Earlier this year, I started an e-commerce site to sell my photographic prints. It does not do well. So, I’m trying my hands on designing t-shirts instead. As a Muay Thai student, I’ve always wanted a shirt that represents this combat art. However, I never found the ones would do justice. I took the matters to my on hands. And here’s how I did it
The problem with Muay Thai shirts available right now is that they do not differentiate Muay Thai from other martial arts enough and their designs are ineffective.
Most shirts I found on google simply has the words “Muay Thai” on them. If someone who does not know any martial art read “Muay Thai”, he would not get it at all. Muay Thai is not as commonly known as other martial arts like Taekwondo and Jiujutsu.
Some shirts I’ve found contains logos or imageries that are not directly related to Muay Thai. Although they are beautiful to look at, they do not tell the audience what Muay Thai is about.
Not Differentiating Muay Thai Enough
There are also shirts with graphics of people fighting along with “Muay Thai” on them. These do better explaining that Muay Thai is about fighting. However, the graphics don’t generally show specifically what differentiate Muay Thai from other martial arts. Before I practice Muay Thai, I thought it was just a ring boxing sport. I had no idea that Muay Thai is actually watered-down martial arts of Thailand that are collectively known as Muay Boran. Most Muay Thai shirts I found do not try to represent Muay Boran that is the root of Muay Thai.
This is unfortunate since Muay Boran is unique, dangerous and beautiful. If you ever watch any Tony Jaa’s movies, you would understand. All of the fancy moves he used are from Muay Boran.
My Design Approach
Having researched the existing shirts, I decided that my design should clearly communicate the following statement.
Muay Thai is a beautiful and dangerous martial art from Thailand.
Since I train Muay Thai, I know that it’s actually Muay Boran that people are interested in seeing. So I decided to create a graphic depicting the basics of Muay Boran known as “Mae Mai Muay Thai.” The term literally translates to “Mother Tree of Muay Thai.” It is a collection of basic Muay Thai moves that comes from Muay Boran. The moves emphasize on evasion and counterattack.
Out of the 15 moves in Mae Mai Muay Thai, I took my friend’s advice and picked “Hak Kor Erawan” as my first design. The name means to break (Hak) an elephant’s (Erawan) neck (Kor). Erawan refers to the mythical elephant of a Hindu god. For this technique, the attacker pulls his opponent’s head down by the neck and delivers a knee strike to the chest, neck or head. Like the name suggests, the technique is very powerful and it is prohibited in the ring. National Geographic measured the power of this strike and concludes that the force generated is similar to that of a car crash at 35 miles/hour.
“Hak Kor Erawan” easily represents Muay Thai as a dangerous and beautiful martial art. The move also makes Muay Thai appear unique since it is a knee strike that is not commonly associated with other martial arts. The visual of the knee strike is also very beautiful to look at.
Being a mediocre illustrator, I started by looking for an artist to draw “Hak Kor Erawan” move. Since I want the outcome to represent Thailand, I insisted on hiring a Thai artist only. However, all artists I talked to don’t have the passion for Muay Thai or Thai culture in general. This lack of interest is not surprising as most Thai in this generation are crazy about Korean cultures.
Instead of drawing, I used a 3D character posing software to render the image. Since I have no 3D modeling experience, I had to use characters and clothing created by someone else. Fortunately, this process went well. The software allowed me to pose the character realistically using reference images of the moves.
I intentionally depict the moment immediately after the knee hit, as opposed to when the knee hit, to show the deadly result of the move.
Making it Thai
The most effective way to communicate is to show, not tell. I know that it’s not enough to simply write “Muay Thai” and expect people to think of Thai culture. For this reason, I use Thai pattern and font that resemble the patterns of temples in Thailand.
At first, I thought the generic Thai pattern was appropriate enough. But since “Hak Kor Erawan” refers to a mythical elephant, I incorporate the pattern with an elephant’s head to give the design a symbolic meaning. If I should create more shirt designs, I can change this pattern to make a different shirt look more unique. For example, I can draw a crocodile for the move “Jorakee Fad Hang” – Crocodile sweeping tail.
I got the inspiration from my Japanese friend’s tattoo to placed the Thai pattern like a pair of wings.
Printing and actually seeing the end result is very important. I test the printing supplier by ordering samples. It turns out that the real shirts look much paler than the original graphic.
So I decided to hand draw the figures of the two persons instead of using the 3D render. I picked colors with high contrast to prevent the shirt from looking pale again. This also allows me to reduce the printing cost by using less color.
For a simple shirt, I didn’t expect to work so hard for it. I am happy with the end result. Anyone who sees this shirt can quickly relate it to Thailand. The design is stylish, masculine and meaningful. I hope this shirt will help people know Muay Thai better.