Thai started way back in the medieval ages when wars were
fought with bow and arrows, swords and pikes. And in hand-to-hand combat arms,
legs, knees, and elbows were also used as weapons. This sport which was included
in military training was made famous by King Naresuan 1560 A.D. During one of
the many battles between Burma and Siam, he was captured. The Burmese knew of
his prowess as the best unarmed fighter in the realm and gave him a chance to
fight with their best for his freedom. Upon his return to Siam he was hailed
as a hero and Siamese-style boxing, as it was called then, was soon recognized
as a national sport. Boxing in this style reached its zenith of popularity about
two hundred years ago, i.e., in the reign of Prachao Sua (King Tiger), when
it was indulged in by all classed of the population.
From those days up until the early part of this
country, the fighters, particularly those in provinces, used horsehide strip
and later hemp in lieu of gloves. It was also a practice at one time to grind
pieces of glass into the hemp if both contestants agreed. Since these practices
were obviously dangerous to the fighters' health, regular boxing gloves were
introduced about 50 years ago and have been used ever since.
To the Thais, Muay Thai is regarded as a prestigious
national sport. Thai boys will in one or another way, intentionally or unintentionally,
learn how to box Thai style. Even Thai girls will know enough of the basic principles
and to be able to use it for self-defense when necessary.
Muay Thai, called Thai Boxing by foreigners, is
our national sport and is now getting more popular in many countries, especially
in Japan where a large number of young Japanese are now being trained to fight
professionally. But in Japan this fight is called "Kick Boxing." At present
"Kick Boxing" is internationally known as a Japanese martial art. Surely the
true name, "Muay Thai" should be retained internationally as the Japanese terms
Kendo, Judo, or Karate have been.
There is no real evidence to show the time of
origin of Thai-Style boxing. It can only be assumed that Thai boxing existed
since the Thai emigrated from the South of China.
They had to hide from attackers and meet with
resistance from local people. In short, they had to fight endlessly for their
survival. By the time they managed to settle in the "Gold Promontory", the Thais
had gone enough countless battles and many lives had been lost.
The ancient weapons consisted only of spears,
swords, pikes or bows and arrows. But in hand-to-hand combat weapons become
clumsy, and elbows, knees, feet and fits became more practical. This must have
been extremely successful, as it was then developed into a form of martial arts
used in battle, and this was the origin of Muay Thai, superior to any other
form of martial arts.
When the Thais finally settled down and built
a city, and extended their territory to become a large country, there was a
need for an army to defend the country. Soldiers in those days had to learn
Muay Thai along with the use of traditional weapons.
Thus there was also the need for Kru Muay, or
teacher of Thai boxing. Various tactics for attack and defense were developed,
called "boxing tactics". Later, layman began to take up this form of fighting,
as a form of self-defense, and as a handy qualification to become a soldier,
which would also lead to further advancement depending on their ability and
During Ayutthaya, which was a period of consecutive
fighting against the neighboring countries of Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam, history
records state that King Sri San Petch or Khun Luang Sorasak known as Phra Chao
Sua (The Tiger King) often boxed incognito in various up-country temple fairs.
He is said to have been a skilled boxer, and enjoyed the sport so much that
he often disguised himself thus in order to test his skill against villager
and thus became quite a legend in his own time.
When Ayutthaya fell in 1767 A.D. many Thais became
prisoners of war. In 1774 the King of Burma held a festival to celebrate the
Chedi containing the Buddha's relics in Rangoon, with various forms of entertainment
and festivities. This included a boxing display for the King by a boxer named
"Nai Khanom Tom" a prisoner of war from Ayutthaya. Pit against Burmese boxers,
Nai Khanom Tom defeated 10 Burmese opponents in a row, and also became quite
During the reign of King Tak Sin the Great, the
King had a close aide-de-camp named "Phraya Pichai Dab Hak" who studied the
art of Muay Thai with many famous teachers and displayed his talent for the
King. As a result, he was chosen to become a soldier, and was later promoted
to the position of Chao Muang (governor) with his name recorded in history.
In the Ratanakosin Period, Muay Thai was still
a national art form, with competitions in annual national festivities. Time-keeping
was done by floating a pierced coconut shell. When thecoconut sank, a drum would
be beaten to signal the end of a round.
In 1788, during the reign of King Rama I, two
French brothers arrived in Thailand by boat, having defeated many boxer across
the Indo-China Peninsula. King Rama I consulted the Crown Prince, his brother,
who offered to find boxers to fight against the Frenchmen. Phraya Phra Klang
wouldaccept the challenge, settling the bet at 50 chang (4,000 baht).
