Thai Boxing (Thailand: Muay Thai), also called The Art of Eight Limbs or "The Science of Eight Limbs", is a martial art and a combat sport characterised by its concentration on stand-up and clinch striking. The name "The Art of Eight Limbs" refers to the parts of the body used by a Muay Thai fighter to strike with: the fists, the shins and feet, the knees, and the elbows.
The sport is most popular in Thailand, the two major Muay Thai stadiums are Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen; both are located in Bangkok. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, the country in which Muay Thai originated. A modified form of Muay Thai, Lerdrit, is also trained as the martial art of the Royal Thai Army. Also, two advanced concentrations of Muay Thai are taught: Mae Mai Muay Thai (master techniques) and Luk Mai (complementary techniques).
Bouts are held internationally through numerous organisations (e.g. ISKA, WMC, TBA-USA, etc.). Muay Thai is also prominently seen in use in mixed martial arts fights and mixed style striking competitions.
History and culture
Muay Thai as a sport became established in Thailand in 1921 A.D. during the reign of King Rama VI. During that time the fighters bound their fist in rope. By 1929 fighters were using conventional boxing gloves.
The origin of the fighting art is consanguineous with the origin of humans. Muay Thai can be traced back as far as c. 200 BC through kaad chuek (bound fist), Dhee Muay (bare fist), Muay Boran (antique), and Krabi Krabong.
An early hero of Muay Thai was King Naresuan the Great who, in 1548, restored Thai freedom. Another hero of Muay Thai is Nai Khanom Tom who, according to legend, after being imprisoned in the city of Ungwa by the Burmese won a fighting tournament against ten Burmese fighters in 1774. Many legends maintain the glory of Muay Thai and its heroes. These legends are one example, of many, which demonstrate the rich cultural value of Muay Thai.
Another example of a cultural aspect of Muay Thai is the ceremony of wai khru (also spelled: wai kroo, wai kru, wai kruu, wai khruu, whai khru) which is a dance like movement performed by the fighter before the bout begins. The purpose of the wai khru is for the fighter to give tribute to the teacher as well as others who the fighter owes gratitude (e.g. religious figure, the king, family, etc.). Another purpose is that the wai khru consecrates the fight. In the past, the wai khru would also exhibit where the fighter was from.
Muay Thai is closely related to Hinduism but over time also developed connections to Buddhism. At many training camps and gyms, the initiation ceremony of student fighters is deeply religious. The initiation begins with Yok Kruu, i.e. the student makes an offering to the teacher (candles, flowers, incense, other items may be specified). The teacher then instructs the student in the movements of wai khru. The teacher then blesses the student and presents the student with a holy cotton laurel. Through the blessings both Ramayana and Narayana are shown respect. The ceremony sometimes includes a meal. Next holy water is poured over the student. At this point a statute of Buddha is brought out to be witness. Finally, the student will perform a ceremonial dance. These descriptions are only a rough sketch of an initiation ceremony because the initiation ceremonies vary greatly and do not follow a strict pattern.
Removal of religious aspects
In some gyms, Muay Thai is separated from these religious aspects. This is particularly true of gyms not located in Thailand, as these gyms may have students who hold other religious beliefs or no beliefs and do not wish to take part in the rituals of traditional Muay Thai.
Sparring includes regular sparring as well as focused sparring, such as clinching-only and limited techniques.
Muay Thai's punching is very similar, if not identical, to boxing's punching.
Less common punches include:
- spinning backhand
- superman (cobra)
Muay Thai has two major kicks:
- teep (foot jab, stop kick, front kick) - The teep is commonly referred to as the "jab" of kicks in Muay Thai. Contact is made with the ball of the foot, and the kick is "pushed" rather than snapped. The goal of the teep is usually to keep or create distance between the two fighters. The teep is typically aimed at the torso for this pushing effect. In some cases, the teep is used to create distance when an opponent is in the process of beginning an attack, particularly a round kick.
