The history of Muay Thai was lost when the Burmese army sacked and razed Ayuddhaya to the ground. With them, much of the early MuayThai history also went. The little we do know about Muay Thai comes from the writings of the Burmese, Cambodian, early European visitors and some of the chronicles of the Lanna Kingdom – Chianmai.
What all sources agree on is that Muay Thai began as a close combat battlefield fighting skill, More deadly than the weapons it replaced.
As to where Muay Thai came from and its evolution, the sources aren’t clear and often contradict each other. But 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 says that the Thai people were already here and that Muay Thai developed to defend the land and people from constant invasion threats.
The second, though controversial, has considerable academic backing and archaeological evidence. The first is, however, possible as the area opened up to the early pioneers. What is known is that Muay Thai was an essential part of Thai culture right from its dawn. And in Thailand, it’s the sport of kings.
In olden days, 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 change in the art was to continue under another fighting King – Prachao Sua – the Tiger King. He loved Muay Thai so much that he often fought incognito in village contests, beating the local champions. During the reign of the Tiger King the nation was at peace. 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.
Thai Boxing became the favourite 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.
The high incidence of death and physical injury led the Thai government to impose a ban on Muay Thai in the 1920’s, but in the 1930’s the sport was revived under a modern set of regulations based on the international Queensberry rules.Bouts were limited to five three-minute rounds separated with two-minute breaks. Contestants had to wear international-style gloves and trunks (always either red or blue) and their feet were taped – to this day no shoes are worn.
There are 16 weight divisions in Thai boxing, ranging from mini flyweight to heavyweight, with the best fighters said to be in the welterweight division. As in international-style boxing, matches take place on a 7.3 sq meter canvas-covered floor with rope retainers supported by four padded posts.
In spite of these concessions to safety, today all surfaces of the body are still considered fair targets and any part of the body, except the head, may be used to strike an opponent. Common blows include high kicks to the head and neck, elbows to the face and head, knees to the ribs and low kicks to the calf. A contestant may even grasp an opponent’s head between his hands and pull it down to meet a knee. Punching is considered the weakest of all blows and kicking merely a way to ‘soften up’ one’s opponent; knee and elbow strikes are decisive in most matches
The training of a Thai boxer and, and particularly the relationship between boxer and trainer, is highly ritualized. When a boxer is considered ready for the ring, he is given a new name by his trainer, usually with the name of the training camp as his surname. The relationship is perhaps best expressed in the Ram Muay (boxing dance) that takes place before every match. The Ram Muay ceremony usually lasts about five minutes and expresses respect to the fighter’s instructor and Master, as well as to the guardian spirit of Thai boxing. This is done through a series of gestures and body movements performed in rhythm to the ringside musical accompaniment of Thai oboe (pìi) and percussion. Each boxer works out his own dance, in conjunction with his trainer and in accordance with the style of the particular camp.
The woven headbands and armbands worn into the ring by fighters are sacred ornaments; the headband is removed after the Ram Muay ceremony, but the armband, which contains a small Buddha image, is worn throughout the match. The musicians continue to play throughout the match and the volume and tempo of the music rise and fall along with the events in the ring.
Colored belts denoting training ranks, such as those issued by karate schools, do not exist in Muay Thai. As one well known Muay Thai trainer has said, “The only belts Thai boxers are concerned with are the Lumpini Stadium and the Ratchadamnoen Stadium championship belts”. Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen, both in Bangkok, are Thailand’s two main Muay Thai venues.
As Thai boxing has become more popular among Westerners (both spectators and participants) there are increasing numbers of bouts staged for tourists in places like Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui. In these, the action may be genuine but amateurish, and the judging way below par. Nonetheless, dozens of authentic matches are held every day of the year at the major Bangkok stadiums and in the provinces (there are about 60,000 full time boxers in Thailand), and these are easily sought out.
Several Thai Boxers have gone on to win world championships in international-style boxing. Khaosai Galaxy, the greatest Asian boxer of all time, chalked up 19 World Boxing Association (WBA) bantamweight championships in a row before retiring undefeated in December 1991. At any given time Thailand typically claims five concurrent international boxing champions – usually in the bantamweight and flyweight categories.
Meanwhile in some areas of the country, a pre 1920’s version of Muay Thai still exists. In North-Eastern Thailand Muay boran is a very ritualized form that resembles tajitquan (t’ai chi) or classical dance in its adherence to set moves and routines. In pockets of Southern Thailand, fighters practicing Muay katchii still bind their hands in hemp, and a more localized southern style in Chaiya known as Muay chaiya uses the elbows and forearms to advantage. Each year around the lunar new year (Songkhran) in April, near the town of Mae Sot on the Thai-Myanmar border, a top Thai fighter challenges a Burmese fighter of similar class from the other side of the Moei River to a no-holds barred, hemp-fisted battle that ends only after one of the opponents wipes blood from his body.
The “Wai Kru” or “Wai-Khru” also known as boxing dance is an important part of any evening watching Thai Boxing. These are ceremonies that are performed before each Muay Thai bout. Sometimes the “Wai-Kru” are brief and basic, but other times they may be eloquent performances that draw praise and applause from the crowd. It is said that those who see well can determine who will win the fight by watching two fighters perform their “Wai-Kru”. Teachers are highly respected in Thai society, and many artistic disciplines, not just Muay Thai, perform “Wai-Kru” or “respects to the teacher”. Foreigners viewing these rituals should take care to be polite and not act disrespectfully regarding the “Wai-Kru”. The Thais take seriously any insult to the “Wai-Kru”, just as you would if somebody insulted your spiritual beliefs.
Before the competition of Muay Thai, Krabi-Krabong (Thai swords) , or any other Thai ancient weapons martial arts , every competitor must perform the “Wai-Kru” ritual and perform the boxing dance which is the continued tradition since ancient times.”Wai-Kru” is a way to pay respect to his majesty the king or the chairman of the competition tournament. Furthermore , “Wai-Kru” is the way to realize the goodness of the master who gave them the knowledge. It’s also the way to create the strength of their mind. The style of the dance is unique to each boxing bureau. Boxers who danced the same style wouldn’t box each other since they realize that they have the same master. Furthermore, to dance is one way to warm up before starting the fight . It also helps relax the stress and to prepare body and mind to be ready to get into the battle.
The practitioner may wear a headband called a Mong Kol and armbands known as Pra Jiad during the ceremony, and the Ram Muay may be accompanied by music. The Mong Kol is unique to Thai boxing and not worn by any other martial arts.
We have highly qualified instructors specializing in the art of Muay Thai. All our instructors are Kru with several pro fights under them. Please check our trainer profile section for further information.