Muay Thai is a fast, exciting and often brutal martial art originating in the Kingdom of Thailand and is the native sport of the Land of Smiles.
Although a Thai sport, Muay Thai shares a number of traits with other Indochinese martial arts practiced in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Malaysia.
Practitioners of Muay Thai are referred to as nak muays and because of the use of punches, elbows, kicks and knees to score points in bouts, Muay Thai is often recognized as the “Art of Eight Limbs” and the name itself is derived from word mavya, which is Sanskrit for boxing, while Thai comes from the word Tai.
Muay Thai originated from an ancient form of boxing known as muay boran, an unarmed combat technique used by soldiers who found themselves in combat without a weapon.
The ancient boxing had a number of regional variations, which have been absorbed over the years to form the sport which is popular with Thai and foreign nationals alike.
It is also thought that modern Muay Thai was influenced by krabi krabongor (using a sword in each hand), a weapon-based martial art that was also used by the military.
Evidence of krabi krabongor can be seen in, clinches, a number of striking moves as well as the wai khru, a ritual performed before each bout as a sign of respect.
Contests were first staged at district festivals and fights began to attract a large number of people who were eager to see the bouts. Nak muays originally fought bare-fisted, but started to move towards using hemp rope around their arms and fists.
The popular practice of staging fights was subsequently developed to entertain royalty. Over time members of the royal family began to invite skilled pugilists to train staff at the palace, a practice known as muay luang.
Modern day Muay Thai was developed and popularised during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) who took a keen personal interest in the martial art.Used primarily as a method of recreation, self-defence and natural exercise, training camps were established across the country as Muay Thai evolved from a martial art practiced by the military into a sport that was enjoyed and studied by the civilian population.Despite the advancement of Muay Thai under King Rama V and VI, fights were still contested using varying regional rules, but a set of codified rules was introduced during the reign of King Rama VII at the behest of the monarch.
It was also during his reign that the first purpose-built Muay Thai stadium was constructed in Thailand. Built in 1921, the stadium was erected Suankurlap in Bangkok and at this time, Muay Thai became to resemble the sport enjoyed by many today with the introduction of timed rounds and the use of referees.
In 1956, combatants at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok began using modern boxing gloves for fighting and training against foreign fighters and the practice of using the hemp rope was outlawed after a fatality in the ring.
These introductions coincided with individuals beginning to refer to the sport as Muay Thai, establishing a unmistakable distinction between the ancient style of muay boran and the new codified and structured martial art.