Muay Thai is considered to be the cultural sport of Thailand. Scholars have debated much of its history over the years because of the Burmese attack on Siam’s capital city in the 14-century where most of the written history was destroyed by the invading army. The bit that was left is collected in small volumes and held as part of Thailand’s sacred text and cultural heritage. It is often referred to as “the art of eight limbs” because of its use of punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes.
History / Origins
The word Muay comes from the Sanskrit word Wavya, which means to “bind together” and the Thai comes from its origin but it was not always known by that name. It’s generic name pahuyuth meant “unarmed combat” but it was also called Toi Muay or simply Muay.
Muay Thai is often referred to as “the art of eight limbs” because of its use of punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes. The history of how it began is the stuff of legends. The style of fighting is thought to have developed because of the migration of tribes from China through Vietnam to Cambodia. The major tribe was the Siamese who were also known as the Tai. They fought fiercely to dominate the tribes they found along the way from the south to the north and Central Thailand. Through conflict, combat styles and techniques improved and soon, fathers were passing them along to their sons and they in turn evolved the styles and techniques.
Muay Thai has progressed a lot in the last century. By being the national sport, its popularity is unparalleled in Thailand and it continues to gain recognition throughout the world. In World War II, foreigners began to be heavily introduced to Muay Thai, which they called “Siam Boxing”. American and European soldiers would watch Thai soldiers practice Muay Thai amongst themselves and became interested in learning this style of fighting. As it gained more popularity in the 1920’s rings were erected in the open for fighters to compete. Rules began to change, as did the implements that were used in the fights. Gloves were changed from the traditional horsehide and hemp rope to those used in modern style Boxing. After World War II stadiums were erected in major cities and rules instituted for each game with timed rounds of 5.
Muay Thai has become so popular that there are training camps and gyms opening up all over the world.
The Thai were always fighting against the Burmese and during that period Muay Thai had been already part of the Thai culture and mandatory training for the military. As time went on the style kept being defined and refined. Soon the fighting style became a sport that young men engaged in and soon it was part of the Thai culture. There are legends that are recounted about how Muay Thai began that put more flavor on the story of the origin of Muay Thai.
The other popular Muay Thai legend is that of Nai Khanom who was a highly skilled Muay Thai fighter in 1767. When the Burmese sacked that Capital city they not only pillaged the magnificent temples, they also took prisoners with them to Burma. Among those prisoners was a fighter known as Nai Khanom Tom. The Burmese king decided to hold a festival to celebrate his victory when he got back to Burma and ordered the Thai slaves to fight with the Burmese fighters for pure entertainment. Nai Khanom Tom entered the ring and asked for a moment to pray. He began a ritualistic dance, which the Burmese fighter took to be some kind of cursing ritual. Nai Khanom Tom simply explained it, as his way of giving respect to his Muay Thai teacher and that it was nothing but a dance. This is where the Wai Kroo, the ritualistic dance that Thai fighters still perform to this day, is thought to have been born. When the fight began, Nai Khanom Tom went on to defeat all the Burmese fighters that were put in the ring with him and he won his freedom and was rewarded with other gifts. He returned to Thailand as a hero and went on to teach Muay Thai and is now known as “the father of Muay Thai”.