History of Muay Thai
What is Muay Thai or Thai Boxing?
Muay Thai or Thai boxing is the cultural martial art of
Thailand. The origin of Muay Thai dates back several hundred years,
and was, essentially, developed as a form of close-combat that used
the entire body as a weapon. However, it must be added that the
history of Muay Thai, and its' direct origin is a question of debate
among modern scholars. Much of the history of Muay Thai was lost
when the Burmese sacked Ayudhaya, the capital city of Siam
(Thailand) in the 14th century. The Burmese looted the temples and
depositories of knowledge held in the capital, and most written
history was lost in this period. What volumes were saved are
preserved and protected as national treasures for Thai culture and
What is known is that Muay Thai uses the body to mimic the
weapons of war. The hands become the sword and dagger; the shins and
forearms were hardened in training to act as armor against blows,
and the elbow to fell opponents like a heavy mace or hammer; the
legs and knees became the axe and staff. The body operated as one
unit. The knees and elbows constantly searching and testing for an
opening while grappling and trying to spin an enemy to the ground
for the kill.
The origin of Muay Thai, as a fighting style, is
thought to have developed for centuries as tribes migrated south
from the steppes of China through Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and
Cambodia. The major tribes of that period, one of which was the
(Tai) Siamese, fought fiercely to survive as they moved south and
encountered other smaller tribes in what is now northern and central
Thailand, and as far south as Malaysia. Through training, loss of
life, military tactics, and hand-to-hand combat, technique and
tactics were honed to a razors edge, and the rudimentary elements of
a "fighting-style" began to take root.
Older soldiers and fathers taught their students and sons
the offensive and defensive tactics and techniques, proper posture
and position, and skills to enhance awareness. Those students and
sons went on to teach their children, and the roots and permanent
structure of an "effective fighting-style" began to strengthen.
Proper technique and power strikes were a vital element in war that
requires hand-to-hand skills. Each strike and movement is meant to
deliever a debilitating and crushing blow, and enable the fighter to
move on to the next opponent quickly without leaving himself exposed
to an attack.
It would seem that the evolution of the most-effective
hand-to-hand form of combat evolved in a rather Darwin-like manner
demanding survival of the fittest: those who fought well.......lived
and taught others before falling themselves.
The Thai were on constant guard against attack from
neighboring countries, including Burma and Cambodia. Enemies for
centuries, the Burmese and Thai fought several wars wreaking
destruction on both countries. Muay Thai was primarily a part of the
Thai culture during this period and was a mandatory training as part
of the Thai military of that time. The military continued to train
soldiers for centuries in the art of Muay Thai: defining, and
refining the skills, tactics, and techniques with the wars against
the Burmese, Cambodians, and other invaders.
Young Thai men returning from a tour of duty with the
military soon engaged in matches for sport and fun in villages and
towns. Each province, town, and village would support a local
fighter who showed some promise and skill. Older warriors, survivors
of many battles and engagements of the enemy, became Muay Thai
instructors and teachers [ Kroo Muay]. The love of the sport, and a
need for the defense of the kingdom made Muay Thai a part of the
Thai culture for the next 500 years as generation after generation
passed the skills on to the next.
Wai Kroo/Ram Muay
of the Wai Kroo dates back several centuries. The Wai Kroo is a
ritualistic and traditional dance carried out before Muay Thai
fighters engage in the ring. The Wai Kroo is meant to show honor to
the fighters teacher, the sport of Muay Thai, and his country. The
Ram Muay is the dance that is unique to each Master instructor who
teaches his students. The student will dance in each direction of
the ring approaching and touching the corner posts with a prayer,
showing respect to his opponent and to the spirits.
Modern Muay Thai
Thai has come a long way in the last 100 years. Because of the great
national popularity, Muay Thai began to garner international
exposure and recognition. In World War II, Thai soldiers were
stationed overseas, and foreigners recieved their first good look at
Muay Thai firsthand. Muay Thai was named by foreigners as Siam
Boxing, as Thailand was formerly Siam. During WW II, the French
labeled Muay Thai as "Le Sport Orient" or the fighting style of the
orient. The Thai soldiers participating in the war would practice
Muay Thai among themselves as soldiers from Europe and America
watched with great interest. Until that time, Muay Thai was a
cultural gem, hidden within this strange and wonderful culture of
this country called Thailand.
