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Thai Culture Guide >> Thai Boxing

Art of Thai Boxing

The Siamese developed their own writing system in the early 1200s which makes it difficult to obtain information on the early history of Thailand as well as Muay Thai. It is known that martial arts resembling Muay Thai have long been practiced throughout much of Southeast Asia. The origin of the Thai boxing can be traced back to the older Muay Boran ("ancient boxing"). This was the form of unarmed combat probably used by Siamese soldiers in conjunction with Krabi Krabong, the weapon-based style[1]. Since Thai culture was based on that of India, China and Cambodia, they would have had an influence on local martial arts. Indian boxing arts such as Adithada remarkably resemble both Muay Boran and Muay Thai and it has been said that every move in Muay Thai has a similar equivalent in Shaolin kung fu. Muay Boran was divided to:

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Muay Korat (Northeast) emphasized strength. A technique like "Throwing Buffalo Punch" was used. It could supposedly defeat a buffalo in one blow. Muay Lopburi (Center region) emphasized movements. Its strong points were straight and counter punches. Muay Chaiya (South) emphasized posture and defense, as well as elbows and knees. Muay Pra Nakorn (North) emphasized speed, particularly in kicking. Because of its faster speed, it was called as well "Ling Lom" (windy monkey or Loris). There is a phrase about Muay Boran that states, "Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao. (หมัดหนักโคราช ฉลาดลพบุรี ท่าดีไชยา ไวกว่าท่าเสา)". It was from all these regional styles that the more general term Muay Thai (Thai boxing) was developed.

It grew in popularity among common people, so much so that it was said that any man worth his salt would practice the art. As well as continuing to function as a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, it became a sport in which the exponents fought in front of spectators who went to watch for entertainment. This kind of Thai boxing contests gradually became an integral part of local festivals and celebrations, especially those held at temples. It was used as entertainment to kings.

Royal Muay Muay gradually became a possible means of personal advancement as the nobility increasingly esteemed skillful practitioners of the art and invited selected fighters to come to live in the Royal palace to teach muay to the staff of the royal household, soldiers, princes or the king's personal guards.

Some time during the Ayutthaya Period, a platoon of royal guards was established, whose duty was to protect king and the country. They were known as Grom Nak Muay (Muay Fighters' Regiment). This royal patronage of Thai boxing continued through the reigns of Rama V and VII.

The Muay Renaissance The accession of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a Golden Age not only for muay but for the whole country. Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king's personal intrest in the art. The country was in peace and muay functioned as a means of physical exercise, self-defense, recreation and personal advancement.

Legendary Heros Nai Khanom Tom was a famous practitioner of Thai Boxing. Around 1774, he was captured along with other Thai prisoners, either in a skirmish or at the fall of the ancient capital of Siam of Ayutthaya. He was brought to Rangoon in Burma, where the Burmese King Mangra was holding a religious festival in honor of Buddha's relics. The festivities included many forms of entertainment. King Mangra was reported to be curious to see how the various fighting styles of Burma and other countries would compare. At one point, he wanted to see how Muay Boran would compare to the Burmese art Lethwei. Nai Khanomtom was selected to fight against the Burmese champion. Nai Khanomtom did a Wai Kru pre-fight dance which puzzled all of the Burmese. When the fight began, he charged out and using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, quickly pummeled the Burmese.

The referee was reported to have stated that the Burmese opponent was distracted by the Wai Kru, so the knockout was invalid. The King then asked if Nai Khanomtom would fight nine other Burmese champions to prove himself. He agreed and fought them all, one after the other with no rest periods between fights. The last Burmese was reputed to be a great boxing teacher. Nai Khanomtom defeated them all in a superior fashion.

King Mangra was so impressed that he remarked, "Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. As his lord master was incompetent, the country was lost to the enemy. If his lord had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen."

He granted Nai Khanomtom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives. Nai Khanomtom chose the wives as he said that money was easier to find. He then departed with his wives for Siam. Other variations of this story had him also winning the release of his fellow Thai prisoners. His feat is celebrated every March 17 as "Boxer's Day" or "National Muay Thai Day" in his honor and that of Thai boxing.

Today, some have wrongly attributed the legend of "Nai Khanomtom" to the King Naresuan, who was also once taken by the Burmeses.

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