MUAYTHAI and the Thai people
Thais are classified in the Mongolian tribe. The distinguished physical features include small body with average height of 5' 3". They are usually strong, light-weighted, and agile. They have light brown complexion, black hair, little body hair and beard. The face is round with black eyes and plump cheek. Since Thailand is in the tropical zone close to the equator, most of the people live on the riverside and use boats as vehicles. The Thai people wear little light clothes and do not wear hat and shoes. They are able to use fist, foot, knee, and elbow efficiently. These bodily weapons are used as the self-defensive weapons to fight with the enemies to protect the country.
Muaythai is the cultural heritage descended from the ancestors for centuries. In the past, Thailand had numerous wars with its neighbors. Thai males had to practice Muaythai and other weapons to defend the country. Muaythai has been developed to have its own identity, with graceful but ferocious style. It was practiced for self-defense, health, and profession.
Muaythai in Sukhothai Period
Sukhothai Period dated back to 140 years ago from 1238 - 1408. From the stone inscription, it was obviously inscribed that Sukhothai made several wars with the neighboring countries. So soldiers had to be trained to fight with weapons like sword, lance, including bodily weapons at close quarters.
After the wars, young men in that era liked practicing Muaythai to strengthen their fighting skill and prepare themselves for military service. It was a tradition for a Thai young man to study Muaythai in a well-known boxing camp; for example, Samoh Khon Camp in Lopburi. Muaythai was also trained in the courtyard of a temple by monk. In the old days, the trainees were taught by fetching buckets of water, pounding paddy, cutting firewood, swimming, swinging on creepers and vines to gain physical strength and patience before starting practicing Muaythai skills. These skills included the punching of folded bathing loincloth hanging on a branch of tree, kicking banana trees, fighting and clinching with sparring partners. The practice would end with swimming to clean the body and relax the muscle before going to sleep. Muaythai masters did not teach only skills but ethics to their students as well.
In the Sukhothai Period, Muaythai was considered as a course taught to the king. It was described in the legend that King Si Inthrathit, the first king of the Sukhothai dynasty, with his far-sighted vision, dispatched his second son, King Ram Khamhaeng at the age of 13, to practice Muaythai in Samoh Khon Camp in Lopburi. He wished this son to be a brave king in the future. From 1275-1317, King Ram Khamhaeng composed a military fighting manual in which Muaythai was mentioned. King Li Thai, who was interested in all fields of studies and was famous as a great scholar, learned Muaythai in parallel with other weapons.
MuayThai In Ayutthaya Period
In the Ayutthaya Period 417 years ago, from 1350-1767, Thailand was from time to time in wars with Burma and Cambodia. The young men of this period had to learn fighting skills with weapons and Muaythai, which was taught to either aristocrats and general public. Budhai Sawan Camp was very famous at that time. The camp taught the students to fight with rattan sword and bare hands, which was known as Muaythai. In this period, the temple was still the center of knowledge where general subjects and fighting skills were taught.
King Naresuan the Great (1590-1604)
He picked up a group of young men to teach Muaythai. They were trained to be brave, confident, and skillful in using all weapons efficiently. They were recruited to be soldiers in a special task force set up by King Naresuan to be the Guerilla squad. This squad played an important role in proclaiming independence from Burma in 1584.
King Narai the Great (1604-1690)
Under the reign of King Narai, the country was peaceful and prosperous. He was greatly interested in promoting and encouraging sports, especially Muaythai that was so popular among the public that it became a profession in this period. There emerged considerable boxing camps. The fight was generally made on ground with a rope encircled in a square. Cotton yarn made hardened by dipping into starch or tar would be wrapped around the fist. The boxers wore headband and armbands during the fight. The arrangement of bout was mainly based on the will of both fighters regardless of the weight and age. The rules and regulation at that time was so simple; both boxers had to fight until any of them yielded. Muaythai was usually arranged in festivals and the bet was inevitable.
