Muay Thai is more than a simple set of kicks and punches. Muay Thai is a full body attack and self-defence system created hundreds of years ago by tribes defending territory as they slowly made their way from the steppes of China to the dense jungles of Thailand and Vietnam. Today, this culturally Thai, close-combat sport is practiced at schools around the world. With benefits like increasing core strength and even stress relief, Muay Thai can be practiced by people of all ages. Here’s a brief history of this martial art, and how it became such a popular sport.
When talking about the history of Muay Thai, as with many forms of martial art, the exact origins are vague as details were lost to looting and war. Sparring tribes were common in South East Asia, and one of the more dominant tribes, the Tai, would have faced a great deal of resistance as they made their way to what is now Northern Thailand.
Close-combat martial arts require the highest level of skill and concentration from each move, as every strike is designed to take out an opponent in a single blow in order to focus on the next attack. The most effective fighting styles were passed on through the generations, but Mauy Thai remained a relatively little-known fight style until US and French soldiers admired Thai fighters in training during WWII.
Muay Thai gained international popularity as militaries from around the world called on Thai fighters to teach their techniques. A boxing ring replaced an open courtyard as the fight setting, and boxing gloves replaced the traditional hand cover. Up until the 1920s, hemp binding was used. It was doused in a sticky resin and then dipped in shards of broken glass and ash in order to take out an opponent’s eyes. Unsurprisingly, the boxing gloves were safer.
Muay Thai was once a much more violent series of fighting techniques meant to take out enemy combatants, but as the martial art took to the world stage it gained new rules which were overseen by a governing body. Large stadiums drew spectators as the fights were timed and divided into 5 rounds. The traditional timer would have been a coconut shell pierced with holes and placed in a barrel of water; the fight was over when the coconut finally sank.
By the 1970s, the sport’s popularity had peaked, and kickboxing, as it also became known, gained associations throughout the West. Fortunately for modern day practitioners, the sport is focused on building strength, rather than destroying the enemy.