If you’ve recently took interest to learning Muay Thai, then reading this article will give you a quick crash course in Muay Thai History in a concise and entertaining way. Let’s get started.
Muay Thai evolved as one of several styles of kickboxing, to have originated from Southeast Asia
In fact, several of the neighboring countries to Thailand, each have their own form of ‘Muay Thai’. From Myanmar (Burma) there is Lethwei. Laos utilized Muay Lao. And within Cambodia, originated Pradal Serey.
Muay Boran (literally means Ancient (Boran) Boxing (Muay) is the ancient form of Muay Thai used to defend Thailand against it’s neighbors. Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is the sport that we practice and train for that takes place inside of the ring.
Of these South East Asian Martial arts, Muay Thai has gain the most attention and has been the most adopted into other fighting styles such as you’ll see in MMA.
Muay Thai is referred to as the Art of 8 Limbs
Muay Thai is called the Art of 8 Limbs because it utilizes the 2 sets (left and right) of four weapons (knuckles, elbows, knee, shin) = 8 weapons to defend oneself against an attacker.
The knuckles mimic small daggers… The elbows would be used as the head of a hammer.
The knees would be used like the end of a staff, to stab opponents in the gut. The shins would be used as a blade of an axe for kicking.
Muay Thai warriors would transform their limbs into deadly weapons in training through determination and repetition of technique over time.
Because the ‘8 limbs’ were thrown at opponents like weapons , Thai warriors would be able to seamlessly transition between fighting bare-fisted (Muay Boran) or armed with a sword and staff (Krabi Krabong – a weapons based martial art originating out of Thailand).
Muay Thai Evolved on the Battlefield
It was the passing down of information of techniques and strategies that worked for hand to hand or weapons combat. Muay Thai was created from actual techniques that worked in combat. Taught from father to son. From person to person.
Those who trained well survived. Those who taught their offspring well, saw their offspring survive.
And so through sort of Darwinian Evolution, Muay Thai, along with the other South East Asian martial arts evolved through numerous wars in history.
And although Muay Thai is no longer used on the battlefields, some of that culture retains itself in the coaches and fighters who compete around the world.
The Global Reach of Muay Thai
In more recent times, many of the art striking martial arts have taken pieces of this ruthless effectiveness, the time-tested techniques which were crafted from the lives of Thai soldiers and passed down to this day by fighters and trainers.
Kyokushin Karate fighters who had travelled to Thailand to compete in the 70’s adapted the Thai Style Hip Rotation in their kicks after experiencing the damaging effectiveness of their leg kicks.
Many of the elbow and knee strikes you’ll see in reality based self-defense systems such as Krav Maga originated from Muay Thai.
How a War Prisoner Won his Freedom Through Muay Thai and Inspired a Nation
We aren’t sure exactly when Muay Thai had originated as the original scriptures had been ransacked and destroyed by Burma during wartime in 1767.
The captured Thai war prisoner had been set to fight 10 of the King’s best soldiers as entertainment for the Burmese king.
The Thai prisoner stunned onlookers with his performance of defeating all 10 of the fighters, one after the other, using Muay Thai. The king was so impressed by his performance, he remarked
“Every part of this Siamese is Blessed with Venom”
Then granted him his freedom.
Many consider this warrior the “Father of Muay Thai”. His name was Nai Kanom Tom – and the Muay Thai community acknowledges March 17th as Muay Thai Day, in remembrance of Nai Kanom Tom’s accomplishment through Muay Thai.
Students of Muay Thai in Thailand Train a Series of 15 Techniques, called Mae Mai (Primary Techniques)
In regards to the style, What most notably distinguishes Muay Thai as an art, in comparison to other arts are a set of (Mae Mai) Primary Techniques and Secondary Techniques (Luk Mai), specific to Muay Thai
“Mae mai and Luk mai are the offensive or defensive techniques with a graceful style and formidable movement. They are both art and science indigenously invented by Thai ancestors to become a cultural legacy for thousands of years.”
K. Kantamara (2010) – Mae Mai Muay Thai The Art of Self Defense
Hindi Folk Lore is intertwined with the 15 Mae Mai Muay Thai Techniques
Practitioners focus on mastering these 15 “Mae Mai” techniques (Primary Techniques) before moving onto learning “Luk Mai” techniques, handed down and shared among the warriors of Thailand through the years, and is a core part of the Muay Thai curriculum within Thailand.
To give you a sense of the mythology which is enmeshed in the art of Muay Thai, these techniques were named based off of events which occurred in the story, Ramayana (called the “Ramakian” in Thai), which is an Indian folktale, dated to have been around 2,500 BC, approximately 4,500 years ago.
To give you an understanding, here is one of the Luk Mai techniques which I picked. See if you can see the connection between this Muay Thai technique and how the technique was named. This sort of allegory is spread all throughout the Muay Thai curriculum.
Period of Modernization for the Sport of Muay Thai
The modern day form of Muay Thai, the one you see with structured rules (5 x 3 minute rounds, gloves, referee, etc.). That didn’t start to happen until the 1930’s, as the Thai King at that time modernized Muay Thai as a competitive sport to match rules similar to Western Boxing.
This would reduce the number of deaths and injuries to fighters from competition, really making this a strong historical moment to bringing structure and standards to competition.
The 90’s – Dubbed “The Golden Era” of Muay Thai History
Some of the best fighters were from this period of time in the 90’s and there is still much of it on Youtube. The names of Samart Payakaroon, Sakmongkol, and Jongsanan are legends of this Muay Thai Era.
Of the greats, Samart Payakaroon being considered the greatest Muay Thai fighter of all time, known for his high fight IQ.
Into the 2000’s, Muay Thai started to really find it’s recognition within the martial arts community with fighters such as Saenchai and Buakaw who displayed tremendous ringmanship against international fighters not originating from Thailand.
While the national interest in Thailand in the sport of Muay thai has dwindled a bit since the 90’s, it’s practice has grown dramatically in the past 10 years. In fact, at the end of Dec 2016 it was provisionally recognized as an Olympic Sport, which is a great sign for the sport.
Final Thoughts from the Author – What has always fascinated me is how powerful, how effective and how vicious some of the techniques of Muay Thai were. When I was in the phase of my training when I was learning to generate power in my strikes, when I finally learned how to generate powerful strikes, I couldn’t imagine unleashing on another innocent person without a guilty conscience. At first, this new found power was a little scary even to myself.
Practicing Muay Thai helped me find the power in my body and through that a calm and respect while approaching others. And for that alone, I’ve been grateful for the preservation of this art through to this day.
As newcomers to this journey, I salute your journey and your forthcoming empowerment through Muay Thai. I hope that my blog can be of assistance and guidance for you as you journey deeper into Muay Thai.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting great material, including tutorials and breakdowns of Muay Thai techniques, to keep your learning momentum going. Subscribe to get updates on new blog entries to keep your Muay Thai appetite satisfied.