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Pra Puttha Yord Fa Chulaloke

King Rama I was a Muay Thai enthusiast from an early age, training and traveling to watch matches throughout the kingdom. As the legend goes, in 1788, two brothers from France came to Thailand in search of boxing or fighting competition. One of them was a fighter of some renown and had fought throughout other countries during their travels. He wanted to fight for prizes against a Thai boxer.

The King consulted with Pra Raja Wangbowon, the head of the royal boxing ministry, where they agreed upon a bet of 4000 Baht (50 Changs) and to hold the fight at the Grand Palace at the temple of the emerald Buddha. A ring of 20 X 20 meters was constructed specifically for the fight.

Early in the match it seemed the fighter from France was too strong for the smaller but faster Thai. Eventually he began to tire, and seeing that he was on the verge of losing, his brother broke the rules by hastily jumping into the ring to help. This caused a riot and fighting ensued between the foreigners and Thai guards and spectators. Disgraced by their actions, the brothers left soon after.

The Golden Age of Muay Thai

King Rama V

King Rama V realized the value of Muay Thai and did much to promote the sport from the late 1880’s to the turn of the century. He promoted tournaments and “Muay Luang”, also called Royally appointed Boxing Centers throughout the kingdom, which often served as a way for him to find personal guards or Royal officers when a fighter was victorious.

Often times the top fighters at the Royal Muay Thai Centers would be given personal invitations by the King to fight at tournaments, festivals and important international events. The Department of Education was created in 1887, with Muay Thai as part of the Military Cadet teachers school curriculum.

World War I

King Rama VI

Muay Thai was introduced to Europe and the rest of the world during the first great war. Thai soldiers were stationed in France, and the commander would organize Muay Thai bouts for to boost the morale of the servicemen. French boxers would often participate and compete against the Thai fighters.

The first permanent boxing stadium was built at the Suan Khoolab School after the war. They still did not have the modern gloves used today, so fighters’ hands were wrapped in cotton and hemp. Mongkongs were worn on their heads and pra-jiats around their biceps.

The distinctive style that is Muay Thai is thought to have developed over centuries as the major tribes of that era (one of which was the Siamese) migrated through China, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia. The Thai tribes moved south, fighting fiercely to survive as they encountered other tribes in what is now northern and central Thailand, and as far south as Malaysia.

The rudimentary elements that defined Thai Boxing as a fighting style began to take root. Through training, military exercises, combat and loss of life, techniques became precise and specific. The goal of each strike and movement is to deliver an excruciating, debilitating blow which would enable the fighter to quickly overcome his rivals without leaving himself exposed to an attack. Thus, proper technique and power strikes were a vital element in their training. Veteran soldiers and fathers taught their students and sons the offensive and defensive tactics and techniques, proper posture and positioning and skills to enhance awareness. Those students and sons went on to teach their children, and from there the core elements that make up Muay Thai today had become a permanant foundation.

It would seem that the most effective hand-to-hand form of combat evolved in a rather Darwin-like manner. It demanded the survival of the fittest: those who fought and prevailed lived and taught others before eventually falling themselves.

The Thai were constantly on guard anticipating attacks from neighboring countries like Burma and Cambodia. The Burmese and Thai had fought each other in many wars over the centuries, causing much destruction in both countries. The wars against the Burmese, Cambodians and other invaders helped refine the art of Muay Thai, teaching the Thai combatants much about engaging in combat.

When the young men returned from tours of duty with the Thai military, they often engaged in matches for sport and fun. Older soldiers, being survivors of many battles and hand-to-hand confrontations, became “Kroo Muay” – instructors and teachers. A local fighter from each province, town and village who showed promise in the sport would garner the respect and support of the local inhabitants. The love of the sport and importance of an effective defense system for the kingdom made Muay Thai a vital part of the Thai culture for the next 500 years as the skills were passed through the generations.

Muay Thai is referred to as “The Art of Eight Limbs”; and using eight points of contact the body mimics weapons of war. The hands become the sword and dagger; the shins and forearms were hardened in training to act as armor against blows, and the elbow to fell opponents like a heavy mace or hammer; the legs and knees became the axe and staff. The body operated as one unit. The knees and elbows constantly searching and testing for an opening while grappling and trying to spin an enemy to the ground for the kill.

The King of Thailand is an avid fan of Muay Thai. Since being crowned its popularity has grown more than in any other era in history.

The Sukhothai Era

In 1238 (Buddhist years), the first Thai army was created in the northern city of Sukhothai, Siam being its capital. The recorded history shows that a need to defend the capital city was spawned by many wars being fought between neighbouring tribes and kingdoms. The Siamese army was created to protect the government and its inhabitants within the city and surrounding villages. Soldiers were taught hand-to-hand combat and how to use weapons, as well as how to use the entire body as a weapon. Their training is what eventually evolved into Muay Thai and Krabi Krabong.

Learning the military arts or “Muay Thai” became engrained in the culture of the early Siamese people. With the constant threat of war, training centers slowly began to appear throughout the kingdom. These were the first Muay Thai camps. Young men practiced the art form for various reasons: self-defense, exercise, discipline; monks even instructed at many Buddhist temples, passing down knowledge and history from one generation to the next.

As Muay Thai became popular with the poor and common people, it also became a required staple for the high-class and royalty. The two sons of King Phokhun Sri In Tharatit, the first King of Sukhothai, were sent to learn at the Samakorn training center. The common idea was that good warriors made brave leaders and this would prepare them as future rulers of the kingdom.

