Every sport is known for its trademarks. Diehard Thai boxing fans can recognize Muay Thai tattoos everywhere in the world. These mystical symbols on the fighter’s skin serve to protect him from negative energies and injuries during the battle.
You’ve probably heard of the term “Sak Yant” many times, which refers to Thai boxing tattoos. Sak means “to tattoo”, while Yant is an abbreviation from Yantra – mystical diagrams with special purposes during the battle.
Sak Yant is a part of Thai culture and tradition. Let me help you discover the meaning of these lovely symbols.
You’ll also get to know why so many fighters visit tattoo shops in Thailand. I’ll be frank – spirit, soul, and heart – just keep reading, everything and everybody has a story.
The History of Sak Yant
Sak Yant originates from Buddhism. This religion became dominant in ancient Siam around the 12th century. Yet, since the ancient age, Thai people have believed in the supernatural and magic. Buddhists adopted some animist beliefs.
Nowadays, there’s kinda unique Buddhism brand in Thailand, here’s why few days in Thailand sounds like a great gift, you’ll get to know the culture and the way of thinking.
You can also notice a strong Hinduism tone in Thai Buddhism, as they worship Hindu deities – Brahma, Rama, Hanuman, and Ganesh. If you visit temples in Thailand, don’t be surprised when you see their statues – it’s just a part of the culture.
The explanation behind the Hindu tone in Thai Buddhism is very simple – Thailand was under the rule of Khmer (today Cambodia) from the 6th to 13th century.
The Khmer ruler Jayavarman VII converted the kingdom to Buddhism in the 12th century. Yet, you can’t change culture overnight – the unique brand of Buddhism has already been created and it survives for more than eight centuries.
Muay Thai tattoos appeared for the first time nearly 2000 years ago. The drawings were put on the body to help battling evil spirits thanks to animism beliefs. The term “Sak Yant” is associated with “Ruesi”, mystical ascetics believed to possess magic and sacred knowledge. The ancient culture recognizes them as “spiritual healers and medicine men”.
“Ruesi” were known for giving talismans with geometric designs (Yantra). It was believed that these talismans might protect the person from evil spirits.
Yantras are the basics of Muay Thai tattoo (Sak Yant) designs. Tattoo arts we see today appeared during the era of the Khmer empire. The designs combine Hindu-Buddhist scripture and iconography with old Ruesi Yantra geometric patterns.
Many soldiers were going into war with Sak Yant tattoos because they believed these ancient drawings will prevent them from physical damage.
Even today, the majority of people tattoo these lovely symbols due to greatness, wealth, protection, and success. Sak Yant monks and masters were developing their unique designs throughout generations.
Note: please don’t mix apples and oranges, Sak Yant tattoos are not part of ancient Buddhism, it’s only an example of cultural assimilation over the years.
How to Get A Sak Yant Tattoo
There are many lovely tattoo shops all over Thailand. You can pay any Thai tattoo artist to draw a magical symbol on your body, but there is “a slight problem”. Do you believe in magic and protection? If your answer is yes, then your Muay Thai tattoo must be administered by a master (Sak Yant Ajarn).
Let me guess your question – what the hell am I talking about? Well, you’ll rarely see a fighter inking himself because he enjoys the art (for example, in the USA many people put a drawing on the hand because they love it, but Sak Yants are drawn with a spiritual purpose).
Luckily, today you can find Sak Yant Ajarn (the Buddhist who spent some time learning from a Sak Yant monk) in easily accessible areas.
But despite temples are mostly located on the outskirts of cities, monks often travel, so if you’re a tourist, you’ll have a hard time setting up a meeting. I kindly advise you to pay some money to a local guy to get help. Better to ask the way than go astray!
If you’d like “authentic” Sak Yant, then it should be blessed and inked by a Sak Yat monk. Yet, it’s very hard to reach them, so a Sak Yant Ajarn recommendation is an acceptable option. But it is believed that the monk’s Muay Thai tattoo brings more value and protection. Try visiting amulet shops for additional help too.
