Muay Thai or Thai Kickboxing is referred as “the science of eight limbs” from its strength in using two hands, two shins, two knees and two elbows. Some said “NawaArwut” or the Art of nine Limbs (include Head)
Muay Thai’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 ThaSao (North), Muay Korat (Esarn or NorthEast), Muay Lobburee (Center region), Muay Chaiya (South)
There are a phrase about Muay Thai Boran that “Punch Korat, Wit Lobburee, Posture Chaiya, Faster Thasao”
Muay Korat emphasizes in strength. There are one technique call “Throwing buffalo punch”. It was call like this since it can defeat the buffalo in one blow.
Muay Lobburee emphasizes in clever movements. Its strength point is the straight and turned punch.
Muay Chaiya emphasizes in posture, defending. It’s difficult for opponent to attack. Muay Chaiya stress in elbows and knees.
Muay Thasao emphasizes in speed. Muay Thasao stress in speeding kick. Cause of their faster speed, this Muay Boran was call “Ling Lom” (windy monkey or Loris)
Muay Thai in present is different from the past. Muay Thai Boran (Old Muay Thai) use the wit in fighting. It’s not like Muay Thai in today that all the fighters emphasize in strength.
As well as continuing to function as a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, Muay Thai 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.It was also a practice at one time to grind pieces of glass into the help if both contestants agreed. Since these practices were obviously dangerous to the fighters’ health, regular boxing gloves were introduced about 50 years ago and have been used ever since.
The ascension of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a Golden Age not only for muay but for the whole country of Thailand. Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king’s personal interest in the art. The country was at peace and muay functioned as a means of physical exercise, self-defense, recreation, and personal advancement. Masters of the art such as former fighters or soldiers began teaching muay in training camps where students were provided with food and shelter. Trainees would be treated as one family and it was customary for students to adopt the camp’s name as their own surname.
During the reign of King Rama VI, Thai boxing matches became more widespread. Matches that used to be held in make-shift rings in any available courtyard became a standard raised ring surrounded by ropes. The first ring was built in 1921 at Suan Kularp field. Although standard rings were available, boxers still bound their hands with rope. Foreign boxers came to take on Thai boxers. An important free-style match took place between Young Harntalay and Chin Chang from China which attracted a huge crowd of spectators. The result was that Young Harntalay floored Ching Chang with a beautiful kick. In this period, they also had referees in the ring, and kept time by the clock. These innovations were probably adopted from abroad.
After the occurrence of a death in the ring, King Rama the VII pushed for codified rules for Muay Thai, and they were put into place. It was also around this time in the 1920s that the term Muay Thai became commonly used while the older form of the style was referred to as Muay Boran.
Muay Thai, called Thai Boxing by foreigners, is the national sport of Thailand and is now getting more popular in many countries. Thai boys will in one or another way, intentionally or unintentionally, learn how to box Thai style. Even Thai girls will know enough of the basic principles and to be able to use it for self-defense when necessary.
Muay Thai, along with savate, karate, and taekwondo heavily influenced the development of kickboxing in Japan, Europe, and North America. However, unlike Muay Thai, most kickboxing competitions do not allow elbow strikes or prolonged clinching knee strikes to avoid potential fight ending cuts. American kickboxing does not allow kicks below the waist.
Starting in the 1990s, Muay Thai has enjoyed a boost in popularity worldwide as it has been very effective in mixed martial arts training and competition. MMA artists such as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva, and Anderson “The Spider” Silva have combined many striking elements of Muay Thai with grappling, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into a hybrid synthesis that has been highly effective in their fights.
Recently the films Ong-Bak, The Protector and Born to Fight helped to popularize Muay Thai. Ong-Bak demonstrates some techniques of Muay Boran and Tom-Yum-Goong illustrates the fighting style of the Thai Royal Bodyguards (Jaturongkabaht, circa 1400-1700s) – Muay Koshasan (Elephant Boxing style). Muay Koshasan is also known as Muay Chang Tumlai Roang – (Smashing Elephant Boxing style) in that it emphasizes a lot of throwing, crushing, and breaking of joints and limbs.
Sources: Wikipedia, Thaiboxing.com, Feelthailand.com