Muai Thai (Thai boxing), Thailand’s martial art, can be traced back to the Suwanna-phum era. It emerged more distinctly during the Thawarawadi era and has thrived throughout history from the Sukho-thai, the Ayutthaya, and the Thonburi to the present-day Rattanakosin Era. In sports as well as in fighting or for self-defense, Muai Thai makes coordinated use of the nine body parts - hands, feet, knees, elbows and head, which it calls Naowa Awut (the nine weapons).
Muai Thai is important to the Thai individuals, communities, society and nation. It has played an important role in maintaining Thailand’s independence from the past to the present. In the past, all young men - the kings, princes, high-ranking military officers and commoners alike-were trained in Muai Thai for self-defense and for national defense. The use of weapons such as swords, truncheons, staffs, sabers, curved blade pikes, and lances would be most effective when coupled with the skill in Muai Thai, particularly in a face-to-face combat.
For optimum effectiveness in both the defensive or offensive moves, Muai Thai integrates various basic principles and skills at various levels: Tha Rang, Choeng Muai, Mai Muai and Phleng Muai.
Tha Rang refers to the stance, body movements, and footwork. Choeng Muai refers to the techniques, which are divided into those of the offensive mode and those of the defensive mode. The techniques of the offensive mode comprise punching, kicking, foot-thrust or shoving with the foot, knocking with the elbow, and head-butt; while those of the defensive mode comprise guarding, brushing off, blocking, opening, clinching, trapping, holding etc. Choeng Muai constitutes an important foundation in the art of Muai Thai.
Mai Muai refers to the tactics requiring the application of both the Tha Rang and the Choeng Muai. The tactics used in the defensive moves are called Mai Rap tactics; while those used in the offensive moves are called Mai Ruk tactics. Mai Muai is sub-divided into Mae Mai (the basic tactics), Look Mai (the applied tactics) and the Mai Kret (the tricks).
Mae Mai - the basic or fundamental tactics for both the defensive or offensive moves which are related to three elements: force, Phuen Thi (the area) where forced is used, and timing.
Luk Mai - the applied tactics - refers to the variations that are derived from the application of the basic tactics. Luk Mai varies according to the Tha Rang and the Choeng Muai.
Mai Kret refers to the tricks that enhance the effectiveness of the Mae Mai and Luk Mai.
Each instance of Mai Muai has poetic, expressive or illustrative name to make it easy to remember, by comparing it to the name or movement of the characters, events, or mythical animals in literature. For example, “Erawan Pushing up its Tusks”, “Hanuman Presenting a Ring”, “Montho Sitting on a Bench”, “Inao Thrusting his Dagger”. Some tactics are named after a familiar thing or scene that is common in the everyday life of the Thai people, such as “Monk Sweeping the (Temple) Ground”, “Waves Striking the Shore”, “Mouse Climbing a Pole”, “Mon Propping a Pole”, “Yuan Casting a Fishnet”. These names illustrate well the movements they stand for.
Phleng Muai - the style - refers to a particular way in which the different tactics of Mai Muai are applied together in an amalgamated series.
In the past, Muai Thai used to be a bare-knuckle boxing or wrapping the hands in a length of hemp rope - hence the term Khat Chueak - which allowed the boxers to clinch, pull, twist, or throw down the opponent. The boxers therefore relied more on their skill, technique and tactics than on mere physical force. Techniques and tactics proliferated. As Thai boxing has developed into sports, it is governed by rules and regulations to protect the athletes from harm and to facilitate fair ruling. Some tactics are therefore ruled out in competition, while some cannot be used effectively because the boxers are hampered by the protection gears that they have to wear. Some tactics are therefore left to oblivion.
Muai Thai has developed through the ages and harmoniously combined several cultural aspects such as the animism and the belief in the supernatural, traditional music, literature, moral and ethical norms. There are rites and customs that the Muai Thai boxers continue to uphold to this day: Khuen Khru Rite (an initiation rite of paying respect to the teacher before the first lesson), Khrop Khru Rite (an initiation rite of admission to the art) Wai Khru Rite (paying respect to past masters and present teachers), Taeng Muai (related knowledge of incantations and spells), and the use of musical accompaniment during the fight.
Muai Thai is therefore an art and a science - a marvelous tool for self-discipline that encourages the practitioners to develop his physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual capacity so as to become a valued member of society. Muai Thai also contributes to the promotion and appreciation of the Thai culture to foreigners.