History of Muay Thai & Muay Thai training. What is Muay Thai? A Complete Guide

History of Muay Thai & Muay Thai training. What is Muay Thai? hero image

What is Muay Thai or Thai Boxing?

Muay Thai, often referred to as Thai Boxing, is more than just a martial art; it’s a reflection of Thailand’s history and culture. Known as the “Art of Eight Limbs,” it is a testament to the human body’s potential in combat. The body becomes a living weapon: hands mimic the sword and dagger, shins and forearms act as armor, elbows strike like maces, and legs swing like axes. This martial art demands unity of the body, with knees and elbows always seeking an opening, always prepared to strike. This intricate dance of strikes and moves is not just about physical prowess; it’s a blend of technique, discipline, and artistry, deeply rooted in Thai traditions.

However, the precise origins of Thailand Muay Thai are debated by scholars, primarily because a significant portion of its history was lost during the 14th century when the Burmese ransacked Ayudhaya, the capital city of Siam. Most of the written records were destroyed, and the few that survived are now treasured as national artifacts, preserving the heritage of Thai culture.

First, we’ll take you through the history of Muay Thai (and how it’s linked to Thailand’s history). Then, we’ll come back to the present and talk about current-day Muay Thai.

History of Muay Thai & Muay Thai Origin

The Sukhothai Era

The year 1238 marked a significant chapter in Thai history. In Sukhothai, the first Thai army was established to defend the capital city from continuous wars with neighboring tribes and kingdoms. The Siamese army was trained not just in weapon combat but also in using their bodies as weapons. This training laid the foundation for what would evolve into Muay Thai and Krabi Krabong.

As the art form became ingrained in the culture, training centers began to emerge throughout the kingdom, known as the first Muay Thai camps. From young men seeking discipline and self-defense to monks in Buddhist temples, the art was passed down, from generation to generation. Both the commoners and the royalty embraced it. In fact, the first King of Sukhothai sent his two sons to the Samakorn training center, believing that great warriors would make brave leaders.

The Krungsri Ayutthaya Era

As Thailand, Burma (now Myanmar), and Cambodia locked horns in numerous wars, the need for vast armies became paramount. Young men were rigorously trained in combat, mastering both weaponry and hand-to-hand techniques. Among the training centers that sprouted during this era, the Phudaisawan Center, specializing in swords and polearms, stood out as the pinnacle of martial education.

During the Ayutthaya period, Muay Thai began to evolve from a military technique to a popular sport. Villages would often organize Muay Boran matches during local festivals, drawing large crowds. These events were deeply cultural, with traditional music setting the rhythm for the fights. It was during this era that legends of great Muay Thai fighters began to emerge, their tales becoming an integral part of Thai folklore.

The Era of King Naresuan

King Naresuan’s reign was pivotal for Muay Thai. Recognizing the sport’s significance, he made it a mandatory part of military training. This not only enhanced the soldiers’ combat skills but also ingrained Muay Thai into the very fabric of Thai society.

King Naresuan, a fervent admirer of Muay Thai, became a legend in the sport. He rallied men, who had previously been defeated by the Burmese, transforming them into scouts and jungle warfare soldiers. Their resilience and skill eventually led to the liberation of Thailand from Burmese occupation around 1600.

The Era of King Narai

Under King Narai’s reign, Muay Thai transitioned from a martial art to a national sport. Traditions were established, many of which persist to this day. The Mongkong (headband) and pa-pra-jiat (armband) were introduced, and the first designated fighting areas were marked by ropes laid on the ground. Fighters wrapped their hands and forearms in hemp ropes, sometimes binding them with a starchy liquid to harden the striking surface. There were no weight classes or time limits; fighters represented their regions, and matches often had high stakes, with pride, honor, and even wealth on the line.

This period also saw the introduction of formal rules and the establishment of training camps, where young men would train under the guidance of seasoned Muay Thai masters.

