Muay Thai Kickboxing as an Art
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is more than a martial art, it’s a way of life in Thailand. This style of fighting has been a means of war, entertainment, and prosperity for the Thai people. It has its origins in a style referred to as Muay Boran. Although much of the initial history has been lost to the sands of time, we do still have a bit to go on. Back before Thailand became Thailand, it was known as the kingdom of Siam. In Siam, there were a number of different styles found in the various regions (Muay Jerng: North, Muay Korat: Northeast, Muay Chaiya: South, and so on…) that began to blend at the competitions that brought together the best practitioners from around the kingdom. As these styles became more and more alike, we begin to see Muay Boran springing forth. These were the competitions referenced in the movie Kickboxer. Traditionally, fighters would wrap their hands with hemp rope and dip them in water creating a hard “glove” that was quick to produce vicious cuts, but the idea that they were dipped in glue and glass is one that has been dismissed as legend. Additionally, there were no rounds in these Muay Boran matches. The fighters continued to battle until one was too crippled to continue.
In Muay Thai folklore, we have the story of Nai Khanomtom:
According to Thai folklore at the time of the fall of the ancient Siam capital of Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1767, the invading Burmese troops rounded up thousands of Thais and took them to Burma as prisoners. Among them were a large number of Thai kickboxers, who were taken to the city of Ava.
In 1774, in the Burmese city of Rangoon, the Burmese King Hsinbyushin (known in Thai as “King Mangra”) decided to organize a sevenday, seven night religious festival in honor of Buddha’s relics. The festivities included many forms of entertainment, such as the costume plays called likay, comedies and farces, and sword fighting matches. At one point, King Hsinbyushin wanted to see how muay boran would compare to the Burmese Lethwei(Burmese Boxing). Nai Khanomtom was selected to fight against the Burmese champion. The boxing ring was set up in front of the throne and Nai Khanomtom did a traditional Wai Kru prefight dance, to pay his respects to his teachers and ancestors, as well as the spectators, dancing around his opponent. This amazed and perplexed the Burmese people, who thought it was black magic. When the fight began, Nai Khanomtom charged out, using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees to pummel his opponent until he collapsed.
However the Burmese referee said the Burmese champion was too distracted by the dance, and declared the knockout invalid. The King then asked if Nai Khanomtom would fight nine other Burmese champions to prove himself. He agreed and fought them all, one after the other with no rest periods in between. His last opponent was a great kickboxing teacher from Rakhine. Nai Khanomtom mangled him by his kicks and no one else dared to challenge him.
King Mangra was so impressed that he allegedly remarked, “Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. But his Lord was incompetent and lost the country to the enemy. If he had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen.”
King Mangra granted Nai Khanomtom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives. Nai Khanomtom chose the wives as he said that money was easier to find.
He then departed with his wives for Siam. Other variations of this story had him also winning the release of his fellow Thai prisoners. His feat is celebrated every March 17 as Boxer’s Day or National Muay Boran Day in his honor and that of muay boran’s.
Modernization of Muay Boran is what brought Muay Thai to life. King Rama VII pushed for the creation of official rule which lead to the first boxing rings, the use of modern boxing gloves, and timed rounds. This also bred the creation of Lumpinee Stadium, the largest Muay Thai stadium in Thailand. This was also around the time that more foreigners began to be included in the competitions. These foreigners were comprised of quite a few Western boxers. Before these Western Boxers came on the scene the hands were traditionally held higher, and further from the face, when in stance because there was a much stronger focus on kicks, knees, elbows, and clinching, with punches being less of a strong strike and more of a leading or opening strike.
The Western boxers brought with them a tight guard and powerful punching that lead the Muay Thai style to adapt by copying this guard and include more hand strikes as an answer to these Western boxers.
As it stands now, Muay Thai is the dominant striking style in MMA because of the combination of the powerful kicks, devastating knees, elbow strikes designed to cut open your opponent, and strong Western boxing influences on punching that gives it strength as a fast, adaptable style to deliver knockout strikes with lightning speed.