I must warn you, you can forget about a high-level of hygiene in Thailand as Sak Yant Ajarn might use the same inkpot for everybody, which carries the risk of disease. If you afraid or feel gross, feel free to reject. Safety comes first in many cultures.
If you’re determined to proceed with your tattoos, please read these guidelines.
- Getting a Muay Thai tattoo refers to both inking and going through spiritual/magical rituals. Unfortunately, each Yant has his own set of rules, but it might include proper speech, staying away from eating specific foods, or specific sexual conduct (I know, if you come from a liberal state like the USA, this could be a problem, but sorry guys, you want to get the best of Sak Yant tattoo).
- Take off your shoes before entering Sak Yant’s house, show respect during the speech, and do not point your feet at them.
- If your tattoo is done by a master, the process lasts longer. He’ll show respect, ink tattoo, chant a blessing, and cast a spell. In the end, the monk might even put a gold leaf on the completed Muay Thai tattoo for luck. There might be an extra ritual as a monk might put a Ruesi mask on your head for more blessings.
- Tattoos are affordable for foreigners. It usually costs between 1,000 and 18,000 bahts, which is between 32 and 575 US dollars. Somebody who works in a good USA company could earn that much money in one or two hours!
Why People Get Sak Yant Tattoos
Actually, people ink these drawings for different reasons. Fighters are the most frequent customers in Sak Yant tattoo shops. But from time to time, people who have nothing to do with martial arts and Muay Thai are ready to pay for these lovely pieces of art. I’d pinpoint three reasons:
- Fighting and protection – we’ve discussed this in our previous paragraphs.
- Better life – many people all over Thailand believe these lovely pieces of art are going to bring wealth, financial independence and lead to positive changes in your life.
- Curiosity – Have you ever experimented in your life? There are moments when you want to try something new out. For example, some people see a lovely tattoo on the internet and become obsessed.
Most Often Muay Thai Tattoos
I’ll get to know you with a few most often Sak Yant tattoos and their meanings. You can always kindly discuss with a monk and left a more generous donation for the temple if you’d like a specific tattoo.
You can ink Muay Thai tattoos anywhere in the body but the most often spots are arms and torso. Here is the list of the most often ones:
- Ha Taew (5 rows) – excellent design for tourists, I advise you to find a monk for this. The meaning of rows written in Khom script is good luck, protection, safety from black magic, charisma, and wealth (read left to right).
- Paed Tidt (8 spikes) – There are 8 paths in Buddhism – right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (meditation). This lovely tattoo protects from negative energies and entities.
- Gao Yord (9 peaks) – This drawing symbolizes the mythical center of the universe, Mount Meru. All benefits of Ha Taew are included, plus add popularity and authority.
- Seuu Khood (Two Tigers) – power, authority, and protection, very common design among local gyms too.
- Hanuman – God of strength in Hinduism (injury prevention and power to defeat your foes).
- Ganesh – another God from Hinduism (wealth and success, helps to remove ad overcome obstacles).
- Phra Rahu – that’s a very interesting piece of art. It is a demon in Hinduism. Yet, Sak Yant culture sees Phra Rahu as a protector as it is believed that this entity leads to positive aspects of life by eating negative energies.
- Kerake (crocodile) – a symbol of strength and power. Very often tattoo among police officers, firemen, and soldiers.
Everybody can visit a tattoo shop and pay some money for the beautiful body art. But if you want to get the best out of it, you’ll have to go to Thailand and get in touch with a Sak Yat monk or Sak Yat Ajarn. Muay Thai tattoo brings you positivity, protection, and many other benefits, it’s not just a body art from Thailand!
Diehard Muay Thai fans understand the spiritual meaning of these lovely pieces of art. I’d recommend a Sak Yant experience to every single fan of the ancient Siamese martial art, it’s your unique opportunity to become one with Thai boxing. And please, don’t forget to follow the codes of conduct if you get a Sak Yant tattoo.