Lethwei Fight Yangon Myanmar. Hard core. Brutal. That is Lethwei, the Burmese martial art. Many are familiar with Muay Thai in neighboring Thailand. When one thinks of Thailand; images of tuk-tuks, to-die-for beaches, Buddhist temples, all come promptly to mind. In the pantheon of Thai stereotypes, Muay Thai has an equal seat. Muay Thai traces its history back centuries in Thailand but today has transitioned into a high-level of commercialism. Virtually, anywhere a tourist travels in Thailand today, there is a ring set up whether on the beach or in a stadium with Muay Thai fighters at the ready. In addition to the ubiquitous fights, another cottage industry has developed. Muay Thai camps have sprouted throughout the country, giving foreigners the opportunity to train for the afternoon or for months, with some advancing into the ring for a fight.
Myanmar (Burma) also has a long history of martial arts, Lethwei, which is a very close cousin of Muay Thai. Lethwei is a shy, reticent child in comparison to the uber-present Muay Thai. I had added watching Lethwei to my bucket list for my trip to Myanmar.
I mentioned brutal and I think that is a fair assessment of Lethwei. Muay Thai in Thailand is quite tough, using both the elbows and knees in combination with fists and feet. It is known as the Art of Eight Limbs. Well, Lethwei turns it up a notch. In addition to the eight limbs of Muay Thai, head butting is also included in Lethwei matches. And, Lethwei is also fought bare knuckled, just a wrap. This art dates back 2000 years.
In my hotel room, I scanned Google to find upcoming fights in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. No luck. I went to the lobby and quizzed the front desk for fight insights. He did not have the information at the ready. He would leave me a message in my room. I contrasted that with Bangkok, where there would be a tour desk in the lobby selling tours to multiple flights for the entire week. Later that day, I received a message with the fight’s details.
A brief taxi ride from my hotel, the Chatrium Hotel and I was walking under the piercing sun to the stadium. Not one person approached me. In Thailand, multiple touts would be intercepting me anytime I got close to the stadium. In Yangon, no one. I walked to one of the entrances and was turned away, with the gatekeeper looking for my ticket. Wandering aimlessly and speaking to several people, I could not find any tickets for sale. Finally, a local pointed me to another gate and informed me that no ticket was needed. A slight smile appeared. Free seems a lot better than the $50 to enter a Muay Thai stadium.
Entering the stadium
I entered the stadium to the roar of the crowd. I stared down at the ring as the animated spectators yelled and cheered at every kick and punch. I scanned the crowd. There were only a handful of foreigners. I found an empty seat and joined the throngs.
A vendor tries to make the sale
There is no point system in Lethwei: The only way to win is by knockout or because of an injury and the inability to fight any more. At the end of the match if the two fighters are still standing, the fight is declare a draw. This ensures that the fighters always give their 100% and tries to finish the fight.
No gloves, just wraps
Lethwei can be a vicious sport with its encouragement of head-butts. But there is another element that ensures a fight to the end. There is no point system in Lethwei, fights are won by knock outs. A fight that ends with two fighters still standing is declared a draw. There is no half-assing fights in Lethwei.
An injured fighter is escorted out
The round ended and the fighters took their corners. The ring girl appeared with a grand smile. There are no short-shorts in Yangon. The ring girls were dressed in a traditional Burmese style.
After spending the rest of the afternoon watching card after card in the thick heat and roar of the stadium. A unique experience.
Lethwei Fight Yangon Myanmar
Lethwei Fight Yangon Myanmar
And check out the beautiful beaches in Burma!