Muay Thai

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Muay Thai
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Muay Thai, the national sport of Thailand, has been taking the world by storm. Many cities and even small towns have gyms dedicated solely to combat sport. It is practiced by competitive fighters training for time in a ring, individuals looking to learn self-defense and people looking for a fun way to get fit.

Brief Overview/Basic Philosophy:

Muay Thai kick poseThe name “Muay Thai” can be translated to “The Art of Eight Limbs.” Such a title is well-earned; this martial arts style uses hands, elbows, knees and shins to combat opponents. Strikes in the sport are hard and delivered with knock-out power.

Contrary to what some may believe, the sport is not about violence. Muay Thai has several core values, one of which is discipline. Fighters train for several hours a day, some training seven days a week. From a young age, Muay Thai practitioners are taught to have a respect for their opponent. It instills values of determination, respect and discipline in all of its students.

Muay Thai History and Origins:

Kumite_of_Motobu_ChokiLike most martial arts, Muay Thai has a history that can be dated back for centuries. In fact, there are records of it being used in the 16th century. In 1560 AD, Siamese soldiers were trained in Muay Thai. The King of Siam, King Nareusan, was regarded as one of the best unarmed fighters. In a battle with the country of Burma, he was taken prisoner. He was given the chance to fight for his freedom, and he used his unique combat skills to do just that. It wasn’t long after his victory that it became a national sport.

Instead of being a skill only soldiers learned, people of all classes began practicing Muay Thai. Fighters were often backed by businessmen and used to resolve disputes. They fought in a ring, a rope spread on the ground to form a circle or square. Fighters started to wear the traditional headbands and armbands that many Muay Thai practitioners still wear today. The fights became very popular throughout Thailand, and people would often gamble at the events.

In the 1700s, a period of peace in Thailand allowed people to focus more of their energy on practicing Muay Thai competitively. At first, there were no formal rules. Then, rounds were measured by time. There was no limit to the amount of rounds, and the fight wasn’t over until there was an obvious winner.

World War 1 gave the rest of the world exposure to Muay Thai. While Thai soldiers were stationed in France, there would be morale-boosting fights between Muay Thai fighters and French boxers. World War 2 gave the sport even more exposure; European and American soldiers alike learned the sport from the Thai soldiers. By the time the war ended, the sport was so popular that there was a need for strict rules. The Thai adopted weight classes, specific fighting rules and a system for championships. Many stadiums with rings were constructed and the sport became even more popular. Today, it is a globally practiced sport with a large following.

Training and Techniques:

Muay Thai has 8 points of offensive contact: 2 fists, 2 elbows, 2 knees, and 2 shins. People new to the martial art need to learn how the proper technique for punching, elbowing, kneeing, and kicking. All of the techniques in Muay Thai involve the whole body; each movement involves the proper footwork and hip rotation to get maximum power.

Punches and Elbows

Similar to other martial art styles, Muay Thai uses some basic punches. There are straight punches, hooks and uppercuts. As training progresses, practitioners are exposed to spinning backfists and overhand punches. Punches are usually thrown in combinations with kicks or knees.

Elbows can be even more damaging than punches. There are seven basic elbow strikes, each coming from a different direction. They are very effective from the clinch.

Kicks and Knees

Muay Thai competitionThere are many different kicking techniques in Muay Thai, but a few are more common than the rest. The roundhouse kick has been adapted by several other types of martial arts. To execute this kick, the hip must turn over. All of the power starts at the feet and travels up to the shin, and impact is made with the shin. This kick is powerful enough to knock someone out. It can be aimed low to attack an opponent’s legs, mid-level for a devastating body-shot, or high for a knock-out to the head.

The teep, another common kick, is less damaging but very effective. It is a front kick to the opponent’s midsection. It pushes an opponent back and prevents them from being able to come in and strike.

Knees are similar to elbows, in that they are usually most effective from close contact. There are many different knee techniques, but each involves using the hips to generate a powerful motion. Knees can be aimed at the thighs, midsection or even the head of an opponent.

The Clinch

The Thai Clinch is an important part of Muay Thai. Unlike regular boxing matches, Muay Thai fighters are allowed to maintain a clinch. They jockey for position and can throw devastating knee and elbow strikes from the clinch. With training in sweeps and other take-downs, Muay Thai fighters are allowed to use the clinch to drop an opponent to the ground.


Muay Thai techniques and kicksMuay Thai isn’t only about fighting. Training involves a great deal of conditioning. Kicking and punching is surprisingly exhausting, and a three minute Muay Thai match can feel like an eternity, even to someone in good shape. Strength and condition workouts are important to Muay Thai practitioners and can include everything from hill sprints to HIIT training.

Pad work and bag work are critical parts of the training regimen. Instructors will often hold pads for students, calling out combinations of strikes. Hitting the heavy bag is another way to improve technique and make the most of every strike. Most Muay Thai classes focus on pad work and bag training.

Sparring isn’t mandatory at most Muay Thai gyms. Not everyone is a fighter. However, even the fighters usually limit sparring to light contact. 16 oz gloves are worn to ensure that minimal damage is done. Many participants wear head gear and shin pads to further limit the chance of injury.


Muay Thai fighters in combatWhen a student is ready, they have the option to fight. For beginners, there are many amateur organizations throughout the world. The rules may vary, but fighters always fight in a weight class. Fights are held in a roped ring, for a set period of time and a set number of rounds. Some amateur promotions require that protective gear is worn, but others require only gloves.

Uniforms and Rankings:

Muay Thai is unique in that there is no traditional ranking system. In Thailand, a Muay Thai practitioner’s skill is measured by how well they fight. In other Western countries, some schools are developing their own color ranking systems.

When training, students do not wear a uniform. Thai shorts are comfortable shorts made specifically for Muay Thai fighters, and sometimes worn by students during training. However, they are not necessary. In traditional Muay Thai fights, there is also no specific uniform. Traditional fighters usually wear Thai shorts, an armband and a headband.

Organizations dedicated to the Style:

International Kickboxing Federation– Information about rules and regulations throughout the world. A list of world-wide related events.

United States Muay Thai Association– Links to fighter rankings, a directory of Muay Thai gyms and up-to-date news.

World Muay Thai Federation– An invaluable resource for amateur and professional fighters.

World Thai Boxing Association– A schedule of Muay Thai seminars and a place for Muay Thai students and teachers to learn from a video library.

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