Muay Thai is practiced mostly in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, and is Thailand's national sport. This form of martial art is referred to as 'The Art of Eight Limbs', as the hands, feet, elbows, and knees are used to a great extent. Muay Thai has evolved from Muay Boran, which means ancient boxing. Muay Boran is an unarmed fight performed by Siamese soldiers with a weapon-based style called Krabi Krabong. The art progressed extremely during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), and was conceived as a source of physical exercise, self-defense, recreation, and personal advancement. Nai Khanom Tom was the most popular legendary Muay Thai fighter. March 17 is celebrated as Boxer's Day or National Muay Thai Day, in his and the art's honor.
This martial art involves some stand-up grappling or clinch for both attacking and defending purposes. Before starting the fight, opponents exchange bows with each other. The techniques are categorized as Mae Mai (major techniques) and Luk Mai (minor techniques). It utilizes the entire body movement; rotating the hip with every punch, kick, and block. Rotation of the hips and focus on the abdominal muscles sets it apart from other forms of martial art.
Punches (Chok): Punch techniques are quite simple and executed in series, not in singles. Thai pads, punching bags or heavy bags are used for practicing punches. Proper coordination is required between breathing, contraction, and expansion of the muscles, to bring out maximum effect of punches. Basic punches are; jab punch (Mud Trong), straight or cross punch (Mud Dhrong), hook punch (Mud Wjang San), uppercut (Mud Seub), undercut (Mud Hook), and swing punch (Mud Wjang Yao).
Elbow (Tee Sok) Strikes: They are used for counter-attacks and defense against knees, punches, body kicks, etc. There are three basic elbow strikes; side strike, downward strike, and upward strike. The main target is the head, and power is generated by rotating the body. While practicing, the right elbow strike should be followed by the left elbow strike and vice versa. When the distance between the opponents is less, elbow strikes are the most formidable weapon in Muay Thai boxing. Few other elbow strike techniques are side-strike elbow, circular elbow, straight uppercut elbow (Sok Ngud), elbow Chop (Sok Sub), spinning elbow (Sok Glub), horizontal elbow (Sok Tud), mid-air elbow strike (Gra-dode Sok), forward elbow thrust (Sok Poong), elbow slash (Sok Tee), etc.
Kicks (Teh): The kicks are piercing, and executed as if to chop the opponent. They are different from other kicking techniques, as there are no snap kicks. Kicks are performed by standing on the tiptoes of the supporting leg. Putting the body weight into the kick, rotating the hips and contracting the muscles gives more speed and power to the kick. The boxers should practice kicks on the leather kicking bags, as it helps to develop a hard shin. Straight kick (Dhe Dhrong), roundhouse kick (Teh Tud), diagonal kick ( Teh Chiang), spinning heel kick (Teh Glub Lang), ax heel kick (Teh Khao) jumping round kick (Gra-Dode Dhe), etc., are some common Muay Thai kicks.
Knee Techniques: Basic knee techniques are; straight knee (Kao Tone), jumping knee (Kao Dode), small knee (Kao Nui), rabbit knee (Kao Kratai), farewell knee (Kao La), lower knee (Kao Lod), and flying knee (Kao Loi).
Foot-thrust Techniques (Theep): Also known as 'Push Kicks', this technique gets the opponent off-balance. Straight foot-thrust (Teep Kang), sideways foot-thrust (Teep Kang), reverse foot-thrust (Teep Glub Lang), slapping foot-thrust (Teep Dhob), jumping foot-thrust (Gra-Dode Teep), etc., are some popular thrust techniques in this form.
Clinch: This is the most important and toughest technique of Muay Thai. In a clinch, you control your opponent by locking his arms or neck in a clinch and knock him to the ground. Both knee and elbow techniques are used in a clinch. In this technique, the fighter presses his forearms against the opponent's collarbone, and his hands are around the latter's head. To get out of a clinch, opponent can push the fighter's head backward, elbow him or can swim underneath his arm. Other variants of clinch include, arm clinch, side clinch, low clinch, and swan-neck.
