MUAY THAI ...Thai Boxing ... "Spirit of Thai Heritage"
You might have heard about it, or even seen it on TV—the furious punches, crushing elbow strikes, lethal kicks, powerful grappling and artful feints. But nothing compares to seeing them executed to loud cheers and heart-racing tune of an accompanying wind-and-percussion ensemble. Welcome to the exciting world of Muay Thai, a martial art like no others, and a proud heritage of a nation.
The history of Muay Thai is interwoven with the history of the Thai people. A gentle, peace-loving people, for centuries Thais had to defend themselves and their land from aggressive powers. They developed a form of close, hand-to-hand combat best suited for the kind of rough-terrain battle they were fighting. Over time it became a rite of passage for Thai men to take up training in this martial art. King Naresuan the Great (1555-1605), one of the country’s most celebrated warrior-heroes, is believed to have been an excellent boxer himself, and it was he who made Muay Thai a required part of military training.
Another milestone in the history of Muay Thai was the triumph of Nai Khanom Tom over 10 Burmese boxers in 1774. Taken captive after the Thai capital fell in 1767, Nai Khanom Tom was picked to fight before the Burmese king. After defeating ten of them in a row, he was freed and returned home a hero.
In the old days, Muay Thai was a dangerous sport, with no safety gear of any kind for the fighters, and only lengths of cords to wrap around the fists in place of gloves. Over the years rules have been written along the line of international boxing regulations. In recent years the sport has attracted a wide following outside of the country, and training facilities have been set up in countries as far as the U.S. and the former Soviet states. In 1995 the World Muay Thai Council was set up by cabinet resolution in 1995 to promote this national heritage at national and international levels. At a conference held that same year, 78 member countries voted for the establishment of a training school where all elements of Muay Thai would be taught. The Muay Thai Institute was founded in 1997 and is now the only training school accredited by the Ministry of Education.
An International Passion
Muay Thai, along with soccer, is certainly the most passionately followed sport in the country. Television networks broadcast fights five days a week, and the fight results at major stadiums are reported in all major newspapers. International boxing is also very popular, and the country has produced dozens of world champions, but they all started out as Muay Thai fighters. So it is not surprising that a boy as young as seven or eight would start training to become one—and many do, at stables across the country. Most provincial capitals have a boxing ring, but the ultimate dream of young boxers is to fight at Lumpini or Ratchadamnoen, the biggest and most famous stadiums in the country. Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen alternate, so there is a fight program every night. Tickets on an average evening are 220, 440 and 1,000 Baht, but on big nights prices of ringside seats may go up to 2,000 Baht. Ratchadamnoen’s Sunday Special rates are good bargains, with ringside tickets going for 500 Baht each. Fights usually begins around 6:30 p.m., with preliminary bouts featuring younger, less experienced boxers, and build up towards the main event, usually around nine o’clock.
Muay Thai is fought in five three-minute rounds with two-minute breaks in between. The fight is preceded by a wai khru dance, in which each contestant pays homage to his teachers. Besides the symbolic meaning, the dance is a good warm-up exercise. You will notice that each boxer wears a headband and armbands. The headband, called mongkhol, is believed to bestow luck to the wearer since it has been blessed by a monk or the boxer’s own teacher. Since Buddhism and the teacher play important roles in the life of Thais, the headband is both a lucky charm and a spiritual object. It will be removed after the wai khru dance, and only by the boxer’s trainer. The armbands, meanwhile, are believed to offer protection and are only removed when the fight has ended.
A match is decided by a knockout or by points. Three judges decide who carries the round and the one who wins the most rounds, win the fight. The referee plays a very important role, since boxers’ safety depends on his decision.
To one side of the ring is the band section, comprising a Javanese clarinet, drums and cymbals. They accompany the fight from the homage dance to the conclusion. The tempo goes up as the action inside the ring intensifies. The musicians are mostly old-timers who have seen just about anything, yet their music always makes the heart race faster. It is said that the tune is a siren song that the true Muay Thai devotee can never resist.
On fight nights at major stadiums, especially at Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen, tourists fill up a sizable portion of the seats, and the number is growing. Most opt to sit at ringside, to see the action up close. On nights of major events, usually advertised days in advance, it can be hard to get tickets. You might want to book through your hotels or travel agents.
Basic rules of Thai boxing matches
A 'Muay Thai' match formally have no more than 5 rounds, each round take 3 minutes to last, with a two-minute rest period in between. No additional rounds is allowed.
Boxers must regularly wear gloves, each weighing not less than 6 ounces (172 grams).
The gloves must not be squeezed, kneaded or crushed to change its original shape.
Rules on contestants' boxing costumes
Where & When
Bangkok & Vicinity:
Learning Muay Thai
Muay Thai, with its emphasis on both offense and defense as well as on stamina, is a martial art anyone can learn: men, women, young or old. With the interest in Muay Thai growing fast, martial-art schools in Europe, America and Asia have added it to their curricula. Some hire former Muay Thai champions as instructors, others have trainers who studied with Thai teachers. These schools may teach all the right moves and maneuvers, but Muay Thai isn’t just about punches and kicks.
To learn Muay Thai is to learn about its roots and its purpose, and
there’s nowhere better to do that than in its homeland. In the
past, foreigners wanting “the real thing” would go to one of the
stables, where training focuses on professional competition. For
those not so inclined, there wasn’t much choice, and language was
sometimes a problem. Not anymore, since Thailand now has a school
for total Muay Thai education for both professionals and amateurs.
Muay Thai Institute
The Muay Thai Institute was established with the goal of preserving and promoting the art of Muay Thai and making it accessible to all. The Institute, which is located in Rangsit, just north of Bangkok International Airport, offers accredited training courses for boxers, instructors and referees. Opened in 1997, the Institute is run by a professional team of Muay Thai instructors, promoters and officials. Its staff instructors are all former champions, hold at least a bachelor’s degree in physical education, and speak English. Graduates will received a certificate recognized by the Thai Ministry of Education and the World Muay Thai Council. Since its opening, the school has trained hundreds of amateurs and professionals. Students have come from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, the U.K., and other parts of the world. Thai students, many of them girls and young women, also come for recreational and professional courses.
Tuition and Fees:
International visitors who wish to learn Thai boxing can contact: The Muay Thai Institute, 336/932, Prachathipat, Thanyaburi, Pathum Thani 12130, Tel: 02-992-0096 to 9
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