King Prachao Sua “Tiger King” Era

King Prachao Sua’s passion for Muay Thai was unparalleled. Disguised as a commoner, he would enter tournaments in small towns, besting notable fighters without revealing his royal identity. His love for the sport led him to ensure that his sons, the princes of Thailand, were well-versed in Muay Thai and sword fighting. This era also saw the establishment of the Department of Royal Boxing, tasked with recruiting skilled fighters for royal entertainment and training members of the royal family in combat.

History of Muay Thai

The Thonburi Era

The Thonburi Era ushered in a period of peace and reconstruction for Thailand. While Muay Thai remained a crucial training for soldiers, it also became a popular pastime for civilians. The sport’s competitive nature evolved, with camps pitting their best fighters against each other for entertainment. With no formal rules, matches continued until a clear victor emerged.

Muay Thai continued to flourish, with fighters developing new techniques and strategies. The establishment of formal training camps, or Muay Thai Camp Thailand, marked a significant milestone, laying the groundwork for the sport’s modern training regimen.

The Ratanakosin Era

By the time King Rama I ascended the throne, Muay Thai had firmly established itself as a national martial art. The sport began to see formal rules and regulations. Rounds were timed using a unique method: a coconut with a small hole would float in water, and when it filled and sank, the round ended. However, there was still no cap on the number of rounds, and matches continued until a clear victor was determined.

Reign of Rama I

King Rama I, a Muay Thai enthusiast, often traveled to witness matches. Legend speaks of an event in 1788 when two French brothers came to Thailand, one of whom was a renowned fighter. He sought to challenge a Thai boxer. The fight, held at the Grand Palace, took a dramatic turn when the Frenchman’s brother, seeing his sibling on the verge of defeat, broke the rules and intervened. This led to a skirmish between the foreigners and Thai spectators.

Bangkok’s establishment as the new capital brought with it a new era for Muay Thai. The sport began to gain royal patronage, especially during the reign of Rama I. Boxing rings were set up in major cities, and tournaments were organized, drawing fighters from all over the country.

The Golden Age of Muay Thai (Rama V)

Often referred to as the “Golden Age of Muay Thai,” King Rama V’s era was instrumental in shaping the sport as we know it today. The king established boxing rings in major cities and organized tournaments, bringing fighters from all over the country. It was during this period that the term “Muay Thai” became widely used, distinguishing it from its ancient form.

King Rama V championed Muay Thai, promoting tournaments and establishing “Muay Luang” or Royally appointed Boxing Centers. These centers not only honed fighters but also served as recruitment grounds for the king’s personal guards. The Department of Education, founded in 1887, incorporated Muay Thai into the curriculum of the Military Cadet Teachers School.

World War I (King Rama VI)

The global stage was introduced to Muay Thai during World War I. Thai soldiers stationed in France organized Muay Thai bouts to lift spirits. French boxers often joined these matches, pitting their skills against the Thai fighters. Post-war, the first permanent boxing stadium was erected at the Suan Khoolab School. Fighters still used traditional hand wraps, but modern protective gear like Mongkongs began to appear.

World War I was a turning point for Muay Thai. Soldiers trained in this martial art were formidable opponents on the battlefield. Recognizing its value, the Thai military incorporated Muay Thai into their training regimen. The post-war period saw a resurgence in the sport’s popularity, with new training camps and gyms, like the renowned Muay Thai gym Phuket, opening their doors to enthusiasts.

Nai Khanom Tom: Father of Muay Thai

Nai Khanom Tom. The Father of Muay Thai
Nai Khanom Tom. The Father of Muay Thai

Legend has it that back in 1774, during a time when the Burmese King Mangra held numerous Siamese prisoners following the Burmese invasion of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Nai Khanom Tom emerged as a prominent figure.

During a festive occasion, the king aimed to assess whether Muay Boran could stand up to Burmese boxing. Nai Khanom Tom was handpicked for a pivotal role – he was chosen to face off against the Burmese boxing champion.

In a remarkable display of skills, following the customary Wai Kru ritual (which the Burmese perceived as a form of Thai black magic), Nai Khanom Tom entered combat with the Burmese boxing champion and emerged victorious through a knockout.

