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The History of Muay Thai

Most of what is known about the early history of Thai Boxers comes from Burmese accounts of warfare between Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Thailand during the 15th and 16th centuries. The earliest reference (1411 AD) mentions a ferocious style of unarmed combat that decided the fate of the Thai kings. A later description tells how Nai Khanom Tom, Thailand's first famous boxer and a prisoner of war in Myanmar, gained his freedom by roundly defeating a dozen Burmese warriors before a Burmese court. To this day, many martial art aficionados consider the Thai style the ultimate in hand to hand fighting. Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, USA, Germany and France have all sent their best and none of the challengers have been able to defeat top-ranked Thai Boxers. On one famous occasion, Hong Kong's top five Kung Fu masters were dispatched in less than 6 and a half minutes cumulative total, all knockouts. King Naresuan the Great (1555-1605) was a great Thai boxer himself, and he made Muay Thai a required part of military training for all Thai soldiers. Later another Thai king, Phra Chao Seua ( the 'tiger king), further promoted Thai Boxing as a national sport by encouraging prize fights and the development of training camps in the early 18th century. These are accounts of massive wagers and bouts to the death during this time. Phra Chao Seua himself is said to have been an incognito participant in many of the matches during the early part of his reign. Contestant's fists were wrapped in thick horsehide for maximum impact with minimum knuckle damage. They also used cotton soaked in glue and ground glass and later hemp bindings. Tree bark and seashells were used to protect the groin from lethal kicks. The high incidence of death and physical injury led to the Thai government to institute a ban on Muay Thai in the 1920's, but in the 1930's the sport was revived under a set of regulations based on the Queensberry rules. Bouts were limited to five three minute rounds separated with two minute breaks. Contestants had to wear international-style gloves and trunks (always red or blue) and their feet were taped - to this day no shoes are worn. There are 16 weight divisions in Thai boxing, ranging from mini-flyweight to heavyweight, with the welterweight division (67kg maximum). As in international style boxing, matches take place on a 7.3 sq. m canvas covered floor with rope retainers supported by four padded posts, rather than the traditional dirt circle. In spite of these concessions to safety, today all surfaces of the body are still considered fair targets and any part of the body except the head may be used to strike an opponent. Common blows include high kicks to the neck, elbow thrusts to the face and head, knee hooks to the ribs and low kicks to the calf, a contestant can even grasp the opponents head and pull down to meet an upward knee thrust. Punching is considered the weakest of all blows and kicking merely a way to 'soften up' one's opponent: Knee and elbow strikes are decisive in most matches. In some areas of the country a pre-1920's version of Muay Thai still exists. In North-Eastern Thailand Muay Boaran is a very ritualised from that resembles tai qi chuan or classical dance in its adherence to set moves and routines. In pockets of Southern-Thailand, fighters practising katchii still bind their hands in hemp. And each year around the lunar new year (Songkhran) in April, near the town of Mae Sot on the Thai-Myanmar border, a top Thai fighter challenges a Burmese fighter of similar class from the other side of the Moei River to a no-holds, hemp-fisted battle that ends only after one of the opponents wipes blood from his body.

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