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Historical heroes

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Naresuan the Great

During the 16th century, the Burmese ruled over parts of Siam. Naresuan was born to King Maha Dharmaraja but until the age of 16 he was a hostage of the Burmese. Upon his return to Ayutthaya, he renounced allegiance to Burma on behalf of his father the king. Having studied at Wat Buddhaisawan, Naresuan was well-versed in fighting with the single edge sword (krabi). The Burmese attacked the capital numerous times in succession but were always repelled by Naresuan's forces. In a final attempt to retake their Thai states, the Burmese sent an army of 25,000 warriors led by the crown prince of Burma atop a war elephant.

Knowing he was outnumbered, Naresuan charged his own elephant through the Burmese soldiers and fought directly with the prince. Using a halberd (ngao) Naresuan cleaved the crown prince in two, from the shoulder to the hip. With their monarch now dead, the Burmese fled the battlefield and wouldn't become a serious threat to Thai sovereignty for more than a century. Naresuan ascended the throne in 1590 and under his rule Siam encompassed the Shan states of Burma, and part of Cambodia.

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Somdet Prachao Suer

The 29th king of the Ayutthaya period, Somdet Prachao Suer ("the Tiger King", 1697-1709 AD) was highly respected for his Muay skills and knowledge. As a Prince he was a devoted practitioner of Muay.

It is said that while he was King, he disguised himself as a peasant and went incognito to take part in Muay contests. It is remarkable he did this, bearing in mind that the Thais hold their monarch to such high reverence. The physical interaction of this kind between a Thai King and his people would normally be unthinkable.

During his reign, he actively promoted Muay  contests at local fairs and festivals and he encouraged people to study Muay.

King Taksin - Prachao Taksin Maharaj, Praya Pi-chai Dab Hak

Ayutthaya became progressively weaker during the 18th century. The Thais and Burmese had been almost constantly fighting each other along the border territories since the time of King Naresuan the Great. In 1758, the Burmese began a siege which lasted nine years. Buildings, palaces and temples were laid to ruins while documents, archives and records were all destroyed. Royal treasures were stolen and all but 10,000 of the city's one million inhabitants were sold into slavery.

Taksin learned Krabi Krabong while studying in Wat Buddhaisawan as a boy. However, more than his martial expertise, it was Taksin's skill as a military strategist that allowed him to quickly attain the rank of general. Before the capture of Ayutthaya, the young general Taksin fled with 500 followers to Rayong. He reorganised his forces and began attacking the Burmese invaders in small bands, destroying their supply routes. Word spread and within a few months Taksin rallied the Thai people to battle once again. Despite being only half the size of the Burmese army, Taksin's troops managed to drive out the conquerors and restored Siam to nearly its former size. With the previous king Ekatat now dead, Taksin was convinced that he was Buddha's reincarnation and proclaimed himself king in 1767. Seven years later, he decided to give up his role as military commander and instead sent out generals to campaign in his stead.

Among all the warriors under Taksin's command, the greatest fighter was Phraya Pichai Daab Hak, a nickname meaning "broken sword". Phraya Pichai was an expert with the dual swords (dap song mue) and acquired his moniker during a battle in where he continued fighting after one of his swords was broken. Another notable general was Chao Phraya Chakri. Though not as skilled a martial artist as Phraya Pichai, Chakri was as brilliant as a commander as Taksin. Under his leadership, Siam captured the Lao kingdoms of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Chiangmai.

Taksin ruled from 1767–1782, but, according to some sources, near the end of his reign he became increasingly dictatorial. He was said to have frequently flogged Buddhists monks and executed some of his concubines on false charges. A revolt broke out in the capital of Thonburi and it was agreed by both the army and the nobility that Chakri should take Taksin's place as king. The current royal family of Thailand is descended from King Chakri, also called Rama I. Taksin himself was put to death.

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Nai Khanomtom

According to Thai folklore at the time of the fall of the ancient Siam capital of Ayutthaya in 1767, the invading Burmese troops rounded up thousands of Thais and took them to Burma as prisoners. Among them were a large number of Thai soldiers, who were taken to the city of Ava.

In 1774, in the Burmese city of Rangoon, the Burmese King Hsinbyushin (known in Thai as "King Mangra") decided to organize a seven-day, seven night religious festival in the honor of Buddha's relics. The festivities included many forms of entertainment, such as the costume plays called likay, comedies and farces, and sword fighting matches. At one point, 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 nine other Burmese champions to prove himself. He agreed and fought them all, one after the other with no rest periods in between. His last opponent was a great Burmese fighter from Rakhine. Nai Khanomtom mangled him by his kicks and no one else dared to challenge him.

King Mangra was so impressed that he allegedly remarked, "Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. Nevertheless his Lord was incompetent and lost the country to the enemy. If he would have been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen".

King Mangra granted Nai Khanomtom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives. Nai Khanomtom chose the wives as he said that money was easier to find. Then he departed with his wives for Siam. Other variations of this story had him also winning the release of his fellow Thai prisoners. His feat is celebrated every March 17 as Boxer's Day or National Muay Boran Day in his honor and that of Muay Boran's.

Today, some have wrongly attributed the legend of Nai Khanomtom to King Naresuan, who spent his youth as a royal hostage in Burma while Ayutthaya was a Burmese vassal. However, Nai Khanomtom and King Naresuan lived almost two centuries apart.

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Additional sources:

  • 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

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