Despite this triumph, the referee deemed the victory null, influenced by the surrounding music and suspecting some form of sorcery.

In response, the king orchestrated a sequence wherein nine more fighters were sent in succession, without any intervals between fights. Astonishingly, each of these challengers were subdued by Nai Khanom Tom’s adept use of his hands, knees, and elbows.

Every part of the Siamese is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. But his Lord was incompetent and lost the country to the enemy. If he had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen“. .

King Mangra who subsequently granted freedom to Nai Khanom Tom and all Siamese (Thais)

Early Muay Thai Training Methods

Before modern equipment, fighters used natural resources for training. Banana trees were popular targets for practicing kicks, while coconut trees aided in leg strengthening. Fighters also used rivers to train their reflexes, ensuring they didn’t blink when water splashed their faces. The Muay Thai circle, a training technique where one fighter sparred with multiple opponents in succession, was a testament to the sport’s rigorous training regimen.

Muay Thai Styles

There is a rich tapestry of Muay Thai techniques, and its diversity is reflected in the various styles that have emerged from different regions of Thailand.

Muay Chaiya: Originating from the southern part of Thailand, Muay Chaiya is a style that places a strong emphasis on defense. Fighters trained in this style maintain a low stance, making them less vulnerable to attacks. The emphasis is on using elbows and counters to deflect an opponent’s strikes. It’s a style that requires patience, waiting for the right moment to strike back.

Muay Thasao: The northern regions of Thailand gave birth to Muay Thasao. This style is characterized by its agility and swift footwork. Fighters often use their speed to evade attacks and respond with high, powerful kicks. It’s a dance of sorts, with fighters constantly on the move, making them hard to pin down.

Muay Korat: From the northeastern region comes Muay Korat, a style known for its sheer power. Fighters focus on delivering strong punches and kicks, often overpowering their opponents with brute strength. It’s said that a single strike from a Muay Korat fighter can determine the outcome of a match.

Muay Lopburi: Central Thailand’s Muay Lopburi is a balanced style, combining both offensive and defensive techniques. Fighters are trained to adapt, switching between offense and defense as the situation demands, making it a versatile style suitable for various challenges.

Muay Thai styles are also broken down based on specialty and strike choice:

  • Muay Mat – Punches
  • Muay Khao – Knees
  • Muay Sok – Elbows
  • Muay Dtae – Kicks
  • Muay Plam – Clinching
  • Muay Femur – Technique

Depending on the gym or the instructor, your Muay Thai Thailand experience could consist of one or multiple different styles.

Wai Kroo/Ram Muay

The Wai Kroo and Ram Muay are rituals that hold deep significance in the world of Muay Thai. Before any match begins, fighters perform this traditional dance, a combination of rhythmic movements and music. But it’s not just a dance; it’s a way of paying respect. Fighters honor their trainers, the sport, and the spirits. The Ram Muay, a dance unique to each master instructor, is taught to his students.The ritual also serves a practical purpose, allowing fighters to warm up, stretch, and mentally prepare for the battle ahead.

Muay Thai Wai Kroo
Muay Thai Wai Kroo

Modern Muay Thai

Over the past century, Muay Thai has undergone significant evolution. Gaining international attention during World War II, it was dubbed “Siam Boxing” by foreigners. As its global popularity surged, rules were modified to align more with international boxing standards. The 1920s saw the introduction of boxing rings, setting the stage for modern Muay Thai. Gloves replaced traditional hand wraps, and formal Muay Thai rules were established post-WW II.

The evolution of Muay Thai has been nothing short of remarkable. From its ancient roots in Thailand, it has grown into a global phenomenon. Modern Muay Thai is a blend of tradition and innovation. Training techniques have been refined, and protective gear has been introduced, making the sport safer for fighters. Gyms, like the Muay Thai gym Phuket has practically around every corner, offer training for both local Thais and foreigners. The sport’s global appeal is evident in the numerous international competitions held annually, drawing fighters from all corners of the world.

