The development of Muay Thai saw the transformation of the human body into a multifaceted weapon inspired by the weapons common to the time. The shin became the staff of the pike, used to block and strike. The arms became the raised twin swords of defense. The fist functioned as the jabbing tip of the spear. The elbow developed into the battle axe, used to smash and to crush. The knee, too, axed its way through enemy’s defenses. Finally, there was the transformation of the flashing foot into pike, arrow, and knife. As each part of the body became a weapon unto itself, a new close-combat fighting skill was born: MuayThai. Since its initial development, MuayThai has changed in many ways. It is now a modern sport, rather than a battlefield skill. But in its heart are carried old traditions and an ancient fighting spirit.
Muay Thai is part of the cultural heritage of the Thai people. Their histories are intertwined. But their historical development is difficult to discern clearly. When the Burmese sacked the Thai capital of Ayutthaya, the archives of Thai history were, for the most part, lost. Along with them were lost the historical accounts of the development of MuayThai. What little we do know comes primarily from the writings of Burmese, Cambodian, and early European visitors to Thailand, as well as chronicles from the Lanna Kingdom in Chiang Mai. All these sources agree that MuayThai originated to be used on the battlefield in person to person combat. As to the specific origins, however, these sources are unclear and often contradict each other.
There are, however, two main theories. The first suggests that the art of MuayThai developed as the Thai people migrated from China to what is now Thailand. It would have been an essential tool in the migrants’ struggle for land. The second theory contends that the Thai people were already settled in Thailand and developed MuayThai as a means of self defense against invasion. Whichever account is correct, what is indisputable is that MuayThai was an essential part of Thai culture from its very beginnings.
Thai Kings, of course, have been powerful forces in the development of the sport. One such prime mover was King Prachao Sua, or the Tiger King. He not only influenced fighting styles, but also the equipment that was used. At the beginning of his reign, the hands and forearms of fighters were bound with strips of horse hair. This both protected the fighter and inflicted more damage on the opponent. Horse hair strips were later replaced by hemp ropes or starched strips of cotton. For particular challenge matches, and with the fighters’ agreement, ground glass was mixed with glue and spread on the strips.
Changes in the sport since that time have primarily been changes in equipment rather than radical changes. For example, while Thai fighters have always worn groin guards to protect against kicks or knees to the groin (which were legal moves until the 1930s), these guards have evolved from tree bark or sea shells held in place with a piece of cloth to triangular shaped pillows tied in place, which have subsequently been replaced by the modern groin protector which was brought back from Malaysia by a Thai boxer who traveled there.
The establishment of stadiums, instead of makeshift rings, began during the reign of King Rama VII before World War Two. During the war, they gradually disappeared only to return with a strong presence afterwards. Boxers from up-country once again headed toward fame and fortune in Bangkok. Glory could be found at stadiums such as Rajdamnern and Lumpini. With the introduction of television coverage, the popularity of the sport was enhanced. Channel 7 began broadcasting fights in colour over twenty years ago. Today four Thai television stations broadcast fights free to millions of MuayThai enthusiasts throughout Thailand.
Muay Thai truly has evolved from a battlefield art into a popular sport. It has recently been accepted as an official sport in Asian Games competition and the push is on to have it accepted as an official Olympic sport. It is becoming increasingly popular outside of Thailand and has enthusiasts and practitioners in the Americas, Australia, Africa, Japan, and Europe. The fighting tradition continues to be passed on and is spreading wide and far. The illustrious history of MuayThai is on a path to greater recognition and international popularity.
We are now offering a class in traditional Muay Thai on Monday and Wednesday nights from 7pm to 8pm.
The class covers guards, clinch, elbow, knees, shin and boxing techniques, introducing high fitness and power training.