Ever seen Ong-Bak? Yes, the action flick that landed Tony Jaa onto the big screen and made him a household name. Ever wondered which fighting style it is that he uses in the movie? If you’re a martial arts enthusiast like I am, then you probably know what I’m talking about. The ancient Thai form of fighting known as ‘Muay Thai.’ Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the muay thai history and explore this vibrant art form.
What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai, or its literal English translation, ‘That Boxing,’ is an ancient Thai fighting style that utilizes the user’s entire body as a weapon, mimicking war weapons. Developed hundreds of years ago, it’s an indispensable part of the Thai culture as well as their National sport.
Regarded as one of the most lethal combat sports, it’s also widely known as “the art of eight limbs,” It utilizes the fists, elbows, knees, and shins as tools for striking and grappling.
Much of muay thai history today is widely debated by scholars, reportedly due to a significant portion of its history having been lost during the Burmese invasion of Thailand back in the 14th century. The scriptures and volumes that were saved are today preserved as a token of Thai culture.
History and Origins
- King Naresuan: A legend in the muay thai history, King Naresuan is said to have been responsible for first popularising the sport back in the late 1500s. A skilled user of the craft himself, the king advocated extensive use of the art and formed an army skilled in Muay Thai.
- King Prachao Sua, the “Tiger King”: A legend in muay thai history, was an ardent user of the combat form. According to legend, he disguised himself as a commoner to participate in village fighting events, and defeat local champions. Back in 1697-1709 A.D during a time of peace, he used to advocate training in Muay Thai for the army men to keep them busy. By this time, passion for the sport had reached such new heights that people from all walks of life were seen signing up for some of the action.
- Nai Khanom Tom, the father of Muay Thai: Another famous legend in muay thai history that dates back to 1774, is that of Nai Khanom Tom. The latter further popularised Muay Thai by supposedly defeating 10 Burmese fighters upon being captured during the Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya, the then capital of Thailand. Every year, the 17th of March is celebrated as the ‘National Thai Boxers Day.’
- The French Brothers: It was during the reign of Rama I back in 1788 that two French brothers arrived in Thailand challenging the monarchy. A fight ensued between the king’s captain of the palace guard and one of the brothers. Upon continually being attacked and kept at arm’s length, the French brothers got infuriated and decided to cheat by grabbing the Thai from behind and pushing him within the attacks’ range. Chaos ensued with the Thai audience viciously tackling the brothers to the ground, constraining them till they surrendered. The brothers left Thailand the very next day humiliated, which in turn augmented the patriotism associated with Muay Thai and etched the event in muay thai history.
- Rama V King: The king ushered in the golden age in muay thai history. He advocated Muay Thai competitions that were the Royal Command wrestlings, which served as a recruitment ground where he found his personal guards. The winners were awarded military ranks from the king himself.
- King Rama VI: During the rule of Rama VI King, standard rings surrounded by cords and wires came into utilization, and fighters began wrapping their hands in cotton and hemp.
Modern Muay Thai
- Formal regulations were introduced into the sport for the first time after the conclusion of the Second World War, a landmark in muay thai history. A watch was utilized to replace the use of sinking coconut in water, to keep track of time.
- Muay Thai arenas were constructed in cities across the country, including Bangkok, Sukhothai, and Chiang Mai. The Lumpini Stadium in Bangkok is viewed as the “holy ground” of Muay Thai wrestlers, both foreign and local.
Weight classes in Modern Muay Thai
- Weight classes were introduced in the sport so that fighters could be more evenly matched.
- In the beginning, the protective gears were manufactured using the barks of the trees and seashells. These were tied across the hands and waists of the wrestlers using a portion of the cloth. It was mandatory for the fighter to have a groin guard. Later this guard was converted into a triangular-shaped cushion.
- Most of the Muay Thai wrestler belongs to the lower weight classes and are under 65 kgs (145 lbs), attributed to Thai soldiers being naturally small in size.
Equipment in Muay Thai
- During the time when the so-called Tiger King was in control, the fighters’ forearms and heads began to bound with pieces of horsehair. The purpose was to inflict significant injury on the competitor while keeping the fighter free from injuries. Starched cotton pieces and hemp ropes later replaced them.
- In the 1920s, the wrapping up of ropes around the arms and hands were substituted with gloves, a significant shift in muay thai history.
Today, Muay Thai is a respected and revered combat form that draws enthusiasts from all around the globe. Made famous by mainstream movies like the Ong-Bak series and stars like Tony Jaa, the art form is here. A great muay thai history aside has yet to lose its charm, especially among the people of Thailand who flock to matches and television broadcasts. With an increasing number of spectators and its utility as a form of self-defense and a fitness program, Muay Thai is consistently proving to the world that it is an honor to be a Muay Thai warrior.