Modern Muay Thai has transcended its national boundaries, gaining immense popularity worldwide. While it remains a symbol of Thai heritage, its techniques and training regimens have been adopted globally. A significant number of foreigners, especially westerners, have ventured into Thailand to learn the art at its source. Some have even risen through the ranks, competing professionally and earning accolades. This international participation has further enriched the sport, blending styles and fostering global appreciation.

Despite its growth, many Muay Thai fighters still earn modest incomes, leading them to fight frequently. Training often begins in childhood, with Thai fighters starting their careers as young as 8-10 years old.

Muay Thai, with its rich history and traditions, has firmly established itself not just as Thailand’s national sport but also as a globally recognized martial art. Its evolution, from ancient training methods using banana and coconut trees to modern-day techniques and equipment, showcases the sport’s adaptability and enduring appeal. As Muay Thai continues to gain international acclaim, its roots in Thai culture and history remain ever-present, ensuring that the art’s essence is preserved for future generations.

Key Rules and Regulations in Muay Thai: Understanding the Fundamentals

Muay Thai, the ancient art of eight limbs, carries a rich heritage and a set of essential rules and regulations that govern its practice. Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or new to the world of Muay Thai, grasping these foundational guidelines is crucial for appreciating the sport’s intricacies. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key aspects that are universally recognized across various Muay Thai promotions and sanctioning organizations. From the age limit for competitors to the nuances of scoring and fight stoppages, let’s delve into the heart of Muay Thai regulations.

Age Limit in Muay Thai

The journey into the world of professional Muay Thai has a significant age-related entry point. Countries differ in their minimum age requirements for eligibility, with Thailand allowing entry at the age of 15, while other nations set the bar at 16 or 18. Many fighters commence their careers with amateur bouts, often excluding elbows and head strikes. The use of protective gear such as head guards, elbow pads, and padded vests is commonly mandated, ensuring the safety of young participants.

Ring Size in Muay Thai

At the core of every Muay Thai showdown is the ring, an elevated squared platform that sets the stage for riveting battles. Ranging in dimensions from 4.9 by 4.9 meters (16 ft) to 7.3 by 7.3 meters (24 ft), the ring’s construction incorporates safety measures like ropes, corner posts, and well-padded flooring. These elements collectively provide a secure environment for fighters to display their skills.

Muay Thai Gloves

Safety and fairness are paramount in Muay Thai, exemplified by the provision of boxing gloves in professional events. These gloves, weighing between 6oz and 10oz, are tailored to specific weight divisions, ensuring equitable competition. Notably, certain promotions embrace MMA-style gloves (open-finger) in the 4-6oz range for a unique twist on traditional equipment.

Competitor Attire

In the world of Muay Thai, male fighters step into the ring without shirts and shoes, donning exclusively Muay Thai shorts. Additionally, the sport bears cultural significance with the use of Prajiad, sacred armbands often worn by fighters, even outside of Thailand. While ankle guards are a common sight, they remain optional attire.

Length of Muay Thai Fights: Timing and Rounds

A significant element defining Muay Thai bouts is the duration of the contests and the structure of rounds. Under full professional rules, matches extend to 5 rounds, each spanning 3 minutes with a 2-minute break between rounds. Certain televised events cater to wider audiences by featuring 3 rounds of 3 minutes each. In amateur settings, fights have shorter durations, featuring 2-minute rounds and 1-minute rests, while junior fights comprise 1-minute rounds.

Female Muay Thai Fights

Muay Thai’s inclusivity extends to female fighters, who navigate similar regulations as their male counterparts. Noteworthy differences include the requirement for tops, often sports bras or sleeveless shirts, and the need to secure long hair. Fight durations for female contestants typically align with those of male fighters.