Soldiers from abroad were so impressed of the Muay Thai
fighting style that they asked the Thai soldiers to teach them the
basics and traditions of Muay Thai. As Muay Thai became more
popular, especially with an international interest, the rules began
to changge to become more inline with other goverened sports like
boxing. In the 1920's, the roots of modern Muay Thai were planted
when rings were introduced replacing open courtyards.The old-style
horsehide, hemp rope, or leather bindings were replaced with gloves
similar to boxing. In the past, fighters were known to soak their
hemp rope bindings in a sticky resin and then dip their hands in
crushed glass and ash that could attack the opponents eyesight. [As
appeared in the movie "Kickboxer" starring Jean-Claude Van Dame] A
hard-cover groin protector was also added for the fighters
protection from brutal kicks and knees.
After the end of WW II, the first formal rules were
introduced into the sport. Fights were divided into 5 rounds, and
time limits were imposed on each round. Time was counted on a clock
rather than the old style of a coconut shell with holes sinking
completely in a barrel of water. Major stadiums for Muay Thai were
constructed after the war in large cities [Bangkok, Sukothai, Chiang
Mai] throughout the country as the popularity of Muay Thai grew.
Lumpini Stadium in Bangkok is now almost considered "holy ground" to
the multitudes of Thai fighters, and now many foreigners, trying to
win a place on a fight card. A system of weight-classes, defined
rules, and championships was devised in the years ahead as Muay Thai
began to resemble boxing in style and organization.
The typical Muay Thai fighter here in Thailand trains many
hours everyday. Many fighters will fight every 3-4 weeks just to be
able to support their family. Unlike boxing in Europe and America,
Muay Thai fighters make very little money from each fight. A typical
Muay Thai fighter may bring home 4000-6000 baht ($100 - $150) every
month from fighting which is barely enough to support one person,
much less a family.
Muay Thai fighters often begin training when they are 6-8
years-old. They will begin fighting between 8-10 years of age and
may have as many as 120-150 fights ( 3 times as many as a very
active boxer ) before they are 24 years old. Muay Thai fighters do
not generally have long careers because of starting at such an early
age and how physically demanding the sport is on the fighters.
Injuries are quite common in Muay Thai fights. From cuts and
lacerations to the face and head to broken bones and severe sprains
of muscles and ligaments, Muay Thai fighters deal with injuries
their entire career. Muay Thai fighters are known for their ability
to ignore pain and injury.
Today, the evolution of Muay Thai is finally reaping rewards
and recognition. Muay Thai was recently accepted as an Olympic
sport, and it is becoming quite popular in many countries throughout
the world. Professional fighters in martial arts, K-1, and
submission fighting all agree, Muay Thai is an essential part of
being an all-around skilled fighter and having stand-up fighting
skills. Muay Thai will continue to grow in popularity as new
training camps and gyms open around the world.
Muay Thai or Thai Boxing History.
Thai history recounts the
legend of King Naruesan. In 1560, during one of the many wars with
the Burmese, the King was captured. Known for prowess and skills as
a fighter, King Naruesan was offered a chance at freedom if he could
defeat some of the best Burmese warriors. King Naruesan defeated all
the Burmese warriors the King placed before him. He was granted his
freedom and returned home a hero and a legend of Muay Thai.
The Thai people hearing of the heroics and skill at Muay Thai
by their King led to great rise in the popularity of the sport. The
tale of Naruesan fighting for his country and freedom spawned great
enthusiasm and interest in the sport.
Nai Khanom Tom....The Father of Muay Thai.
