There are literally countless styles of Muay Thai which have evolved through the centuries. Throughout the history of Muay Thai, trainers of local gyms trained their fighters to fight, often with fighters from neighboring towns. There was no internet or airplanes and most people were isolated to their geographic region of the country. As a result, the four major styles that we see on display today were evolved from older Muay Boran styles – Muay ThasSao (North Thailand), Muay Lopburi (Central Thailand) ,Muay Chaiya (Southern Thailand), and Muay Korat (Northeast Thailand).
Note: The Western part of Thailand was not known for producing great Muay Thai fighters and hence not included in the major styles seen today.
Muay ThaSao – The Muay Thai Style nicknamed ‘Monkey Feet’ or ‘Windy Monkey’ (Ling Lom)
Muay ThaSao (literally nicknamed Muay Theen Ling (Monkey Feet Boxing)) was forged in the mountainous Northern Region of Thailand. Because Thailand is small (smaller than the state of Texas), Muay ThaSao has some influences from Muay Luparee, (central Thailand) as well as Muay Lao (the north-western bordering country of Laos). This style is focused on fast kicking, agility, and versatile footwork. Fighters of this style train to fight interchangeably on both orthodox and southpaw, making them able to adapt to their opponents styles.
Compared to the other Muay Thai styles, Muay ThaSao stance is characterized by arms held high, with the lead arm held higher than the rear. Because they are trained on fighting both orthodox and southpaw and switching mid fight, their footwork allows them to move in the 8 general directions and remain in their fighting stance, allowing them to track down opponents and evade in any direction. Along with the footwork, the arms and hands have specific motions, which move to protect the head whether they kick, defend, move. This probably evolved as the biggest threat to a Muay Thai kicking style is a strong puncher, and this was designed to defend against this.
Muay ThaSao Wai Kru
In general, the Wai Kru (literally means pay respect to their Kru) performed by a Muay ThaSao fighter follows the basic sequence. Pay respect to the earth, then your instructor. Next, the fighters would turn to the Southwest to protect against ghosts from interfering with the fight. Next they turn to the East, and finally the musicians playing the music (called Sarama) for the Ram Muay (pre-fight ritual).
Muay Khad Cheuk – The Muay Thai of Yesteryears
Before boxing gloves and the standard shorts and no shirt uniform for Muay Thai fighters, fighters uniform would also depend on the region they came from. All of them used hemp rope to wrap their hands and this would lead to some really bloody fights. For Muay ThaSao fighters during this age of Muay Thai, they’d wrap their wrists and hands to halfway up between their elbow and wrists.
MuayKhadCheuk went out of style for a bit with the introduction of rules to protect the fighters, but it’s since come back in Thailand and internationally in 2013 and 2014 with the introduction of Thai Fight. Check it out.
Finding what Muay Thai Style works for you
It’s well known that many of the greatest Muay Thai fighters come from the North-East of Thailand, the origin of Muay Korat. They specialize in strong punches and kicks and utilizing the full circumference within the circle to dominate their opponents. For me personally, my very first instructor for whom I’m forever grateful to for introducing me to the true art of Muay Thai, had been trained at Sityodtong, located in Central Thailand. The head instructor of Sityodtong was Master Yodtong, an intelligent and strategic fighter and coach who would use brains instead of brawn to see his fighters to victory (it’s interesting that Muay Lopburi of Central Thailand was based on a similar philosophy). Most notably, he trained who many consider the greatest Muay Thai fighter of all time, Samart Payakaroon. After years of training under this style, I met a teacher in the north, not too far from Chiang Mai, who focused on teaching the kicking and versatile footwork style of the North. It’s interesting that I did not come across all of this information until years after I was entrenched in both styles. Ultimately, it is my belief there isn’t a superior style, but superior fighters.
The goal of this post was to explore the depths of Muay Thai history. Styles were forged from victory and defeat inside of the ring. I’d love to hear some feedback about where the origins of your Muay Thai style came from. More to come on the 3 other major styles of Muay Boran which forged our modern day Muay Thai.