Thai boxing (muay thai), Thailand’s unique national sport, is gaining popularity worldwide. It was first documented in 1411, but probably evolved from an earlier form of armed combat, krabi-krabong. Muay thai is highly ritualistic – many techniques are inspired by battle stories from the Ramakien. The country’s first famous boxer was Nai Khanom Dtom, who in 1774 defeated 10 Burmese fighters. Due to a high injury rate, the sport was banned in the 1920s. In 1937 it was revived with rules for protecting fighters.
In the stadium, the audience becomes excited, shouting encouragement to the boxers. Thais bet furiously, often staking large sums on their favorite fighter. Bouts between famous boxers can be sold out well in advance.
Phone Kingphet was the first world champion Thai boxer. He trained in the cool climate of Phu Kradung National Park in preparation for his numerous bouts abroad.
A ringside piphat band is an essential element of a Thai boxing match. During the opening ceremony, the music is soft in tone; when the fighting begins it switches to a more upbeat “fight melody.” As the action becomes more frenzied, the music increases in tempo, adding tension to the match.
Amulets, worn around one or both biceps during the match, are believed to offer protection to the boxer while fighting. They consist of a piece of cord that usually contains a Buddha image or an herb that is thought to be lucky.
The wai kru, a ritual bow, is the first part of the ram muay, a gesture of respect to the trainer (kru) and the spirit of boxing. In honor of their training camp, boxers often take its name as their surname.
Thai Boxing Versus Western Boxing
Thai boxing, or “kick boxing,” exerts parts of the body not used in Western boxing, such as the feet and elbows. Thai boxing matches are also faster paced, and are thus limited to five rounds of three minutes, each separated by a short break. Professional boxers, who may start the rigorous training as young as six, often retire by 25. Several Thai boxers have won Western boxing titles.
Where to See Thai Boxing
Matches are held at Ratchadamnoen Stadium every Mon, Wed, Thu & Sun. Lumphini Stadium has matches on Tue, Fri & Sat. For other towns, check sites. Several TV channels now televise Thai Boxing.
Types of Moves
Points are awarded for each blow to the opponent. The groin is not a valid target, and biting and head-butting are not allowed. A match may end with a spectacular knockout.
The jumping downward strike elbow is a physically demanding move. It gives the boxer an excellent vantage point over his opponent.
Knee hooks can be devastating. To perform a “rising knee,” aimed at either the head or body, the boxer pushes down his rival’s head, bringing his knee up to hit it.
Kicks are common in Thai boxing. A high kick to the neck, as shown here, may knock out a rival. A push kick, in which one boxer pushes the sole of his foot into the face of the other, is regarded as a great insult to the opponent.
Elbows deliver fierce blows to the face, and, like knee strikes, are often decisive in matches. An elbow strike is more powerful than a punch, the weakest blow.