If you’re heading to Thailand, your trip will probably consist of laying on beautiful beaches, exploring tropical islands, and wolfing down as much of their spicy and delicious local food as possible. However, if you’re going to be in the former Kingdom of Siam for more than a quick vacation – or you’re just feeling bloated from all of that eating and drinking Chang beer – you may want to jump in for a workout. And there’s no better way to get an ass-kicking workout (and possibly get your ass kicked at the same time) as with Muay Thai.
In fact, Muay Thai – Thailand’s ancient national fighting art – is still so popular in the country that its presence is inescapable. You’ll see small, open-air gyms in just about every neighborhood, mega-arenas featuring huge Muay Thai productions in every city, and people watching it on TV (or betting on the fights!) on every street corner and home.
There are also a lot of training centers that are geared towards foreigners (farang) these days, as Muay Thai camps and gyms are big business. So, whether you and your travel buddies want to jump in for just one beginner’s lesson, you want to train hard for a month so you can get in the ring and actually compete, or you just want to watch and appreciate the fights, we’ll bring you a two-part series on Muay Thai.
Muay Thai actually originated not as a sort but a martial art during the Medieval period (1238 AD) for warriors who were defending their city and surrounding villages in The Sukhothai Era. (It must have worked because Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never to be conquered or colonized!)
But other estimates place it at over 2,000 years old, as an older version called Muay Boran that probably originated in ancient Burma, which has few rules and even allows headbutts and groin strikes.
It’s also known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because practitioners can strike with punches, kicks, knees, or elbows (eight weapons). There’s also a significant grappling portion of the fights that most people don’ t appreciate, with head clinching and throws.
While it may not be expressly called “Muay Thai” around the world, it’s a global fighting art. In fact, Muay Thai has been the fastest growing martial art around the world the last eighty years. Mixed martial arts fighters (such as in the popular UFC) all study Muay Thai as a practical mix of what they’ll need – and need to defend – in the ring.
Fighters wear handwraps (like boxers) and lightweight boxing gloves. However, their feet, shins, knees, and elbows are all bare, and fighters have no padding or protection to save them from blows. Muay Thai fighters don’t even wear mouthguards like boxers or MMA fighters!
However, when training, many fighters wear shin guards. You’ll also notice that whether training or fighting, Muay Thai combatants are always barefoot, and wear very short shorts to allow their kicks to have full flexibility without getting caught on the fabric.
So, you’re ready for your first Muay Thai workout? Get ready to jump rope, shadow box with all eight deadly limbs, punch and kick the heavy bag, do a whole lot of pad work with your trainer, and maybe even spar a little bit!
Look for part two of this blog, when we cover more about the history, sport, and even business side of Muay Thai in Thailand today.