History of the Muaythai
MUAY THAI An Introduction.
A rush of excitement travelled through my bones as I climbed out of the tuk tuk, facing me was Lumpini stadium and I was about to watch an authentic Muay Thai match.
This was my first night in Bangkok, Thailand. The tuk tuk driver had already taken me to all the obligatory sites including a jewellery shop and tailors.
He was given fuel tokens every time he brought a "falang" to these shops. I didn't mind, it was all part of the experience.
The night was hot and sticky but I was surprised at how quickly I'd adapted to the heat.
There are two main stadiums in Bangkok, Ratchadamnern and Lumpini.
The two stadiums run a Thai boxing match every day between them.
Outside Lumpini the smell of freshly cooked noodles wafted in the air. People gathered about eating, talking.
As I approached the entrance I was ushered in, I paid my 1000 Baht for a ringside seat and was given a programme, a stadium leaflet on Thai boxing and a fridge magnet depicting Lumpini stadium!
The wailing of the Pi Java echoed through the stadium accompanied by the rhythmic sounds of the Klong Kack, Shing and Kong.
In the ring were two Nak Muay, performing the Wai Kru and Ram Muay.
Each boxer wore a Mongkon on his head and on their arms were Pratchiats.
Oil, which had been massaged in before the fight, glimmered under the stadium lights.
The air was heavy with musk of liniment and sweat as both boxers rhythmically danced to the sound of the Pi Muay.
Above them a variety of moths and other flying insects, seemed to be conducting their own frenzied dance around the stadium lights.
A small lizard darted across the ceiling; no doubt fat from its tasty Hor D'ouvres.
As the music faded, both boxers were in their respective corners their Mongkons ceremoniously removed.
The referee beckoned the boxers to the centre of the ring.
The boxers put their arms around each other like life long friends about to have their photograph taken. Surely this wasn't right? I'd expected a hard stare down even some heckling!
Their respect was amazing, considering what they were about to do to each other!
The bell sounded; at the same time Pi Muay began its distinctive rhythm, a little quicker this time.
The Boxers advanced towards each other arms held high, their leading legs tapping rhythmically.
The first attack was a low kick to the opponent's outer thigh but it was light and almost half hearted.
In response the opponent jabbed out his leading leg and pushed his attacker back.
Again this was considerably lighter than I'd expected.
They were testing each other, looking for weaknesses observing strengths.
After several light exchanges the bell sounded to end round one.
There are five three-minute rounds in Muay Thai with a two-minute break. During this break the boxers are massaged, given advice and sips of water.
The fists, elbows, knees and legs are used in Muay Thai, attacking the opponent with full contact. Boxers are also allowed to grapple each other by holding onto the neck or body and pound each other with their knees. With the exception of the groin and eyes, the whole body is a target.
8 or 10-ounce boxing gloves are worn and a gum shield and groin guard protect the respective parts.
The bell sounded for round two the chanting of the Pi Java was becoming more frenzied.
Both boxers pounded at each other's legs, upper bodies and heads with tremendous speed, accuracy and awesome power. Their shins were used like threshing sabres to cut away at each other' defences.
The niceties of round one were gone!
A left, a right, an uppercut! They grabbed each other whirling around almost waltz like.
Knees crashed into each other's sides, the crowd yelling "Oy! Oy!" timed with every strike.
Suddenly an elbow! And another! Blood poured from the head of the assailed boxer.
He shrugged it off and responded with a devastating flying knee to his opponent's head.
As his opponent stumbled backwards, clearly shook by this attack, he was hit by a roundhouse kick to the neck.
The crowd roared as he slumped into temporary oblivion.
It was over, a magnificent sight to behold, my adrenalin was pumping through my veins and I still had seven more matches to watch!
Thailand, the land of smiles yet, in contrast, the proud keepers of one of the worlds most effective and deadliest of martial arts √ Muay Thai.
Muay Thai literally means "Box free" or free boxing and derives from the Thai words "Muay" √ to box and "Thai" √ free.
It does not take much to work out that Thailand therefore literally means "free land" or land of the free.
Thailand's history is steeped in tradition, culture and legendary stories
NAI KHANOM TOM
One of the most famous of stories involves the legendary Thai boxer Nai Khanom Tom.
In 1767 invading Burmese troops caused the fall of the ancient city of Ayutthaya.
