Basics On How To Wai

One of my favorite parts of class is when we take a single technique and break it down into the tiniest details. In a way, looking at those small details can simplify that technique by making it easier to understand. At the same time, those details can show that a “simple” technique isn’t so simple. Let’s take a deeper look into the “technique” of how we pay respects, or “Wai”, in the Muay Thai class. 

What is Wai? 

The Wai ( ไหว้ pronounced like the word “why” and not “weigh”) is a physical gesture used in Thai culture. It’s used as a way to say hello, goodbye, thank you, show respect, and to apologize. 

Who do you Wai? 

There are three types of wai used for these different groups: 

A. Monks, priests, the royal family 

B. Parents, teachers, highly respected people 

C. Friends, colleagues, customers

When do you Wai? 

At Impact Martial Arts Academy, there are a few places and times to wai. Take a look at those examples in this article: https://www.impact-athletes.com/members/paying-respects/ 

How to Wai? 

Begin with this starting position:   

  • Press both palms and fingers together in a prayer-like position near your chest 
  • Keep elbows down (similar to Muay Thai techniques, no “chicken wing arms”)

The three types of wai are differentiated by the placement of your thumbs and index fingers.

A. Monks, priests, the royal family: 

  • Thumbs between your eyebrows
  • Index fingers on your forehead 
  • Lower your head in a bow (lower than with the other two groups)

B. Parents, teachers, highly respected people 

  • Thumbs near nose
  • Index fingers between eyebrows 
  • Lower your head in a bow

C. Friends, colleagues, customers 

  • Thumbs near chin 
  • Index fingers near nose 
  • Lower your head in a bow

A few more tips with Wai

  • I’ve learned that in Thai culture, there isn’t a need to wai to a child or someone much younger than you. 
  • It’s considered impolite if you don’t return a wai. At the very least you can smile or nod to acknowledge a wai. 
  • Only the king and monks are not expected to return a wai.
  • Before you wai, remove items from your hands first. (If you didn’t do that, it would be the equivalent of trying to give someone a handshake while still holding something in that hand.) 

Extra details on Wai

There are two extra details I want to share when you wai. Thailand’s national religion is Buddhism. When you wai monks, the thumb is placed in between your eyebrows – this is like a reminder of Buddha’s teachings of mindfulness. When you wai your parents, your thumb is placed near your nose as if to feel your breath as a reminder that they gave you life. This also applies to your teachers because they gave you life in the sense of knowledge. 

Did you learn any new details with wai? If you know any more details about it, let me know at sarah@impact-athletes.com.  I’m always open to learning more about the culture! 

As always stay safe, healthy, and strong.