The History of Muay Thai – Part 1

Old School Muay Thai History Photo

July 18, 2016

You’ve heard about it before. You’ve seen it used in mixed martial arts. You’ve tried it or are interested in trying it to become fit like the fighters you’ve seen from around the world.

It’s Muay Thai.

Also known as Thai boxing or Thai kickboxing, Muay Thai is the official martial art of Thailand and can also be referred to as a “Thai Combat Sport”. The Primary focus of Muay Thai is using stand-striking and couple it with multiple clinching techniques in order to subdue an opponent. It’s seen in today’s society as a combat sport and is being utilized in various mixed-martial arts and practiced all over the world.

The Origin of Muay Thai

Nai Kanom Tom Muay Thai

The first documented use of Muay Thai in Thailand dated back several hundred years ago. In its earliest form it was a very simple version of close-combat in which the main focus was utilizing the entire body as a weapon. Also known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” your limbs are represented as weapons of war. Your hands are represented as the sword and dagger. Your shins and forearms after years of training became hard like armor and protected you from blows. Your elbow is capable of beating down large opponents as if it were a hammer or a mace. Finally, your legs and knees represented the axe and the staff. All of your limbs were to act as if they were one unit. Your knees and elbows were used as a way to test the defenses of your opponent, and once you found an opening, you would use grappling in order to take enemy to the ground for the kill.

As a fighting style, scholars believe that it was first developed centuries ago as asian tribes from the south migrated into Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and what would eventually be called Siam. The largest and fiercest of these tribes at the time were known as the Tai tribe, and they were in constant warfare with smaller tribes as they traversed through the Southern Steppes in order to reach new land. As they progressed, they became well-trained, hardened, and developed rudimentary military tactics that employed the foundations of Muay Thai. A new martial art was being born at this time. 

Muay Thai in Thailand

Old School Muay Thai 

Fast-forward a few hundred years and the Tai (Siamese) eventually settled in Siam, which is where modern-day Thailand is. Siamese soldiers would learn from their fathers the art of Muay Thai and transfer it from generation to generation. Through decades of trial-and-error practice, Muay Thai transformed into the most effective form of hand-to-hand combat within this geographic location.

The Thai were virtually always defending their borders against attacks from their neighbors Burma and Cambodia. The conflict between Burma and Thailand were particularly brutal during this time period, and thousands of soldiers from both sides perished during this period. Muay Thai was a mandatory part of training for Thai soldiers and continued on after the Burmese/Thai Conflict.

Thai men that had returned after a tour of military duty would have Muay Thai sparring and village matches for sport. Many provinces and towns would support their Muay Thai “prize fighter” who had beat all competitors nearby. Older warriors and veterans of many tours became Muay Thai teachers whose responsibility was to transfer knowledge to younger generations. Muay Thai was like this for over 500 years until it became modernized in the 19th century.

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