Thailand was then known as Siam and had never been successfully invaded during its history.
However, the rulers of Ayutthaya were weak and the city was sacked.
The invading Burmese troops rounded up prisoners. Among these were a group of Thai boxers who were held in the city of Ungwa by the Burmese potentate Suki Phra Nai Kong of Kai Pho Sam Ton.
In 1774, the lord Mangra, King of Burma organized a seven-day, seven night celebration in the Burmese city of Rangoon.
This celebration was in honour of the pagoda where the Buddha's relics are preserved.
A royal presentation of a Thai boxing match between Thai and Burmese fighters was ordered.
Being led to pay his respects to the Burmese king was a famous Thai boxer called Nai Khanom Tom from Ayutthaya. This captive was robust, dogged and dark skinned and the faint supportive cheers could be heard from the remaining group of Thai captives.
The lord Mangra agreed to allow a Burmese boxer to pit his strength and skills against Nai Khanom Tom.
What follows is a story of legend; but before this story continues it is worth noting how these men fought.
Firstly their hands were bound with hemp rope and the binding travelled up their forearm.
A piece of bark or a shell was wrapped inside their loincloth and offered some protection to their groin.
The whole body was a target and the object of the fight was to simply beat your opponent to submission or unconsciousness √ there was no time limit.
Nai Khanom Tom began a pre ritual dance around his perplexed Burmese opponent. The referee announced that this was a traditional Thai dance called the "Wai Kru" through which the boxer pays respect to his teacher.
The referee starts the match upon which Nai Khanom Tom rushes his Burmese adversary closing him down with fierce elbows to the chest causing the Burmese fighter to collapse under the onslaught.
It was over Nai Khanom Tom's opponent lying defeated on the ground.
Not wanting to lose face however, the Burmese referee judged it to be a no contest stating that the Burmese fighter had been distracted by the Wai Kru dance.
Nai Khanom Tom was ordered to confront eleven other Burmese boxers. He readily agreed to the fights so that he could uphold the reputation of Thai boxing.
One by one the Burmese boxers fought Nai Khanom Tom, one by one they fell, crushed, defeated.
The last opponent was in fact a boxing teacher from Ya Kai city visiting the festivals. He was so mangled by Nai Khanom Tom's kicks and punches that no one else came forward to challenge.
Lord Mangra was so impressed and enthralled by this spectacle that he summoned Nai Khanom Tom to offer him a reward.
The King of Burma gave Nai Khanom Tom a choice of money or beautiful Burmese wives.
Nai Khanom Tom chose the wives stating that money would be easier to find.
Lord Mangra awarded two Burmese girls from the Mon tribe and in time Nai Khanom Tom returned to Thailand with his wives living with them until the end of his days.
As with many legendary stories there are bound to be variations, nevertheless the historical legend of Nai Khanom Tom is held dearly to the Thais' heart and a variety of statues have been sculpted in honour of him.
Nai Khanom Tom is commemorated by a statue in Ayutthaya's provincial sports ground. Around the base are four sparring pairs, showing the use of the fist, elbow, knee and foot, while a plaque records the legend in brief:
"Khanom Tom, a citizen of the ancient city of Ayutthaya, was a war captive brought to Myanmar after the city's fall in 1767.
During one special occasion to celebrate the erection of an umbrella over a great stupa, Khanom Tom was summoned to perform an exhibition bout in Thai boxing before the King of Ava. Legend relates that at that special event, Khanom Tom, with his boxing prowess, defeated ten opponents in succession on that same day."
17th March the day of which, according to tradition, Nai Khanom Tom, the "Father of Muay Thai", fought against the Burmese, eventually became recognised as "Muay Thai day".
Much of Thailand's documented history was destroyed during the sacking of Ayutthaya.
The oldest mention of Muay Thai comes from an historical document dated 1560 describing the duel between the Thai Prince Naresuan (also known as the black Prince) and the Burmese successor to the throne, the son of King Bayinnaung.
Records state that the duel lasted several hours and resulted in the demise of the crown Prince of Burma.
As the Burmese had lost their leader, it was decided that they would not attack Thailand.
Another famous story of legend involved King Pra-Chao Sua who reigned at the beginning of the 18th Century.
Thai boxing was going through a period of great development during his reign and the King, who was a great master of the art himself, used to leave his palace incognito and enter the local Thai boxing tournaments.
