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Thai Martial Arts

Overview

Ask most people and they would say that Muay Thai is the quintessential Thai martial art. However Muay Thai is a relatively recent adaptation of ancient fighting styles developed over a thousand years of Thai history.

  • Muay Thai is based on the group of unarmed fighting styles called Muay Boran.
  • There are a number of regional styles of Muay Boran, each with particular strengths.
  • Krabi Krabong is a separate art incorporating weapons training alongside unarmed combat.
  • Pahuyuth is the term used to encompass all Thai martial arts.

History

The people of Thailand have had to fight long and hard to protect their country and establish their independence. In times when every man was expected to be a soldier, fighting skills were needed that were uncomplicated but deadly. These skills were refined over time and developed into systems of fighting collectively called Pahuyuth.

Expert practitioners started using their skills in unarmed combat to earn money in arranged fights around the 13th century, though it was another 200 years before the development of fighting for sport really accelerated. Early fights were bare-knuckle affairs on a bare patch of earth, with no rules and wins only by knockout. Consequently, serious injury was commonplace.

Fighters began to bind their hands in hemp rope to provide some protection, though the death of a fighter in 1929 led to changes in the sport and glove wearing becoming mandatory. Rules were also introduced that forbid the use of more dangerous techniques and Muay Thai was born. This was considered to be the only official fighting system and practice of the old arts was curtailed by the authorities.

Pahuyuth

Used as both the term for the practice itself and the term for the practitioner, five key Thai arts under two broad headings were considered to be Pahuyuth.

With unarmed combat being vital for close work in the melee of battles of the time, Muay Boran used powerful, striking techniques against opponents, with finishing-off techniques featuring heavily. Ling Lom was used more at ground level, with wrestling and grappling techniques being used to overcome and incapacitate enemies.

The arts using weapons also covered a range of approaches. Krabi Krabong provided techniques in using handed weapons to damage and dispatch adversaries quickly. Whereas the classical Thai sword-fighting art of Fan Dab used relaxed, flowing movements to attack, avoid and withdraw repeatedly to debilitate enemies.

Awud Thai included comprehensive strategies and techniques for using weapons of every type, in every situation. This art covered such skills as using knives for close work, using throwing spears at a distance, and even techniques for the king on how to use elephants as battle weapons.

Muay Boran

Almost every major area of Thailand had its own individual style, but four were particularly revered for their effectiveness. Muay Khorat from the east emphasized strength, northern Muay Tha Sao stressed speed, central Muay Lopburi was known for cunning, and the defense and posture of southern Muay Chaiya were renowned. An all-rounder was said to combine the best of these styles when he could “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao”.

During the period when practice of the art was discouraged, Muay Boran techniques were not openly taught and there are still many closely guarded secrets. Some styles have died out completely, and nowadays few schools open their doors to foreigners

The 2003 film Ong Bak starring Tony Jaa featured Muay Boran techniques and has sparked increasing interest from westerners. It has led to the emergence of many schools teaching Muay Boran, but often these are accused merely of teaching stadium Muay Thai with some variations.

One recognized variant of Muay Boran which is used almost exclusively by the Royal Thai Army is Lerd Rit. This uses open hand strikes rather than closed fists, and utilizes relentless forward pressure to off-balance opponents. Training focuses on using breaks to incapacitate, quick take-downs, immobilization, and ferocious striking.

Krabi Krabong

Meaning Sword, Staff, this art forms the basis of a tradition passed on from father to son for hundreds of years. There are few schools in Thailand that still claim an unbroken lineage, but those that do offer teachings to Thais and foreigners alike. Notably, the Royal Thai Elite Bodyguard of the King of Thailand are trained in this highly esteemed art.

With a foundation based around footwork, this fighting system is simple and effective, but very comprehensive. Weapons taught include the staff, stick, single-edge sword, double swords and halberd, but unarmed forms using kicks, throws, locks, holds and pressure points also figure into the art.

Practitioners of this art are imbued with a strong sense of respect, with the mutual esteem shown by the fighters being vital given that much of their practice involves the use of live weapons.

Spirituality

The Pahuyuth arts were developed to immobilize and kill enemies. To provide a balance to their aggressive aspects, they also contain elements of spirituality.

  • The hard living and training regime encourages discipline, humility, self control and self respect.
  • Respect is always shown towards teachers, parents and all objects considered sacred.
  • Buddhist beliefs and practices such as meditation are often an integral part of the training.
  • Many practitioners have turned to monastic life after retiring while continuing to teach the arts.

Where to Train

These arts are not widely practiced, but popularity is increasing slowly. It is important to establish the lineage of any teacher to ensure their teachings are genuine.

Recognized Schools Include:

Buddhai Sawan Krabi Krabong, Bangkok, Thailand

Muay Chaiya, Bangkok, Thailand

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