Muay Thai is the fighting art of Thailand
When the Burmese army attacked and razed Ayuthaya, much of the early history of Thailand and Muay Thai was lost. The little we do know, comes from Burmese history, early European visitors and some of the chronicles of the Lanna Kingdom - Chiang Mai. One thing all sources agree on, is that Muay Thai began as a close combat, battlefield fighting skill, nearly as deadly as the weapons it replaced.
There are 2 main theories as to the origins of Muay Thai:
The first and most widely accepted says that the art developed as early pioneers moved down from China and fought the natives for the land.
The second more controversial theory says that the Thai people were already there, and that they developed Muay Thai to defend themselves from constant invasion threats. There is considerable archaeological evidence to suport this.
What is known is that Muay Thai is inseperable from the rest of Thai culture, to them, it's the sport of Kings.
The first surge of interest in Muay Thai as a sport, was under King Naresuan in 1584, a time known as the Ayuthaya period. During this time, every soldier trained in Muay Thai and could use it well, as could the King himself. Slowly the focus of Muay Thai moved away from the battlefield and into the sporting arena as new fighting techniques evolved.
People from all walks of life flocked to training camps wanting some of the action. Every village staged its prize fights and had its champions. Every bout became a betting contest as well as a contest of local pride. The betting tradition has remained with the sport, and today large sums are wagered.
Another King - Prachao Sua - the Tiger King loved Muay Thai so much that he often went to the village contests and fought incognito, beating the local champions. During the reign of the Tiger King the nation was at peace. The King, to keep the army busy, ordered it to continue to train in Muay Thai. The interest in the sport was already high but now it took off yet again as the Tiger King not only influenced fighting styles, but also the equipment, with the hands and forearms being bound with strips of horse hair. This was to serve a dual purpose - protect the fighter and inflict more damage on the opponent. Later, these were replaced by hemp ropes or starched strips of cotton. For particular challenge matches and with the fighters agreement, ground glass was mixed with glue and spread on the strips, many times this resulted in fatal injuries.
The Rama V period was another golden age for Muay Thai. Boxing camps were set up all over the country, and, at Royal Command, talent scouts recruited potential boxers. Match makers began to make the great matches which were fought for big prizes and honour. These champions were rewarded with military titles from the King. Today the titles, like Muen Muay Mee Chue from Chaiya or Muen Muay Man Mudh from Lopburi are virtually untranslatable. They mean something comparable to Major of Boxing. At the time they were much prized and respected titles.
The reign of King Rama VI saw the use of the standard ring surrounded by ropes, as well as time keeping by the clock. Before this period, time was kept by floating a pierced coconut shell on water. When the coconut piece sank, the end of the round was signalled by a drum.
Muay Thai has always been a sport for the people as well as a military fighting skill. It was a part of the school curriculum right up to the 1920's when it was withdrawn because it was felt that the injury rate was too high. The people however, continued to study it in gyms and clubs just as they do today.
The changes that the sport has undergone have been changes to equipment used rather than technique changes. For example, Thai fighters have always worn groin guards. A kick or knee to the groin was a perfectly legal move up until the 1930's. In the early days, the protection was made from tree bark or sea shells held in place with a piece of cloth, then a triangular shaped pillow, red or blue, then, a boxer on a trip to Malaysia saw a groin box. He came back with the idea and now Muay Thai fighters use steel and leather groin guards.
With the growing success of Thai Boxers in international boxing in the 1930's, rope bindings were replaced by the "traditional" lace-up boxing glove and weight classes based on the international boxing divisions became standardised. These and other innovations - such as the introduction of five rounds - changed the tactics and techniques that the boxers used, causing some of them to disappear. Before the introduction of weight divisions, a fighter could and did fight all comers regardless of size and weight differences. However, the introduction of the divisions meant that the fighters were more evenly matched and instead of there being one champion, there became one for each weight class. Most Muay Thai fighters belong to the lighter divisions. Seventy percent of all fighters belong to the fly and bantam weight divisions. There are welterweight and middleweight fights but they are not seen that often and the heavier divisions are seldom seen.
During The reign of Rama VII, before the Second World War, the makeshift rings gave way to stadiums. During the war, they all but disappeared but reappeared soon afterwards. Boxers from the country once again headed toward Bangkok seeking fame, fortune and glory.
The glory could be found at stadiums like Rajdamnern and Lumpinee. Later, they fought in full fury on television. Thailand's Channel 7 started broadcasting the fights in colour in the 1970's. Today all four Thai television stations broadcast free to millions of Muay Thai fans throughout Thailand four nights a week. The television fight broadcasts rate among the countries most popular programmes, in the villages, the people gather around any available TV to watch, in the city, people vanish from the streets while the whole country watches Muay Thai.
But despite changes to the sport, Muay Thai has lost none of its appeal or effectiveness, Muay Thai is still the fighting art to beat, as challenges from Kung Fu, Karate, Taekwando, and the latest kickboxing styles, have all come to Thailand, not just once but many times and each time Muay Thai has been victorious.
Thai Boxing is one of the fastest growing martial arts today. There are over half a million regestered fighters in Thailand alone and now it has trainers and fighters in America, Australia, England, France, Greece, Japan, as well as in many other countries around the world. In Athens during July 2001 the IAMTF World Friendship Cup was staged. This was the first in a series of tournaments which will help countries involved in amateur Muay Thai to select fighters for the Olympic Games.
sources: The World Muay Thai Council, International Kickboxer, Blitz magazine
thanx to anthropod for guidance