The art of Muay Thai differs from most martial arts and forms of self-defence; not only fists are allowed, also feet, knees and elbows may be used. That’s why Muay Thai is often called “The Art of the Eight Limbs”.
Most Muay Thai fighters are known for their wide range of devastating kicks, which mainly stems from their power to preserve the ideal balance in posture and footwork and rotating using their whole body. Another important feature is the use of the knees. The main difference, however, is the use of the elbows, perhaps the most dangerous addition.
In earlier times Muay Thai was perhaps even more dangerous and more exciting to watch than it is now. Before using boxing gloves, fighters wrapped their fists with strands of untreated hemp. The remains were then put between the knuckles and the rope as extra protection and hardening for the knuckles. A very strong protection for the hand that can also cause extra damage to the opponent in case of impact. At the time there were fewer rules, even headbutts were allowed. This variant is known as Kard Chuek.
Current Muay Thai fights comply to more regulations. For instance, you can only fight with boxing gloves of at least 6oz, a mouthguard is mandatory, and men have to wear a groin guard. There’s one referee in the ring and three outside the ring keeping score and time. It’s also mandatory to have a doctor present. Fights last a maximum of 5 rounds with a 2-minute rest between them. If after five rounds, there’s no (technical) knockout, the points of the judges are final in depicting the winner. Points are scored on the head, body and legs, as long as it’s by the use of hands, elbows, knees, shins or feet. It’s also possible to "clinch” the opponent; embracing the opponent and using knees and elbows to fight from this short range or by throwing the opponent against the canvas.
Before each fight, fighters perform a Wai Kru. This is a ceremony to show respect and gratitude to their parents and trainers who taught them everything. The ceremony serves to observe the opponent's tactics, warm up the boxers, and reduce stress and tension before a fight. After the ceremony the fight can begin. During the ceremony, fighters wear a Mongkhon. A Mongkhon is a traditional Thai headgear given to a fighter by a trainer who deems his trainee experienced enough for a fight. During the Wai Kru and the fight, traditional Thai music is played on drums and a Pee Chawa. This uplifting music brings both fighters and audience into “higher spheres” and will stay with you for a lifetime after hearing it for the very first time!
When you visit Bangkok, we’d highly recommend you buy tickets for Rajadamnern Stadium, New Lumpinee Boxing Stadium or the Channel 7 Boxing Stadium, so you can feel how deeply rooted Muay Thai is, in Thai culture.
The unique high level of Thai fighters, combined with the history and tradition of the sport, has, over the years, appealed to many foreign fighters from all martial arts disciplines. Many of them coming to Thailand to (further) develop their Muay Thai skills, some staying for years of training, participating in countless fights. Some, by return in their homeland, setting up their own gyms, increasing Muay Thai’s popularity and helping it to be considered amongst the most respected martial arts worldwide.