Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, captures the essence of sporting discipline, control, and strength. It is the artistic expression of the power of the body along with spirituality and tradition. Powerful and unique, with its roots in Thailand, Muay Thai is a martial art that resonates way beyond sporting prowess, straight to the core of Thai culture and the belief in strengthening character and the inner self. With strikes and clinches, the essence of Thai Boxing is to become an effective and super-efficient fighter and it is no surprise that Muay Thai fighters are so incredibly fit, fast, and flexible.
The Art of Eight Limbs
Whilst traditional boxing in the West is all about fist action and kickboxing is about using the hands and feet, the classic sport of Muay Thai encompasses eight points of contact; the hands, the knees, the shins, and the feet. The body acts as a multi-weapon tool of attack and defense.
There is no doubt that Muay Thai, as an opponent or as a ringside spectator, is not for the faint-hearted, being a swift-moving, full-contact sport. However, behind its hard image, there is an almost balletic quality to movements, each of which is delivered with deft, poise, and killer precision.
Tradition and Meaning
Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and whilst it may have a hard reputation there is a strong element of tradition, respect, and togetherness within the sport. These training principles extend outside the ring too.
Fighters wear a traditional headpiece called a mongkron which is unique to each gym as well as prajed, which are armbands. Both are worn as a symbol of protection, warding off negativity and even bad spirits. Many boxers are tattooed in the traditional way by Buddhist monks, with bamboo needles. These sak yant tattoos, in general Thai culture, are a spiritual sign of protecting against evil and attracting good luck and success.
Other pre-fight rituals include praying, meditation, and even how fighters enter the ring. Superstition and ritualistic ceremony is ingrained in the culture, philosophy, and religion within Thailand; only adding to the fascination of the country.
The History of Muay Thai
Whilst the origins of Thai boxing are not clear, what is certain is that this is a sport that began as a real-world fighting technique used in warfare several hundred years ago. It is said that during the wars between what was then Burma and Ayutthaya, in the late 18th century, renowned Thai boxer, Nai Khanomtom was released from capture after a show of his skills; adding to the reputation of Muay Thai as a force to be reckoned with, both in and out of the ring.
Earlier, in the 16th century, some variation of Muay Boran, or Ancient Boxing, was used as part of military training as a close-contact discipline and its history can be traced back to 14th century Siam. During more peaceful times, in the 19th century, King Rama V’s interest saw the sport developing, whilst King Rama VII was integral to modernizing Muay Thai to become the popular sport it is today.
Music and Dancing
The wai khru ram muay is the traditional dance that is performed by boxers in the ring before a fight begins. The performance is an integral part of Muay Thai and is an expression of respect paid to a fighter’s teachers and a way of honoring their relationship. This sense of gratitude extends to family and ancestors too as well as to Buddha. The ritual reveals the importance of humility, custom, and tapping into a deeper level of consciousness that is such a prevalent part of Muay Thai.
As well as dancing, music is a big element of Muay Thai too, with the pre-fight sarama playing slow, rhythmic beats to match the seriousness of the wai khru ritual. As the action kicks in, the music follows, with moments of wild abandonment adding to the frenetic energy that so defines a Muay Thai match. Usually, live musicians play at the side of the ring with wind instruments, drums, and cymbals.
Muay Thai in Modern Thailand
Muay Thai is just as relevant and popular as ever in Thailand and fighters are highly revered. However, despite the long hours of dedicated training and the commitment expected, Thai boxers are yet to reach the financial status of sportstars in many countries in the West. However, Muay Thai is gaining greater International attention than ever before and training camps and less intense boxing sessions to keep fit are becoming more prevalent.
In 2016, Muay Thai was provisionally recognized as an Olympic sport which means that its future could lie in being part of the Olympic Games and greater funding opportunities and exposure for the sport and for the fighters.
Fighters & Fans
Under the heat of the Thai sun, there is no doubt that Thai boxers are made of sturdy stuff and intense training is part of the life of boxers. For spectators, the sheer force and nimbleness of movements, as boxers pivot and swivel their hips, is undeniably fierce and demands respect.
The atmosphere of a real Muay Thai match, from the almost celebrity-like status of the country’s top fighters, to the ardent fans, and the passionate bouts, reveals something deeply cultural about this sport; the spirit of Thailand that burns brightly under the calm. Friendly and gentle nature of the Thai people.
Interested to Watch, Train, Learn Muay Thai?
There are opportunities to catch bouts of Muay Thai and experience the fighting action up-close in Thailand on a regular basis. The islands of Phuket and Koh Samui both have Muay Thai boxing stadiums that hold regular Muay Thai event. Meanwhile, Phuket villas and Koh Samui villas also inspire wellness breaks, some of which features its own Muay Thai boxing ring, where you can have a private trainer to keep you fit and feel great whilst enjoying a luxury stay.
If you are staying at one of our villas in Phuket or Koh Samui and would like to watch, experience, train, or learn Muay Thai boxing, speak to our villa concierge for more information.