Muay Thai Kickboxing - Thailand's Martial Art of Eight Limbs

Muay Thai, also known as Thai boxing, is a favourite combat sport in Thailand. The sport is also often referred to as the art of eight limbs, as it includes the use of one's fists, elbows, knees and shins. It is an adapted form of Thai military martial arts, including ring fighting from the Western style of boxing.

What is Muay Thai?

One of the many forms of kickboxing, Muay Thai is a form of martial arts developed to use one's entire body as a weapon for self-defence. The hands act as the sword, the shins and forearms act as armour to block attacks, the elbow is used as a mace or a hammer, while the knees and legs serve as an axe or a staff. It bears a resemblance to many other styles, such as Lethwei from Myanmar, Muay Lao from Laos and Tomoi from Malaysia.

The name of this cultural martial art, 'Muay Thai' is derived from the word 'Muay', which means to bind something in the shape of a ball. During matches and training in the past, fighters would bind their hands with hemp rope to protect them from injury. This practice of binding one's hands became associated with the sport. Today, 'Muay' is synonymous with boxing in Thailand.

Origin and History of Muay Thai

Muay Thai Kickboxing Match

Although the exact history of this martial artform is a question of debate today, there lies a collective agreement among most that it was the primary form of self-defence used by Thai warriors during the war.

A famous legend tied to the history of Muay Thai is the story of Nai Khanomtom, a legendary fighter, who was captured from the ancient Thai capital Ayutthaya, by the Burmese during a war between Siam (now, Thailand) and Burma. The Burmese army allowed the man to challenge any of their fighters and win back his freedom. Before the challenge, he performed the traditional Muay Thai wai kru ritual, which is usually done to pay respect to the teacher and sport. Nai Khanomtom won the fight and was celebrated as a national hero upon his return to the country. It is believed that he lived out the rest of his life teaching the martial art, and is fondly referred to as the 'Father of Muay Thai', even today. National Muay Thai Day is celebrated annually on March 17th, in his honour.

Some believe that this fighting style was popularised in the 1860s by King Rama V, who was a great fan, which helped it evolve into what it is known today. His interest in the sport eventually sparked an interest in Muay Thai among the people of Thailand, and also led to the construction of a Western-style boxing ring in Suan Kularb, Bangkok. The sport was used as a means of self-defence, exercise, recreation and personal advancement at the time.

King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) popularized Muay Thai in Thailand, Muay Thai Kickboxing

A similar legend of Thai history is that of King Naruesan, who was captured by the Burmese during a war. He was granted freedom, after having defeated a number of the Burmese warriors, chosen by the King. He returned home a legendary figure, and this event led to a rise in the popularity of the art form.

Another story behind the history of Muay Thai is that of the French brothers. These brothers travelled throughout Southeast Asia to study and learn about different styles of combat of the region. In Thailand, they arranged a match between one of the brothers and a Thai fighter, Muen Phlaan, for money and the honour of the country. The Frenchman's brother helped him during the match, attacking the Thai fighter from behind. This angered the other Thai fighters present, who fought both the brothers, leaving them humiliated. This incident was believed to help to increase the national pride in Thailand for Muay Thai.

The warfighting techniques started to gain importance as a sport in the 15th century when informal matches and competitions began to take place in Thailand. Soon, there were training camps established, and the sport began to be enjoyed by people from all walks of life. This style and form of fighting were given the name 'Muay Boran'. This style included using the body, as well as weapons (as seen in the Thai martial art, Krabi Krabong). It was known as the science of nine limbs, as it permitted the use of the eight known limbs as seen in Muay Thai, but also allowed the use of the head butts for fighting. As the sport gained popularity over the years nationally and internationally, there arose a need for the safer practice of a stricter ruleset. Thus, official rules and regulations were established for the newly-named 'Muay Thai' in the 1930s. These included rounds, time limits, protective gear like gloves, and referees. Many Muay Boran techniques became obsolete, including head-butting, and Muay Thai became a way of life for many.

Muay Thai in Present Times

Muay Thai as an international sport, Muay Thai Kickboxing

The practice of Muay Thai gained a global platform in the twentieth century when Muay Thai fighters began to compete in kickboxing matches as well as mixed rule matches. These competitions started to be regularly conducted for money and fame. The roots of the ancient Thai military martial art can still be seen in present-day fighting.

Today, this martial art is recognised as a world sport that has brought together fighters from all over the world, irrespective of their culture, country or religion, for respectful and friendly competitions. It continues to be the pride of Thailand and has produced many recognised athletes.

Difference between Muay Thai and Kickboxing

Young boys in Muay Thai Kickboxing matchup

Although many kickboxers compete in Muay Thai competitions and vice versa, there are important differences between the two which lie in the techniques and stances permitted for both sports.

Muay ThaiKickboxing
Muay Thai is a martial art derived from the olden battlefield fighting techniques of Thailand, like Krabi Krabong. Unlike kickboxing, it allows punches, kicks and strikes with the knees and elbows. It also permits clinch work, which is a technique wherein one can control the opponent's upper body to defeat them.

Kickboxing is often used to refer to all forms of combat sports, involving kicking and punching. However, the term is most commonly used to refer to the hybrid sport, American kickboxing or Full Contact Karate, which originated in the 60s. Kickboxing uses boxing gloves and foot protectors while combining techniques of karate and boxing to fight.

Usually gives a higher score for kicks unless punches are doing visible damage to the opponent. Off-balance skills like dumps and sweeps are permitted.

Kickboxing allows for an even scoring for punches and kicks.

