Thursday, 21 October 2021

A Most Lethal Form of Martial Art

By Boon

Muay Thai or Thai boxing is an ancient Thai martial art originally developed for use in military combat. It is also known as "The Art of Eight Limbs" because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins, and thus employing eight points of contact, as compared to "two points" (fists) in boxing and "four points" (hands and feet) in kick-boxing.

In Thailand, Muay Thai is both a defence martial art and a national sport. It has been a part of our lives as we can watch it every weekend on TV, or go to a local stadium to cheer our favourite boxers and bet on the match. In schools and colleges there are boxing clubs which scout out promising boxers to be the campus representatives for inter-school contests. It has now become a favourite sporting pastime for people from all walks of life, with training camps being established all over the country.

Muay Thai has often been associated with Thai culture and heritage. Visitors to Thailand usually include in their travel itinerary a programme of Muay Thai boxing matches in Bangkok at either Rajadamnern Stadium or Lumpinee Stadium, or a cultural performance with Muay Thai as part of the show.

Brief History of Muay Thai

The origins of Muay Thai can be traced back to Muay Boran which means "ancient boxing". This is an umbrella term for unarmed martial arts of Thailand prior to the introduction of modern equipment and rules during 1930s. Along with "Krabi Krabong", the weapon-based Thai martial art, Muay Boran has been credited as a saviour of the motherland and upholder of her pride. Traditionally Muay Boran was fought bare fisted and the skills were taught by temple monks. However, as Muay contest became an integral part of local festivals, temple fairs, and celebrations, the fighters started wearing lengths of hemp rope around their hands and forearms, and it was called "Muay Khad Chueak” (rope-binding boxing).

In the history of Thailand, some kings who were warriors themselves, such as King Naresuan and King Sanphet VIII (King Tiger), used Muay in soldier recruitment and training. Talented fighters were scouted and the masters of the arts became royal garrison trainers.

During the reign of King Rama V (1868 – 1910), Muay Thai had progressed greatly because of the King's personal interest in the sport. It became a means of physical exercise, self-defence, recreation, and personal advancement. Some masters of the Muay art set up training camps and provided teaching as well as food and shelter for disciples or students who adopted the camp's name as their own surname. The scouts sent out by the royal family organized matches among different camps.

Muay Thai was modernized and put into codified rules by King Rama VII (1925 – 1935). The country's first boxing ring was set up in 1921 at Suankularb Wittayalai School in Bangkok. Rounds were timed by kick and referee was introduced. Modern boxing gloves were first used at Lumpinee Stadium during training and in matches against foreigners. "Muay Khad Chueak” (rope-binding boxing) was discontinued after a death in the ring. The term Muay Thai has been adopted since, while the traditional form of Muay style known as Muay Boran has become an exhibition performance only.

There are four major styles of Muay Thai which evolved in the four regions of Thailand -- Muay Korat (Northeast) emphasizes strength; Muay Lopburi (Central region) emphasizes movement; Muay Chaiya (South) emphasizes posture and defence; Muay Thasao (North) emphasizes speed, particularly in kicking.

Muay Thai became widespread internationally in the twentieth century, when Thai boxers defeated notable fighters of other martial arts. In 1993, the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur, or IFMA was inaugurated. It became the governing body of amateur Muay Thai consisting of 128 member countries worldwide. It was formally recognized by the Olympic Council of Asia in 1998. This raised the profile of Muay Thai as an internationally recognized sport. And through the activities of IFMA, Muay Thai has also been promoted as a medium for cultural exchange.

The Father of Muay Thai: Nai Khanom Tom

According to Thai folklore at the time of the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1767, the invading Burmese troops rounded up thousands of Thais and took them to Burma as prisoners. Among them were a large number of Thai boxers including Nai Khanom Tom.

On March 17, 1774, in the Burmese city of Rangoon, the Burmese King Mangra decided to organize a seven-day religious festival in honor of Buddha's relics. Besides many forms of entertainment, the King also wanted to see how Thai boxing would compare to the Burmese boxing. Nai Khanom Tom, a famous fighter from Ayutthaya was selected to fight against Burmese champions. In the end, he could defeat nine of them, including one outstanding boxing master from Rakhine, all in the first round, in front of King Mangra. This feat won him the great praise from the King who remarked that, “Every part of the Thai is blessed with 'venom'. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents.” Nai Khanom Tom was granted his freedom and awarded two Burmese wives whom he took back to Thailand.

As a result, Nai Khanom Tom was named the “Father of Muay Thai”. And March 17 was declared as “Muay Thai Day” in remembrance of Nai Khanom Tom’s accomplishment.

