The unique martial art of Thailand is the well-known Thai boxing or Muay Thai. It is an art of self-defence developed during the Ayutthaya period. In fact, Thai boxing is considered as a sport and a means of self-defence. The contestants are allowed to use almost any part of their body. However, Thai boxing forbids biting, spitting or wrestling. They may punch, kick and shove and use bare feet, legs, knees, elbows, shoulders and fists to overcome their opponents. A vicious kick in the throat, an elbow smash to the eyes or a knee into the stomach can immediately floor the toughest opponent.
Unfortunately, with high incidence of death and physical injury, new regulations based on the international rules have been set for the Thai boxing to follow ; i.e. each bout is limited to five rounds of three minutes duration with a two-minute break in between. Moreover, the contestants have to wear international-style gloves and trunks and their feet are taped but no shoes are allowed. Traditionally before getting into the ring, the boxers will spend about 5 minutes paying homage to their teachers. This traditional practice is called “wai khru” in Thai. The ceremony is done through a series of gestures and body movements performed in rhythm to the ringside musical accompaniment of Thai oboe and percussion.
The history of Thai boxing came to light only after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 when thousands of Thai prisoners were taken to the Burmese capital. One day the Burmese king wanted to see a boxing match between the Thais and Burmese. Representing the Thai side was Nai Khanomtom of unknown origin. He gained reputation as Thailand‘s first famous boxer as he alone knocked out ten Burmese boxers. The Burmese king loudly exclaimed, “The Thais, even though small, are great fighters. If their rulers had been good, we would not have been able to take Ayutthaya at all”.
In fact, Thai boxing was the sport of the kings and several Thai kings were able boxers, for example, King Naresuan, Phra Chao Suea or the Tiger-King and King Taksin. The Tiger-King himself earned this name through his courage and cruelty, he was almost a professional boxer. Sometime he even disguised himself as an ordinary citizen and went to compete with other boxers at the public festivals. It is said that the boxing manual which is still in use was compiled by the Tiger-King himself.
Indeed, to be a professional Thai boxer, the person must spend several years in a boxing training camp and usually the training should begin at an early age as it is an art that is acquired only through long and laborious training with a master. Nowadays Thai boxing has become more popular among westerners, thus there is an increasing number of bouts staged for tourists in several tourist attractions. In these, the action may be genuine or may be just for show. Even so authentic matches are held daily at the major Bangkok stadiums and at some provincial stadiums. At present, there must be several thousands professional boxers in Thailand and many of them earn their living through this profession, but when they get older, some become a boxing trainers or masters while some switch to other professions they like. Since Thai boxing is not only a martial art, but also a sport, it will remain popular forever as it is an unarmed combat that can be used at any time to defend oneself.