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The Fighting Styles of the Kingdom of Thailand

Updated on January 30, 2018

Muay Boran and the Thai Martial Arts of the Providences of Siam

Muay Boran is the oldest form of martial arts from Thailand or Siam which is the original name of Thailand. It is also the ancestor art to today’s Muay Thai. In English, Muay Boran means “ancient boxing” which is similar to Muay Thai, but deadlier and was used for combat. It encompasses several styles of Thai martial arts. Each region in Thailand or Siam during the ancient days, had their own version of ancient boxing, but Muay Boran proved to be the best. Muay Boran employs all kinds of techniques such as strikes, ground fighting (grappling), joint locks, and throws. This is a style that does not use a uniform or belt rank system. In ancient Thailand, each region had its own style. Muay Korat came from the Korat providence in north eastern Thailand, Muay Lopburi came from central Thailand, and Muay Thasao came from Northern Thailand. The most famous of the providence styles is Muay Chaiya which is from southern Thailand. Muay Chaiya was practiced by the Thai army and is still practiced by them today.

Self-protection was important in the ancient’s days just like it is important today. Muay Boran which encompasses each of these styles was not just used for self-defense, but because it was so deadly it was used in warfare by the Thai army. After the Thai army won a victory, they would celebrate with Muay Boran matches amongst each other. This also became an important sport in Thai culture with fights being held at festivals. Not only that, but a lot of people still practiced their providence style and used it in the fights. Before each fight, Thai fighters would wrap their hands and forearms with hemp rope. The hemp rope protected the fighters fists from injury, but the hemp also cut an opponent once they were struck by their opponents wrapped fists (I tested this years ago and I somewhat got cut, but I sure did get burnt). Fighters in Muay Boran were highly respected and only the best were enlisted in the King’s royal guards.

Ancient Muay Boran Stone Carving
Ancient Muay Boran Stone Carving

Nai Khanomtom is considered to be the most famous Muay Boran fighter of all time. He knocked out 10 Burmese fighters, one after another in 1774. Later, the King got tired of seeing his warriors tearing each other apart as a sport with Muay Boran. Therefore, he added rules and safety equipment. A lot of techniques were banned, here Muay Thai was born. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, King Rama VII modernized Muay Thai even more by adding boxing gloves, referees, western boxing rings, and rounds. Many of the traditional Muay Boran techniques were banned and not only that, but a lot of the techniques became lost in history. Although there are still a few people studying traditional Muay Boran today such as international Thai movie star and martial arts expert Tony Jaa. All of his movies especially the Ong-Bak movies feature a lot of Muay Boran with Muay Thai and Krabi Krabong.

An ancient Muay Boran technique. Elbow to the top of the head.
An ancient Muay Boran technique. Elbow to the top of the head.

Krabi Krabong (The Ancient Thai Weaponry Martial Arts)

Krabi Krabong is the ancient Thai weaponry martial arts and was used alongside Muay Boran on the battlefield. This style is closely related to other martial art styles found in Southeast Asia. Some of these styles include Cambodian Kbach Kun Boran, Malay Silat, Burmese Banshay, and Filipino Escrima/Kali. Rama IX’s Royal Bodyguard Corps was well trained in Krabi Krabong. Krabi is Thai for sword and Krabong is for staff. These are the main weapons of the system, but there are other weapons used in this style as well such as the sticks which are similar to Kali sticks only longer, bigger, and heavier. Whenever this style used unarmed techniques, it turned into Muay Boran. In ancient Thailand (Siam), Krabi Krabong warriors fought on the battlefield. Each fighter was armored and carried shields made from rhino hide. The most popular weapons found in Krabi Krabong include the krabi: a single edged sword, Krabong: a staff, Lo: a shield, Mai sok san: a pair of clubs worn on the forearms (similar to tonfas and early police baton), Daab song mue: double swords, Phlong: stick or double sticks, and the Ngao: bladed staff.

Krabi Krabong sword training.
Krabi Krabong sword training.

In 1767, the Burmese invaded Siam, resulting in the loss of historical and cultural documents including documents pertaining to Krabi Krabong and Muay Boran. Other documents included swordsmanship, club fighting, dances, ceremonies, and massage. Archaeological findings and classical dances included weapons that were used in Siam. Some of these weapons are no longer found in Thailand and its martial arts today. These weapons include the Kris which is a dagger that was adopted by the Indonesians hundreds of years ago, the Hawk which is a spear, Daab which is a straight sword, and the Trisul which is a long or short handled trident. These classical dances were built on each weapon. The modern Thai military still studies this today. The design and pre-fight war dances in Krabi Krabong showed evidence of Indian origin mingled with Chinese characterizes. This is proof that Thai martial arts was influenced by Chinese martial arts and the ancient Indian martial arts that started it all, Kalaripayat. South Indian settlers, holymen, scholars, and trader were notably instrumental in the evolution of Thai martial arts and the culture of Thailand.

Krabi Krabong sticks. The sticks are similar to the Kali sticks found in the Filipino martial arts Escrima/Kali only Krabi Krabong sticks are longer, wider, and heavier.
Krabi Krabong sticks. The sticks are similar to the Kali sticks found in the Filipino martial arts Escrima/Kali only Krabi Krabong sticks are longer, wider, and heavier.