King Saeu or King Tiger (1697-1709)
King Tiger was very fond of Muaythai. Once he went in disguise to Had Kruad District with 4 pages, he got into the boxing ring to fight with 3 skillful boxers whom he defeated. He also trained his own sons to acquire skills in Muaythai, swords, and wrestling.
In early Ayutthaya Period, the ruling kings set up a royal boxing unit. This unit was responsible for selecting young men who were good at fighting with Muaythai to box in front of the king. The best fighter would be appointed a royal guard to protect the king while he was in the palace or went to other places. This guard would be responsible for training the king's children and soldiers.
Late Ayutthaya Period
After Ayutthaya fell to Burma for the second time in 1767, there emerged 2 renown boxers as follows:
1. Mr. Khanom Tom was taken as a hostage in Burma. In 1774, the Burmese king arranged a festival to commemorate the great chedi in Rangkung. In this festival, he wished to have a skillful Thai boxer to fight in his presence on March 17, 1774. Mr. Khanom Tom could defeat 10 Burmese boxers without a break. This bout was regarded as the first dissemination of Muaythai abroad. Mr. Khanom Tom was therefore considered the father of Muaythai and March 17 the Muaythai day.
2. Phraya Pichai Dabhak (1741-1782) or Joi was born in Pichai of Utraradit Province. He had profound knowledge in Muaythai. He started learning Muaythai from Master Thieng and used Muaythai to earn his living to the age of 16 when he began learning sword and Chinese martial art. With his distinguished skill, he was selected by Phraya Tak to serve the country as a soldier and became the Governor of Pichai during the reign of King Taksin. When Pichai was attacked by Burmese troop, he fought violently until his both swords were broken.
Muaythai during Thonburi Era
During the Thonburi Era from 1767-1781, the country was under the restoration after proclaiming independence. The practice of Muaythai in this period was actually intended for military purpose.
There were numerous good boxers. The boxing competitions were often arranged between boxers from 2 different regions or masters. The rule and regulation have not prescribed yet. The bout would stop when a boxer surrendered. The ring was simply made on the ground of a temple. The boxers themselves still used wrapped cotton yarn and wore headband and armbands.
5. Muaythai during Rattanakosin Era
During 86 years of the early Rattanakosin Era from King Rama I to King Rama IV (1782-1868), Muaythai was still regarded as national sport. The competition was usually held in festivals. Rules and regulations were initially defined. The boxers were required to fight in rounds, each of which lasted until a bored coconut shell sink to the bottom of a container. Each bout had no specific number of rounds. The boxers would fight until one of them yielded.
King Rama I (1782-1809)
King Rama I had practiced Muaythai since childhood. He was interested in going out to view Muaythai competitions. In 1788, two French merchants who traveled to different parts of the world by a ship to trade with the local people arrived in Bangkok. They were good boxers and bet on boxing everywhere they went. In Bangkok, they wanted to bet on a fight with Thai boxer. King Rama I heard of the news and asked his brother who was in charge of the royal boxing unit to arrange a boxing match between the French and a Thai boxer. A temporary ring was constructed on the courtyard behind Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The ring was made in square of 20 m. long, encircled with a rope around 4 poles at each corner. In front of the ring was a royal pavilion. The fight started and continued until a fighter would surrender.
The French boxer was bigger and when the fight began, he tried to get approach and clinch with the Thai boxer. Muan Phlan, the Thai boxer, tried to defend by delivering thrust kicks, punches and stepping aside. Time lapsed and the Westerner was in disadvantage. The brother of the French boxer couldn't stand and helped his younger brother by blocking the way of Muan Phlan. Such action provoked the anger of the crowd and drove the situation into the mutiny in the ring. Many Westerners were injured. King Rama I sent a nursing team to take care of them. When they recovered, they left Thailand for good.
King Rama II (1809-1824)
At his early childhood, he practiced Muaythai from Wat Bang Hwa Yai (Rakhang Khositaram Temple). The master who taught Muaythai to him is Phra Wanarat (Thong Yu), who was once a general. At the age of 16, he moved into the old palace and learned more Muaythai skills from his father's royal guard. He commanded the construction of boxing stadium at the courtyard behind his palace and the Thai-boxing style, which was previously called "Ram Mut Ram Muay," was changed to Muaythai since then.