Entering the fights wearing a mask, the Tiger King (as he was nicknamed), became a regular winner.
During the "Tiger King's" reign Thai boxing was taught in schools and to the military.
Some of the techniques have remained unchanged and are known today as "King Tiger techniques".
It would be incorrect to say that Thai boxing is a complete fighting system as it lacks trapping, arm-locks, finger jabs and ground work to name a few.
However I feel that it is complete in effectively covering the main, standing, combat ranges:
Long Range √ The use of the legs
Middle Range √ Using the fists and long knees
Close Range √ Using elbows, knees, head and clinching.
Many fighting systems are now incorporating Thai boxing into their armoury.
The age old question of whether a boxer could defeat a Karateka, or a Judoka beat a Jiu Jutsu practitioner is pretty much academic but often superiority of style is a strong debate among Martial Art circles.
Thai boxing is no exception; there have been many challenges over the decades.
In the early 1920's a famous battle took place between a Thai fighter and a Chinese Gung Fu expert from Kwangtung province that, it was said, had mastered the power of "Chi".
The bout was disastrous for the Chinese, who spent months under medical care as a result of the fight!
In the late fifties a team of Tae-Kek fighters from China, all lost by knockout in the first round against the Thai's.
There were Karateka from Japan, orthodox boxers from the Phillipines, Wrestlers from India and Savate from France. All came to fight, all were defeated.
In 1972 a "Battle of styles" became vogue in Thailand. That year a six strong team of Japanese kick boxers arrived in Bangkok to challenge the Thai's and were defeated.
Later that year two kick boxers from Tokyo fought in the Radjamnern stadium.
The first was knocked out in round two. However the second, Genta Katayama a former Karateka turned kickboxer and a fifth ranked bantamweight boxer in the Japanese ratings, shocked the local crowd by defeating his Thai opponent.
The Thai was unranked but was nevertheless on home ground advantage.
In late 1973 two Gung Fu experts from Hong Kong fought the Thai's in Lumpini stadium.
Both were knocked out in the first round! Hong Kong officials complained that their fighters were at a disadvantage by having to wear gloves and not understanding the Thai boxing rules.
A revenge match was called for, bare hands and free style! The Thai's accepted.
On January 22nd 1974 to a crowd of 15,000 and to celebrate a major part of the Chinese New Year, five Chinese arrived, bare fisted, to show the Thai's how to fight.
There was only six minutes and 22 seconds of action All gung fu fighters were defeated in the first round!
The Hong Kong team manager swore never to return stating, "Muay Thai is too dangerous to be a sport."
There have been many challenges and many ending in the challengers' defeat.
Pros and Cons will always be disputed but a common sense statement made by a young Thai boxer is perhaps the best answer, "It doesn't matter at all whether it's style, technique, ring experience, stamina or just plain guts. We keep on winning, and as long as they don't beat us, we are the best."
MODERN DAY MUAY THAI
Traditionally, ancient Muay Thai or Muay Boran was fought bare-fisted. The only protection was the binding of the fists with hemp rope, which was reputed to have been, on occasion, dipped in resin and ground glass. A piece of bark or a seashell served as a, somewhat gesturley, protection for the groin. The ring would be a circle drawn in the ground and often the boxers' would fight to the death.
A set of rules was devised, taken from Western boxing's Queensbury's rules, and applied in the late 1920's. Up until 1929 it was still legal to kick to the groin and head-butt in competition, but as a result of several ring deaths these techniques were banned.
A new challenge now faces Muay Thai as it jostles to become an Olympic or South-East Asian games event. To comply with the ruling that the title of an Olympic sport cannot incorporate the name of any country, it would be necessary for Muay Thai to change its name. Inevitably, there would also be signs of dissent from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma) over the disputed "ownership" of this Martial art.
Today men and women of all ages, races and religions appreciate that Muay Thai is an extremely effective form of exercise and self-defence, easily on par with other international Martial arts, and enjoy regular training sessions. As a professional sport, regulated by the same standards world-wide, its popularity has spread across the globe with World championships comparable to those for Western boxing now being held. In addition, Muay Thai has become an accepted amateur sport in more than one hundred countries. Muay Thai, the one-time favoured military art of Kings, is, now, indeed, a king among Martial arts.
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Publication 03/06/2006 07:34:00 PM