If you’re passionate about history and martial arts, you’ve come to the right place. Follow us in this article to explore the characteristics and importance of history of Muay Thai within culture, and find out how you can learn about the sport on your trip to Thailand!
At the heart of Thailand’s fascinating culture lies an iconic sport known as Muay Thai or Thai boxing. As Thailand’s national sport, it embodies the pride and identity of the Thai people, offering unique physical, mental and cultural benefits.
What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai, Thailand’s national sport, has a history dating back over 600 years. “Muay” means “boxing” in Thai, which makes Muay Thai “Thai boxing”. It has strong cultural and historical links with the country and its people. Muay Thai is both a martial art and a combat sport, which means that it is used for self-defence while being governed by a specific set of rules.
Muay Thai is often referred to as the “Art of the Eight Limbs” or the “Science of the Eight Limbs”. This term refers to the use of the eight points of contact: the two hands, the two legs (particularly the shins), the two elbows and the two knees. Muay Thai techniques can be broadly classified into attack, defence and counter techniques. Becoming adept at Muay Thai requires constant practice, repeating the techniques over and over again until they become embedded in the muscle memory.
In Thailand, around 90% of the population practise Muay Thai, making it a traditional sport and a source of national pride. Practising this sport encourages a strong connection between body, mind and spirit. Practitioners are encouraged to develop not only their physical skills, but also their mental resilience and discipline. As they train, they learn to concentrate, to be in harmony with themselves and to persevere in the face of the challenges presented to them by their opponents.
Modesty, humility and respect for others are fundamental values in the practice of Muay Thai. These three qualities are considered to be essential pillars of this martial art and are instilled from the very first lessons.
The history of Muay Thai: a martial heritage
Dating back to the Sukhothai dynasty in the 13th century, the history of Muay Thai is deeply rooted in the Siamese culture of ancient Thailand. The first Thai armies were formed to protect the kingdom, and soldiers developed skills in both armed and unarmed combat.
A deep reverence for royalty is firmly embedded in the mind of a true Muay Boran (the original name for Muay Thai) fighter. Without the strong and fearless leaders of the past, the Thailand of today would not exist. The fighters honour the links between this martial art, the monarchy and Thailand’s history. When Thailand returned to peace, Muay Thai survived thanks to its military training and its entertaining dimension.
Much more than just a sport, Muay Thai became a way of life for the people of Siam. The emblematic story of Master Nai Khanom Tom, during the Ayutthaya period, is a striking example. Imprisoned after the siege of the kingdom of Siam, Nai Khanom Tom triumphed over nine successive Burmese fighters. This historic event, although shrouded in legend, is now celebrated every year on 17 March as Muay Thai Day.
In the 18th century, Muay Thai officially became a national sport with the introduction of rules and regulations. Professional fights are now legally organised. The bouts take place in a ring and are divided into five three-minute rounds, with regulated breaks between each round.
Muay Thai and spirituality
Spirituality is deeply rooted in Thai daily life. People believe in the existence of good and evil spirits. Good spirits come to their aid and protect them from misfortune, while evil spirits seek to harm them. The world of Muay Thai also has its share of spirits. It is therefore essential for fighters to ask permission from the spirits before stepping into the ring. Rituals are designed to ward off evil spirits, protect fighters and lead them to victory.
The “Wai Khru Ram Muay” ritual
The Wai Khru Ram Muay consisting of two parts: the “Wai Khru” and the “Ram Muay”, is a ritual performed by Muay Thai fighters in the ring before the fight begins. For the uninitiated, this ceremony may seem tedious, but for many Muay Thai fans, the Wai Khru is an authentic and entertaining aspect that adds to its charm.
“Wai Khru literally means “to pay homage to the teacher”. “Ram” means “dance” in the ancient and traditional sense, while “Muay” is the Thai word for Thai boxing, resulting in “boxer/fighter dance”. This ritual has its origins in the past, when fighters went to war and divine blessings were of great importance.
Each pre-fight ceremony begins with the fighters circling the ring anti-clockwise, one hand on the top rope, stopping briefly at each corner for a prayer. This action is an act of superstition that ‘seals’ the ring and prevents any negative energy or force from entering, offering protection during the fight.
Next, fighters perform the ‘Wai Khru’, which involves kneeling, bowing and performing the ‘Wai’, a gesture of respect towards their parents, teachers and Buddha. This simple act is supposed to bring good fortune and keep the mind clear and attentive.
Traditional Thai Sarama music
Before each fight, you can hear the traditional Thai music called Sarama, which used to be played at the Thai royal court. Performed by a group of four musicians using instruments such as Thai drums, finger cymbals and the oboe, Sarama music creates a spellbinding atmosphere throughout the fight. These sounds add a distinctive dimension to the atmosphere around the ring, enhancing the solemn nature of the competition.