Defense Techniques: While defending; shoulders, elbows, arms, and knees are used to obstruct the opponent's attacking techniques. Defense techniques are divided in six categories; blocking, redirection, avoidance, evasion, disruption, anticipation. Some basic defense tactics are:
- Blow lock kick: To block the kick, the opponent should come up high on his toes and block the kick with his upper shin.
- Block body kick: The opponent must raise his knee higher so that, his knee and elbow touches; creating a wall of bone for the attacker.
- Defense against Teep: When the attacker throws a teep, the opponent should slip his body away from the attack and try to catch the attacker's ankle.
- Cross block: When the attacker throws a kick, the opponent should come up high on his toes and block the cross. The opponent's right leg should block the right kick and vice versa.
- Grab leg from body kick: When the attacker round kicks the opponent's body side, the latter should step away and catch the attacker's leg. At the same time, with his other hand, the opponent should protect his shin.
- Grab knee and turn: In this, when the attacker throws a side knee strike, opponent should grab him under his thigh with one hand and the other hand should go across the attacker's neck. The opponent should pull with the hand, holding the attacker's neck, and raise the arm which is holding the leg, making the attacker off- balance.
- Turning from the back: When the attacker clinches, the opponent should grab him around the waist and step his right leg behind the attacker's left leg, pulling him backward over the knee and making him fall heavily.
Blocks: Blocking the opponents attacking techniques is an important element in Muay Thai, that every practitioner should learn. Low and mid body round kicks can be blocked with the upper portion of the raised shin. Mid section round kicks can also be pinned down by giving a counter-attack to the remaining leg of the opponent. Hooks are normally trapped by raising the elbow forward and shielding the head with the forearm, flexed biceps, and shoulder. High body strikes are blocked with the forearm, glove, elbow, and shin. Punches can be blocked by using the ordinary boxing guard techniques.
Training: Before learning the different techniques, body conditioning is essential, which involves physical fitness and toughness. Training includes running, rope jumping, body weight resistance exercises, abdominal exercises and shadowboxing, as guided by a coach. These exercises are practiced on Thai pads, heavy bags, sparring and focus mitts. The pad and heavy bag training involves practicing punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes. The practitioner should wear thick pads to protect his forearms and hands. Sparring includes close fighting, clinching and kneeing. Focus mitts are mainly used to practice counter-attacks and elbow strikes. They are also helpful to increase the fighters speed, timings and punching power.
Most of the traditional techniques are related to stories from the, Ramakien,Thailand's national epic. These stories are exciting, thrilling, and contain heroism, magic, martial arts, and adventure. The boxers carry a picture of Hanuman (a character in Ramakien-Ramas the great warrior) along with the scared khom script, as it brings luck during the fights. Some of the traditional techniques are:
- Pra Rama Nao Sorn: In this technique, as the opponent advances into a clinch, the boxer grabs the opponent around the neck with both hands and pulls sharply to deliver a straight knee into the opponent's face.
- Pra Rama Yieb Longka: The boxer springs up in the air above his opponent, with one foot landing on the opponent's thigh and the other on his shoulder, and delivers a downward elbow strike on the opponent's head.
- Choraked Faad Hang: This technique is similar to the way a crocodile whips his tail. The boxer attacks with a high round kick and the opponent leans back to avoid it; the former spins his body so as to strike the latter's neck nape with his heel.
- Pra Rama Nao Sorn: In this technique, the opponent attacks the boxer's head with a double elbow strike; the boxer blocks it, by raising his forearm and delivers an uppercut punch to the opponent's solar plexus.
- Bata Loop Pak: In this technique, the boxer gives a front kick on the opponent's face. This is very insulting in Thai culture, as it is rude to show someone the soles.
Muay Thai is one of the most well-known and popular styles of martial art. This art form is dangerous, but enables one to knock out any opponent with one well-placed strike.