History of Muay Thai

About 4000 years ago, Ai-Lao (as the Thai's were called by the Chinese) settled in west-central Asia, having fought their way up from the Indian continent. Their federation of Kingdoms grew and flourished until 200 B.C., when the Han Dynasty of China began their wars of expansion. Vastly outnumbered, the Ai-Lao managed to hold off wave after wave of iInvading armies, thanks chiefly to their great skill with weapons. But eventually the greater numbers of the Chinese won out, and the Ai-Lao became vassals to the Szechuan Empire. Rather than live under Chinese rule, many of the Ai-Lao gradually migrated south into the forests and jungles of south-east Asia. The wandering Ai-Lao's divided into three branches: The Shans, who settled in Burma, The Ahom who went east into Vietnam, and The Loa-Tai who wandered into Laos.

By the 7th Century A.D., the Ai-Lao tribes still in China had become the Independent Kingdom of Nanchao. For the next 100 years, Nanchao and China were constantly at war, usually as enemies, but occasionally as allies against the Tibetan tribes to the west (one Tibetan tribe, the Burmans later became Thailand's worst enemy).

By the end of the 9th Century, Nanchao had been absorbed into the Chinese Empire, but at the same time, the first Thai States were forming into Laos and Siam.

These new Thai States not only had to battle against the hill tribes, but were also challenged by the ancient and powerful Empire of the Khmers. Originally from India, the Khmers immigrated into south-east Asia prior to 400 B.C., and by the 6th Century were the strongest and richest Empire in Asia, controlling Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Parts of Siam, Malaya, Sumatra.

The Khmers had elite troops called Nayars, who formed their warrior caste. They were scientifically trained in all aspects of combat, including mime and acting, to gain a psychological advantage over their enemies. It is said that the Nayarís mime skill was so great, that; 'He could pretend to throw a spear so convincingly, that an enemy warrior would actually feel the pain of his body being pierced.'

The first battles between the Ai-Lao and the Khmers began in the 11th Century, the Ai-Lao survived, and in 1238, finally managed to capture two of the Khmerís cities, creating an embryo nation called Muang Thai - 'Land Of The Free'. In 1253 the Ai-Lao Kingdom of Nanchao in China was invaded by the Mongols of Kublai Khan, forcing a mass migration south into Siam. With this sudden increase in their numbers, the Ai-Lao became a powerful force, ready to expand and conquer.

By the year 1350, northern Siam and most of Laos was united into The Kingdom of Lan Xang and Prince Uthong of Ayudhhya Begining a new dynasty, which was to last for 400 Years. This was the Golden Age of Thailand, but with its prosperity came constant warfare against the Burmese to the West, and the Lhmers to the south-east.

To ensure the survival of their country, the great warriors of the nation were brought together and distilled the vast combat knowledge of there people into a training manual called 'The Chupasart'.

Because the methods of combat training were recorded and kept up to date, the Martial Art of Thailand never fragmented into different styles and systems. There were improvements and innovations added to the text, but every change was first proven on the battlefield, or in the ring.

Thailand's first legendary Martial Artist was Prince Naresuan (known as 'The Black Prince'), who spent his youth studying the Art of Warfare (while being held hostage by the Burmese). When he was eventually released, he modified Siamese boxing to supplement and conform to weapons use. The strikes and blocks of Siamese boxing were modified to duplicate the movement of weapon combat.

Prince Naresuan created duets (two man sets), fighting drills, staged Siamese boxing competitions and large scale combat exercises. He wanted to increase bravery, endurance and strength, while teaching the science of war to his people. One of the two man sets was for the Sabre (Krabi) and the Staff/Spear (Krabong).

This is where the name of the mother art 'Krabi-Krabong', comes from. Muay Thai(or Muay Chao Chur as it was called then) was created, because too many soldiers were being killed or injured training with weapons. And although Muay Thai is a devastatingly effective Martial Art and sport, it lacks the deadly refinement and efficiency of Krabi-Krabong.

The 'Black Prince' eventually died around 1590, while leading his army against the Burmese. Muay Chao Chur slowly evolved into Muay Thai, becoming the National passion in the early 17th Century, due to exploits of 'Pra Chao Sua' (Tiger King). Pra Chao Sua was a Thai monarch who wandered Siam in disguise, challenging all comers, and remaining undefeated for seven years. Many of the techniques from his personnel fighting method became the basis of modern Muay Thai.