And the sacred equipment
Muay Thai equipment has deep cultural and spiritual significance. Traditionally, it is blessed to bring luck and protection. Fighters often wear a headband called Mongkol (meaning ‘holy spirit’) and an armband called Pra Jiad to ward off harmful spirits before the match begins.
The Mongkhon is seen by Thais as possessing special powers that confer protection and good fortune on its wearer. Mongkhons are traditionally handmade from rope and cloth by teachers or coaches at the camp. They are then blessed by monks before being passed on to the fighters in the camp.
Another item that can always be seen on Muay Thai fighters is the Pra Jiad cloth armband (sometimes called Prajet or Prajioud). Like Mongkhons, Pra Jiads are supposed to bring good luck to those who wear them, their origins being linked to an ancient time when the country was constantly at war. The armbands were usually made from pieces of cloth from a mother’s dress and tied around the arms. This symbolic act represented a mother’s blessing for the safety of the wearer. Pra Jiads are now made from cloth, rope or a combination of the two, and are worn on one or both arms.
Mongkhons and Pra Jiads are considered sacred objects and must be treated with respect in all circumstances.
Muay Thai: The unrivalled fusion of sport and Thai life
Muay Thai is more than just a sport. In fact, it is a genuine cultural heritage that transmits essential principles such as discipline, respect, honour and perseverance, which are fundamental values rooted in Thai society.
The art of film
Films are an excellent way to discover Thai culture and its national sport, Muay Thai. Among the most famous, the Ong-Bak saga stands out. With captivating action scenes and total immersion in Thai culture, these films starring Tony Jaa have been a worldwide hit with martial arts fans.
Ong-Bak has helped to raise awareness and appreciation of Muay Thai by emphasising the sport’s fundamental human values and rituals. Other films, both Thai and Hollywood, have also promoted Muay Thai, offering different perspectives on the sport and Thai culture through the art of filmmaking.
Martial arts enthusiasts visiting Thailand have the opportunity to combine their interests in tourism and sport. The birthplace of Muay Thai offers a unique experience as a sports tourism destination, where travellers can immerse themselves in the culture and martial art of Muay Thai.
Indeed, the country boasts more than hundreds of training camps, welcoming participants from all over the world keen to learn or perfect their Muay Thai skills. These centres offer an environment conducive to learning, with experienced trainers and facilities adapted to the practice of Thai boxing.
Muay Thai in the eyes of the Thais
Many Muay Thai champions come from modest families in the villages of Thailand’s north-eastern region. In this case, the national sport serves as a means of subsistence that offers an opportunity to improve their quality of life.
In fact, wealthy families tend to encourage their children to take up careers considered prestigious, such as doctor, lawyer, engineer or teacher, as these professions provide them with a financially stable life. However, in exceptional cases, some wealthy families can support their children in their passion by recognising the value of this martial art in terms of discipline, physical and mental development, and career training.
Find Muay Thai express training courses
When you visit Thailand, particularly the bustling cities such as Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai, as well as sightseeing, shopping and sampling excellent Thai cuisine, you also have the opportunity to take part in Muay Thai courses at short notice. Practical, isn’t it?
In Thailand, you’ll find short courses consisting of just 1-2 sessions, each lasting just a few hours. For those planning to stay longer in Thailand, it’s possible to opt for training lasting a week or more. The gyms also offer a transport service from the hotel and access to the equipment needed for training. Prices vary according to your preferences and the length of the course you choose.
It’s very practical for those who love this sport. Taking part in these classes will certainly be an interesting activity not to be missed. We suggest some of these classes at short notice, in the hope that it will enrich your travel experience in Thailand!
Fitfac Muaythai Academy เอกมัย
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone number: +66 095 995 7718
Master Toddy’s Muay Thai
Email : email@example.com
Phone number : +66 843 258 822
Chokchai Muay Thai Camp Phuket
Map: 20/19 Moo 5, Soi Ta-ied, Chaofa Road, Chalong, Phuket
Phone number: +66 937 897 364
Sit Thaharnaek Muay Thai
Telephone number: +66 876 342 070
Our last words
Explore the beauty of Thai sporting culture with Muay Thai, a magnificent sport that not only builds your physical strength, but your mental strength too. By incorporating it into your trip, you add an exceptional dimension to your experience in Thailand.
Now that you have all the information you need, take the opportunity to contact us if you have any further questions or enquiries about our Thailand tours. Leave us a comment below and we’ll be delighted to help.