History of Muay Thai

Document courtesy of American TKA

Down through the mists of time from the hill tops of Northern China and Tibet the very first Thai people migrated southwards down to the warmer climates of the equator and settled in their fair and evergreen land there...........Ancient Siam.

The history of ancient Siam is as astounding and dramatic as the history of the beginnings of time herself. The history of Muay Thai is not just amazing but is sure to leave you spellbound. As many stories and legends that there are recounted across the years so to are the great deeds of brilliant warriors kings and their ever faithful battalions of ordinary men. Stories and legends that will enchant you. How brave men fought for their pride their honor and their country. Not ever forgetting the valor of Thailand's most trusty and sturdy friend , the Elephant. Many fought by the sides of their men and many shed their own lives too. The Elephant then is a true 'King of the Ring'. 'Chang chang chang' sang the children of the past. And the men charging into battle. The legends of men fighting for their homes and their families. And some of these we shall hear.
Historians that have researched in to the art of Muay Thai have found many stories about Muay Thai that date back many thousands of years too. And many of these historians believe that the stories go back to the very birth of the Thai nation itself.
But many records have been lost now, damaged or have gone missing through time. It is thought that the Thai Tribes then called the Tai, Phuthi, Puan Chang, Ngeaw and the Khein had all spoken the same language - Thai and that they had lived close by the River Yangsima in Southern China. And in the towns of Sichuan province of Hunan, Kuchew and Kwangtung. About this time a tribe of Thai people, a peace loving tribe in the south of China had to defend themselves against the warring Chinese so they gathered together a strong force in order to expand their territories further south.
They built their first town called Pharng close by the south side of the khonge river about 1400 BE and 857 AD. Sometime later they extended their territories again even further to the south near to the Chowphaya and Aradwadee rivers. The religious beliefs of the people that made up these tribes were Hindu and Buddhism and became stronger as time went on and with people living together.
Trade also began to flourish and the resources of villages and towns in turn made life better than before. But wars were never far away and many were fought to control the land. So through the development of trade with foreigners, their strategies for war were also conceived. These strategies were based upon the use of hand held weapons and close combat fighting. So the combination and use of swords, boxing, the shins,feet, knees, and elbows proved to be very effective to fend off an opponent. May Thai became a necessary method of self defense for all Thai People.

The 13th & 15th centuries in Thailand saw a revolution of social and cultural change. A great new civilization had begun. The Sukothai period was a time of wonderful creativity in the arts and so people became more aroused and sensitive to their literature music poetry painting and ceramics much more than ever before and especially so to the art of Muay Thai. It became a time of great chivalry too and delightful hospitality for which the Thai people are so very famous for and the warrior became both a fighter and a gentleman. The Sukothai period gave a new unequaled brilliance and majesty to the hard born life of the fighter which by now had become deeply embedded in the art. This was a most noble art like gentleman in England who had once settled their disagreements in a duel of the pistols. Things being a question of honor.

The Sukothai Kingdom was the first capitol in the country and began in the year 1781 BE and 1238 AD. This was the year that the Khun Sri Intratith war began and lasted three years. The second war, the Praya Lithai, soon came and lasted five years. The third war under the command of King Praya Saileathai then came and lasted for six years. During these times of war and peace the Sukothai were constantly on guard to defend their kingdom against any other aggressor. The preparations for warfare were on going. Special training for soldiers to fight in close order was given and unarmed combat techniques were constantly improved.

Muay Thai with the use of the weapons of the body combined with the use of other small hand held weapons and Krabi Krabong has always provided the main foundation for a very effective fighting system. All young men went through this training as a part of their duties and their up bringing. Even the Royal Family, the Kings and their Princes had to be prepared in this subject. Buddhism is the main belief of Thai people. The Temple is the main source of knowledge where people go to learn such traditions as the arts, medicines, Muay Thai, and Krabi Krabong. During the Sukothai period there was a school called Samnak Samorkorn which became famous for its training in weapons and warfare techniques.

In peace time Muay Thai was not only taught to prepare young men for war but it also became a sport and a way of useful exercise to test the strengths and skills of many men. Contests took place at festivals and celebration all around the country and sometimes even within the the King's palace. In history the law had stated that because Muay Thai is considered a most noble art, soldiers should therefore be exempt from duties. The third great war, the Saileathai war under the command of the king was responsible for causing the most damage and led to much conflict between the tribes that lived in the kingdom at the time. The stronger Thai tribe succeeded them and built up the rival kingdom of Auythaya.

