September 5, 2022

Why Do Muay Thai Fighters Wear Headbands? (Mongkol)

The Muay Thai headband is more than just a Nak Muay’s accessory. It is a talisman of sorts that the Nak Muay wears during the Wai Khru ceremony. The headband, also known as the Mongkol/Mongkon is considered sacred and aesthetic to all Muay Thai enthusiasts in Thailand. 

Of course, neither does the Nak Muay wear it by themselves, nor do they have it on during the ring combat. The trainer is responsible for adorning their student’s head with the Mongkol as a sign of faith, trust, and luck. 

The tradition goes back 100s of years to mark the cultural background and the superstitions that held their place in the martial art’s past. 

Want to know more about the headband that rules a fighter’s fate? Let us keep reading!

What is the Mongkol Headband?

The Mongkol headband was initially known by the name of Mongkhon, a colorful headband worn by fighters before entering the ring. 

You can say that it is the last piece of traditional attire that the Nak Muay holds dear to them during a match. A Nak Muay can only receive the Mongkol once their coaches deem them worthy of carrying the mantle and honor of their dojo. 

It is said to hold magical powers and good luck to protect the fighter during their in-ring combat. 

A Nak Muay will need to train, practice in, and respect the art of Muay Thai before adorning the sign. A Nak Muay wears it not only to signify the ability to fight but also to show their deep-rooted love, respect, and gratitude towards Muay Thai martial art and of course, their coach. 

The fighter must, of course, prove their worth not only through their strength but complete knowledge of Muay Thai’s roots, the sacred background of the Mongkrol, and respect for their trainer. 

And according to the Thai culture, this special bond between the trainer and the trainee symbolizes the luck and good fate which the Mongkol carries. 

Although it was forbidden to women for wearing the Mongkol in ancient times, the modern world has shed off such superstitions and allows every fighter to display their solidarity to the martial art. 

The History, Creation and Ancient Beliefs

The Mongkol is a sacred headband which is believed to hold ancient powers of good luck and protection. 

Once the coach adorns the fighter with one, they must sit for the pre-combat ceremony. After the ceremony, the coach helps the fighter take off the Mongkol to hang it to safety while the wearer fights. 

The Mongkol was a sacred headband for Thai soldiers. They perceived it as a talisman that would protect them from all dangers from an enemy. 

Various individuals would also attach their loved one’s hair strands, cloth pieces of lucky charms to enhance the said magical power of the Mongkol. 

As you might know, Muay Thai was an army man’s last resort, where they became a human weapon to survive against armed opponents. The talisman was a sign of hope and later for Nak Muay, provided a similar sense of protection and good luck during a match. 

The Mongkol is made from fortified rope and various other materials that help the band stay in place during the ceremony. 

In present times, you will also find several dojos providing Mongkol in silk and several other materials. This, of course, has no change in the good luck or faith that the headband is believed to bring in.

The Mongkol headband is what separates a Nak Muay fighter from a practitioner. Their dedication, faith, and trust in martial art prove them ready to wear the Mongkol before they enter the ring. 

Superstitions That Mongkol Carries

With the Mongkol believed to bring in safety and good luck, you can very well guess the presence of superstitions in the belief. 

The Mongkol being considered sacred had its utmost priority on staying pure. 

Hence, the number of superstitions were multiple. Let us check them out: 

No Woman (Has been presently rebuked): In the ancient times, women had no permission to wear the Mongkol headband as it was believed to bring them bad luck. 

Of course, with time and proper literacy various Muay Thai schools ditched the illogical idea and encouraged female participants to adorn their heads with the headband to portray their respect. 

No Touching the Ground: It is believed that the Mongkol must never touch the ground. Its purity and good luck can perish once it is close to the floor, or even touches. Hence, you will only find the headbands held high on hooks, away from the ground. 

No Self-Adorning: A fighter must never wear the Mongkol by themselves. This is the responsibility solely of their designated coach. 

The coach has the power to adorn the Mongkol, keep it safe during combat, and store it away for future fights. 

Rules while Entering the Ring: While entering the ring, fighters’ heads are near to the ground. Hence, schools have a certain rule set to prevent such mishaps. 

You will see men entering the ring from the above the top rope. Doing so protects their Mongkol from tipping over thanks to the rope-ring. 

And for women, the rules vary. A female fighter can either crawl in from under the bottom rope or wear it after entering the combat ring. 

Why Wear the Mongkol: Varied Perspectives

In present times, fighters have varied take on wearing the Mongkol. While you will find multiple Nak Muay following the ancient tradition, you might also come across fighters who do not wish to support such superstitions. 

For example, Muslim fighters only wear Mongkol after covering their head with a cloth known as Keffiyeh. 

You will also come across Muay Thai boxers from Cambodia or even Myanmar who do not follow the Mongkol-wearing ceremony before combat. 

The reasons can be both religious and personal. However, the reason to wear it is purely for defense and faith. And while various religious sentiments follow principles of arm and headbands for safety, the Thai principle-based itself on something entirely different. 

The Thai army believed in keeping their loved one’s memories close as good luck. It was their urge to be safe, have the courage, and stay strong. 

A Nak Muay now can choose to wear it or to keep it away. However, the initial intentions or sentiments that the Mongkol carried depended entirely on the concept of magic charm. 

Of course, a Nak Muay does not follow the Thai Army’s method of wearing it to battle. Instead, it is worn mainly for the Wai Kru ceremony right before the combat. The reason could well be to prevent the headband from touching the ground. 

The Thai tradition encouraged similar beliefs to that of retaining courage and safety during combat. Although the superstitions refute the sentiments, it is up to the fighter to follow the rules. 

How to Wear The Mongkol

The Mongkol adorning ceremony is a complete process where the coach takes the responsibility of adorning the Nak Muay’s head. 

The rules are simple and when followed through, can lead to combat. 

Each school has one Mongkol which the coach secures for the right fighter for the ring. 

The steps are as follows:

  • Before the fighter enters the ring, the coach places the Mongkol over the latter’s head. 
  • The fighter then goes on to commence the Wai Kru ceremonial dance to mark respect to the martial art combat.
  • After the ceremony is over, the Nak Muay proceeds to return to their ring corner, where their coach removes the ring from their head while chanting the last prayer before the combat. 
  • The coach then proceeds to hang the headband so it can provide the luck and safety its wearer needs during the fight. 

The Mongkol signified loyalty, faith, and respect. While the ceremony seems to be longer than a fight, it is to portray the dedication and hard work each player puts into getting their worth for ring-combats. 

Eugene Hardy

Eugene is a professional Muay Thai fighter, with several years of experience. Also, a black belt holder. He actively participates in tournaments and provides training to his students. Eugene started this blog to share his experiences with Martial Arts.

View all posts by Eugene Hardy →

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