The Thaing

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.

Thaing is a Burmese term used to classify the indigenous martial systems of ancient Burma (now Myanmar). The word “thaing” loosely translates to “total combat”. The forms of thaing include Bando, Lethwei, Banshay and Naban. It was from thaing that the various internal arts and sport offshoots (Min Zin), Burma Yoga (Bando yoga), Monk system (Pongyi thaing) and sporting versions of thaing (Bando kickboxing, Cardio lethwei, Artistic Aka) were derived.

There were originally nine forms of thaing corresponding to Myanmar’s major ethnic groups. These are the Burmese, Indian, Chinese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Talaing and Shan. Although this multitude has been largely eroded today, there are still slight differences in how thaing is practiced in different regions.

In Northern Shan areas for example, it is known as Shan thaing. The traditional Myanmar nantwin (royal) style has been kept secret among the practitioners who choose their students very carefully.

There also is a technique known as thaing byaungbyan (reversed form of thaing) which became well-known among the public. U Maung Lay by his students produced many fine practitioners of this technique.

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

  • Bando (Animal system or free hands system)
  • Banshay (Arts of the sword, staff and spear)
  • Lethwei (Burmese Boxing)
  • Naban (Burmese wrestling)

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) borders India, China and Thailand. As a result, it possesses a rich martial arts heritage. As with the fabled Shaolin Temple of China, Buddhist monks from India introduced the martial arts into Myanmar almost 2000 years ago. Later, Chinese styles filtered their way south, merging with earlier influences to form the martial body of knowledge collectively known as Thaing.

Originally, there were nine main forms of Thaing corresponding to each of Myanmar’s major ethnic groups, namely the Burmese, Chinese, Indian, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Shan and Talaing. Today, Thaing includes both unarmed arts, of which Bando is the most widely known, as well as arts of the sword, staff, and spear, ‘Banshay. Other unarmed arts include Naban or Burmese wrestling and Lethwei or Burmese boxing, closely related to other boxing styles found in Southeast Asia.

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, because counters would be 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 Anawrahta (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 is 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 now, where they have become part of the ‘bando’ system of Burmese martial arts.

The method known as Thaing Byaing Byan in Myanmar is a unique fighting art of mysterious origin. Generally, the name U Maung Lay is closely associated to this method. It was said that his master came down from Norther Shan state and taught only 3 students, the yougest was U Maung Lay and he became a founder of Thaing Byaing Byan group in Myanmar. Unique philosophy that differ in many ways from other fighting arts in Myanmar is notable and the moves and the training patterns are remarkably different from other methods found in Myanmar.

Thaing Byong Byan also known as Khu-Kar-Chant meaning “Counter Thaing” is the Jujitsu of Burmese martial arts. Students and teachers of Thaing Byong Byan usually wear traditional shan dress. Thaing Byong Byan technique is known to be very effective in close quarter combats. The history of this technique is told to be originated in Kanbawza palace martial art technique. Whether this means Kanbawza palace in Shan State or Kanbawza Thadi or Hanthawadi Palace in Pegu is unclear.