plaster cast (tape already molded), gauze or wrap, then more tape. My trainer big Neung is a WBC champion and will spend a couple seconds squeezing and massaging my hands and wiggling my fingers after the wraps are on to kind of soften the whole thing. I like this. He also hand picks the most worn-out gloves on the table if he’s the one picking out my gloves. This is because I have heavy hands… and because he can.
Step 2: Oil Massage
Once the wraps are on there’s more chill out time and you can change into your shorts or start lightly stretching or whatever. But it’s a good idea to avoid sweating at this point. Putting Namman Muay on an already sweating body results in a sensation of being on fire because, when sweating, the pores are open and the menthol lights you up. So don’t sweat if you can avoid it prior to getting the massage. If you’re sweating already (it’s hot sometimes), take some time to rub Vaseline on your belly and under your arms so the oil doesn’t get in your most delicate, thin skin. If you’re in the west and Vaseline isn’t allowed, then Namman Muay is probably regulated also. In Thailand we put it on the belly first and there’s a really uncomfortable stomach massage. I don’t like this, ever. I’m not entirely sure why they do it but it’s seen as getting everything moving somehow. And it’s painful. If you’ve eaten too recently or something too spicy, this will be a truly uncomfortable part of the process. After the belly the legs get massaged with the heel of the hand, pushing up and down along the muscles in long movements, usually quite vigorously. There might be some assisted stretching here, too. Then you flip over onto your belly and the process is repeated on your back, only instead of the gut massage you get your back popped and maybe your upper-glutes massaged with a circular motion of the fist, the knee or an elbow. I like this, even though it hurts. It loosens up the hips. Then the feet are pressed against your butt to stretch the quads. Some guys will do this one leg at a time and use one hand to push the foot and the other one sandwiched behind your knee so there’s a small cushion between your calf and your hamstring. I like this. Some guys push both feet up at the same time and try to break you in half. I don’t like that. Then you stand up and get your arms rubbed with oil and usually they stretch your arms for you by pushing your elbow back by your ear, like a tricep stretch.
Step 2.5: Shadow, Stretch, Vaseline
After the oil you can shadow or do more stretching or whatever, but after the oil is when you put on your cup, if you wear one. I always shadow if I have time, but it’s generally a solo deal. Sometimes big Neung will have me target his palms as if they’re mitts, but only a few strikes and never with power, just speed. Most Thai guys I watch march back and forth with explosive movements rather than the kind of light shadow you see in front of a mirror or in a ring that’s more in any direction. As the Thais say, “up to you.” (Laaow day khun.)
At some point someone rubs Vaseline on your face. I like to do this myself, but mostly because nobody ever wants to do this part. When you have teenaged boys as your cornermen they’re out when they come to fights, so they want to be seen and kind of parade around and Vaseline on your hands kind of cramps the style. Older trainers don’t like it for the same reason, but their main objection is that it’s the kids’ job. In Thailand you can use as much Vaseline as you want. Mostly it goes on the obvious spots, like the orbital bone around the eye, eyebrows, cheekbones and nose. You can also rub it into your cheeks and jaw, put in on your neck and ears, and if you’re someone with longish hair you want to put that stuff all up in your hairline for two reasons: 1) it keeps your flyaways from getting all over your face, which is annoying when it’s covered in Vaseline because you can feel that hair like a spider on your face; and 2) the hairline cuts easily from elbows if your hair is pulled back because the skin is taut.
Some folks like to put Vaseline everywhere. You can put Vaseline on the legs, the arms, the neck… anywhere that’s exposed, which for guys is almost everything. Some folks mix the Vaseline with more liniment and just put it over your limbs again, making you the shiniest fighter in the world. When you see Thai guys coming out to get in the ring and they look like they’re glowing, they have a tub of Vaseline mixed with oil all over them. It’s legal; it’s no problem. I’m not a huge fan of Vaseline everywhere, but I don’t really care.
Step 3: Gloves, Mongkol and Into the Ring
Then you put on your gloves and get them taped or whatever. If you’re a guy the Mongkol goes on before you enter the ring, if you’re a lady it goes on after you’re already in. If you’re in the west and ladies can go over the ropes, put it on beforehand. Just before climbing the stairs a lot of folks kneel down for a quick thought or prayer, to connect with the space and pay homage to the ring. Some of us put one glove to the ground and then rub the dust/dirt into our hair to remind us to be humble before getting up to get into the ring. Bow in the center of the ring to each side, come to your corner for a sip of the water and the ref checks your gloves, your hair, your attire, etc. Seal the ring, do your Wai Kru and Ram Muay, meet with the ref and your opponent in the center when you’re both finished with that, go to your corner to get a blessing, take off the Mongkol, put in the mouthpiece and then it’s go time.
That’s it, really. Because this is the same every time it becomes part of the fight itself. So really, once I’m getting my hands wrapped I feel like I’m already one foot in the ring for the fight. It’s relaxing for me. I like that.