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The history and development of Muay

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The history of Muay is tightly bounded to the history of Thailand. In order to understand the history of Muay, one has to also know about the history of Thailand.

In the ancient times, there were a lot of wars between the various kingdoms , and the art of war, and the art of Muay developed, and spread though the Indochina Peninsula. Now days Muay Thai is quite well known, but there are also other very similar styles, namely Lerdrit (used by Royal Thai Army), Pradal Serey and Bokator from Cambodia, Tomoi from Malaysia, Lethwei from Burma and Muay Lao from Laos.

Pre-Sukhothai era c. 200 BC-1238

In the 2nd and 3rd century BC, there was a land known as Suvarnabhumi, "the land of gold", which covered the regions of present-day southern Burma and central Thailand to eastern Cambodia.

Buddhism was introduced to the area via missionaries and salesmen from India and Sri Lanka.

According to some theories, the Thai people originated in southeastern China and then migrated into mainland Southeast Asia over a period of many centuries. At the Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Sanskrit word syam, meaning ‘dark or brown’ people, references the early Thai people.

Syam or Siam was later to be used as the name of The Kingdom of Thailand until the year 1939.

The period from the 6th-13th centuries AD was also known as the Dvaravati period or period of Dvaravati culture. Buddhism spread in the region from India and the community of monks also developed the art of Muay with their knowledge and respected status in the society.

Sukothai era 1238-1377

During the era of the Kingdom of Sukothai, the art of Muay continued to develop and it was mainly used and trained by the military.

Sukhothai fought with its neighbour kingdoms quite often, and use of weapons such as swords and spears as well as empty hand techiques of Muay were both important.

Lanna - From the 13th to 18th centuries

The Kingdom of Lanna ("Kingdom of Million Rice Fields"; Thai: อาณาจักรล้านนา) was a kingdom centered in present-day northern Thailand from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

In the year 1287 the Thai Kings Mangrai (The King of Lanna) and Ramkhanhaeng (The King of Sukothai) signed a non-aggression pact.

Ayutthaya era 1350-1767

The city of Ayutthaya, located about 80km north from the current Bangkok, was the capital of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. From this period, there are many famous heroes of that day - like King Naresuan, King Narai, Queen Suriyothai, Somdet Prachao Suer and Nai Khanom Tom. The art of Muay was still mainly used and developed by the military and the royalty.

The famous King Naresuan developed the art of Muay while fighting against Burmese troops.

Thonburi era 1767-1782

In the year 1767 Burmese troops destroyed Ayutthaya, and the general Prachao Taksin Maharaj, the new king, founded the new capital on the west side of Chao Phray river, in the area of the current Bangkok.

Nai Khanom Tom was taken to Burma as a prisoner. At one point, Burmese King Hsinbyushin wanted to see how Muay Boran would compare with the Burmese Lethwei (Burmese Boxing). Nai Khanomtom was selected to fight against the Burmese champion. The boxing ring was set up in front of the throne and Nai Khanomtom did a traditional Wai Kru pre-fight dance, to pay his respects to his teachers and ancestors, as well as the spectators, dancing around his opponent. This amazed and perplexed the Burmese people, who thought it was black magic. When the fight began, Nai Khanomtom charged out, using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees to pummel his opponent until he collapsed.

However, the Burmese referee said the Burmese champion was too distracted by the dance, and declared the knockout invalid. The King then asked if Nai Khanomtom would fight with other Burmese champions to prove himself. He agreed and fought all nine of them, one after the other with no rest periods in between. His last opponent was a great kickboxing teacher from Rakhine. Nai Khanomtom mangled him by his kicks and no one else dared to challenge him.

Rattanakosin era 1782-1925 (or to the present)

The King Putta Yodfah (Rama 1) established the new capital for the country on April 1782. Since that, the capital of Thailand has been on its current location.

During the Rattanakosin era the art of Muay was still mainly a military skill and the royal sport until the year 1925.

The ascension of highly respected King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a golden age not only for Muay but for the whole country of Thailand.

Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king's personal interest in the sport. The country was at peace and Muay functioned as a means of physical exercise, self-defense, recreation, and personal advancement.

It has been said that periods of Rama V and Rama VI (1868-1925) were the periods of the renaissance of the Art of Muay.

The current King, the highly respected the HM the King of Thailand (Rama IX) Bhumibol Adulyadej is the current King of the Chakri Dynasty and Thailand.

1925 to the present

From the year 1926 the art of Muay started to develop to be a sport with rules and regulations and many western boxing techniques have also been adopted since. After the death of famous Muay fighter, Jia Kaegkhmen, at the Lak Muang Arena in 1926, the gloves were first time introduced as a substation for the traditional binding of the fists with hemp rope.

In 1929 groin protector (gra-jap) made from metal was the first time used in Siam. It was introduced by Aer Muong Dee who had seen it while fighting in Singapore and its use became quickly widespread. During late twenties and thirties Muay Thai training progressively developed, punch-bags became widely available and other facilities at training camps developed. Also both training and contest gloves became the norm.

In the year 1939 the historical name of the country, Siam, was changed to Thailand.

Since World War II various Muay Thai fighters were arranged to go to the U.S.A and other countries for show fights or to match their skills against the exponents of other martial arts.

In the late 1950s, Japanese Osamu Noguchi was influenced by Muay Thai, and later devised the concept of kick boxing by mixing the techniques of Muay Thai, karate and western style boxing.

In Thailand Muay Thai flourished in the 1970s, and started to spread  outside of Thailand and became more and more popular in the U.S.A and many European countries.

Nowdays Muay Thai has spread all over the world, but it's still an essential part of Thai culture and cultural heritage of Thailand.


  • Heikkilä-Horn, Marja-Leena: Kaakkois Aasia eilen ja tänään, ISBN: 951-570-084-1
  • Heikkilä-Horn, Marja-Leena: Kaakkois Aasia: historia ja kulttuurit, ISBN: 951-1-15771-X
  • Kat Prayukvong & Lesley D. Junlakan: Muay Thai - A Living Legacy, ISBN: 974-92937-0-3
  • Wikipedia:

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