Muay Thai Down the Ages
Muay Thai is an adaptation of the traditional battlefield art of Muay Boran. On its part, Muay Boran – or ancient boxing – is an umbrella term for regional muays like Muay Chaiya, Muay Korat, Muay Tarsao and Muay Jearng. Though fought under strict rules, Muay Thai is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world and one of the deadliest martial arts. Some knowledge about the genesis and history of Muay Thai will help us appreciate the art better.
The Beginning of Muay Thai
Sukhothai was the capital of Thailand from 1238 to 1408 and going by the carvings and inscriptions on stone columns, the city fought frequent battles with its neighbours. Experts consider this to be the period when Muay Thai originated as the city required to train soldiers not only in armed combat but also for hand-to-hand fights, thus developing the early kneeing, elbowing, punching and kicking techniques. Later, young Sukhothai men started training in Muay Thai during peacetime to build character and self-defence skills. As a result, centres like the Samakorn Training Centre at Lopburi started to spring up around the capital city. Temples were also centres where Muay Thai training was imparted with monks doubling as instructors.
Phokhun Sri In Tharatit, The first King of Sukhothai, had such faith in Muay Thai that he sent his two sons to train at the Samakorn Training Centre. Between 1275 and 1317, Phokhun Ram Khamhaeng wrote a war text that had instructions on fighting skills and also included teachings of Muay Thai. This text may well be considered the first textual documentation of Muay Thai.
The Krungsri Ayutthaya Era
The Ayutthaya era (1445-1767) saw the kingdom wage frequent wars with Burma (now Myanmar) and Cambodia. Young men were taught self-defence skills by experienced masters. The training spread from the royal palace to the public. Apart from training with wicker swords, they were also trained to fight barehanded and thus learned Muay Thai techniques and skills.
The Ratanakosin Period
This period from 1782 to 1868 saw the reign of king Rama I down to king Rama IV. Muay Thai was elevated to the level of the national art of fighting and became an important part of festivals. Eventually, rules and regulations became essential, especially those regarding the duration of fighting rounds. An ingenious timekeeping method was developed in which a coconut shell with a punched hole would be set afloat in a water tank. A drum signalled the end of a round when the shell sank. As far as the number of rounds was concerned, there was no limit – the boxers kept fighting until one of them gave up or there was a distinct winner.
Late Nineteenth Century to Modern Times – The Golden Age in Muay Thai History
In order to promote the traditional art King Rama V encouraged Muay Thai tournaments. Muay luangs, or royal boxing centres, were formed to train youngsters. These muay luangs also organised and controlled Muay Thai tournaments. In 1887, the king established the Department of Education. This period is considered the golden age of Muay Thai as it became a part of the curriculum of the physical education teachers’ training school and at Prachufachomktao Royal Military Cadet School.
In 1929, during the reign of king Rama VII, the government ordered all boxers to wear gloves. Prior to the introduction of boxing gloves, boxers’ hands were wrapped in cotton strips.
During the rule of king Rama VIII, the Ratchadamnern boxing stadium was inaugurated on December 23, 1945, and bouts were organised every Sunday from 4 to 7 pm. Every bout had five three-minute rounds with two minutes rest between rounds following the rules laid by the Department of Physical Education. Since then, Muay Thai has seen a lot of changes in terms of regulations like the banning of the groin shot as it is considered debasing for the fine art of Thai boxing.
The history of Muay Thai is alive since it has been evolving and taking shape even now.