Another very well known Thai boxer was a commoner named Khanomtom, he was among some 30,000 Thais taken to Burma as prisoners after the second fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. The next year a grand festival was held at a buddhist temple in Rangoon, where a holy relic of the Buddha was enshrined.

Boxing contests were organised at the temple and Khanomtom was sent as representative of the Thai prisoners of war. Having been well trained in the use of his fists, feet, knees and elbows, Khanomtom incredibly defeated ten Burmese boxers in succession, and then was highly commended by the Burmese King.

After expelling the Burmese aggressors in late 1767, Phraya Taksin ascended the throne at Thom Buri, himself a great warrior and keen boxer. The King spared no efforts in promoting the art of hand to hand fighting.

He held boxing matches in his palace grounds, among these warriors, the best known was Phraya Phichai 'The Broken Sword', he got the nickname because he once broke his sword in a fierce fight with the enemy, and subsequently killed the enemy with the broken sword.

Rama I, who founded the Chakri Dynasty in Bangkok in 1782. Also used the grounds in front of his palace as an arena where boxing matches were held to select guardsmen. Once during his reign, there were two French brothers coming to Bangkok looking for rivals in free-style boxing contests, they had toured several cities in Indochina for the same purpose and had won alot of money.

To meet the challenge the King assigned his foremost boxer Muen Phlan to fight one of the brother's, and was some what of an uphill task for the Thai boxer who was inferior in size and weight. However he was able to use his superior skills to his advantage, and defeated the brothers one after the other.

Rama V (1868-1910) was another King who was a great patron of boxing, he promoted the Martial Art by setting up his own boxing camp, and encouraged the Prince's and other members of nobility to do the same in all major cities in the Country.

Rama VI (1910-1925) took a step further by allowing commoners to run their own boxing camps, boxing rings and competitions. With the first modern boxing ring being erected in the Rose Garden Palace in Bangkok.

In provincial bouts the combatants wore horsehide thongs wrapped around the fists and forearms (to slash the opponents skin) and a piece of tree bark (held in place by cotton loincloths) to protect the groin. Later the horsehide thongs were replaced by hemp rope, wound around the fists and wrists, then layered over the glue soaked cloth strips that hardened into stone gauntlets. For grudge matches ground glass or pebbles would be mixed with the glue.

In the worst traditions of back alley fights, larger fighters fought smaller fighters and the bouts went on until a fighter could not stand, with the loser horribly maimed or killed. This carnage continued until the late 1930's, when the Thai government intervened and forced the competing regional associations to adopt international boxing rules, weight divisions and padded gloves.

In the early days, protection for the groin was made from tree bark or seashells held in place with a piece of cloth tied between the legs and around the waist, which later became a triangular shaped pillow in red or blue. This innovation was also in response to the growing success of Thai boxers in international boxing. Remember that the groin was a perfectly legal move up until the 1930's.

One of the stranger things was the timing device, which was a holed coconut shell, which was placed in a tub filled with water, at the beginning of the round and removed as soon as the coconut shell was completely immersed in the water.

The establishment of stadiums, instead of makeshift rings and courtyards, began during the reign of Rama VII before the Second World War. During the war they gradually disappeared, but mushroomed again soon afterwards - Muay Thai had not lost any of its appeal.

The boxers from up country once again headed toward fame and fortune in Bangkok. The glory could be found at stadiums like Rajdamnern and Lumpinee. Nowadays in the provinces, you can find villager's clusted around any available TV to watch the sport. Whilst in the city, people disappear from the streets while Thailand is watching Muay Thai.

Muay Thai is also becoming increasingly popular outside of Thailand. It has its enthusiasts and practitioners in America, Australia, Italy, Holland, England, Russia, Japan and many other countries around the world.

Training camps have been set up in many countries, creating large numbers of professional and amateur Muay Thai boxers, coached by many Thai and non-Thai Instructors.

Provincial arenas will have as many as twelve bouts on a fight card, Bangkok's two big stadiums Ratchadamurn and Lumphini having upto eighteen bouts with the fifth bout designated as 'Koo Ehk' or main bout. Before the actual fight, Hinayana buddhist traditions take precedence. The Khun Kru will pray over his fighters at ringside, a white flower tied to the corner post for additional good luck and to attract good spirits.

