Why you shouldn’t get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo Shop

Tattoo’s are cheaper in Thailand, and there are Tattoo Shops EVERYWHERE!  So why don’t you get a Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop?

Anyone who has walked the streets of any city in Thailand will notice that there are hundreds and hundreds of
Custom Tailors
Massage Shops
and Tattoo Studios

For those people wanting a Sak Yant tattoo, but not knowing too much about them, it is easy to see the designs and photos in a Tattoo Studio window and see the words “Bamboo Tattoo” and think that this is a place to get the Sak Yant Tattoo.  Places like Pai in Northern Thailand are a popular tourist destination that has more 7 times more tattoo shops than 7/11’s You might think this is a great place to get a Sak Yant tattoo ….

It Isn’t!

Sak Yant Tattoos are a Sacred Spiritual Traditional Tattoo that include the design, the magical application and a final blessing.  It takes Sak Yant Masters years of training to qualify as being Spiritual enough to become a Sak Yant Ajarn. This is NOT a quality a Tattoo artist has, when they cash in on the gullible tourist who does not know any better…

Despite any disagreement Traditionalists and Modernist might have over the minor details of a Sak Yant both viewpoints agree that anyone who got a Sak Yant Tattoo from a tattoo studio does not have a Sak Yant.

sak yant tattoo studio

The Traditional Thai Sak Yant Tattoo is a Magical and Spiritual symbol of Thai Culture. There is a huge difference in the experience getting a fake Sak Yant at a Tattoo Studio compared to getting the real thing from a Sak Yant Master

Reasons why you don’t get a Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop

Apart from the obvious reason that there are enough legit Sak Yant Masters around Thailand that there is little point getting a fake from a Tattoo Studio.  Following are more details for those who are interested in getting the real thing.

1) The Sak Yant Tattoo is a Spiritual and Magical representation of Thai Culture

no buddha head

Thailand has some very strict rules enforced by laws and fines when visitors (and Thais) visit sacred Buddhist sites or engage in Buddhist activities.  For example when visiting a Temple there is a conservative dress code to gain entry, and signs everywhere suggesting that images of the Buddha should not be tattooed on the body or Buddha heads purchased and taken from the country.  Many tourists have actually been deported for having Tattoos of the Buddha in many Asian countries including Thailand.

Thailand (like other Asian countries) also has a reputation for being a place where you can obtain knockoff products of famous brands.  While this is tolerated to a certain extent by the Thai Authorities – disrespecting the Buddhist culture is not.

Tattoo Studios are everywhere, and the competition among Tattoo artists is fierce. Fierce enough, that many Tattoo studios will ignore the culture values and offer the Sak Yant designs using the term “Bamboo Tattoo” to unsuspecting tourists.  This is not only false advertising it is a direct contradiction to the sacred meaning and reasons for getting a Sak Yant.

2) The Spiritual Qualification of the Sak Yant Master

It stands to reason that if you are wanting a Magical and Spiritual Traditional Thai Tattoo – the person giving the tattoo should be spiritual qualified to administer it correctly.  The Sak Yant Ajarn is similar to a Shaman of many cultures; in that they provide a range of Spiritual services – the Sak Yant just being one aspect of their magical skills.

Training to become a Sak Yant Master usually includes first becoming a Buddhist Monk, and years of training in the Buddhist traditions and associated magical arts.  Sak Yant Masters (like any craft) require a long time of specialist training until their teachers decide they are purified enough to qualify to represent the art of Sak Yant.  The Sak Yant Master, has to follow a long list of rules for living a Spiritual life very similar to Buddhist Monks, as part of their chosen career.

Tattoo artist tend to not follow this strict and disciplined lifestyle. While they are skilled artists – they tend to be at the edge of social change and ideals, and not so much into the traditions of the culture.

3) The Sak Yant is more than just the Design

When getting the Sak Yant Tattoo, the meaning associated with the Tattoo comes in 3 parts; It is sometimes possible (It depends on the design itself) to have an imagine you want, but change the text and prayers and final blessing for a specific and special meaning. The 3 elements are …

1) The Design

This is the picture or design of the Sak Yant. While all Sak Yants come with their own meaning implicit to the design, if you like a certain design, it might be able to be used but changed to include the Kata and Blessing elements into the final meaning

2) The Kata

This includes the magic spells within the mind of the Sak Yant master as they create the Sak Yant. The master is reciting special prayers as they apply the design so that it becomes filled with the desired intention of the final design. The Kata also includes the text written around the Sak Yant. This text is usually presented incorrectly in drawn images you find online and are corrected by the Master. This is design to keep the knowledge so that only those qualified to give Sak Yants can give them.

