Muay Thai is a hard fighting piece of mixed martial arts that resembles pradel serey, tomoi, and muay Lao from Laos. It is probably derived from muay boran and krabi krabong. Also known as Thai boxing or Thai kickboxing, it is the national sport of Thailand and enjoys worldwide popularity, thanks in part to a daily televised bout in Thailand and the movie Ong Bak, starring Tony Jaa in a feature that seamlessly blended acrobatic stunts and Thai boxing.
Muay Thai martial arts is often known as the art (or science) of 8 limbs, because practitioners use eight points of attack: feet, hands, elbows, and knees. Western boxers by comparison use two points of attack (fists).
The First Muay Thai Fights
Exact information on muay Thai’s origins is sketchy, purportedly because the Burmese destroyed Siamese historical records in 1767. According to popular legend, “Black Prince” Naresuen of Siam defeated the Burmese crown prince in a single bout of muay Thai in 1560, which caused King Bayinnaung of Burma to abandon his attack on Thailand. In 1774, the first recorded muay Thai contest was held in Rangoon at a festival organized by Lord Mangra, king of Burma, to honor the Buddhist faith. A Thai boxer called Nai Khanom Tom defeated nine Burmese boxers in a row, impressing the king with his strength and agility.
Muay Thai fights are generally of five three-minute rounds, with a two-minute rest between each round. Ringcraft (fighting tactics and strategies), conditioning, and fitness are key. As in Western boxing, the referee can end a bout by giving a ten-second count to a knock-down, if he thinks a boxer is in particular danger, or if there have been three knock-downs during a single round.
Unlike today’s popular MMA, fighters traditionally bound their hands in cloth, dipped them in glue, then sprinkled their fists with broken glass, bringing a frightening and bloody element to matches. This practice was stopped in 1929 and now most fighters wear European standard boxing gloves. Their hands are wrapped in boxing wraps to protect their fists and to harden them by compressing the bones. They also wear groin protection, shorts elasticated at the waist, and optional elasticated ankle supports.
Bouts are accompanied by music “si muay,” which is played by a four-piece orchestra consisting of “shing” (cymbals), “klong kaek” and “kon” (drums), and “pi Java” (a clarinet).
Ritual Dance and Fighting Stance
In a pre-fight ritual dance (“ram muay wai kruh,” or “kruh,” for short). Boxers pay homage to their instructors and hex their opponents with black magic. They often make a loud hissing sound as they exhale air through their teeth, which helps to control breath, oxygenate muscles, and inspire confidence.
Their fighting stance resembles a Western boxer’s, except they hold their guard higher and slightly more extended away from their face to protect against elbow and foot strikes. Fighters tend to shuffle forward and back, leading with one foot. They turn their elbows inward to protect the body and to allow for guarding movements that protect the ribs during an onslaught.
Kicking and punching
The signature power kicks are the low-level roundhouse, or hook, kick at an opponent’s thigh. Designed to demoralize an opponent and restrict his mobility, it is often delivered with the shin and the toe hooked inward as opposed to a normal roundhouse in which the toe is pointed back. Boxers precondition the shin over many years by striking it against bamboo trees. Punching resembles the Western boxing techniques of jabs, crosses, hooks, upper cuts, and overhand head punches. Thai boxers use long-range hooks that close the distance after kicking and are often followed by a combination of close-quarter upper cuts, hooks, and jabs.
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