Another quite popular Thai legend is that of Nai Khanom Tom and
lends truth to the ability of highly skilled Muay Thai fighters. In
1767, the Burmese army sacked the Thai capital city of Ayudhaya (120
kilometers from Bangkok). The Burmese King (Lord Mangra) and his
army pillaged the city and its its' magnificient temples, treasure
and wealth. Returning quickly to Burma before reinforcements arrived
to save the capital, the Burmese army took prisoners for the long
march back home to carry their stolen goods and treasures. Among
those prisoners was a Muay Thai fighter named Nai Khanom Tom.To
celebrate his victory over the Thai, the King of Burma held a
festival and celebration. During the festival, the slaves from
Thailand were ordered to fight the best Burmese fighters for
Nai Khanom Tom entered the courtyard to fight, he asked for a moment
to prepare. Nai Khanom Tom then began a slow ritualistic dance
around the courtyard waving his hands and arms. The Burmese fighter
looked on in fear, as he thought Nai Khanom Tom was trying to curse
him with evil spirits before they fought. When asked what he was
doing, Nai Khanom Tom explained he was giving respect to his Muay
Thai teacher, his sport, and his country by performing his short
dance. Many believe this may have been the origins of the [Wai Kroo]
which is still performed by all Thai fighters before they fight an
When the fight began, Nai Khanom Tom easily dispatched the
Burmese fighter with a series of hard kicks and elbows. The Burmese
fighter pleaded that he had lost because he was cursed by the Thai.
However, Nai Khanom Tom went on to defeat 10 more Burmese rivals
with combinations of hard, chopping, debilitating kicks and elbows,
fast punches, and throwing his opponents to the ground. The Burmese
King was impressed with Nai Khanom Tom's ability and skill in the
face of danger. When Nai Khanom Tom defeated his last rival, the
Burmese King granted Nai Khanom Tom his freedom and rewarded him
with several Burmese women to be his wives and concubines. Nai
Khanom Tom returned to Thailand as a hero, and lived out his life
teaching Muay Thai. Because the legend of Nai Khanom Tom is so
well-known, he is called the "father of Muay Thai." Muay Thai day is
celebrated on March 16 in his honor.
In 1788, during the reign of Rama I, two brothers from
France traveled throughout S.E. Asia to study, wager, and fight
against the different styles of combat they would encounter from the
foreign tribes and counties, and peoples of the region. The brothers
arrived in Thailand and arranged a match for prestige and money with
the monarchy of the period. The Frenchmen were loud, and bragging of
their victories in many different countries. The Thai King ordered
his captain of the palace guard, a well respected Thai fighter, to
fight one of the brothers for the honor of his country and sport,
and a large sum of money was wagered on the fight.
When the fight began, the Thai danced around the fighting
area moving quickly in and out of the reach of the French fighter
and kept him at a distance by kicking him in the abdomen and legs.
The Frenchman became enraged and angry he could not hit his Thai
opponent. The Frenchman was not used to this style that used the
entire body as a weapon. The other brother, watching from the side,
decided to cheat and help his brother by grabbing the Thai from
behind and pushing him within the reach of his brother's attacks.
This angered the Thai fighters and audience, and violated the spirit
and rules of Muay Thai. The two Frenchman suddenly found themselves
in trouble as the Thai fighters grappled and tackled the brothers to
the ground until they were so exhausted and in pain that they could
not rise. The two French brothers left the next day in defeat and
humiliation. The popularity of Muay Thai continued to grow as did
the national pride of the Thai people for their martial art.
Muay Thai: The Sport of Kings
The Tiger King of Thailand
Muay Thai is called "The
Sport of Kings," and the Thai monarchy has always played a promonent
role in the development of the art and sport. King Sri Saan Petch,
aka "The Tiger King," was infamous for disguising himself in a tiger
mask and competeing in tournaments. The King so loved the sport and
a fair fight, that he would hide his royal heritage under a mask to
compete in Muay Thai tournaments at festivals, fairs, and temple
matches. If the other Thai fighters would have known it was their
King, they would have bowed before him and pleaded not to fight; so
great was their love and respect for their King. (The modern Thai
people also hold the King in great reverence.) But the King hid his
identity, and he always wanted a fair and hard fought match with
each of his opponents.
