Muay Thai History “The Science of Eight Limbs” The ancient Muay Thai warriors needed to be skilled at both weapons and empty hand techniques. Winning was not an option; it was a necessity. You lose, you die! Once you understand this you will understand why the battle-tested arts of Thailand are no-nonsense and extremely brutal. It didn’t start off as a form of entertainment; it was what kept a people of a nation alive.
Muay Thai began as a close combat battlefield fighting skill. More deadly than the weapons it replaced in Karbi Karbong. There is a lack of written records of pre 20th century history of Muay Thai making it difficult to provide an accurate picture as oral tradition has been embellished by legend and stories. There are two main theories. One says that the art developed as the Thai people moved down from China; honed in the struggle for land. The other theory is that the Thai people were already here and that Muay Thai developed to defend the land and people from constant invasions. What is known is that the Art of Muay Thai is an essential part of Thai culture right from its dawn and in Thailand, it’s the sport of kings.
King Naresuan Era in 1584
In the history of Muay Thai, national issues were decided by Muay Thai contests. The first great upsurge of interest in Muay Thai as a sport, as well as a battlefield skill, was under King Naresuan in 1584, a time known as the Ayuddhaya period. During this period, every soldier trained in Muay Thai and could use it, as the King himself did. Slowly Muay Thai moved away from its root in the ‘Chupasart’ and new fighting techniques were evolving.
The Tiger King (Pracha ao Sua) Era
One of the prime movers in transforming the sport was the Tiger King, who not only influenced fighting styles but also the equipment. It was King – Prachao Sua – the Tiger King who is recorded as loving Muay Thai so much that he often fought incognito in village contests, beating the local champions. The King, to keep the army busy, ordered it to train in Muay Thai. The interest in the sport was already high but now it took off yet again. During the reign of the Tiger King the nation was at peace and the art of Muay Thai evolved. The hands and forearms began being bound with strips of horse hair. This was to serve a dual purpose – protect the fighter and inflict more damage on the opponent. Thai Boxing became the favorite sport and pastime of the people, the army, and the King. Historical sources show that people from all walks of life flocked to training camps. Rich, poor, young and old all wanted some of the action. Every village staged its prize fights and had its champions. Every bout became a betting contest as well as a contest of local pride. The betting tradition has remained with the sport and today large sums are wagered on the outcome of fights.
King Rama V Era
From the history of Muay Thai, Muay Thai has always been popular but like most sports, there have been times when it was more in fashion. In the reign of King Rama V, many Muay Thai matches were Royal Command fights. These boxers were rewarded with military titles from the King. Today the titles, like Muen Muay Mee Chue from Chaiya or Muen Muay Man Mudh from Lopburi are virtually untranslatable. They mean something comparable to Major of Boxing. At the time they were much prized and respected titles.
King Rama VI Era
It wasn’t till the reign of King Rama VI that the standard ring surrounded by ropes came into use, as did time keeping by the clock. Before this period, time keeping was done by floating a pierced coconut shell on a boat of water. When the coconut piece sank, a drum signalled the end of the round.
For more than 250 years the legendary Muay Thai Master Nai Khanomtom has epitomized the universal spirit of the sport. Born in the Bang Bang district of Ayutthaya he was orphaned during the war that saw Ayutthaya fall for the second time to the Burmese. Nai Khanomtom was taken as a prisoner of war to Rangoon were he grew up as a talented Kad Cheuk boxer. It was during the Shwedagon Pagoda festival on March 17th 1774 that Nai Khanomtom won 10 bouts against 10 Burmese boxers in a boxing competition. The Burmes King Magra commented that Nai Khanomtom had a strong will and proficient boxing skills “Every part of this man is blessed with venom. Even empty handed he could defeat 9 or 10 opponents”. In the history of Muay Thai the 17th March was marked as Nai Khanomtom day The essence Of Nai Khanomtom is that real power comes from training concentration and inner strength and although an underdog he never gave up on life or fighting. This is the essence of Nai Khanomtom that not only influences Thai but students of Muay Thai the world over . Muay Thai has always been a sport for the people as well as a military fighting skill. In all its golden ages, the people have trained and practiced the sport whether they were King or commoner. It was a part of the school curriculum right up to the 1920’s when it was withdrawn because it was felt that the injury rate was too high.
The people however, continued to study it in gyms and clubs just as they do today. The people have always followed the sport and have been instrumental in moving it from the battlefield to the ring. They have been as much a part of making it a sport as have the Kings. Weight Classes in the History of Muay Thai Before the introduction of weight classes, a fighter could and did fight all comers regardless of size and weight differences. However, the introduction of the weight classes meant that the fighters were more evenly matched and instead of there being one champion, there became one for each weight class. Most Muay Thai fighters belong to the lighter weight classes. Seventy percent of all fighters belong to the fly and bantam weight divisions. There are welterweight and middleweight fights but they are not seen that often and the heavier categories seldom fight.
Present and Future of Muay Thai…
Muay Thai has changed and evolved over the years from its battlefield close quarters fighting tradition which has been passed on from generation to generation right up to present day. Despite the changes of history, Muay Thai has lost none of its mystique or its appeal in Thailand. The television fight broadcasts rate among the Kingdom’s most popular programmes. In the provinces, villages cluster around any available TV to watch. In the city, people disappear from the streets while Thailand is watching Muay Thai. Thai Boxing today is still evolving and developing as its Art has become popular all over the world.
What is Muay Boran? The term Muay Boran actually means “Ancient Boxing”. This was the martial art used on the battle fields of ancient Thailand. If a warrior lost his weapon he had to resort to hand to hand combat, using lethal attack combinations of hands, elbows, knees and leg attacks. Muay Thai is in fact an adapted version of Muay Boran. It is no surprise then, that Muay Boran is a much more brutal and effective form of martial arts designed for the battle field. Over the many centuries that Muay Boran developed, various regional styles sprung up:
• Muay Thasao (North Thailand) – Emphasis on speed, especially fast kicks. This variation of Muay Boran was dubbed “Ling Lom” or windy monkey.
• Muay Korat (East Thailand) – Emphasis on strength. A technique unique to this style is the “throwing buffalo punch” named because it is supposed to take out a buffalo in one blow.
• Muay Lopburi (Central Thailand) – Emphasis on crafty, technical movements. This variation favours straight punches and hooks.
• Muay Chaiya (South Thailand) – Emphasis on good posture and defence. This style favours elbow and knee strikes.
Since each style had it’s own strengths, a complete fighter was said to: “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao”. Muay Thai only came about because of the peoples love of the art so it was developed into a ring sport. The lethal brakes and death strikes were removed and rules were applied to the sport because of the serious and sometimes fatal injuries that resulted during bouts.