The Kingdom of Ayudhaya became very famous for her finely woven silks and fragrant spices and of course the very nature of the country too and so naturally attracted busy trade from all around the world. From England, France, Holland, Greece, and a great deal from China. The Kingdom with many resources became rich and wealthy but this in turn invited war. As many wars rained down on the town the fighting just couldn't keep still.

It was King Prajow Sear who during the Ayudhaya period set up a special band of men. Supremely trained in the arts of Muay Thai these men were chosen as the King's elite guard. They were men hand picked for their highly skilled training and accomplishment in the arts of Muay Thai and Krabi Krabong. This elite fighting force were called the Tanai Luark. They were especially chosen to protect and defend the King himself and the Royal family. They also served as special police guard to protect the people and their homes too. Thai King's are renowned for showing their concerns and care for the welfare of their people and many often disguised themselves in order to check that the people were not suffering any difficulties in their lives.

During the year 2310 BE - 1767 AD towards the end of the Auythaya period while still under the rule of the weak king Prajow Akatasana, the capitol was attacked by the Burmese army. The Burmese army was commanded by King Ungwa and the engagement was successful. The attack was massive and the Kingdom of Ayudhaya was sacked, plundered, and razed to the ground. Ayudhaya suffered greatly in this war and many of the Thai people were either taken into slavery or held as prisoners. Among the many ordinary people there were also many Thai boxers.

The history of Thai boxing is indeed quite amazing as we shall see now with the legend of the great Nahy Khanom Thom. One of the greatest heroic legends of all time is the amazing story of Nahy Khanom Thom. A man of simple means who became adored by his people and became his country's hero. Nahy Khanom Thom one of the most famous Thai fighters ever to have lived became a legend for his great battle against twelve of Burma’s finest boxers. It is said that after the conquest and during the course of a great celebration the commander of the Burmese army suggested to King Ungwa that since there were a lot of Muay Thai fighters who had been taken prisoner it should prove good entertainment to see them fight against their own top Burmese fighters in unarmed combat. The boxer Nahy Khanom Thom had been chosen. Having been captured by the Burmese army Nahy Khanom was faced with the fight of his life while at the same time he had to prove in battle how strong the heart of the Thai warrior was.
If Nahy Khanom Thom should have lost he would have became a slave to the king of Burma if indeed he was lucky enough to keep his life and if he should win the contest then he would gain his freedom. And so in ferocious battle Nahy Khanom Thom showed no mercy in defeating each of the Burmese boxers and with mighty powering blows he cut them down each and every one and each after the other they fell. The king of Burma was more than astounded that his twelve picked men had been so utterly defeated and he himself kept his word to Nahy Khanom Thom giving him his freedom awarding him great treasure and even gave him a servant girl to wife for him. And even today in remembrance of Nahy Khanom Thom in Thailand March 17th is celebrated every year as National Muay Thai Day.
The Thai fighter now acquired the 4 noble states of mind essential to groom him. These are- katunyukatavatee - gratitude, Viriya - diligence, Khanti - patience, and Samukkee which is solidarity. This means having and showing gratitude for all that he is given - to be prudent and diligent both in his labors and his art - to have patience with all things so to be in harmony with life and others - and to have a sense of solidarity since his purpose should be one of shared interest and a man should not be driven by self interest alone so that all and he himself may live peacefully and in harmony with all other things and with everyone. Very much in the Buddhist way. Long before the birth of the boxing gloves and for many centuries Thai boxers simply bound their hands with a soft bandage and then bound them again with rope to make them strong. After this they would then dip both their hands into tree resin before dipping them again into sharp crushed glass. This sounds quite savage but simply he who drew first blood during the bout would win the contest. Such was the way that these things were.

