Thaing Overview

The Thaing | What is Thaing | Thaing Overview | Bando | Banshay | Lethwei | Naban

Like Thailand, Burma, its neighbor, developed systems of unarmed fighting hundreds of years ago. Since India and China are two of its neighbors, it is not surprising that the evolution of unarmed fighting techniques owed much to India and China.

As in the case of China, Buddhist monks had much to do with the development of the fighting arts in Burma. There are many legends about Buddhist monks teaching students the martial arts in secret. In those days, it was unwise to make public one’s fighting techniques.

Once a technique became public property, it was no longer as effective as before. This is because there would be counters invented to neutralize the techniques. Therefore it was safer for the monks to teach their martial arts in the close secrecy of the monastery.

Ancient writings reveal that as far back as the time of King Anawratha (1044 – 77 A.D.) Buddhist monks were teaching the secrets of breath-control and mediation practice in addition to the principle of yielding of force – a principle that seems to be found in arts like Tai Chi, Aikido, and even Judo.

These techniques spread by the 11th century monks were handed down from generation to generation until they have become part of the ‘bando’ system of Burmese martial arts.

But the bando system is not all of Burmese martial arts. The overall name is actually ‘thaing’. This word is Burmese for ‘self defense’. The term is the equivalent of the Chinese term ‘wushu’.

Among the arts of unarmed combat listed under the term ‘thaing’ are:

  • Bando
  • Lethwei or Burmese Boxing
  • Naban or Burmese wrestling

These are the basic divisions in the world of unarmed combat in Burma.

Burmese Arts Popularised: When the Japanese – during World War II – occupied Burma, they encouraged the practice of the Burmese arts of unarmed combat. This led to a revival of interest in the martial arts and subsequently it led to the rapid spread of the knowledge and popularity of the arts of unarmed combat.

By 1944, the East Asiatic Youth League – an organization promoting the practice of thaing – had an enrollment of 20,000.In their enthusiasm for the martial arts, the Japanese went to the extent of participating in some of the bouts for bandoists. It led to some surprising results. Judo, aikido, and even jujitsu exponents pitted their techniques against the bandoists of Burma.

This intermingling of two different cultures and different styles of unarmed combat benefited both the Japanese and Burmese. The two sides saw the weaknesses and the strengths of their respective arts and this led to the elimination of weaknesses and the further development of the martial arts. As a result of contact with the Japanese, the bando art of fighting evolved into a much more lethal system of empty-hand fighting.

Like karate and the other forms of martial arts, there are many styles of bando fighting. Despite the variety, it is possible to trace certain basic similarities in all the schools of bando fighting.

Training Levels: All bando schools start off by teaching the basic stances and the footholds – just as in kung fu or karate. This preliminary stage of training lasts for several months. In some cases the first stage might drag on for years, depending on the instructor or the style of bando being taught.

In the second stage of training, the bando student has to go through a whole arsenal of blocking and parrying techniques. At the end of this stage, the student is fairly well equipped for defending himself against unarmed attackers. But he cannot be regarded as a full-fledged fighter.

The final stage involves the learning of offensive techniques. Before the student learns these techniques, the master makes sure that he will not abuse his knowledge. This cautious attitude towards the learning of the martial arts was probably derived from the Chinese tradition of martial arts instruction. There have been many cases of students abusing their acquired skills to the extent that sometimes the masters are threatened.

Various Names of the Forms: Animal names are used to denote some of the forms that can be found in Bando. This probably comes from the Chinese influence. There are forms called Boar, Bull, Cobra, Deer, Eagle, Monkey, Panther, Scorpion, Tiger and Viper.

The names indicate the characteristic of the forms, which they denote. Thus the Python form includes crushing, strangling and gripping moves while the Tiger form applies quite aptly to maneuvers, which involve clawing, and ripping.

The Deer form has been given that name because it is meant to develop alertness in the bandoist.

Bando fighting generally leaves the initiative to the opponent. It is a style of combat that relies heavily on countering moves. Thus when attacked, the bandoist would first withdraw and then would begin the counterattack.
Bando attacks include much handwork directed at the body.

But the bandoist does not neglect using head, shoulder, elbow knee, and foot for offensive purpose. Attacking the private parts is also a favorite technique with bandoists.

The techniques of bando fighting are learnt mainly through the practice of forms and with partners. The final stage of mastery includes participation in contests, which sometimes end in deaths.