Monarchy has played a central role in the devolpment of Muay Thai as
a sport and not just a military requirement. Kings would hold great
week long festivals in major cities that had spectacular Muay Thai
tournaments with fighters traveling from all parts of the country to
participate. In the early 1900's, the sport started to become more
centralized and marketable as an attraction. Sometimes, issues of
national agenda, where high-ranking members of the Thai governement
would disagree, the dispute would be settled by Muay Thai combat
with each faction having a fighter to represent their interests.
Superstition, Tattoos, and Evil Spirits
The Thai people
are known for being superstitious and their belief in evil spirits
and ghosts. Muay Thai fighters have for centuries used special
tattoos, wards, amulets, and ceremonies to increase their good
fortune and ward off bad luck and evil spirits that might follow
them into the ring. Fighters will often wear pieces of bones from
their ancestors wrapped within their headdress [Mongkong] or in a
armlet tied about the bicep. The bone is supposed to represent the
good spirits of their ancestors and provide them protection from
injury in the ring and evil spirits.
fighters, and regular Thai people, will often go the temple or a [Maa
Doo], a witchdoctor/medicine man, or high-ranking priest to have
tattoo inscriptions in Thai language etched into their skin. The
powerful inscriptions are supposed to provide special protection
from certain influences like good fortune, bad luck, ghosts,
spirits, etc. Other tattoos were told to grant strength, courage,
long-life, or sexual prowess. Often before fights, fighters would
rub special oils and mixtures or potions on their skin to make them
oblivious to pain and invulnerable.
amulets (Kreung Rang)worn around the neck were also told to carry
special magical powers. Amulets could contain written inscriptions
with wards and protections rolled up in a small cylinder. Other
amulets came from important temples and bore the image of Buddah or
highly-reverred monks. Whatever the amulet, tattoo, oil, potion, or
inscription, the result was to give the fighter confidence through
his strong beliefs.
Initiation and entrance to Muay Thai
The Buddha was, and
described himself as, both a student and teacher. The teacher is
held in reverence and respect in Thailand. When young men want to
enter into a gym and become Muay Thai fighters, they must first pay
respect to their Muay Thai teacher (Kroo Muay) and give respect and
honor to the gym where they will train. You jusy don't decide to
become a Muay Thai fighter. It is a way of life and long respected
tradition in Thailand. The student must perform the Yok Kroo or Kuen
Master Thai instructor has a different style or way to perform the
Yok Kroo. There may be a significant initiation where the
prospective student must spend time in meditation at a temple, or
perform some ritualistic tasks. Students are usually expected to
give some form of gift or offering, such as white linen cloth,
flowers, joss sticks (incense), and some small monetary offfering.
auspicious days, (Thai's like Thursdays for good luck and
prosperity) a picnic or gathering of fighters to welcome the new
student to camp and eat together. The Master Thai instructor would
then ask for a blessing for his new student and then place the
traditional Mongkon on the student's head and tie a armlet (Pra Jer)
on his bicep.
The Proud History of Muaythai
has been a part of Thai Heritage & History for over 2000 years as
with most objects and traditions from ancient times, there exist
many different versions of the History of MUAYTHAI, but all sources
agree that MUAYTHAI was the primary (and most effective) Self
Defense used by Thai warriors on the battlefields of conflicts and
wars that have occurred many times in the history of the nation now
know as, Thailand.
The first know practice of MUAYTHAI as a “sport”, off and away from
the heat and chaos of the battlefield, occurred in the 15TH century
when loosely organized competitions started spourting up around the
country. MUAYTHAI soon became the favoured pastime sport for people
from all walks of life, with training camps being established all
over the country. It must be remembered that though it was being
practiced as a kind of spectator sport over the following centuries,
it was not the kid of sport we are used to seeing in modern times.
Muaythai was an extremely dangerous that often ended in injury and
for competitors and participants. It wasn’t until 1930 that this
began to change, when MUAYTHAI was officially codified, with
regulations being created and introduced into the sporting world of
the early 20TH Century as one of a safe ring sport.
