Muay Boran

Muay Boran which translates to “Ancient Boxing”, is the predecessor to Muay Thai. Its age makes it hard to trace Muay Boran’s origins. Archeological evidence suggests that martial arts similar to Muay Boran have been practiced in several Southeast Asian countries as much as 2000 years ago.

Many people have heard of Muay Thai but not many have heard of Muay Boran. Muay Thai does in fact come from Muay Boran. Muay Boran actually means “Ancient Boxing”. This was the martial art used in battle when a warrior lost his weapon and had to resort to hand to hand combat. It is no surprise then, that Muay Boran is a much more brutal and effective martial art than Muay Thai. In fact, Muay Thai only came about when rules were applied to Muay Boran and made into a sport because of the serious and sometimes fatal injuries that resulted during bouts.

The techniques used in Muay Boran focus on efficiency and maximizing the amount of damage from each blow. The aim is to neutralize the enemy as quickly as possible because another might be close by ready to strike. Apart from hands and legs, elbows and knees are also used to deliver devastating blows which can quickly incapacitate or even kill and opponent.

The training regimen was probably developed by or borrowed from the ancient military. Matches utilizing this style became popular and such fights became known as dhoi muay (ต่อยมวย), a term now used for boxing and pugilism in general.

Originally the fighters didn’t wear gloves or socks and the ring was nothing more than an open space with spectators crowded to form a rough circle. Fights went on until one competitor gave up or was incapable of continuing.

The original rules simply stated that there was to be no eye gouging, grasping, hair pulling, hitting the groin area or hitting a fallen opponent. Some believe that this form of fight may have came from Cambodia or some other kingdom and spread from there but this is unproven.

Either way, the art was adapted to fit the needs of the individual fighters which gave birth to a number of regional styles. Muay Boran was eventually categorized into Muay Thasao (North), Muay Korat (Eastern or North-East), Muay Lopburi (Central) and Muay Chaiya (South). There is the phrase “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao” (หมัดหนักโคราช ฉลาดลพบุรี ท่าดีไชยา เร็วกว่าท่าเสา)

Muay Boran’s form is quite efficient, in that it maximizes the amount of damage that each blow can inflict, and effective, in that it can easily lead to the death or serious injury of the opponent. Most notably, Muay Boran emphasizes the use of extremely powerful elbow and knee techniques, and combinations thereof, always thrown at full force and speed, with the intent to overcome one’s adversary as quickly as possible, because another one might already be coming close or attacking.

Traditionally, Muay Thai masters would teach the techniques of Muay Boran as advanced Muay Thai but this is not often done today. Various moves in Muay Boran are forbidden in present-day Muay Thai tournaments and competitions.

Even in Thailand it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a school willing to teach it; they prefer to focus on “modern” Muay Thai, as this is more easily exploitable as a form of income. Many schools nowadays who claim to offer Muay Boran just teach Muay Thai and sell it under the name of Muay Boran.

Muay Boran was previously not well-known in the West outside a small circle of practitioners. The art was featured in the 2003 Thai film Ong Bak starring Tony Jaa. Muay Boran may be the offspring of Mae Mai Muay Thai.

The recent release of the martial arts movie “Ong Bak – The Thai Warrior” has generated a huge upsurge in interest in the traditional martial arts of Thailand, particularly the empty-hand system of Muay Kaacheurk (Chao Cherk) /Muay Boran. In one particular scene from the movie, there is a mammoth of a man whom nobody can beat. Up steps the Thai warrior and using traditional Muay Thai defeats him hands down. None other than Arjarn Yodthong from the world famous Sityodthong Camp in Pattaya, Thailand plays the cigarette vendor in this scene. Arjarn Yodthong’s character in the movie is particularly well versed in the traditional arts naming every technique used by the warrior in defeating his opponent.

In fact the interest in traditional Muay Thai in the UK goes back much further than this. In 1994, over a decade ago, Arjarn Tony Moore in traditional dress appeared on the cover of a rival magazine performing the technique “Yok Kao Pra Sumer” which is where the boxer springs into the air stepping on to the opponent’s thigh and delivering a stunning round kick to the opponent’s head.

Finding the correct information on this subject is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. The confusion arises from the fact that some techniques have the same name but differ somewhat from camp to camp and region to region.

It is also believed that some camps used subterfuge during a bout by changing the names of the techniques around to confuse the opponent; in effect creating a code to make the opponent expect one technique only to be struck with something completely different.

Many of the original records from Thailand regarding this fascinating subject were destroyed in the sacking of Ayuddhaya in 1767 and others lost in the mists of time. The late Arjarn Samai Messamarn from the Buddhai Swan Institute in Thailand was able to make a study of the Thai empty hand system using the scant resources available in Thailand. This research also took him to Burma where he was able to gain access to historical records on the subject of the Siamese systems of warfare.

Using this information and the painstaking research done within Thailand, Arjarn Samai was able to document and confirm 60 Awudt Muay Boran techniques and fighting methods. Only two records of the techniques, hand-painted on parchment now exist. Arjarn Samai’s son, Arjarn Werayut Messamarn recently visited England bringing with him one of these unique documents.