The trainer then places the Mongkon (a cloth - covered headpiece trimmed with tassels, which is said to possess the spiritual power of the Kun Kru and all the fighters in their camp) on the fighters head. On the fighters biceps Krung Rangs(hemp cord filled with good luck charms, protective herbs and pictures of Buddhist gods) are Tied for extra protection and good luck.

On entering the ring the fighter first performs the Wai Kru of honour, kneeling in the direction of his birthplace, covering his eyes, and bowing low three times, So that his glove touch the canvas.

He then stands and begins the Ram Muay, a pre-fight ceremonial dance to summon up good powerful spirits, and scare away bad spirits from their corner. It also serves as a show of respect to the Kun Kru and as a boxing camp signature dance, which prevents fighters trained by the same Kun Kru from fighting each other.

Siamese musicians playing drums, flutes and ching (Cymbals) accompany the fighters during the prefight rituals and bout, helping each fighter to find his own personnel fighting rhythm. The musicians will quicken the musical tempo to speed the fighting pace if things get sluggish.

While moving in the Ram Muay, the fighter will chant secret mantras (Spells), in order to fill the ring with his aura and so dominate his opponents. The fighter moves on the four points of the compass, arms waving, feet stomping and slapping is gloves together to keep evil spirits at bay.

After the completion of the Ram Muay, the fighter will stalk the ring, one glove touching the top rope to seal the ring off from negative crowd vibrations. He will stop at each corner and stomp down or hit the corner pad once for each rope, filling it with his aura, and blocking it as a haven for his opponent.

Once finished the fighters may then taunt each other, but no blows may be struck in anger. Just before the sound of the opening bell the Kun Kru says a short prayer and removes the mongkon, blowing into the fighters hair for good luck.

Any part of the body is fair game in a Muay Thai bout and can be attacked with the fist, foot, elbow and knee. Pro bouts run for five, three minute rounds with two minute rest breaks in between, the only protective equipment allowed are elastic iInstep anklets, a steel groin cup, a rubber gum shield (Optional) and six or eight ounce gloves. Head butts, leg sweeps, hip and shoulder throws are prohibited. The referee and three side judges keep a scorecard, the referee having the last word as to ring suspensions, disqualification's and the revoking of a fighters purse.

Today Muay Thai can be seen everywhere, but the Martial Art system of Krabi-Krabong can only be learned in a few places. The military cadet schools teach the true combat system of unarmed combat called Lerd Rit (Meaning Extreme Power), this system incorporates breaking boards and glass bottles with the elbows.

Krabi-Krabong is also taught in some universities as well as the world famous Buddhai Swan Temple. The Buddhai Swan Temple also has an ancient tradition, much like the Shaolin temples in China. Since the 14th century, the Buddest monks have been teaching Martial Arts as a philosophy and as a way of life.

Although firearms have replaced the sword and shield, Thailand's 20th century soldiers still study the old ways of fighting at the Buddhai Swan Institute, 'Guns are fine as long as there is ammunition, but what do you do when it runs out'.

The foundation of Krabi-Krabong is an unarmed combat system, before picking up the sword you must develop and train the natural weapons of the body.

At this stage Krabi-Krabong most closely resembles Muay Thai, you have to look closely to see the locks, throws, breaks and pressure points Strikes, which make the mother art so much more dangerous, because thier roots are maintained as a lethal fighting art not as a sport.

After the empty hand skills have been acquired and the student is accustomed to the hitting and blocking of techniques with power, you move on to learn the sword.

While there are long weapons like the staff or spear, the short range weapons like the knife, axe and tonfa, the sword remains the primary weapon weather used singly, in pairs or with a shield. The underlying principles of Thai sword fighting remain the same as in Muay Thai (Speed and Power).

Techniques must be thrown with full power, but also in a controlled manner. This forces the defender to either block or completely avoid the onslaught with parries and checks.

To enhance the power behind the blow, breathing techniques, body movement(body dynamics and kinematics) and footwork (Yang Sam Kum) are used to help you 'Load Up' by rising up onto the balls of your feet and explode into the strike by dropping or bending the knees as you deliver the technique.

Researched, compiled, and used with permission by
Kru Nick Hewitson - Petchyindee Muay Thai

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