Muay Thai is a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. This physical and mental discipline which includes combat on shins is known as “the art of eight limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins, being associated with a good physical preparation that makes a full-contact fighter very efficient. Muay Thai became widespread internationally in the twentieth century, when practitioners defeated notable practitioners of other martial arts. A professional league is governed by the World Muay Thai Council.
Muay Thai uses eight points of contact and mimics weapons of war. The hands are used as a sword or dagger. The forearms and shins are hardened through training and act as a shield against blows. The elbow is used as a mace to inflict heavy blows, while the knees and leg kicks serve as an axe and staff.
The history of Muay Thai is traced to the 16th century during the battles between the Burmese and Siam.
Muay Boran, the ancient boxing of Thailand, was originally used as an umbrella term for various regional styles of boxing. It was also known by a more generic term – Toi muay or just muay. While it was a practical and effective martial art that was used in actual warfare, muay also became a sport, where opponents fought in front of spectators.
These contests became important events in regional festivals that were sometimes held at temples. While contestants originally fought bare fisted, fighters eventually started to wear hemp rope around their hands and forearms.
This type of match was called muay khat chueak (มวยคาดเชือก). Kickboxing was also a component of military training and gained prominence during the reign of King Naresuan in 1560 CE.
A famous Siamese fighter, Nai Khanomtom was captured in one of these battles in the year 1767. The Burmese knew of his skill in hand-to-hand combat and allowed him to fight for his freedom. After winning the match, Nai Khanomtom was freed by his captors and allowed to return home.
Being acknowledged as a hero, Nai Khanomtom’s fight style became known as Siamese-Style boxing, which later became known as Muay Thai. Today, Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport.
Formal muay Thai techniques are divided into two groups: mae mai or major techniques and luk mai or minor techniques. Muay Thai is often a fighting art of attrition, where opponents exchange blows with one another. This is certainly the case with traditional stylists in Thailand, but is a less popular form of fighting in the contemporary world fighting circuit where the Thai style of exchanging blow for blow is no longer favorable. Almost all techniques in muay Thai use the entire body movement, rotating the hip with each kick, punch, elbow and block.
The punch techniques in muay Thai were originally quite limited being crosses and a long (or lazy) circular strike made with a straight (but not locked) arm and landing with the heel of the palm. Cross-fertilization with Western boxing and western martial arts mean the full range of western boxing punches are now used: lead jab, straight/cross, hook, uppercut, shovel and corkscrew punches and overhands as well as hammer fists and back fists.
As a tactic, body punching is used less in muay Thai than most other striking combat sports to avoid exposing the attacker’s head to counter strikes from knees or elbows. To utilize the range of targeting points, in keeping with the center line theory, the fighter can use either the Western or Thai stance which allows for either long range or short range attacks to be undertaken effectively without compromising guard.
The two most common kicks in muay Thai are known as the thip (literally “foot jab”) and the te chiang (kicking upwards in the shape of a triangle cutting under the arm and ribs) or roundhouse kick. The Thai roundhouse kick uses a rotational movement of the entire body and has been widely adopted by practitioners of other combat sports. it is done from a circular stance with the back leg just a little ways back (roughly shoulder width apart) in comparison to instinctive upper body fighting (boxing) where the legs must create a wider base. The roundhouse kick draws its power entirely from the rotational movement of the body; the hips. It is thought many fighters use a counter rotation of the arms to intensify the power of this kick, but in actuality the power is from the hips and the arms are put in said position to get them out of the way.
If a roundhouse kick is attempted by the opponent, the Thai boxer will normally check the kick, that is he will block the kick with his own shin. Thai boxers are trained to always connect with the shin. The foot contains many fine bones and is much weaker. A fighter may end up hurting himself if he tries to strike with his foot or instep. Shins are trained by repeatedly striking firm objects, such as pads or heavy bags.
