Wai Kru – the traditional teacher greeting
Knowledge is precious. A knowledge that helps to preserve physical integrity and enables survival is invaluable to those who need it.
It is easy to thank a living teacher for sharing his martial arts knowledge. You simply go to him or her and say, “Thank you!”. But it is much more difficult to thank those knowledge mediators who have already died, are not reachable or are not personally known.
The ancient Pahuyuth teachers developed a non-religious ritual or gesture called “Wai Kru” or “Teacher Greeting”. This ritual is taught and practiced in the traditional martial arts mediation of Pahuyuth to this day.
The ability to perform the teacher greeting, to explain its origin and meaning is one of the prerequisites for obtaining the Pahuyuth student status(green belt).
The teacher greeting is usually carried out after each training and as part of the teacher memorial day. Some traditional dances (Ram Muai, Ram DAAB , etc.) also contain elements from the teacher greeting.
A greeting and paying gratitude to the teachers – more than just a tradition.
The traditional teacher greeting is performed in sitting position. The student’s gratitude is usually expressed with four movements:
Hands to the ground
The first movement is to the Creator. This can be any form of deity but also any other instance such as natural laws.
The first greeting goes to your own parents, who have given you life, because without them you would not be in the world.
The second greeting goes to the teachers of the past. All those who have passed on this knowledge.
The third greeting goes to the warriors of the past who died for this knowledge.
Differences from Thai culture
In Thai culture, teachers have a particular importance. In ancient Siam, education for all people outside the royal family could be acquired almost only in the monastery. There, monks were teachers and persons of respect at the same time. This gave rise to a hierarchical culture and form of society in which the one who possesses knowledge is regarded as superior and is therefore revered.
The culture of the Pahuyuth Free-Warriors on the other hand, arose from the rebellion against oppression and slavery. In the understanding of Pahuyuth, all human beings are considered as equal and no one has the right to put themselves above others.
A teacher in the understanding of Pahuyuth is therefore never a “master” or “ruler” over his disciples, but always a simple but experienced warrior and a person who willingly shares his knowledge with a recommending character. For this reason, the traditional Wai Kru (teacher greeting) is never performed to pay gratitude to a living teacher.
Since Pahuyuth already existed before present-day Thailand and before Siam, it can be assumed that the traditional teacher greeting was adopted from Pahuyuth or Saiyasart
Knees together or apart?
As you can see in the video linked above, the Pahuyuth teacher greeting is always executed with a wide-legged seat. This position is based on the subliminal transfer of combat knowledge (see below) and on the other hand on the V-position of the feet, which is already taught in the Warrior’s Creed, which stands for equality among human beings.
The shoulder-width stand with the hands on the back (at the end of the ritual) is again a symbol of the freedom, independence and self-determination of every Pahuyuth Free-Warrior
A teacher greeting in this form was and is considered an affront in the hierarchical culture of Thailand, because this represents a lack of docility, humility and subservience. In the case of Wai Khru of Thailand, and especially at the Royal Court, this ritual is therefore always performed with his legs closed and with the greatest possible humility.
The refusal of the Free-Warriors to execute the Wai Kru with their legs closed has been an occasion in the past to make them the target of social, political and religious persecution.
From the Warrior’s Creed: “We take our feet together like a V, as a sign that we are all equal ..” – the broad-legged sitting position during the Pahuyuth Teacher Greeting was, is and remains an act of rebellion.
Why we preserve this tradition
“Those who pay gratitude to their teachers should also receive something for their efforts.” – it can be assumed, that the ancient Pahuyuth teachers have thought something like this when they developed the teacher greeting.
In fact, they have hidden various fighting techniques and concepts in the individual movements of the teacher greeting, which are automatically practiced with each individual execution of this greeting. For members of Pahuyuth who are able to decipher these clues, the teacher greeting is therefore much more than a tradition that is preserved only for the sake of tradition.
Here are three simple examples of hidden clues from the ancient teachers:
The traditional teacher greeting holds many secrets
The teacher greeting is usually carried out kneeling, with the two knees and the feet on the ground resulting in an isosceles triangle. Three points are at least necessary to create a geometric surface and thus achieve a stable stance. How safe you sit thanks to this surface can be tested by tilting forward, sideways or backwards in this position.
This principle is used, for example, in knee techniques during the clinch. The opponent’s two feet and your own create stable support area.
Three points are necessary to form a stable stance.
Knees on the ground
The support surface of the two knees during the teacher greeting reveals exactly where the hardest part of the human knee is located.
A defense with this area (e.g. against shin kicks) is usually particularly safe for the user.
Knee attacks with this spot are again particularly devastating.
Hard knee blocks can be devastating for the attacker.
The same applies to attacks with this area
4/5 arm stretching
If executed correctly, the two elbows are not stretched more than 4/5 during the teacher greeting.
In the case of punches, this is usually the maximum effective range. Strikes in which the arm is stretched further than this transfer significantly less force (F) to the target.
In Pahuyuth, a complete stretching of the arm is avoided in order to prevent damaging the elbow joint by the forces that are used in the attack.
The optimal striking position is achieved with a 4/5 extension.
The above examples are only the tip of the iceberg and by no means a final list. There are many more such hidden clues and principles that the ancient teachers have left us. Pahuyuth students learn and discover these hints as part of their education. They enrich themselves with it and thank their teachers for the knowledge they have conveyed with the traditional teacher’s welcome.