Wai Khru Ritual

Wai Khru is a ritual dance performed by the boxers before fighting in Muay Thai competitions. The ritual is accompanied by traditional music, providing a rhythm to the boxer's movements. The Wai Khru shows respect and gratitude to the boxer's teacher, their parents, and their ancestors.

Muay Thai Techniques

The uniqueness of Muay Thai techniques is the use of entire body movement, rotating the hip with each punch, kick, elbow and block. The art and science of Muay Thai can be compiled into a textbook with skills taking years to master. The best way to appreciate the art is to visit a match at one of Muay Thai boxing stadiums and see first hand the fighters in action. Many Muay Thai boxing camps provide basic training courses to enthusiasts.

Offensive Technique consists of
1) punching (chok) 
2) kicking (te) 
3) foot-thrust (thip)
4) elbowing (ti sok)
5) kneeing (ti khao)
6) clinch and neck-wrestling (chap kho)

Defensive Technique consists of
1) blocking - to stop a strike from reaching its target
2) redirection - change the direction of a strike to cause it to miss its target
3) avoidance - moving a body part out of range of a strike
4) evasion - moving the body out of range of a strike
5) disruption - pre-empting an attack
6) anticipation – catching a strike or countering it before it lands

15 Major Techniques (Mae Mai Muay Thai)

These are 15 special offensive and defensive techniques with exotic names designed to defeat the opponents. One of the most famous techniques is "Alligator Tail Strike" by which the fighter counters an incoming punch with a rear heel kick to either the neck or the belly of the opponent which often results in a knock out.

15 mae mai muay thai

1 Zigzag 
   "สลับฟันปลา" (outside defense)
2 Bird Escapes from Nest 
   "ปักษาแหวกรัง" (inner defense)
3 Javanese Javelins 
   "ชวาชัดหอก" (inner elbow thrust)
4 Thrust a Dagger 
   "อิเหนาแทงกริช" (outer elbow thrust)
5 Mount Meru 
   "ยอเขาพระสุเมรุ" (45-degree chin uppercut)
6 Shutter Support 
   "ตาเถรค้ำฝัก" (60-degree uppercut)
7 Mon Thrust 
   "มอญยันหลัก" (foot thrust)
8 Piling Leg 
   "ปักลูกทอย" (blocking kick with elbow)
9 Alligator Tail Strike 
   "จระเข้ฟาดหาง" (striking with rear kick)
10 Breaking Elephant Trunk 
     "หักงวงไอยรา" (elbow strike to thigh)
11 Naga Twisting Tail 
     "นาคาบิดหาง" (twisting leg and hitting the calf or knee joint)
12 Bird Tumbling 
     "วิรุฬหกกลับ" (block a kick with foot-thrust)
13 Fail Chawala 
     "ดับชวาลา" (disrupting hook with return punch)
14 Giant Takes on Ape 
     "ขุนยักษ์จับลิง" (catching punch, kick, elbow)
15 Breaking Erawan Neck 
     "หักคอเอราวัณ" (bending neck and striking with knee)

Where to Watch

There are numerous Muay Thai boxing stadiums in Bangkok and around Thailand. However, the two major and most famous stadiums are Lumpinee and Rajadamnern in Bangkok. Besides, there is another place that you can enjoy Muay Thai in the form of cultural performance – that is Muay Thai Live Show at Asiatique, a large open-air mall located ten minutes downriver from Saphan Taksin BTS station, Charoen Krung Road, Bangkok.

Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives is a stage production that unveils the untold stories of the origins and heroes of Thailand’s revered martial art. It is an exciting theatrical show combining entertaining performances with the ancient martial art of Muay Thai. The show runs Tuesday - Sunday from 8 to 9 p.m. at The Stage, a modern theatre within the excellent Asiatique The Riverfront. For more details, please visit

At Rajadamnern Stadium, the boxing matches are held on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 10 p.m. Its central location and convenient access make it a popular choice for tourists wishing to experience the thrill of watching a Muay Thai fight.

Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, located on Ramintra Road near Don Mueang Airport, is a popular place to watch some of Muay Thai’s most incredible and famous fighters. Matches can be seen here from 6 to 11 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday, and from 4 to 11 p.m. on Saturdays.

If you go to watch Thai boxing at Rajadamnern Stadium, we would like to recommend you to stay at one of the following hotels which are located near the stadium -- Charlie House Pin Klao, Ibis Styles Bangkok, Aetas Lumpini, Suan Dusit Place, and Khaosan Art Hotel.

Remark: For Thai boxing and Muay Thai Live Show tickets, contact Alex Holiday Co., Ltd., Tel. 02 880 7388, 08 1818 3805 or visit

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