Muay Thai History

The Muay Thai | What is Muay Thai | Muay Thai History | Muay Thai Description | Origin of Muay Thai | Muay Thai Conditioning | Muay Thai Techniques | Muay Thai Rules | Tradition of Wai Khru | Muay Thai Associations | Muay Thai Attack | Muay Thai The Tiger King | Muay Thai Martial Art

Muay Thai Kickboxing is currently one of the fastest growing full contact sports in the world. In Thailand, Muay Thai which translates as “Thai Boxing” is as popular as soccer in the U.K. Thousands of camps around Thailand are teaching and training The Sport of Kings to eager students.

The ancient fighting art of Thailand developed from the military use of sword and spear during the wars of the 1600’s. Siam, as Thailand was then called, built up one the world’s fiercest armies.

Unarmed combat started to develop during peace time as the soldiers needed to test their fighting skills. Challenge-fights between Thailand and its neighbours developed into the modern sport that we now know and love.

Various forms of kickboxing have long been practiced throughout Southeast Asia. Muay Thai’s origin in Thailand can be traced back to its ancestor Muay Boran (“ancient boxing”). This was the form of unarmed combat probably used by Siamese soldiers in conjunction with Krabi Krabong, the weapon-based style.

The precedence Muay Thai and Muay Boran give to the kick is probably indigenous to Thailand and the surrounding area since Indian boxing as well as most southern Chinese styles use even low kicks sparingly. This may have come through the influence of the older Krabi Krabong wherein kicks are the dominant form of unarmed attack.

Another influence from Thailand’s weapon style can be seen in the pre-fight Wai Kru which is probably based on the sabre dance of Krabi Krabong. Neighbouring countries such as Cambodia or Myanmar also show signs of influence one way or the other.

Eventually Muay Boran was divided to:

  • Muay Korat (Northeast) emphasized strength. A technique like “Throwing Buffalo Punch” was used. It could supposedly defeat a buffalo in one blow.
  • Muay Lopburi (Center region) emphasized movements. Its strong points were straight and counter punches.
  • Muay Chaiya (South) emphasized posture and defense, as well as elbows and knees.
  • Muay Pra Nakorn (North) emphasized speed, particularly in kicking. Because of its faster speed, it was called as well “Ling Lom” (windy monkey or Loris).

There is a phrase about Muay Boran that states, “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao. The practice of Muay Thai was later kept up largely by Buddhist monks who were the keepers and teachers of all arts both practical and spiritual. As every Thai man is compelled to live as a monk at least once in his life the art grew in popularity among common people, so much so that it was said that any man worth his salt would practice it.

As well as continuing to function as a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, Muay Thai became a sport in which the exponents fought in front of spectators who went to watch for entertainment. This kind of muay contests gradually became an integral part of local festivals and celebrations, especially those held at temples. It was even used as entertainment to kings.

Eventually the previously bare-fisted fighters took to wearing lengths of rope wrapped around their hands and forearms. This type of match was called muay kaad chuek.

Royal Muay: Muay gradually became a possible means of personal advancement as the nobility increasingly esteemed skillful practitioners of the art and invited selected fighters to come to live in the Royal palace to teach muay to the staff of the royal household, soldiers, princes or the king’s personal guards. This “royal muay” was called muay luang (มวยหลวง).

Some time during the Ayutthaya Period, a platoon of royal guards was established, whose duty was to protect king and the country. They were known as Grom Nak Muay (Muay Fighters’ Regiment). This royal patronage of muay continued through the reigns of Rama V and VII.

The Muay Renaissance: The ascension of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a Golden Age not only for muay but for the whole country. Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king’s personal interest in the art. The country was at peace and muay functioned as a means of physical exercise, self-defense, recreation, and personal advancement.

After the occurrence of a death in the ring, codified rules for Muay Thai were drawn up. These included the rules that the fighters should wear modern gloves and cotton coverlets over the feet and ankles. It was also around this time in the 1920s that the term Muay Thai became commonly used while the older form of the style was referred to as Muay Boran.

Legendary Heroes: Nai Khanom Tom was a famous practitioner of Muay Thai. Around 1774, he was captured along with other Thai prisoners, either in a skirmish or at the fall of the ancient capital of Siam of Ayutthaya. He was brought to Rangoon in Burma, where the Burmese King Mangra was holding a religious festival in honor of Buddha’s relics. The festivities included many forms of entertainment. King Mangra was reported to be curious to see how the various fighting styles of Burma and other countries would compare.

At one point, he wanted to see how Muay Boran would compare to the Burmese art Lethwei. Nai Khanom Tom was selected to fight against the Burmese champion. Nai Khanom Tom did a Wai Kru pre-fight dance which puzzled all of the Burmese. When the fight began, he charged out and, using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, quickly pummeled the Burmese.

The referee was reported to have stated that the Burmese opponent was distracted by the Wai Kru, so the knockout was invalid. The King then asked if Nai Khanom Tom would fight nine other Burmese champions to prove himself. He agreed and fought them all, one after the other with no rest periods between fights. The last Burmese was reputed to be a great boxing teacher. Nai Khanomtom defeated them all in a superior fashion.

King Mangra was so impressed that he remarked, “Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. As his lord master was incompetent, the country was lost to the enemy. If his lord had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen.”

He granted Nai Khanom Tom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives. Nai Khanom Tom chose the wives as he said that money was easier to find. He then departed with his wives for Siam. Other variations of this story had him also winning the release of his fellow Thai prisoners. His feat is celebrated every March 17 as “Boxer’s Day” or “National Muay Thai Day” in his honor and that of Muay Thai’s.

Today, some have wrongly attributed the legend of “Nai Khanom Tom” to King Naresuan, who was once taken by the Burmese. However, Nai Khanon Tom and King Naresuan were almost two centuries apart.

There is also a legend of one Skeng Man Nang (ca. 700), a mutant child born with three legs. This deformaty made his parents abandon him, but he was taken in by a monastery in the north of the country. Here he was taught muay boran by the monks, and it soon became apparent that his extra leg gave him considerable fighting prowess against bipedal foes. Unfortunately, he committed suicide after becoming mentally unbalanced by the cries of “choi soi kap” (“three legged mutant” in ancient Thai). His existence only recently come to light, after the royal archives at Ayutthaya which were thought to have been destroyed by Burmese invaders were recovered.