Muay Thai Scoring System

In scenarios devoid of knockouts, the scoring system takes center stage to determine winners. The Muay Thai scoring methodology prioritizes effective strikes and impactful damage. Contrary to popular belief, sheer aggression doesn’t always translate to more points—quality and impact take precedence. This nuanced approach occasionally leads to misinterpretations among casual spectators.
Scoring is established such that the victor of a round garners 10 points, while the opponent receives 9, 8, or 7 points based on performance. In cases where the loser received an 8-count, they earn 8 points. Balanced rounds result in both fighters receiving 10 points. A fighter who dominates all 5 rounds accumulates a maximum of 50 points.

Stoppages in Muay Thai

Authority rests with referees to halt fights due to knockouts, disqualifications, or pronounced one-sidedness. On-duty doctors can intervene when a fighter is deemed unfit to continue. Additionally, corners retain the option to throw in the towel in the event of fighter injury, leading to an early determination of the winner.

Fouls in Muay Thai

Safety considerations underpin certain penalized techniques and strikes, resulting in warnings or disqualifications. Forbidden actions encompass headbutts, biting, groin shots, striking the back of the head, targeting knee joints, and eye poking. When an opponent maintains three-point contact with the canvas (two feet and one hand), striking becomes prohibited. Accidental breaches are adjudicated by the referee or ring officials.

Disrespectful behavior like spitting or swearing invites penalties, ranging from warnings to point deductions or disqualifications. While takedowns are permissible, techniques from Judo or wrestling remain prohibited. Actions like throwing opponents out of the ring or executing pro-wrestling-style back-breaking are strictly disallowed.

National Muay Thai Day

Each year, on the 17th of March, Thailand observes Nai Khanom Tom Day, a special occasion known by various names like “National Muay Boran Day,” “National Muay Thai Day,” or “Boxer’s Day.”

Although Muay Thai is famously Thailand’s national sport, this celebration encompasses more than just the sport itself. It serves as a significant remembrance day to pay tribute to the esteemed figure Nai Khanom Tom and all the ancestral mentors who played a pivotal role in the evolution of Muay Boran into its modern iteration, Muay Thai, famously known as the “art of the eight limbs.”

Muay Thai in MMA

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a melting pot of various fighting disciplines, and Muay Thai has carved a niche for itself in this arena. The art’s comprehensive striking techniques, combined with its clinch work, make it a sought-after skill in MMA. Fighters like Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and Khalil Rountree who have a strong Muay Thai background, have showcased the art’s effectiveness in the octagon, leading to a surge in its popularity among MMA enthusiasts.

Also, fun fact: multiple-time UFC champion Valentina Shevchenko has a tattoo in Thai that spells “Muay Thai”. Shevchenko has won 8 IFMA World Championships.

Muay Thai Competitions and Organizations

The world of Muay Thai is vast, with competitions ranging from local village tournaments to grand international championships. Organizations like the World Muay Thai Council and the International Federation of Muay Thai Associations play a pivotal role in promoting the sport. They ensure standardized rules, organize events, and work towards the global growth of Muay Thai.

Muay Thai competitions are a global spectacle. Promotions like ONE FC and MAX Muay Thai have taken the sport to international audiences. Achieving champion status in iconic arenas like the Rajadamnern Stadium or Lumpinee Stadium is considered the pinnacle of a fighter’s career. These venues have witnessed countless epic battles, crowning champions who’ve etched their names in Muay Thai history.

Lumpinee Boxing stadium in Bangkok
Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok

Current Muay Thai Champions

The world of Muay Thai is ever-evolving, with new champions rising to prominence regularly. These athletes train rigorously, often starting at a very young age, dedicating their lives to mastering the art. While the list of champions is dynamic, with titleholders changing based on competitions, the dedication and spirit they showcase remain a constant. For those keen on following the journeys of these champions, many Muay Thai gyms, including the renowned Muay Thai gym Thailand, often host events where these fighters showcase their skills.

The Muay Thai landscape is dotted with champions who’ve showcased unparalleled skill and determination. Names like Buakaw Banchamek, Saenchai, and Rodtang Jitmuangnon are just a few who’ve left an indelible mark on the sport. Their fights are a testament to their dedication, skill, and the rich legacy of Muay Thai.