- round kick (roundhouse kick) - The round kick in Muay Thai is significantly different than the round kick found in many other traditional martial arts like Tae Kwon Do. Contact is intended to be made with the shin, rather than the foot (with the possible exception of high kicks, which are difficult to reach with the shin and require the full extension of the foot to reach the upper body or head), as Muay Thai trainers teach that the foot is more easily damaged during a powerful kick than the shin. The hip is turned over completely to be perpendicular to the floor, thus swinging the entire leg in one motion rather than cambering and snapping the lower leg like a Tae Kwon Do roundhouse. A common analogy given by Muay Thai trainers for the movement of the leg is that of swinging a baseball bat. Therefore, A Thai round kick is pulled, not pushed. In order to pull the leg as strongly as possible, it is necessary for the kicker's knee to stay behind his hip as he swings/pulls his leg across the gap to his target.
One note is that Muay Thai round kicks are used to target all levels of the opponent, including the legs. The legs are not a target for many striking arts that commonly practice kicking, including American kickboxing and Tae Kwon Do. Leg kicks are intended to hamper or even remove an opponent's ability to manoeuvre, stand or kick. In a number of mixed style and mixed martial arts fights, leg kicks have proven to be a deciding factor in the ring or cage, including several fights where opponents were rendered unable to stand after being kicked in the legs multiple times.
There is some debate over whether a "Muay Thai round kick" or "Tae Kwon Do roundhouse kick" is "better", but perhaps the only answer that satisfies proponents of both sides of the debate that can be given is that both kicks have been found to be effective for their respective purposes in their respective sports. Tae Kwon Do roundhouse kick proponents argue that the chambered and snapped kick is faster and less likely to be blocked, while Muay Thai round kick proponents argue that the round kick is more powerful and damaging with a sacrifice in speed being either non-existent or small enough as to be insignificant.
Less-common kicks include:
- side kick
- back kick
- axe kick
Knee strikes are commonly thrown in the following directions:
- straight upwards
Less-common knee strikes are:
Elbow strikes are commonly thrown in the following directions:
- straight upwards
- straight downwards
Less common elbow strikes are:
Muay Thai uses a concept of a "wall of defense", using a variety of body parts to block blows.
Upper-body defense is similar if not identical to boxing defense.
Muay Thai, due to its inclusion of leg kicks, has developed the "shin check" as a defense against the leg kick. When a round kick is thrown at the leg, the fighter raises his leg with his shin pointing at the incoming leg and takes the blow on his shin. While still painful for the defender, the attacker is also hurt somewhat, and the blow is blocked from hitting soft tissue like the calf or thigh.
Muay Thai defense, in addition to the wall of defense, also largely uses movement and avoidance of attacks for defense.
Muay Thai in other combat sports and vice versa
Muay Thai is often cross-trained for some combat sports, and practitioners of Muay Thai often compete in other combat sports.
Muay Thai fighters commonly cross-train in Western boxing, also a popular combat sport in Thailand, and vice versa. Boxing tends to lend itself to Muay Thai well as a cross-training art because the two share many similar techniques and tactics, due in part to convergent evolution of the arts (as pre-modern times practitioners of the two styles did not commonly train together or compete, so skills could not be exchanged) and in part to the later exchange of skills and prevalence of cross-training. Muay Thai fighters will often train in boxing in order to improve their punching skills and boxing-style defense, and boxers will sometimes train in Muay Thai in order to compete in Muay Thai competitions.
Kickboxing and Muay Thai resemble each other heavily. Some significant differences are that kickboxing (particularly American kickboxing) typically does not allow knee or elbow strikes, leg kicks or extensive clinching. The differences between kickboxing and Muay Thai are sometimes blurred, as sometimes Muay Thai rules are changed to restrict knee and elbow strikes, and kickboxing rules are changed to allow more clinching and non-punching and -kicking strikes.
Mixed striking competitions
Muay Thai fighters commonly compete in open-style striking competitions. The most well-known example of this is the fighters of K-1, which has many Muay Thai fighters, including a number of champions and successful fighters.
Mixed martial arts
Many mixed martial artists have a background in or train in Muay Thai to prepare for mixed martial arts fights. Muay Thai has the advantage of being a well-established combat sport, with relatively numerous. Muay Thai covers the ranges of striking in the stand-up range, where kicks and punches are particularly useful. In addition, Muay Thai is also one of only two arts popularly trained in MMA that extensively covers striking in the clinch range (the other being boxing, with a focus on dirty boxing). Thus, extensive mastery of Muay Thai lends itself particularly well to the strategies of sprawl-and-brawl and clinch fighting.