When it comes to sports in Thailand, the first thing that comes to mind is Muay Thai. But do you know about the origins of Thailand’s National Sport? Team Thailand Insider is here to share with you the history, important Muay Thai figures, and where to watch the jaw-clenching sport in Thailand.
As Thailand’s national sport, Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, is the most popular sport in the country. As a martial art originating from the Siamese army, people travel from all over the globe to learn this historically rooted sport. Muay Thai is referred to as “The Art of Eight Limbs” due to the eight points of contact the body uses, mimicking weapons of war.
In the ring, a Muay Thai fighter transforms their body into a weapon of war using eight points of contact. The hands act as a sword and dagger, the shins and forearms as armor, the elbow as a heavy mace or hammer, and finally, the legs and knees are the ax and staff.
Renowned for its authenticity and versatility, Muay Thai is quite popular in Thailand and throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands of people practice Muay Thai each day. Some of the world’s most successful boxers practice Muay Thai, a fundamental part of mixed martial arts preparation. Training for Muay Thai is safe due to pad training that evolved to keep the fighters protected in between fights.
Another reason this sport is so popular is that it is also used outside of the ring. Practitioners of self-defense, sporting, military, and law enforcement activities all use Muay Thai training. Additionally, the King of Thailand is an avid admirer of Muay Thai, growing its popularity more than any other historical era.
History of Muay Thai
The first Thai army was created in 1238 in the northern city of Sukhothai to protect the government and the city’s people. Training included hand-to-hand combat, the use of weaponry, and the use of the body as a weapon. Muay Thai and Krabi Krabong both evolved from this training.
The first Muay Thai camps showed up due to the constant threat of war between Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia. These camps were training centers set up throughout the kingdom. Young Siamese men practiced Muay Thai for self-defense, exercise, and discipline, creating large armies to protect the Thai Kingdom.
During the Era of King Narai, Muay Thai became a national sport. Fundamental traditions that would remain for the next 400 years were developed. One particular tradition was hemp rupees and threads used as hand coverings wrapped around the hands and forearms.
Weight, height, experience, and age did not play factors in choosing the fighters’ matches. The local champions represented their city or village. Often as a way of settling disputes, they would fight on behalf of wealthy businessmen or royalty.
Thailand finally became peaceful again during the Thonburi era. Soldiers in the military generally trained in Muay Thai while others enjoyed it as a hobby. Due to its rising popularity and peaceful reign upon Thailand, Muay Thai started to become a competitive sport, still with no formal rules.
Rules and regulations for Muay Thai were born during the Ratanakosin Era. The rounds of each fight were measured in an unusual but fascinating way: with coconuts. A small hole was pierced into a coconut and placed in a water barrel. Once the coconut filled with water and sunk to the bottom of the barrel, the round ended.
Muay Thai was brought to France and introduced to the rest of the world, during World War I. Stationed in France, Thai soldiers would partake in Muay Thai as a way to boost morale. At times, the soldiers would also compete against French boxers.
The Thai military continued to engage in Muay Thai matches for fun or sport when they returned from duty. Retired soldiers became “Kru Muay,” or instructors. For centuries to follow, Muay Thai became a vital part of the Thai culture. Skills were passed from generation to generation. The love of the sport continued to grow, as well as the importance of Muay Thai as an effective kingdom defense system.
Important People in Muay Thai History
Nai Khanom Tom
During the 1767 invasion of the Burmese troops in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, Nai Khanom Tom was one of many Thai residents taken as a prisoner.
Several years later, in 1774, the King of Burma organized a seven-day, seven-night celebration in honor of the Buddhist pagoda. Royal presentations of combat took place between Thai and Burmese fighters in front of the throne, where a boxing ring was arranged.
Nai Khanom Tom was matched on the first day of celebrations with a Burmese boxer. He perplexed the crowd by beginning the match with an intricate dance that he performed around his opponent. Known as Wai Kru, this dance was a symbolic gesture of thanks to the fighter’s mentor.
When the match officially began, Nai Khanom Tom quickly defeated his opponent by attacking him with elbow blows to the chest. The match was ruled unfair, however, due to ‘black magic.’ The referee claimed the Wai Kru dance led the opponent to be distracted. Because of this, Nai Khanom Tom had to fight nine more Burmese boxers.
By no surprise, Nai Khanom Tom was able to defeat each of the boxers, including a boxing teacher from Ya Kai City.
Every year, the ancient capital of Ayutthaya hosts the World Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony. Attendees learn about Muay Thai’s history, pay respects to great Muay Thai Masters, witness live matches, and try Muay Thai techniques themselves.
King Prachao Sua
King Prachao Sua had a love so strong for Muay Thai that he competed in tournaments in small cities and villages, disguising himself as a commoner. The King fought in matches against notable fighters and defeated them, including Nai Klan Madthai, Nai Yai Madklek, and Nai Lek Madnok.
In the 1960s, Apidej Sit-Hirun was one of the most powerful strikers in Muay Thai’s history. His success inspired the golden era of Muay Thai during the 80s.
His kicks were so intense that he could break an opponent’s arms, causing them to retire after the infamous fight. The late Rama IX acclaimed Apidej Sit-Hirun as the fighter of the century.
Where to Watch Muay Thai
Now that you know all there is to know about Muay Thai, it’s time you experience the magic yourself! There are many places around Thailand to experience Muay Thai. One of the most popular arenas is in Bangkok is Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. If you’re interested in seeing one of the most historical and oldest boxing stadiums, head to Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok, which was built in 1945.