Muay Thai vs Boxing

The debate between Muay Thai and boxing is a common one. While both are striking arts, Muay Thai offers a broader range of techniques. Boxing primarily focuses on punches, while Muay Thai incorporates the use of elbows, knees, and shins, giving fighters a wider arsenal. Additionally, the clinch work in Muay Thai adds another layer of strategy, making it a more comprehensive striking art.

Muay Thai Kickboxing

Muay Thai and kickboxing are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct. Muay Thai Kickboxing, as the name suggests, is a blend of traditional Muay Thai and western kickboxing. While both emphasize strikes using punches and kicks, Muay Thai allows the use of elbows and knees, making it more versatile.

Muay Thai, Boxing, and Kickboxing are often compared to one another in terms of what’s most effective for MMA or combat in general. Compelling arguments can be made for each striking discipline, but it’s worth trying at least a few classes in each of them to feel the differences (and specific skills that you develop within each).

Muay Thai Weight Classes

Just like other combat sports, Muay Thai has various weight classes to ensure fair matchups. These weight classes range from Mini Flyweight to Super Heavyweight, allowing fighters of all sizes to compete on an even playing field.

The weight classes are as follows:

Weight ClassWeight Limits
Mini FlyweightUp to 105 lbs (47.6 kg)
Junior FlyweightOver 105 lbs to 108 lbs (47.6 kg to 49 kg)
FlyweightOver 108 lbs to 112 lbs (49 kg to 50.8 kg)
Junior BantamweightOver 112 lbs to 115 lbs (50.8 kg to 52.2 kg)
BantamweightOver 115 lbs to 118 lbs (52.2 kg to 53.5 kg)
Junior Featherweight: Over 118 lbs to 122 lbs (53.5 kg to 55.3 kg)
FeatherweightOver 122 lbs to 126 lbs (55.3 kg to 57.2 kg)
LightweightOver 126 lbs to 130 lbs (57.2 kg to 59 kg)
Welterweight: Over 130 lbs to 140 lbs (59 kg to 63.5 kg)
Middleweight: Over 140 lbs to 160 lbs (63.5 kg to 72.6 kg)
Super Middleweight: Over 160 lbs to 168 lbs (72.6 kg to 76.2 kg)
Light Heavyweight: Over 168 lbs to 175 lbs (76.2 kg to 79.4 kg)
CruiserweightOver 175 lbs to 190 lbs (79.4 kg to 86.2 kg)
Heavyweight: Over 190 lbs to 210 lbs (86.2 kg to 95.3 kg)
Super Heavyweight: Over 210 lbs (Over 95.3 kg)

Muay Thai Fighting

Muay Thai fights are a test of skill, endurance, and spirit. Fighters train for years, honing their techniques and building their stamina. A typical Muay Thai match consists of five rounds, with each round lasting three minutes. The bouts are intense, with fighters constantly looking for an opening to land a decisive blow.

Muay Thai Movies

The allure of Muay Thai has made its way to the silver screen. Over the years, several films have showcased the beauty and brutality of this martial art. From biographical films about legendary fighters to action-packed dramas, Muay Thai movies captivate audiences with their compelling narratives and thrilling fight sequences.

Muay Thai’s allure isn’t limited to the ring; it’s also captured the imagination of filmmakers. Movies like “Ong Bak,” starring Tony Jaa, showcased the raw power and beauty of Muay Thai to global audiences. Documentaries and films delve into the lives of fighters, their struggles, and their undying passion for the sport, offering viewers a glimpse into the heart and soul of Muay Thai.

Muay Thai Martial Arts

Beyond the sport, Muay Thai is a martial art with deep cultural and historical roots. It’s not just about fighting; it’s about discipline, respect, and spirituality. Practitioners learn more than just techniques; they imbibe values that serve them well in all walks of life.

Muay Thai Training Camp at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA, Phuket, Thailand
Muay Thai Training at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA

Muay Thai Training Camp at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA, Phuket, Thailand

Interested in taking a Muay Thai Phuket holiday?

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