King Rama III (1824-1851)
He studied Muaythai from a royal guard. In this period, the people in provincial area liked learning Muaythai and sword altogether. Therefore, Thaow Suranaree or Lady Mo, the wife of Korat Governor, could lead the people to defeat the invading troop of King Anuwong, a Loatian king.
King Rama IV (1851-1868)
While he was a little prince, he dressed in boxing attire and played sword show in the festival held to commemorate the ordination hall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In this period, Thailand had been influenced by the Western civilization. However, Muaythai was still the national sport.
King Rama V (1868-1910)
He practiced Muaythai from the royal boxing camp taught by Master Luang Phol Yothanuyok. He was very fond of Muaythai and liked viewing Muaythai competitions held in front of the royal pavilion. He asked the governors in different provinces to dispatch skillful boxers to compete in the competitions. The best boxers would be recruited as his royal guards under the royal boxing unit.
He was greatly aware of the value of Muaythai as the national sport. He therefore commanded all provinces hold Muaythai competitions so as to promote the sport. He also provided royal boxing masters to different provinces to teach the skills to the public, hold and control the boxing competitions held in the royal ceremonies, royal hair cutting ceremony, cremation, royal guest reception. In the cremation of Krom Khun Marupong Siripat, the winning boxers from the provincial area were granted a rank called "Muan". Those boxers included
1. Muan Muay Mee Chue or Mr. Plong Chamnongthong from Chaiya, who was famous for his distinguished style of throwing the opponent to the ground.
2. Muan Muay Maen Mut or Mr. Kling from Lopburi, who was smart in using attacking and defending techniques including excellent straight punches.
3. Muan Changud Cherng Chok or Mr. Daeng Thaiprasert from Korat (Nakorn Rajsima), who had a famous cast punch, called "buffalo-casting punch".
Picture: Boxing competition held in front of the royal pavilion in the cremation of Krom Khun Marupong Siripat.
In 1887, King Rama V commanded the establishment of the Ministry of Education and Muaythai was taught as a subject in the Physical Education School and Royal Military Academy.
This period was known as the Golden Age of Muaythai.
King Rama VI (1910-1925)
From 1914-1918, Thailand sent a military troop to join the Allied in the First World War in Marseilles, France. The troop was led by General Thephasadin. He was greatly interested in Muaythai so he held a Muaythai competition to show the sport to the Allied soldiers and the people there. This competition was the first time Muaythai was held in Europe.
In 1921, after the first World War, Suan Kuhlab Stadium was constructed on the ground of Suan Kuhlab School. It was the first permanent boxing stadium where the boxing programs were regularly arranged. In the initial stage, the viewers had to sit or stand around the square ring of 26 m. long. The viewers were not allowed to get into the ring line made on ground. The boxer wore headband, armbands, shorts and groin guard. The referee in the ring was in the Thai-style attire.
The most interesting bout was between Muan Muay Maen Mut, a skillful boxer in the reign of King Rama V, aged 50, and Mr. Phong Prabsabot, a young man, aged 22 from Korat. For Phong, this bout meant the revenge for his father, who was once defeated by Muan Muay Maen Mut just in 2 minutes. Muan Muay Maen Mut was this time knocked to he ground by Phong's powerful cast punch. The cheering crowd was excited with Phong's victory and turned the ring into chaos. This event caused trouble to the staff who took care of the order. So after the competition, a ring was constructed on an elevated platform, 4 feet higher from the ground. The ring floor was covered with mat and the ring was encircled by a rope of 1 inch. There was an entrance for boxers and reference at a corner. The referee was dressed like a scout. There were 11 rounds of 3 minutes and the time of each round was kept by 2 watches. The gong was used to give signal for fighting. The fighters had to take a break when ordered by the referee. They were not allowed to bite or hit after the referee broke the fight. If a boxer fell to the ring floor, the other had to wait at a corner.