The foot-thrust or literally “foot jab” is one of the techniques in muay Thai. It is mainly used as a defensive technique to control distance or block attacks. Foot-thrusts should be thrown quickly but yet with enough force to knock an opponent off balance.
A correct clinch also involves the fighter’s forearms pressing against the opponent’s collar bone while the hands are around the opponent’s head rather than the opponent’s neck. The general way to get out of a clinch is to push the opponent’s head backwards or elbow them, as the clinch requires both participants to be very close to one another. Additionally, the non-dominant clincher can try to “swim” their arm underneath and inside the opponent’s clinch, establishing the previously non-dominant clincher as the dominant clincher.
Muay Thai has several other variants of the clinch including:
Defenses in muay Thai are categorized in six groups:
Defensively, the concept of “wall of defense” is used, in which shoulders, arms and legs are used to hinder the attacker from successfully executing techniques. Blocking is a critical element in muay Thai and compounds the level of conditioning a successful practitioner must possess. Low and mid body roundhouse kicks are normally blocked with the upper portion of a raised shin (this block is known as a ‘check’). High body strikes are blocked ideally with the forearms and shoulder together, or if enough time is allowed for a parry, the glove (elusively), elbow, or shin will be used. Midsection roundhouse kicks can also be caught/trapped, allowing for a sweep or counter-attack to the remaining leg of the opponent. Punches are blocked with an ordinary boxing guard and techniques similar, if not identical, to basic boxing technique. A common means of blocking a punch is using the hand on the same side as the oncoming punch. For example, if an orthodox fighter throws a jab (being the left hand), the defender will make a slight tap to redirect the punch’s angle with the right hand. The deflection is always as small and precise as possible to avoid unnecessary energy expenditure and return the hand to the guard as quickly as possible. Hooks are often blocked with a motion sometimes described as “combing the hair”, that is, raising the elbow forward and effectively shielding the head with the forearm, flexed biceps and shoulder. More advanced muay Thai blocks are usually in the form of counter-strikes, using the opponents weight (as they strike) to amplify the damage that the countering opponent can deliver. This requires impeccable timing and thus can generally only be learned by many repetitions.
Like most competitive full contact fighting sports, muay Thai has a heavy focus on body conditioning. Muay Thai is specifically designed to promote the level of fitness and toughness required for ring competition. Training regimens include many staples of combat sport conditioning such as running, shadowboxing, rope jumping, body weight resistance exercises, medicine ball exercises, abdominal exercises, and in some cases weight training. Thai boxers rely heavily on kicks utilizing the shin bone. As such, practitioners of muay Thai will repeatedly hit a dense heavy bag with their shins, conditioning it, hardening the bone through a process called cortical remodeling. Striking a sand filled bag will also have the same effect.
Training that is specific to a Thai fighter includes training with coaches on Thai Pads, focus mitts, heavy bag, and sparring. The daily training includes many rounds (3–5 minute periods broken up by a short rest, often 1–2 minutes) of these various methods of practice. Thai Pad training is a cornerstone of muay Thai conditioning which involves practicing punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes with a trainer wearing thick pads which cover the forearms and hands. These special pads (often referred to as Thai pads) are used to absorb the impact of the fighter’s strikes and allow the fighter to react to the attacks of the pad holder in a live situation. The trainer will often also wear a belly pad around the abdominal area so that the fighter can attack with straight kicks or knees to the body at any time during the round.
Focus mitts are specific to training a fighter’s hand speed, punch combinations, timing, punching power, defense, and counter-punching and may also be used to practice elbow strikes. Heavy bag training is a conditioning and power exercise that reinforces the techniques practiced on the pads. Sparring is a means to test technique, skills, range, strategy, and timing against a partner. Sparring is often a light to medium contact exercise because competitive fighters on a full schedule are not advised to risk injury by sparring hard. Specific tactics and strategies can be trained with sparring including in close fighting, clinching and kneeing only, cutting off the ring, or using reach and distance to keep an aggressive fighter away.