MUAYTHAI has had many faces, as a popular ring sport, a Self Defense
and a fitness program and as MUAYTHAI has become more and more
popular organizations such as IFMA have been rightly commissioned
and estabilished to regulate MUAYTHAI as a world sport
Now, MUAYTHAI is established around the world as a fitness form (MUAY
aerobic), as a ring sport (MuayThai) and as a form of self defense (Muay
Boran). The circle of history has been closed and MUAYTHAI now
belongs to World, making a new and proud world History.
Long Live MUAYTHAI!
“MUAYTHAI” has been practiced by Thais for
over 2000 years and it’s traditions have been passed down from
Generation to Generation as with most ancient Self Defense. One of
the oldest traditions is a dance called “RAM MUAY”, which every
boxer perform before a fight.
Before every fight the boxer “seal the ring” by circling three
times, after which they perform the “RAM MUAY”, showing respect to
their opponents and opposing camps, as well as parents, teachers and
whatever religions they may believe in. Many boxers will display
their techniques in this warm up and it is the perfect opportunity
to study opponents.
For some boxers the Ram Muay represents deep spiritual beliefs while
for others it’s the perfect warm up before a fight to get the mind
and body ready for competiton. The music is refereed to as “wong pee
glong” and is played by four musicians, each with their own
instruments, pi java (Javanese oboe), glong kaek (a pair of thai
drums played by 2 musicians) and a ching (small Thai cymbals) – The
songs are very specific, only played in MUAYTHAI.
Every boxer wears a traditional headband, called a “mongkon”, which
dates from the beginning of MUAYTHAI history- it is believed to
bring good luck to the competition. Many boxers also wear a
“Prajiad” around their biceps, also a long tradition.
Let the competition begin!!!
MUAYTHAI considered by many the most
exciting and dynamic ring sport around, incorporates the use of all
8 “weapons” of the human body: the fists, knees, elbows and feet.
There are 5 judges sitting in for each fight in order to score both
offensive and defensive point decisions. Bouts are divided into 4
rounds with 2 minutes per round/ 2-minute between rounds. Safety is
the most important aspect of MUATHAI, therefore boxers must wear
protective equipment, consisting of head guard, mouth guard, chest
guard, elbow guard, gloves, hand wraps, groin guard and shin guards.
Every boxer must have a boxer’s book and a medical check up before
and after every fight. The weight-in for each boxer must be done
before a fight and there are 14 strict weight divisions.
Referees in MUAYTHAI have to meet strict criteria and undergo yearly
MUAYTHAI has brought athletes together from around the world
regardless of race, culture or religion for friendly international
contests. Friendship plays a big part in our sport, especially
taking physical aspects in consideration; this is why it is part of
our rules that boxers “Wai” and shake hands with opponents, opposite
corner, and referees all departing as friends.
MUAYTHAI includes many aspects yet sands as a singular sport with a
proud tradition and heritage, a long lasting culture, with people
practicing the sport for fitness, health, self confidence, and an
over-all way of life!
...refers to sport-fighting using kicks and punches and sometimes
throws and bows representing a certain martial art or can be
practiced for general fitness, or as a full-contact sport. In the full contact version of the sport the male boxers
are bare chested, barefoot and wear boxing trunks. The female boxers
sometimes wear a tank top and shorts. Kickboxing is sometimes practiced as an
independent style, but in many cases kickboxing is just an event and
set of rules of by which martial artists of other styles may compete
openly. Typically kickboxing in many competitions is a standing
fight sport and does not allow continuation of the fight once the
fight has reached the ground, however some styles may still train in
this component for example; sanshou especially in the military and
police and so must be adapted for kickboxing tournaments as well as
many Japanese martial arts. Kickboxing can be attributed to K series
of fighting styles. There are different rules for different kinds of
kick-boxing. One can start at any age, but until 18 years old, a
helmet is strongly recommended.
Jan Plas, the Dutch kickboxer founded
Mejiro Gym with some Muay Thai pioneers in Netherlands, 1978 after he learned kickboxing from Kenji
Kurosaki in Japan. In addition, he also founded NKBB (The Dutch
Kickboxing Association) which is the first kickboxing organization
in Netherlands in 1978. The sport took off in the U.S. with the
popularity and success of Bill "Superfoot" Wallace" in the 1970s.