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Muay Thai (Thai: ??????, RTGS: Muai Thai, IPA: [mu?j t??j], lit. Thai Boxing) is a form of hard martial art practiced in large parts of the world, including Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. The art is similar to others in Southeast Asia such as: pradal serey in Cambodia, lethwei in Myanmar, tomoi in Malaysia, and Lao boxing in Laos. Muay Thai has a long history in Thailand and is the country’s national sport. Traditional Muay Thai practiced today varies significantly from the ancient art muay boran and uses kicks and punches in a ring with gloves similar to those used in Western boxing.
Muay Thai is referred to as “The Art of the Eight Limbs”, as the hands, shins, elbows, and knees are all used extensively in this art. A practitioner of Muay Thai (“nak muay”) thus has the ability to execute strikes using eight “points of contact,” as opposed to “two points” (fists) in Western boxing and “four points” (fists, feet) used in the primarily sport-oriented forms of martial arts.
Various forms of kickboxing have long been practiced throughout Southeast Asia. As with the most countries in the region, Thai culture is highly influenced by ancient civilizations within Southeast Asia. Muay Thai’s origin in Thailand can be traced back to its ancestor Muay Boran (“ancient boxing”), an unarmed combat used by Siamese soldiers in conjunction with Krabi Krabong, the weapon-based style. Eventually Muay Boran was divided to:
There is a phrase about Muay Boran that states, “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao. (????????????? ?????????? ????????? ????????????)”.
As well as continuing to function as a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, Muay Thai became a sport in which the opponents fought in front of spectators who went to watch for entertainment. This kind of muay contests gradually became an integral part of local festivals and celebrations, especially those held at temples. It was even used as entertainment to kings.
Eventually, the previously bare-fisted fighters started wearing lengths of rope wrapped around their hands and forearms. This type of match was called muay kaad chuek (???????????).
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. This “royal muay” was called muay luang (???????).
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 muay continued through the reigns of Rama V and VII.
The ascension of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a Golden Age not only for muay but for the whole country of Thailand. Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king’s personal interest in the art. The country was at peace and muay functioned as a means of physical exercise, self-defense, recreation, and personal advancement. Masters of the art such as former fighters or soldiers began teaching muay in training camps where students were provided with food and shelter. Trainees would be treated as one family and it was customary for students to adopt the camp’s name as their own surname.
After the occurrence of a death in the ring, King Rama the VII pushed for codified rules for Muay Thai, and they were put into place. These included the rules that the fighters should wear modern gloves and cotton coverlets over the feet and ankles. It was also around this time in the 1920s that the term Muay Thai became commonly used while the older form of the style was referred to as Muay Boran.
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, 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 Mangra 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.