Fighters stand with their elbows out and use their shins to block.Kickboxing fighters, however, keep their elbows close to their upper bodies and use them to block.
Muay Thai fights continue for five rounds. The first two rounds in Muay Thai are considered as part of the 'feeling out' process and therefore, do not count. The fourth round is regarded as the most important, followed by the third round. The fifth round only occurs in the case of a close fight.A kickboxing fight lasts for three rounds, with each of them given equal importance.

Muay Thai fighting involves more symbols of culture and respect. Kickboxing, on the other hand, does not involve any such symbols. 
Muay Thai fighters perform the 'wai kru ram muay', a Muay Thai ritual is done to pay respects to the trainers and one's family. The traditional fight music playing in the background, commentators, coaches and cheering crowd generally make a Muay Thai match extremely loud!

Kickboxing matches, on the other hand, are relatively quiet and do not involve any traditional rituals or symbols.

Lastly, Muay Thai recognises the techniques, beauty and composure in a fight, rather than aggression.

Kickboxing fights can be either a composed fight or all out aggressive matchup.

Techniques of Muay Thai Style

Muay Thai 'Front Kick', Muay Thai Kickboxing

Although teaching styles differ for every 'khru muay' (master or trainer of Muay Thai), the formal techniques of the sport are divided into two categories: mae mai (significant techniques) and look at mai (minor techniques). Mae Mai refers to the fundamental principles of the fighting style, while the latter, Look mai, refers to more detailed and sophisticated techniques which are taught only after the former is mastered.

All the techniques have been developed over years of practice and training, and are all based on movements seen and used on the field during the war. The Mae mai principles have been condensed into 15 universal actions or movements. This does not apply to Look mai principles. Some of the Mae Mai movements are Salab Fan Pla (the cross-switch), Paksa Waeg Rang (Bird peeping through the nest) and Hak Kor Erawan (Break the elephant's neck). A few names of Look mai movements are Erawan Suey Nga (Elephant thrusting its tusks), Batha Loob Pak (Foot touches face) and Sak Phuang Malai (Threading the flower garland).

The techniques in Muay Thai utilise one's entire body, using kicks, punches, elbows and blocks. The elbow is considered as one of the most dangerous attacking or striking techniques used and can be used horizontally, diagonally, vertically or even with a swift motion. The kicks in Muay Thai are of many types, such as the foot jab and the roundhouse kick. The roundhouse kick involves a rotation of the entire body, as one sweeps the opponent. There are many other kicks and knee-strikes such as sidekick, front kick, diagonal kick, curving knee strike and more. The kicks used are often difficult to execute, but add significant value to a fight, if done properly.

Defence techniques for a Muay Thai fighter can be grouped into six categories: blocking, redirection, avoidance, evasion, disruption and anticipation. Punches are often considered as a defence, rather than offence in Muay Thai. It is used to block the opponent's moves, with the help of one's fist, arm and shoulder. Similarly, blocks are used to defend oneself from the opponent's movies. A shin block would be used to block a kick, while a chop block would protect one from a punch aimed at the upper body. Blocks can also be used to change the direction of any strike, to shield oneself.

Benefits of Muay Thai

Children training in Muay Thai from a young age, Muay Thai Kickboxing

Muay Thai fights feature the entire body as one unit. The body is trained to work together to knock out the opponent while displaying power, endurance and spirit. There are many reasons why Muay Thai is also known as the 'King of the Ring' in kickboxing communities. We take a look at some of them below.

1. It is considered to be one of the most effective forms of martial arts.

Muay Thai fight has evolved into what it is today, after being used effectively in competitions and real-life situations for years. The sport is fast and powerful, allowing fighters to attack and defend themselves with strength and accuracy. The fighters have the advantage of using eight limbs as weapons or defences during a fight. Due to these reasons, it has also gained popularity among Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a key foundation today.

2. It is simple and easy to learn.

The art of Muay Thai boasts an essence of simplicity. Most of its moves are clean, practical and straightforward. In fact, many Thai children start training at the young age of 6 to 8 years. This also makes it ideal for an MMA fighter to learn, as they are trained in a variety of disciplines.

3. It is perfect for working out and staying fit.

Muay Thai has been designed to promote fitness and strength in an individual, as required for competitions. Thus, it aims to provide both forms of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Exercises like running, jogging and shadowboxing provide an aerobic workout, while punching, kicking and clinching make for great anaerobic exercises. It helps one exercise the entire body while burning fat and improving their core strength and flexibility.

4. It is an active form of self-defence

The training received in Muay Thai allows one to know how to deal effectively with any physical attacks in real life, and react rapidly to defend themselves or others around them. The unique hand and foot techniques learnt, combined with the confidence one gains from being trained in the art of Muay Thai makes it a great martial art for self-defence.

5. The sport of Muay Thai allows for safety in training.

Although Muay Thai is regarded as one of the most exciting and powerful sports of all time that make use of the entire body as a weapon, safety is a significant aspect of the sport. All the fighters wear padded gear to protect themselves, such as the head guard, mouth guard, chest guard, gloves, shin guard and so on. Medical check-ups are conducted before and after each fight. There are also strict weight allowances that every fighter must meet. 

6. It allows one to spark their human potential in all walks of life.

The art of Muay Thai is not only great for the body but has also proven to be effective outside the ring and the competitions. It has been recognised in many self-defence, sports and military activities. It also toughens you overall- physically, mentally and emotionally. It helps to promote discipline and build confidence among those who train. It has also been credited for strengthening one's mind and spirit.

Muay Thai is recognised as one of the most practised martial arts in the world today and is known for its remarkable efficiency, raw simplicity and immense power. The sport includes the systematic use of the most robust points of the body - the eight limbs. But there is more to this ancient martial art; it carries with it a proud and vibrant history. Characterised by a long-lasting culture, this art form has grown in significance and has become an overall way of life today.

This post was published by Saanya Lulla

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