What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai, sometimes called Thai Boxing, is a combat sport and martial art originating in Thailand. Developed several centuries ago, Muay Thai is a physical and mental discipline known as “the art of the eight limbs”, as it incorporates a balanced focus between the arms, legs, knees and elbows, therefore utilizing the entire body as a weapon. A practitioner of Muay Thai is known as nak muay, and Western practitioners are sometimes called nak muay farang, meaning “foreign boxer”.
What are its origins?
Muay Thai’s origins are still debated by modern scholars, as much of Thai history was lost when the Burmese ransacked Ayutthaya, then Siam’s capital city in Thailand, during the 14th century.
Originally falling under the umbrella term of “Muay Boran”, Muay Thai was used as a combat technique during military training and warfare. Thailand has an extended history of violent military invasions by its bordering countries. Because of this, Thais were repeatedly forced to use their own fighting skills to defend the country. Armed only with rudimentary clubs and short-range spears, they trained to use their entire bodies as weapons against invaders.
In the 19th century, under the prosperous King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), the sport grew in popularity due to the King’s personal interest. Masters began teaching in live-in training camps. Scouts would be sent by the royal family to organize matches between camps. This was the beginning of the modernization of Muay Thai into a globally recognized fighting art.
How was Muay Thai modernized?
In the early 20th century, King Rama VII developed codified rules for Muay fighting. By then the first boxing rings had already been built in Thailand to replace open courtyards, and referees and the concept of clock-timed rounds were introduced to monitor and ratify the sometimes-brutal fights.
During World War II, after formally being introduced to Muay Thai, foreigners named it “Siam Boxing”. Soldiers from Europe and America would watch attentively as the Thai soldiers practiced Muay Thai amongst themselves, and so it began to gain worldwide acknowledgement as a pristine martial art. Following the war, an integrated system of weight-classes and championships was brought into effect.
The present King of Thailand is an avid fan of Muay Thai, and since his coronation its popularity has grown more than in any other era in history. In 1995, the World Muay Thai Council, the oldest and largest professional sanctioning organization of Muay Thai, was set up by the Royal Thai Government and sanctioned by the Sports Authority of Thailand. Today, there are thousands of gyms spread out across the globe.
What are the techniques of Muay Thai?
Muay Thai is referred to as “The Art of Eight Limbs”; and by using eight points of contact the body can mimic the weapons of war: the hands become the sword and dagger; the shins and forearms were hardened in training to act as armour against blows, and the elbows become a heavy mace or hammer; the legs and knees become the axe and staff. The body operates as one unit.
The head is the ninth weapon of Muay Thai, but it is rarely used as it is the most sacred part of the body in Thai culture. There is just one technique in old-style Muay that uses the head: the "Ascetic dives into the Pond", a flying head-butt.
A traditional technique of binding the hands with rope (kaad chuek) made the hands a hardened, dangerous striking tool. Knots over the knuckles made the strikes more abrasive and damaging, whilst protecting the hands of the fighter. Rope-binding was still used in fights between Thais until recently, but after a death in the ring it was decided that fighters should wear modern gloves and hard groin protectors.
Muay Thai is often a fighting art of attrition, where opponents exchange blows with one another. Traditional fighters in Thailand still fight this way, but it the blow-for-blow style is less popular overseas. Almost all techniques in Muay Thai incorporate full movement of the body, rotating the hip with each kick, punch, elbow and block.
What are the traditional training methods?
During peaceful historical periods, Muay Thai functioned as a means of physical exercise, self-defense and recreation, and was seen as a way to develop personally due to the rigorous and demanding training techniques.
Prior to modernization, traditional Thai fighters had to be resourceful and rely on readily available tools to help them train and condition. Kicking the soft, porous trunks of banana trees was a popular old-style training technique.
For general strength and durability, fighters would scale cliffs with bare hands and feet, and use pit-jumping techniques to strengthen their powerful legs.
To improve accuracy, fighters would strike a coconut suspended from a tree or half buried in the sand. The small target and hard surface made the coconut an ideal practice opponent.
In order to practice not blinking when struck in the face, fighters would stand in rivers and slap the water into each other’s eyes.
Muay Thai fighters are known for their tough skin and ability to blot out pain. Early fighters would roll small logs across their shins or beat themselves with bags of sand to toughen the skin and build protective calluses.
Another favored training technique is called the Muay Thai circle. A group of fighters would form a circle with one person in the middle. The fighter in the middle would then train with each person in the circle to improve their endurance and stamina. If a fighter can train for 10 minutes against multiple fresh opponents without a break, then a 3 minute round in the ring will be much easier to endure. This technique is still used today in modern gyms and training camps.
What are the health & fitness benefits of Muay Thai?
Modern Muay Thai training is designed to promote the level of physical fitness and toughness required for ring competition. Training regimens include running, sparring, rope jumping, weight training and calisthenics exercises.
Because of the intensive training, Muay Thai fighters have strong, healthy bodies with minimal fat. Being both aerobic and anaerobic. A generally healthy body is naturally more protective against illnesses as it helps to boost the immune system.
Muay Thai has more than simple physical benefits. It also develops discipline and has a variety of spiritual benefits that foster calmness, peacefulness and acceptance, a thorough training for the mind, body and soul.
- Endurance / Cardiovascular Conditioning:
Muay Thai is quiet versatile and regular training will quickly help to boost your speed, strength and conditioning.
It further helps to maintain your heart rate at 75% to 85 % regular beat.
- Weight Loss:
Many participants of Muay Thai are looking for a natural rapid weight loss program and to have a physical fit body.
Due to the permanent movement of your body, you will quickly start to burn fat, strengthen and define your legs, arms and stomach.
- Stress Relief
Let’s be honest: most of us accumulate a certain amount of stress during the day, whether meeting deadlines at work, pleasing people around you or paying bills – rather than letting the next best person suffer because of your frustration, or even more worst, keeping that anger inside of you, Muay Thai is a fantastic way of detaching you from daily stress, helps keeping you focus on yourself and will quickly turn you into a more happy person.
Through regular participation of classes, you will quickly gain a strong mind and strengthen your discipline. Your mind will remain calm in case of any sudden happenings around you, whether within the ring or in your private environment. Furthermore, you will tend to focus more on your own health and well-being.