The History of Muay Thai

Since this site is called lots of people actually ask me if it’s because it sounds similar to Muay Thai. That’s not the main reason but a lucky coincidence of course (there’s also that cocktail btw) and ever since getting more into the whole Muay Thai scene I thought it’s about time to shine a bit of light on the history of Muay Thai.

What is Muay Thai ?

First and foremost Muay Thai is self-defense and a Martial Art. This Martial Art has its origins, obviously, in Thailand. Here in Thailand Muay Thai is kind of a national sport and also bears the nickname ‘The Art of the eight limbs”. Those eight limbs, if you’re wondering, would be hands, shins, elbows and knees. In the past Muay Thai would be trained by the king and senior soldiers in to order to prepare for combat on the battlefield. After their retirement they would become buddhist monks and stay in temples across the land. Since Thai peoples’ lives are very closely related to religion many people would have been sent to temples to learn the teachings of the monks. This is where they would also learn the art of Muay Thai. A fighting style that does not teach the use of weapons (since not everybody could own weapons but still should be able to defend himself).

When did Muay Thai start?

Hundreds of years ago. Modern Muay Thai’s predecessor was a famous competition but saw lots of fighters getting seriously injured or die. Therefore Muay Thai had been developed into a ‘real’ sport in order to protect participants from death and severe injuries. This is when Muay Thai became more accepted on a global scale. Also Muay Thai would get rid of some of the weapons (e.g. sticks) that would have been used in older styles, and more western fighting styles, like boxing, would be added. Moreover western style boxing gloves would be used and replace the old school hand wraps (Thai: kaad chuek) to protect fighters even more. What you see now on TV or in stadiums is therefore called “Professional Muay Thai”.

Muay Thai today

These days professional Muay Thai has become quite popular on a global scale. I just trained with some German and French fighters for example. That shows that the acceptance, even in the west, grows. It is not anymore just some tough fight but more often also recognized and accepted as competitive sport that will be featured in world championships and olympic games. Many sports enthusiasts who train Muay Thai today aren’t even training it for the fight but to stay strong and fit. Having that said though Thailand still sees lots of motivated fighters preparing for professional fights since this sport still opens lots of doors to a better life here – if you are successful. Accomplished fighters, like Buakaw or Yodsanklai here in Thailand, will be able to leave their poor heritage aside and earn a better living for them and their families. Besides that we also see lots of western fighters hitting Muay Thai gyms around the country in order to add Muay Thai to their MMA / UFC fighting style arsenal. This leads to lots of fighters in UFC, K1 or other kickboxing related competitions to rely on Muay Thai in their fights.

Where did Rambo learn to fight like this? Right, in Thailand!
Where did Rambo learn to fight like this? Right, in Thailand!

The beginning of Muay Thai – Muay Boran

As mentioned above Muay Thai had been developed into a sport in order to gain more acceptance and protect fighters. In the old times however that wasn’t much of a concern – that is where the ancient Muay Thai, Muay Boran originated. In the past, Thai fighters would practice Muay or Muay Boran to protect themselves if they lose their weapons during the war. Muay Boran proved to be a Martial Art that enabled fighters to easily injure their opponents seriously via using all kinds of body parts and techniques. Muay Boran fighters would use beating,thumping, throwing, breaking, punching, knocking, thrusting and kicking in order to eliminate their opponents.

Muay Boran can be categorized in different styles. Muay Thasao (Northern Thailand), Muay Korat (North Eastern Thailand), Muay Lopburi(Central Thailand) and Muay Chaiya(Southern Thailand). Their styles vary in certain ways – dependent on their teachers’ styles and influences.

In the old times that’s what the different styles were famous for:

  • Muay Korat – Powerful punches (Tony Jaa – from Fast & Furious 7 – used to study this style)
  • Muay Lopburi – Smart Fighters
  • Muay Thasao – Fast Moves
  • Muay Chai Ya – Good Posture

Since there are luckily now wars anymore Muay Boran is not that actively trained anymore. There are however a few gyms left that still train Muay Boran, some of the more famous camps for that are Buddhai Sawarn camp or the Muay Thai Chaiya camp.

Muay Boran Legend

The legend of Nai Khanomtom tells the story of how Muay Boran became famous since he, a Thai fighter who got captured by the Burmese, was able to defeat nine Burmese boxing champions and therefore was granted freedom.

Nai Khanomtom was captured by the Burmese when they burned down the ancient capital of Thailand, Ayuttaya. The Burmese king then held festivities in their capital and heard about the Thai fighter his army captured. He then wanted to know which fighting style is better, Burmese Boxing (Parma) or Thai Boxing (Muay Boran). Nai Khanomtom then defeated his Burmese opponent and asked if he would take on another fighter he agreed. This went on for a few more rounds until he defeated 9 (or 10) Burmese fighters. King Mangra of Burma was one of the first to applaud the feat he had witnessed and was quoted to say “Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom even with his bare hands he can fell ten opponents”.

Ever since the name Nai Khanomtom is heavily engraved into the Thai culture and every child on the streets of Thailand will surely know this name.



Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at
Sascha is the publisher of and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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