Along with any form of martial arts, traditions develop surrounding them Karate practitioners wear distinctive white robed outfits with coloured belts denoting their ranks, in Kung Fu fighters are often depicted bare chested, with black covered leggings and a red sash around their waist.. Boxers simply wear shorts that have personalized graphics on them, often coordinating the aesthetic style of their gloves to their shorts and cloth shoes. Muay Thai is no different.
Muay Thai fighters go through a complex and elaborate ritual dance called Ram Muay before engaging in combat, with the costumes used as much a part of the art as the dance, and even the fighting itself. Musical instruments, like the Pi, the Glawng Khaek, and the Ching, also form an integral Muay Thai culture. Other elements that influence the costumes include the ceremonial initiation of new Thai fighters, with a glove or cotton laurel, followed by physical gestures of supplication, signifying the beginning of the relationship between master and student.
Traditionally Muay Thai opponents entering the ring wear a Pong Malai around their necks and a Mongkon on their heads. Fighters generally also wear a Paprachiat, a band that wraps around their bicep. These traditional items probably originated when Muay Boran (the prerequisite to Muay Thai) was used in battle.
The Pong Malai, or Group of Flowers, is usually given as a gift by supporters to wish good luck and prowess on the fighter. It consists of a necklace of interlaced flowers and is removed before the fight. The Mongkon carries more significance than the Pong Malai. It is used to represent the gym where the fighter trains. The Mongkon is not a personal possession, it is owned by the fighter’s gym. To symbolize this power dynamic the fighter never personally touches the Mongkon, it is placed on his head by his trainer before he enters the ring and removed before the fight begins. The Paprachiat is usually given to the fighter by close personal relations and is the only one of the three ceremonial items that is actually warn during the fight.
Modern Muay Thai fighters closely mimic Western boxing style shorts. In the past shorts were not codified. Fighters had greater freedom in choosing what they wanted to wear. However, as is always the case with time a tradition developed. In the modern era there are rules governing the type of shorts that must be warn. They should be coloured to represent the fighter’s gym, the rank he occupies there, and should not have any kind of belt. Words or designs can be used but they must be positive in nature, and cannot be oriented towards negatively affecting an opponent.