Perhaps one of the most famous and deeply loved Kings of Thailand is King Rama V. The King loved and adored the art of Muay Thai so much that he spent most of his life helping to popularize the sport and has made no less than a great contribution to it. The king came to the Throne 2411 BE and 1868 AD. He was very well known for his great passion for Muay Thai and even keeping the Tanai Luark still by his side. The formidable Kings elite guard. But having so much love for Muay Thai he indeed was the very first to help make the art now into a sport. He personally organized Muay Thai contests all around Thailand from the highlands of the Great North to the deep south of Thailand great plains.
Every year a supreme contest would be held before him outside the Royal Palace in Bangkok where the best fighters would show off their skills and prowess. King Rama V had indeed loved the sport so much that he built his own Royal Boxing Camp within the grounds of the Palace. He called it the Royal Boxing Camp. The King's passion for Muay Thai fired the hearts of the people and the popularity of the sport now rose and rose and great new things began to unfold.
King Rama V was responsible for building many schools and camps for young men to to study Muay Thai. It was this great King who announced the very birth of the Ministry of Education of Thailand to take care of Muay Thai training placing it strongly into the schools national curriculum as well as then starting up the Royal Military School of Muay Thai training for the many battalions of the army. As time went on and the sport became even more popular many splendid demonstrations were held before the King where fighters proudly showed off their hard born skills. These were truly honorable men.

In the old days there were no such things as rings. Rounds were measured by a half coconut shell floating on the water. The ring or fighting space was simply drawn on the ground where the men engaged in the dual. Each round timed and measured by this simple but effective method. The half coconut shell was placed on the water. At the bottom of the shell a small hole. As the the water filled it and the shell slipped to the bottom of the water the round would finish.
This is a very typical Muay Thai demonstration perhaps held in a little Thai Village and the two men are ready to engage in a contest. Both of the men are very well prepared they wear the traditional coconut shells in order to protect their groins. We can see the many onlookers gazing on patiently waiting to find out who will win this valiant battle.
The rise of the boxing ring is perhaps one the most important developments ever to have been made in the world of Thai Boxing making the safety of the fighters an even greater priority and concern than ever before. In 1914 Thai boxing took Europe by storm, it was the very first time the art had ever been seen there causing enormous excitement among the audience and so after this Muay Thai fever raced across the seas. The art, the sport had now become so enormously successful and so exciting that the great race to build the biggest and the best stadium was now on.

The rise of the art of Thai boxing or Muay Thai had now captured the hearts of thousands of athletes and audiences everywhere and people were building stadiums especially for Muay Thai bouts and contests to be held. In 1921 the very first Thai boxing stadium was built with the the worlds very first full-size Thai boxing ring Sanam Muay Suan Kularb. People excitedly flocked in thousands there to see for themselves these astounding contests taking place.

With great stadiums being built and better standards set down, boxing gloves were rightly and properly introduced. Around 1927-1929 much to the joy of the fighters the very first boxing gloves were worn in Thailand by famous boxers Nai Kau Muangyos and Nai Nok Chai Sirisek who both bravely fought at Sanam Muay Ta Chang. Sanam Muay Ta Chang and Sanam Muay Lak Muang were stadiums built a little after Sanam Suan Collarb. Some years later in 1929 the revolutionary world famous Lumpini stadium was built and opened with great excitement in lovely Lumpini Park, a place much loved by the Thai people. This was indeed a world class stadium especially built for the now very popular international bouts that were taking place there.

Muay Thai fever was raging and all the world wanted to see these great battles with their “Kings of the Ring”. So much so that on December 23rd 1945 the famous Rajdamnern was built but this was at first an open air stadium and the roof was built some time later. This helped to attract even more people to the ringside and happily kept them dry too. Respectable dress and a good short sharp haircut were the essential requirements of the stadium Even the great Kings of Thailand dressed especially elegant to go to the boxing contests at the time.

But the state of the sport was such that it was gathering enormous momentum and this was most prudently checked by the Government of Thailand. In 1937 it was now being essential to consider the safety of the fighters since fights might last longer than before as boxing gloves helped to make the fights last longer. So it was about this time that the Department of Physical Education of Thailand had pioneered and very responsibly set down new rules and strict safety regulations keeping Thai boxing contests on a tight reign. The Ministry of Education of Thailand had now formally declared that Muay Thai be the 'Traditional Thai Sport'. In this way then this was perhaps the beginning of Amateur Muay Thai as new and much safer boxing methods and guidelines were properly set in place.

With the year 2000, the Office of the National Culture Commission, the people of Thailand, and the world are all working very closely and passionately together to preserve the tradition and natural beauty of this great and noble Thai Martial art. They are working together for it to bear its rightful place within Thai culture, Thai society, and to help support and nurture this fine art with good sound education so that it will grow into an Olympic sport so that people all over the world may gladly embrace and enjoy it for everything that it brings to us.