The importance of Muay Thai to the people of Thailand should not be underestimated. It is not only the national sport, but also the representation of hundreds of years of Thais fighting for their country and its independence. Respect is very much due.
- Muay Thai is based on the ancient fighting styles of Muay Boran.
- These styles were used in sporting events until the 1930s when some of the techniques were judged to be too dangerous.
- Certain attacks were disallowed, glove wearing became mandatory, timekeeping was introduced, regulations codified, and the name “Muay Thai” was adopted.
- It is renowned for its simplicity and effectiveness, utilizing speed and power to brutal effect.
- Many claim it to be the most effective and practical martial art.
The Muay Thai Approach
Fighters start training as young as 6 years old to develop into the highly conditioned and skillful professionals you see fighting today, learning to apply a wide range of attacks that make this full-contact style explosive to watch.
Earning it the title of “The Art Of The Eight Limbs”, hands, shins, elbows and knees are all used for attack and defense, with a fighter needing to develop his skills evenly as kick loses to punch, punch loses to knee, knee loses to elbow, elbow loses to kick.
Also, the clinch is a feature that is particularly important in Muay Thai, but is often unappreciated. The techniques to enter, attack from, and escape the clinch distinguish it from western forms of kickboxing, as does the absence of body punching which can expose the head to counter attacks.
Practitioners first need to master the Three Step Walk as this provides the foundation for all footwork in Muay Thai. Study continues with the Mae Mai, or Master Techniques, and moves on to the Look Mai, or Complimentary Techniques. Included are such formidable moves as Hanuman Presents The Ring featuring a double uppercut, and Crocodile Sweeps Its Tail which involves a kick striking upwards to the pit of the throat.
Muay Thai Today
Since the end of the Second World War, the popularity of Muay Thai has increased enormously and the Thai people are enthusiastic spectators. Live fights are widely enjoyed and can be seen on television nearly every day, attracting some of the largest viewing audiences of all programs. Also, nearly every village stages events regularly, and fighting is often one way for local amateurs to supplement their income. Others hope to make money from the illegal betting, which is rife and frenzied, and often a spectacle in itself.
The sport of Muay Thai has developed a very respectable reputation since it was established. There are over 65,000 professional Muay Thai fighters in Thailand today, and 109 countries are members of its worldwide governing body. It featured in the 13th Asian Games in 1998 and there is a strong movement pushing for its inclusion in the Olympic Games.
Showing respect to teachers, parents and lineage is of the utmost importance in Muay Thai, with rituals being observed even at the lowliest local bout.
- The Wai Kru is a slow performance of the Three Step Walk performed by fighters at the beginning of a bout to show their respect to their teacher.
- Performed with intense concentration, it requires much practice and many say is an indicator of the fighter’s ability.
- Most Muay Thai fighters are Buddhist and meditate as part of their training.
- Traditional pipe and drum music is played to accompany all fights.
- The development of honor, self-respect, self-control and compassion are all parts of the fighters lives.
- It is not uncommon for retired fighters to join the monk hood and continue to teach.
Where to See
Muay Thai events can be seen all over Thailand, but the quality of the bouts is said to vary. Local venues or championship bouts are very likely to be the real deal, whereas aficionados might avoid the large venues often found in tourist areas. Be particularly aware of places that offer free entry and expensive drinks: the fighters might have to put on a number of “shows” each night and it’s unlikely they’ll be using full-contact techniques.
Also note that though you might see Thai locals betting heavily, all forms of gambling are illegal in Thailand. It’s probably best not to get involved.
Where to Train in Thailand
There are many schools offering courses to foreigners in Thailand. Some of those recommended include:
Legacy Gym, Ubon Ratchathani
The Muay Thai Institute, Bangkok
Suwit Muay Thai Training Camp, Phuket
WMC Muay Thai Boxing Camp, Ko Samui
Muay Thai Sangha, Chiang Mai
Copyright ©2013 Written by Vern Lovic. Publishing rights have been sold to other travel-related websites. This is the original article.