Muaythai (Thai: มวยไทย, RTGS: Muai Thai, IPA: [muɛj tʰɑj], lit. Thai Boxing) is a form of hard martial art practiced in large parts of the world, including Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. The art is similar to others in Southeast Asia such as: pradal serey in Cambodia, lethwei in Myanmar, tomoi in Malaysia, and Lao boxing in Laos. Muaythai has a long history in Thailand and is the country’s national sport. Traditional Muaythai practiced today varies significantly from the ancient art muay boran and uses kicks and punches in a ring with gloves similar to those used in Western boxing.
Muaythai is referred to as “The Art of the Eight Limbs”, as the hands, shins, elbows, and knees are all used extensively in this art. A practitioner of Muaythai (“nak muay”) thus has the ability to execute strikes using eight “points of contact,” as opposed to “two points” (fists) in Western boxing and “four points” (fists, feet) used in the primarily sport-oriented forms of martial arts.
Various forms of kickboxing have long been practiced throughout Southeast Asia. As with the most countries in the region, Thai culture is highly influenced by ancient civilizations within Southeast Asia. Muaythai’s origin in Thailand can be traced back to its ancestor Muay Boran (“ancient boxing”), an unarmed combat used by Siamese soldiers in conjunction with Krabi Krabong, the weapon-based style. Eventually Muay Boran was divided to:
- Muay Korat (Northeast) emphasized strength. A technique like “Throwing Buffalo Punch” was used. It could supposedly defeat a buffalo in one blow.
- Muay Lopburi (Center region) emphasized movements. Its strong points were straight and counter punches.
- Muay Chaiya (South) emphasized posture and defense, as well as elbows and knees.
- Muay Pra Nakorn (North) emphasized speed, particularly in kicking. Because of its faster speed, it was called as well “Ling Lom” (windy monkey or Loris).
There is a phrase about Muay Boran that states, “Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao. (หมัดหนักโคราช ฉลาดลพบุรี ท่าดีไชยา ไวกว่าท่าเสา)”.
As well as continuing to function as a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, Muaythai became a sport in which the opponents fought in front of spectators who went to watch for entertainment. This kind of muay contests gradually became an integral part of local festivals and celebrations, especially those held at temples. It was even used as entertainment to kings.
Eventually, the previously bare-fisted fighters started wearing lengths of rope wrapped around their hands and forearms. This type of match was called muay kaad chuek (มวยคาดเชือก).