Phokhun Ram Khamhaeng university is named after the writer of the first ancient text of Muay Thai. It is located in Bangkok along with the Sport Authority of Thailand.

The Krungsri Ayutthaya Era

With many wars being fought between the developing countries of Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Cambodia, the development of large armies became necessary to protect and ensure the survival of the Thai kingdom. Young men were trained in warfare at training centers throughout the country, devoting themselves to learning hand-to-hand combat, the sword, staff and stick (“Krabi Krabong”). Phudaisawan Center for swords and pole arms became the most famous of the these training centers and was considered to be the eras equivalent of a college or university education.

The Era of King Naresuan

King Naresuan loved Muay Thai and fighting competitions. He would eventually become a Muay Thai legend, calling upon the men who had been beaten and displaced by the Burmese warriors to become scouts and jungle warfare soldiers that would eventually liberate Thailand from it’s Burmese occupants around 1600.

The Era of King Narai

During this era Muay Thai became a national sport, developing the fundamental traditions that would remain the same for the next 400 years. The Mongkong (headband) and pa-pra-jiat (armband) were both introduced and the first “ring” was made by laying a rope on the ground in a square or circle as a designated fighting area.

The fighters used hemp ropes and threads as hand coverings which wrapped around the hands and forearms. A thick, starchy liquid would sometimes be used to bind the threads and make the striking surface harder. Now, 400 years later, TWINS is Thailand’s #1 Muay Thai equipment manufacturer.

In the first professional fights, fighters were not matched up by weight, height, experience or age. There were no time limits on fights; they continued until there was a definite winner. Local champions would represent their city or village, and often times fought on behalf of wealthy businessmen or royalty as a way for them to settle disputes. Losing a fight often resulted in the fighter and/or businessman losing face. Gambling on Muay Thai matches was as popular then as it is now in stadiums across the country.

King Prachao Sua “Tiger King” Era

King Prachao Sua loved competing in Muay Thai. He was known for entering tournaments in small cities and villages disguised as a commoner. Because no one recognized him as the King, he was allowed to participate in a tournament against several notable fighters.

According to the legend, he defeated three fighters named Nai Klan Madthai (Killing Fists), Nai Yai Madklek (Fists of Iron), and Nai Lek Madnok (Strong Fists). The “Tiger King” was forced to disguise himself because Thai people hold their King in such high regard that out of respect, no one would have fought him.

Prachao Sua loved the sport so much that he made his two sons, the princes of Thailand, study Muay Thai, sword fighting and wrestling. During this time the Department of Royal Boxing was founded with the responsibility of finding and recruiting worthy men to fight as entertainment for royalty and to become guards in Thani Lir, the royal court. As royal guards, they were also given the task of training the members of royalty in combat and Muay Thai, as they were still at war with Cambodia and Burma.

The Thonburi Era

During this period known as the Thonburi Era, Thailand began to see peace and the kingdom was slowly being reconstructed. Training in Muay Thai was generally for Soldiers in the military and a favored past-time for those who were not. With the country’s new found peace, the sport began to turn more competitive. Camps would match their best fighters agasint each other for entertainment. As there were still no formal rules, they lasted until a clear winner was left standing.

The Ratanakosin Era

By the time of the reign of Rama I, Muay Thai had become a national fighting art and rules and regulations were introduced. The sport had become an integral part of celebrations and festivities across the country. The length of each round was measured by a coconut with a small hole that would float in water. The coconut filling with water and sinking to the bottom of the barrel signified its end, though there was still no limit to the number of rounds per fight. Combatants continued to fight until a clear winner was chosen, or one person was left standing.

Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand. It was developed several hundreds of years ago as a form of close-combat that utilizes the entire body as a weapon.

Today its definitive origins are debated by modern scholars, as much of the muay thai history was lost when the Burmese ransacked Ayudhaya, Siam’s capital city in Thailand, during the 14th century.

Most written muay thai history was lost when the Burmese looted the temples and depositories of knowledge held in Ayudhaya, and what volumes were saved are now national treasures that are preserved and protected as documentation for Thai culture and heritage.

Muay ThaSao
Muay Korat
Muay Lopburi
Muay Chaiya

There are four style that muay boran have developed, Muay Thasao, Muay Korat, Muay Lopburi, Muay Chaiya.

Muay Thasao (North Thailand), Emphasis on speed, especially fast kicks. This variation of muay boran was dubbed “ Ling Lom” or windy monkey.
Muay Korat (East Thailand). Emphasis on strength. A technique unique to this style is the “Throwing buffalo punch” named because it is supposed to take out a buffalo in one blow.
Muay Lopburi (Central Thailand ). Emphasis on crafty, technical movement. This variation favors straight punches and hooks.
Muay Chiya (South Thailand). Emphasis on good posture and defense. This style favors elbow and knee strikes.

Since each style had it’s own strengths, a complete fighter was said to: “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao”. Muay Thai only came about because of the peoples love of the art so it was developed into a ring sport. The lethal brakes and death strikes were removed and rules were applied to the sport because of the serious and sometimes fatal injuries that resulted during bouts.
Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport and a martial art. Often called or known as “Thai Boxing” outside Thailand. Fighters use punch, elbow, kick and knee to fight.

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