When it comes to the warfare of Siam, elephants played a huge roll. Elephants were mostly mounted with high ranking warriors such as generals and members of royalty. Archers could also be used with elephants as they would shoot their enemies below. Warriors on elephants could also use hand to hand combat against an enemy on another elephant. Basically the elephants could position themselves next to each other and the mounted warriors would fight or another mounted warrior jump from one elephant to another to combat their mounted enemy. Many of the techniques found in Krabi Krabong such as stances, throws, and weapons, are similar to those found in Japanese Jujutsu and other various Japanese weapon arts. In Siam, monks acted as teachers teaching many subjects in their community including Krabi Krabong and Muay Boran. Young boys would be sent to temples to be taught more than Buddhism, they were taught subjects such as languages, astrology, and more. One temple also taught sword fighting.

Krabi Krabong stick fighting with Muay Thai shorts and Muay Boran wrappings. In Ancient times, Muay Boran and Krabi Krabong was used in warfare.
Krabi Krabong stick fighting with Muay Thai shorts and Muay Boran wrappings. In Ancient times, Muay Boran and Krabi Krabong was used in warfare.
Another ancient Krabi Krabong weapon.
Another ancient Krabi Krabong weapon.

In the 16th century, Burma ruled most of Siam. Until the age of 16, Naresuam, who was born to King Maha Dharmaraja, was held as a hostage by the Burmese. He later renounced his allegiance to Burma on behalf of his father the king. Naresuan was well trained in fighting with the single-edge sword (krabi). Naresuan’s forces always repelled the Burmese army from the Siam capital during numerous times of succession.

Muay Thai (The Art of Eight Limbs)

Muay Thai is known as the art of eight limbs. This style of kickboxing uses eight points of contact the body uses such as both elbows, both knees, both legs, and both hands. Each point is known as a weapon, the hands are the dagger or sword, the elbows are like a hammer or heavy mace, the forearms and shins are trained to be hardened so they can withstand blows, and then the knees and legs become an axe and long staff. The elbows and knees can be used as a team while grappling an opponent. In today’s society, the majority of those believe that Muay Thai derived from Krabi Krabong, but the truth is that it derived from both Krabi Krabong and Muay Boran.

After each Thai army victory, Muay Boran experts would celebrate by fighting each other. The king of Thailand realized that the brutality of Muay Boran was tearing away at the soldiers and because the kingdom was at peace, a new form of Muay was needed. Therefore, Muay Thai was created. It was created for sport, but unlike other sport martial arts, it is the only sport martial arts that can be used in a realistic self-defense situation and in war. No one knows the official date of the creation of Muay Thai, but evidence shows that it was created between the 16th and 17th century. It was not until the 1800’s when Muay Thai started gaining fame. Muay Thai was used as a warfare art starting in World War I and is still used today in warfare. There are many versions of Muay Thai including a Thai military style and a shadowy style similar to the art of Ninja.

The Waikru is an ancient dance done before a Muay Thai match. There are many versions of it and is used to show respect to the ancestors, the mentor, and sometimes to intimidate the opponent.
The Waikru is an ancient dance done before a Muay Thai match. There are many versions of it and is used to show respect to the ancestors, the mentor, and sometimes to intimidate the opponent.

The Wai Kroo is a ritualistic dance carried out by Muay Thai fighters before a match. There are different forms of the dance, some traditional and some made up by the practitioner. This ritual dates back centuries and is used to show respect and honor to the fighter’s teacher, their country, and the sport of Muay Thai. Another ritual known as the Ram Muay is a dance that is distinctive to one’s master. The student dances in each direction in the ring. They touch each corner post while praying, this is to show respect to the opponent and the spirits.

Modern Muay Thai is different from ancient Muay Thai or Muay Thai before the World Wars. Children in Thailand start training hardcore at a very young age which if this was done in the U.S. it would be illegal. From a young age, Thai children will fight for money. Thai boxers fight about 3-4 times a week while MMA fighters and western boxers may fight 3 times a year. Most professional Thai boxers retire in their mid to late 20’s and may become an instructor. Some may continue fighting into their late 30’s and rarely there are those that will fight into their 40’s.

Women's Muay Thai
Women's Muay Thai

In the old days of Muay Thai, the gyms that Thai boxers trained in were very different and more natural. Thai boxers used the tropical environment as their gym and some Thai boxers today still do this type of training. Before the creation of heavy bags, Thai boxers used banana trees as their heavy bag. This was much harder than today’s heavy bag. It helped strengthen the shins. Other old fashion tools include coconuts, rope, sand, and more. The fighter used the coconuts for punches and elbow strikes. The bark of the coconuts was used to harden the feet.

Muay Thai is considered a favorite martial art in today’s society and is used for sport, exercise, self-defense, and war. It is a very rare style that exists in all of these aspects of life. For anyone who trains in the martial arts, their martial arts training is never complete until they have trained in all aspects of martial arts. Muay Thai is a major style that should be a part of someone’s life, but it should only be a part of the lives of those who truly deserve to train in Muay Thai or any style of martial arts. The last thing we want are fighters who are cocky, arrogant, and have no respect for others which you see a lot in MMA. Muay Thai is not just an art form or a way of protecting oneself from harm; it is a way of life just like Muay Boran and Krabi Krobong.

Muay Thai Fight Round 1 & 2 (Warning,may be a bit graphic)

Muay Thai Fight Round 3 & 4 (Warning,may be a bit graphic)

Muay Thai Fight Round 5 (Warning,may be a bit graphic)

Which Thai Marital Arts Would You Like to Learn?

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    • profile image

      Wonder Man 

      18 months ago

      I think this is a great article. The Thai martial arts of todays pays homage to its roots that dates back to a time where very little was recorded


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