Muay Thai History
Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is the cultural martial art of Thailand. The origins of Muay Thai date back several hundred years, and was, essentially, developed as a form of close-combat that used the entire body as a weapon. Muay Thai uses the body to mimic the weapons of war. The hands become the sword and dagger; the shins and forearms were hardened in training to act as armour against blows, and the elbow to fell opponents like a heavy mace or hammer; the legs and knees became the axe and staff. The body operated as one unit. The knees and elbows constantly searching and testing for an opening while grappling and trying to spin an enemy to the ground for the kill.
Various forms of kickboxing have long been practiced throughout Southeast Asia. Muay boran, and therefore muay Thai, was originally called by more generic names such as pahuyuth (from the Sanskrit bahu-yuddha meaning unarmed combat), dhoi muay (boxing or pugilism, a cognate of the Malay word tomoi) or simply muay. As well as being a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, muay became a sport in which the opponents fought in front of spectators who went to watch for entertainment. These muay contests gradually became an integral part of local festivals and celebrations, especially those held at temples. Eventually, the previously bare-fisted fighters started wearing lengths of hemp rope around their hands and forearms. This type of match was called muay khat chueak .
The origin of Muay Thai is unclear. One theory is that it was with the Thai people before the Thai immigration to Southeast Asia from China. Another is that it was adopted and modified off of Khmer martial arts when Thai culture was influenced by Khmer culture. A third theory is that a little bit of both the first and second theory occurred. Muay Thai evolved from its ancestor Muay Boran (“ancient boxing”), an unarmed combat used by Siamese soldiers in conjunction with Krabi Krabong. There is a phrase about Muay Boran that states, “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao.
At the time of the fall of the ancient Siam capital of Ayutthaya in 1763, the invading Burmese troops rounded up a group of Thai residents and took them as prisoners. Among them were a large number of Thai boxers, who were taken by the Burmese to the city of Ungwa.
In 1774, in the Burmese city of Rangoon, the king of the Burmese, Hsinbyushin (known in Thai as “King Mangra”), decided to organize a seven-day, seven-night religious festival in honor of Buddha’s relics. The festivities included many forms of entertainment, such as the costume plays called likay, comedies and farces, and sword-fighting matches. At one point, King Hsinbyushin wanted to see how Muay Boran would compare to the Burmese art Lethwei. Nai Khanom Tom was selected to fight against the Burmese champion. The boxing ring was set up in front of the throne and Nai Khanom Tom did a traditional Wai Kru pre-fight dance, to pay his respects to the Burmese king, as well as for all the spectators, dancing around his opponent, which amazed and perplexed all the Burmese people. When the fight began, he charged out, using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, pummeling his opponent until he collapsed.
The referee however stated that the Burmese opponent was too distracted by the Wai Kru, and 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 in between. His last opponent was a great boxing teacher from Ya Kai City. Nai Khanom Tom mangled him by his kicks and no one else dared to challenge him any further.
During the Ayuthaya era came the introduction of Muay Kaad Chuek. Muay Kaad Chuek literal translates wrapped in twine boxing. Somewhere along way during the development and evolution of Muay Boran, an innovative fighter decided to wrap his hands. The practice caught on and varying wrapping styles and applications evolved. Some fighter’s wrapped only their hands while others covered their entire forearms. A length of around 20 metres was enough to bind one hand. The use of Muay Kaad Chuek quickly spread, as a bound fist is tougher, stronger and better protected against injury than an unbound one. It is said that before a contest fighters immersed their fists in water. This would cause the binding to harden when it dried, making it capable of producing serious injury.
Muay Thai is a martial art that is unlike any other, rich in the proud heritage of an entire nation. The style is interwoven into the well known history of the Thai people and even though they are gentle and fun loving people, they’ve had to defend both themselves and their land for many years against aggressive powers. To protect what they had, the Thai people developed a fighting system of close combat techniques that were suited to the type of rough terrain they would be fighting in. Over the years, it eventually became a rite of passage for all Thai men to train in this amazing martial art.