3) The Blessing given

The final blessing given at the end of the Sak Yant Process. Special intentions and desires can be requested for this. For example you can get a Five Line Sak Yant and ask for financial prosperity with the blessing.

Getting a Sak Yant from a tattoo studio and an untrained person means that you only get the image aspect.  While the quality of the tattoo is often better than the ones preformed by Ajarns using the Steel Needle the biggest concern is next.

4) The Sak Yant Tattoo design is purposely drawn incorrectly to hide secret knowledge

5 line sak yant

The most common image of the 5 Line Sak Yant Available online has many purposely designed mistakes in the text. Tattoo artists are not able to correct these and those with knowledge can spot a fake very easily

Almost every drawn image on the Sak Yant that you will find online or in a design book catalogue are drawn incorrectly. This was originally done by Sak Yant Masters to protect their designs from being used by those who do not understand the meaning. Those who understand, can see the mistakes and correct them, adding the correct text (and prayers) when applying the Sak Yant tattoo.

As the popularity of the Sak Yant has increased along with the availability of the images online, this approach has not been a great success. A tattoo Artist will not know how to correct the design. Nor will they care much, as they are already providing Sacred images and ignoring the tradition and culture that surrounds them.

The fake Sak Yant is easily identified by the trained Sak Yant Master and even a great many westerners and Thais with an interest in the tradition. These Sak Yants can not be blessed by Monks or Ajarns, and some will even refuse to apply a real Sak Yant to the skin of someone who already has a fake one.

5) Real Sak Yants are often cheaper than a Tattoo Studio copy

This really depends on the location and fame of the Sak Yant Master. Generally however the price of a real Sak Yant from a Sak Yant Master is cheaper than a tattoo artist will ask. The Sak Yant process also involves the offering, respect, chanting of magical spells during the application and final blessing. These steps are not done by tattoo studios.

Angelina Jolie’s Sak Yant Master now commands a higher fee than any tattoo studio will ask, but seldom does them himself anymore. Other less famous but still well known Sak Yant Masters will charge a price similar to the local tattoo parlor. In the North of Thailand in Chiang Mai you can obtain the real thing for almost half the price of the local tattoo artists will request.

6) You get to know what your Sak Yant means from a real Sak Yant Master

sakyant meaningLook at any Sak Yant forum or Facebook page of a Sak Yant Ajarn and you will see a great majority of the posts are people asking what their Sak Yant means. This can happen for many reasons including the person going to a Sak Yant Master who does not speak English without taking a translator. But more often than not it is because they got the tattoo from a tattoo shop who can not explain the meaning of the Sak Yant design.

When you get a Sak Yant from a Sak Yant Master (so long as you can communicate with them) they will ask you why you want a Sak Yant, discuss the various design options and any modifications they will make. When you use a guide, translator or Sak Yant Service they will usually ensure that you understand the procedure and the meaning of your Sak Yant Tattoo. A Tattoo shop will not only be unable to discuss the other aspects of the final product, they don’t care.

Final Thoughts

People wanting a real Sak Yant Tattoo are greatly out numbered by tourists who decide that they want a cool looking tattoo to take home with them.  If you just want a great looking Tattoo, there is (from a western point of view) nothing wrong with going to a Tattoo shop and getting a replica of the Sak Yant.  After all there are no rules to follow to keep the power alive, and most folks back home will not know the difference.

From a Thai cultural point of view, it is considered highly disrespectful to disregard the Buddha and ritual associated with Buddhism.  While not strictly a Buddhist tradition the Sak Yant is a cultural representation of Thailand and it is up to the individual person to decide how concerned they are about the culture of a country they holiday in.

For those who want the real thing, there is absolutely no reason to seek it in a tattoo parlor.  There are plenty of resources online to find a real Sak Yant.  Just be aware most people book this service before they get here, as it is a highly sort after service and hoping to just turn up without an appointment often leads to disappointment in no time available.