The History Of Muay Thai

Out of all of the martial arts, Muay Thai has a special place in my heart. When it comes to striking, you just can’t beat the effectiveness and enjoyment of a good Muay Thai session.

The Fascinating Origins of Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a unique martial arts tradition that originated in Thailand during the 18th century. It’s often called the “art of eight limbs” because, unlike other standing martial arts that emphasized a rigid “four-limb” approach to striking and grappling, Muay Thai used not only the arms and legs but also shins, knees, and elbows. 

The history of Muay Thai can trace its roots back to other fighting arts of India and Southeast Asia such as Muay Boran. In the earlier stages of its development, Muay Thai found its place on the battlefield during successive decades of war between the Thai Ayutthaya kingdom and the Burmese Konbaung dynasty. During this period of conflict, Muay Thai was refined and distinguished as a unique fighting art. 

Muay Thai Makes A Name For Itself Off The Battlefield

Muay Thai began to come into its own during Chulalongkorn’s reign, also known as Rama V. Rama V ruled Thailand (then known as Siam) from 1853 to 1910. He managed to keep Thailand independent during a period in which the British and the French colonized southeast Asia. During this period of stability and prosperity in Muay Thai history, the fighting art migrated off the battlefield and more firmly into Thai culture. 

Spectators from around the country gathered for prearranged matches. Muay Thai was a form of physical exercise. In some cases, it took on a ceremonial dimension, with Muay Thai matches and demonstrations becoming an established part of royal funerals, weddings, and religious festivals. 

Muay Thai Meets Western Culture

In the early twentieth century, British traders brought western-style boxing to Thailand, and it was inevitable that the two fighting arts began to mix. By 1919 the two distinct fighting arts had merged, with Muay Thai and western-style boxing taught as a single unified fighting style. 

By 1920, Muay Thai matches featured a referee in a three-rope boxing ring with padded corners. Traditionally, Muay Thai fighters had fought with ropes tied around the fists and feet. The ropes made kicks and punches extremely painful, and it was not uncommon for fighters to die in the ring. In the interest of safety, Muay Thai fighters adapted by fighting with leather boxing gloves and thick socks for the feet. 

The History Of Muay Thai Is Colorful

Since Muay Thai didn’t start to gain international recognition until the 1990s, footage and oral records of earlier matches are challenging to come by. But even so, as I learned more about the sport, I was intrigued by Muay Thai’s colorful and often brutal history. Even today, Thailand has recently suffered political instability, and it still qualifies as a developing country.

While Muay Thai has gained international recognition, the vast majority of Muay Thai fighters are Thai, and many come from modest backgrounds and lead unassuming lives after retirement.

The Best Fighters In Muay Thai History 

The more I learned about the sport, the more I became interested in some of its legends and champions. Here are a few of my favorite Muay Thai fighters:

Put Lorlek

I was fascinated by the story of Put Lorlek, who was one of Muay Thai’s earliest champions. Lorlek won a string of victories in the 1970s. His graceful style earned him the nickname “the angel boxer.” He was well known for being a muay femur, a Muay Thai fighter whose style is distinguished by rapid, surgical kicks. 

Jomhod Kiatadisak

Jomhod Kiatadisak won numerous titles between 1989 and 2011 across all four recognized weight divisions. After his retirement in 2011, he continued to fight well into his forties, scoring one notable victory against Olympic Muay Thai champion Somluck Kamsing in 2012

Sombat Banchamek

Sombat Banchamek is another colorful Muay Thai champion. His fighting prowess earned him the nickname “the white lotus.” Throughout the 2000s he earned numerous belts across Muay Thai weight divisions, and starred in several action films.

He also enjoyed a brief stint playing semi-pro soccer, and his resume was rounded out even further with titles in kickboxing and shoot boxing. In 2020, he was rated as the tenth-best Muay Thai fighter alive.

Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn

Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn is my favorite Muay Thai legend. After winning two fighter of the year titles in 1996 and 1999, he retired and made a name for himself as a Muay Thai coach in Singapore. Widely credited with bringing Muay Thai to a wider audience beginning in the 1980s, Yudthagarngamtorn faced discrimination early in his career because he was a member of Thailand’s tiny Muslim minority. 

Besides an impressive string of titles across different weight divisions, he is also well known for his particularly graceful interpretation of the wai-kru, a vital dance routine carried out before a Muay Thai match. In the present day, Namasaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn is one of the most accomplished fighters in the history of Muay Thai.

The Proper Gear For Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a fighting sport, so as far as gear goes, a lot of this is self-explanatory. You’re going to want to invest in a good mouthguard and a decent set of hand wraps that will protect your hands while your gloves are on while still allowing them to breathe. You’ll also want to invest in a decent pair of Muay Thai shorts or boxing trunks.

You’ll also want a set of ankle wraps, a set of shin guards, and groin protection. Last but certainly not least, you’ll want a pair of Muay Thai gloves. Bear in mind that many professional fighters have one set of gloves for sparring and training and another one for fighting. 

For training, you’ll want a decent jump rope, focus mitts, and a set of Muay Thai kick pads

As far as all of your gear is concerned, your gloves will be the toughest decision you’ll make. Also, bear in mind that many Muay Thai sanctioning organizations require different weight classes to wear different size gloves. When choosing the right pair of Muay Thai gloves, make sure to do extensive research and seek out the opinions of coaches and other Muay Thai fighters.  

The Rules Of Muay Thai

Under the guidelines stipulated by the World Muay Thai Council, a fighter that qualifies for the professional competition must be older than 15 and should weigh in at a minimum of 100 pounds. 

Muay Thai matches last for five rounds and no more, with each round being three minutes long. There is a two-minute rest period in between each round. The match itself takes place in a square boxing ring with four ropes on each side and four padded corner posts. 

The ring’s exact area can vary, but regulations stipulate the area of the ring should be between 20-24 square feet. 

Before starting the first round, both fighters perform the wai-kru, a ceremonial dance accompanied by a variety of traditional thai musical instruments. The point of the wai-kru is for the fighters to pay proper respect to their respective teachers.  

The Match Itself

From here, the rules of Muay Thai are pretty straightforward and take their cues from western-style boxing. The match’s object is for one fighter to defeat the other by knockout or technical knockout, although players can also win under a point system. Muay Thai fighters can use their fists, feet, shins, elbows, and knees to defeat their opponents with clinching and grappling moves. 

Is Muay Thai for You?

Whatever your skill level with boxing or MMA happens to be, I hope this blog post has answered all of your questions. Muay Thai is a complicated and dangerous sport with a rich history, but I hope by now that you’ve figured out that it isn’t for everyone. 

All martial arts and fighting sports carry some risk of injury or even death. If you’re considering taking up Muay Thai professionally or just in your spare time, make sure you consult both a qualified Muay Thai trainer and a physician before you get in the ring. It’s up to you to know what you’re getting into, and it’s up to you to make sure you understand the risks involved. 

While Muay Thai clubs (and even training camps open to the public) are springing up everywhere, make sure that whatever local organization or club you’re involved with is reputable and properly licensed. I started training in Muay Thai only after years of training in other fighting styles, and I can tell you that it’s not for novice fighters, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. Make sure you understand the risks of Muay Thai before you finally take the plunge and try this fascinating and challenging martial art. 

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