Thai Boxing or Muay Thai is a combat sport which primarily uses stand-up striking combined with various clinching techniques. This particular discipline is known as the “art of eight limbs”, as it is characterised by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins. Muay Thai gained worldwide prominence in the 20th to 21st century, when practitioners from the Western world began competing in kickboxing and mixed-rules matches as well as matches under Muay Thai rules around the world.

Muay Thai’s origin can be traced back to the 16th century as a peace-time martial art; it was practised by the soldiers of King Naresuan. Simon de la Loubère – a French diplomat, sent by King Louis XIV to Kingdom of Siam in 1967 – reported in his famous work Ayutthaya Kingdom Burmese-Siamese War (1765-1767.

Muay Thai was known by many different names, Muay boran thus Muay Thai and others including toi muay or just muay. Muay Thai known for its practicality in fighting techniques and also in actual warfare, it eventually became a sport in which the opponents fought in front of live spectators for entertainment.

Muay Thai fighting gradually became an important part of local festivals and celebrations, in particular those held in temples. The fighters who would otherwise fight bare-fisted began to wear lengths of hemp rope around their hands and forearms, and this kind of matches came to be known as muay khat cheak (มวยคาดเชือก).

During the reign of King Chulalonkorn (Rama V) Muay Thai enjoyed much more popularity. This was due to Rama V’s personal interest in the sport. As the country was at peace and gaining prosperity Muay Thai became a means of exercise, self-defence, attacking, and recreation.

Furthermore, from 1909-1910, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) formalised Muay Boran (ancient boxing) by awarding three muen (1910) to victors at the funeral fights for his son (1909). The region style: Lopburi, Korat and Chaiya. In 1913, Suan Kulap College included British boxing their curriculum, and the very first descriptive use of the term “Muay Thai”. This was furthered in 1919, by combining both British boxing and Muay into one sport in the curriculum of the Suan Kulap College, and by 1921, the first permanent ring in Siam at Kuan Kulap College was used for both of the sports. During this period Muay Thai gained prominence as a serious martial art, and thus its world wide acceptance gained traction. Since then it has become of the most popular forms of martial arts and self-defence sports around the world.

Important dates of Muay Thai’s recognition
and progress in the world of sport:

  • 1923 – Muay and British boxing, first international style three-rope ring with blue padded corners was held in Suan Sanuk Stadium.
  • King Rama VII (r.1925-1935) put in place codified rules for Muay including referees and also rounds were timed by kick. Thereafter, the first boxing ring in Thailand was built in 1921 at Suan Kulap. During this period fighters at the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium began wearing modern gloves, and hard groin protectors whilst training and in matches against foreigners. The traditional rope-binding (khat chueak) hardened the hands and made them more dangerous of a striking tool. The use of knots in the rope over the knuckles made the strikes more abrasive and damaging for opponent while protecting the hands of the fighter. This rope-binding was still being used amongst Thai fighters, however, after the tragic death of a fighter it was changed to wearing gloves and cotton coverlets over the feet and ankles. During this period the term “Muay Thai” became commonly used, while the former style of fighting came to be known as “Muay Boran”, now only performed primarily as an exhibition art form.
  • During the 80’s and 90’s the popularity of Muay Thai was sky-high. The best fighters commanded purses of up t0 200,000 baht, stadiums also drew huge spectators plus those stadiums which had license for gambling drew huge revenues along with advertising. In more recent times a superstar fighter can receive a payout of 100,000 baht per fight, but this can this can also range as high as 540,000 baht for a bout.
  • 1993, International Federation of Muaythai Amateur (IFMA) was formed and inaugurated as a governing body. It consisted of 128 member countries worldwide and also recognized by the Olympic Council of Asia.
  • 1995, World Muaythai Council, the oldest and largest professional sanctioning body of muay Thai. Established by the Thai government and sanctioned by the Sports Authority of Thailand.
  • Also in 1995, the World Muay Thai Federation was founded. This was a unification of two existing organizations in Bangkok, thus becoming the federation governing international muay Thai. By August 2012, the organization has over 70 member countries. The World Muay Thai Congress elects the president.
  • 2006, muay Thai was included in Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) with IFMA.  One of the requirements of GAISF is that no sport can have a country name associated with a sport, thus an amendment needed to be made with IFMA constitution to modify the name of the sport from “muay Thai” to “muaythai”-written as one word in accordance with Olympic requirements.
  • 2014, muay Thai was included in the International World Games Association (IWGA). And in 2017, it was in the official programme of The World Games in Wrocław, Poland.

2015, muay Thai was granted the patronage of the INternaitional University Sports Federation (FISU). During the same year, the first ever University Worild Muaythai Cup was held in Bangkok between 16th to 23rd March.

At present there are more than 3,800 Thai boxing gyms overseas. The most popular places where they produce muay Thai boxers are in Isan region, which is in the northwest. Most of the boxers from Srisaket, Buriram and Surin belong to the ethnic Kuy (Suai), Lao and Khemer tribes.

Those who are from the northwest area of the Khorat Plateau share similar traditions of religion, culture and linguistics with the Lao people that live on the other side of the Mekong River.

Those who speak Lao in the area call themselves “Khon Isan” and make up the majority of the population. Those who live in the southern part of the northeast region i.e. the Kuy (Suai) and Khmer have similar traditions and speak languages similar to the Cambodians.

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