The Crown Prince chose a boxer named Muen Plan
of the Royal Guards. The match was held in the grounds of the Grand Palace.
Muen Plan wore full battle regalia -- bare-chested, seeped in magic charm, cabalistic
writing and oils to ensure invulnerability.
When the fight began, the large French fighter
tried to attack, aiming for the neck and collar bone. Muen Plan defended himself
with Muay Thai.
The other Frenchman, seeing his brother making
no progress became frustrated, and pushed Muen Plan's back to stop him from
backing away. Members of the Royal Guards saw this break of boxing etiquette
and proceeded to help Muen Plan tackle the two Frenchmen until they had to carried
back to the boat. They set sail the next day, with no thought of ever challenging
a Thai Boxer again.
During the reign of King Rama V, Thai boxing matches
were widely popular, boxing matches were held for the King's pleasure, and skilled
boxers received titles from the King, for example Muen Muay Mee Chue from Chaiya,
Muen Muay Man Mudh from Lopburi, Muen Cha- ngad Cherng Chok from Korat. Also
in this period boxing camps were established. Members of the royal family sent
out talent scouts to recruit potential boxers from up-country and arranged matches
between camps. Winners would receive money and valuable prizes. This period
could be called the Golden Age of Muay Thai.
During the reign of King Rama VI, Thai boxing
matches became more widespread. Matches that used to be held in make-shift rings
in any available courtyard, became a standard raised ring surrounded by ropes.
The first ring was built in 1921 at Suan Kularp field.
Although standard rings were available, boxers
still bound their hands with rope. Foreign boxers came to take on Thai boxers.
An important free-style match took place between Young Harntalay and Chin Chang
from China which attracted a huge crowd o spectators. The result was that Young
Harntalay floored Chin Chang with a beautiful kick. In this period, they also
had referees in the ring, and kept time by the clock. These innovations were
probably adopted from abroad.
Rope binding was need until 1929 when boxing gloves
took its place. Earlier at the Lumpini Park Ring, a Filipino boxer gave an international
style boxing exhibition with boxing gloves. Later, gloves were also used in
student boxing matches called "Muay Farang", and in professional international
boxing between Thai and foreign boxers. This led the organizers of Thai-Style
boxing to see that gloves are less dangerous than rope-binding, and decided
that gloves should be adopted in Muay Thai, but fighting with elbows, knees,
feet and fists would still be allowed.
Although many improvements or changes were applied,
from the type of ring, breaking each bout into rounds, using the minute-system
of time-keeping, and using gloves, one aspect of Thai-style boxing remained
the same -- the jock -- strap. Originally, the jock-strap consisted of a triangular-shaped
pillow tied to the waist, with a strap tied behind from between the legs.
The pillows were red or blue colour according
to the boxer's corner. These pillows were used until one boxer went to Malaysia
and saw foreign boxers use jock-strap. He brought the idea back to Thailand,
and since then, jock-strap have been replaced the triangular pillows.
During the reign of King Rama VII, in the revolutionary
period, permanent boxing stadiums were established both in Bangkok and the provinces.
They gradually disappeared in 1942 during World War II. After the war, boxing
stadiums sprang up like mushrooms overnight. Skilled boxers from up-country
flocked to Bangkok to take part in tournaments. Finally the first standard boxing
stadium was established - The Rajdamnern Stadium, in 1945.
Rules were set, and later on regular bouts were
set at 5 rounds of 3 minutes each, with two-minutes interval between rounds.
The weight was taken down in stone like race-horse, and later converted into
kilograms. In the early days, the match-maker system was used; the stadium officials
would organize matches providing cup or talent jackets as prizes. Matches were
not classified into weight groups until many years later when the pound system
replaced stones and kilograms.
International names were given for each weight
group, such as flyweight, and bantamweight. Matches were arranged to select
a champion for each class, following the international style.
Muay Thai is still developing, but what remains
unchanged is the use of the pipe and the drums as musical accompaniments for
the matches, and is considered a unique characteristic of Muay Thai. Muay Thai
has been initiated under many names, which have not received prolonged interest
because the original has already became known world-wide.
Many additions have been made to the regulations
of Muay Thai. It is forbidden now to hit the private parts since this technique
has become quite infamous as a form of attack and is considered debasing for
the fine art of Thai boxing.
Muay Thai remains a national art form. If all
parties concerned help to uplift and conserve this form of martial arts, and
pass it onto following generations, it will remain a valuable possession of
the Thai nation.