History of thai/kickboxing
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- The Thai name for this form of fighting is "Muay Thai" and many times in the Western world, we simply refer to "Muay Thai" as "thaiboxing". Kicks, punches, knees and elbows are used in combinations with the purpose of knocking your opponent out (or to win by on points if it is a sanctioned fight with a referee and judges.) In most of the Western world, as a competitive sport, elbows are excluded because of the extent of damage to the opponent. In Thailand it is allowed. Boxing gloves are the only protection (as well as a "cup") used. Thaiboxing goes by the Thai name in the U.S. and is known as "Muay Thai" which includes low kicks and knees in the competitive form and excludes elbows. The professional form of Muay Thai in USA is just about as common as the amateur. Even as a, so called, "amateur" it is actually possible to make more money than as a professional depending on what deal you are able to get from the promoter of the organization you are fighting in since several "amateur" organizations in the U.S. pay their fighters just as if they were professional


European definition: Kicks above the waist only. Pads are usually used to protect shinbones and feet. Headgear are used in most organizations. It is a common misconception that the pads protect the opponent - they don't. The pads just makes it able for the fighters to attack eachother with lesser risk of personal injury on legs and feet, therefore making the power of impact a lot greater than if the fighters don't wear them. It also depends on what organization that sanctions the fight, and what rules that apply to this organization's particular standards.

American definition: Kicks above the waist only. The use of headgear and pads is entirely up to the organization sanctioning the fight. There is no use of pads or head gear in most organizations that sanction full contact fighting today, and for both spectators and fighters the line between professional version and amateur is very fine. PKA kickboxing (Professional Karate Association) made it's mark in American Martial Arts history with world class fighters such as Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. After PKA and other similar organizations disappeared, Muay Thai has dominated the American full contact scene.

Japanese definition: The merge between karate, muay thai and kickboxing - the fighting form known as "K-1" - is behind the Japanese definition of "kickboxing". What Americans refer to as "Muay Thai", which Europeans call "thaiboxing" - the Japanese simply refer to as: "kickboxing" - the fightingform which has since 1993 been spearheaded by the K-1 organization and the Seidokaikan Karate. The rules are very similar to American "Muay Thai", except that the referee usually breaks up the clinch very fast in the K-1. "Clinch fighting" is one of the trademarks of the sport in Thailand, where the fight sometimes remind more of stand up wrestling with knee strikes, than kickboxing. Elbows are also excluded from the K-1 rules - the large size and heavy weight of the combattants makes the power of impact of the elbow technique to severe, and because of the injury-factor, most fighters would be unable to fight tournament formats if this was allowed, or even finish a single match. In Thailand it's common to cut your opponent open with elbows during the bouts, and if this would be allowed in the K-1, it is likely that the fighters would be unable to continue to fight in most cases.

The history of Muay Thai is the history of the Thai people

When the Burmese army sacked and razed Ayuddhaya to the ground, the archives of Thai history were lost. With them, much of the early history of Muay Thai also went.

The little we do know, comes from the writings of the Burmese, Cambodian, early European visitors and some of the chronicles of the Lanna Kingdom - Chiangmai.

What all sources agree on, is that Muay Thai began as a close combat battlefield fighting skill. More deadly than the weapons it replaced.

As to where Muay Thai came from, its evolution, the sources aren't clear and often contradict each other. But there are two main theories.

One says that the art developed as the Thai people moved down from China; honed in the struggle for land. The other theory says that the Thai people were already here and that Muay Thai developed to defend the land and people from constant invasion threats.

The second, while controversial, has considerable academic backing and archaeological evidence. The first is, however, possible as the area opened up to the early pioneers.

What is known is that Muay Thai was an essential part of Thai culture right from its dawn. And in Thailand, it's the sport of kings.

In olden days, national issues were decided by Muay Thai contests.

The first great upsurge of interest in Muay Thai as a sport, as well as a battlefield skill, was under King Naresuan in 1584, a time known as the Ayuddhaya period. During this period, every soldier trained in Muay Thai and could use it, as the King himself did. Slowly Muay Thai moved away from its root in the 'Chupasart' and new fighting techniques were evolving.

The change in the art was to continue under another fighting King - Prachao Sua - the Tiger King. He loved Muay Thai so much that he often fought incognito in village contests, beating the local champions. During the reign of the Tiger King the nation was at peace. The King, to keep the army busy, ordered it to train in Muay Thai. The interest in the sport was already high but now it took off yet again.

Thai Boxing became the favourite sport and pastime of the people, the army and the King. Historical sources show that people from all walks of life flocked to training camps. Rich, poor, young and old all wanted some of the action. Every village staged its prize fights and had its champions. Every bout became a betting contest as well as a contest of local pride. The betting tradition has remained with the sport and today large sums are wagered on the outcome of fights.

Thai boxing has always been popular but like most sports, there have been times when it was more in fashion. In the reign of King Rama V, many Muay Thai matches were Royal Command fights. These boxers were rewarded with military titles from the King. Today the titles, like Muen Muay Mee Chue from Chaiya or Muen Muay Man Mudh from Lopburi are virtually untranslatable. They mean something comparable to Major of Boxing. At the time they were much prized and respected titles.

The Rama V period was another golden age for Muay Thai. Boxing camps were set up, talent scouts - at Royal Command - recruited potential boxers from up country. Match makers began to make the great matches which were fought for big prizes and honour. This thrilled the people then as much as the main bouts do today at the Bangkok boxing stadiums.

The matches then were not fought in a ring as we know it today - for Muay Thai that is a recent innovation. Any available space of the right size was used, a courtyard, a village clearing.

It wasn't till the reign of King Rama VI that the standard ring surrounded by ropes came into use, as did time keeping by the clock. Before this period, time keeping was done by floating a pierced coconut shell on a boat of water. When the coconut piece sank, a drum signalled the end of the round.

Muay Thai has always been a sport for the people as well as a military fighting skill. In all its golden ages, the people have trained and practiced the sport whether they were King or commoner. It was a part of the school curriculum right up to the 1920's when it was withdrawn because it was felt that the injury rate was too high. The people however, continued to study it in gyms and clubs just as they do today.

For centuries the army fostered Muay Thai. Soldiers have trained and used the techniques for as long as there has been an army in Thailand. For the military it has always been the close combat fighting skill, the martial art of the battlefield. When a Thai soldier fights hand to hand he uses Muay Thai. But then so does every Thai person, male or female. Watching it, learning it, copying it is a part of Thai childhood. It always has been.

The people have always followed the sport and have been instrumental in moving it from the battlefield to the ring. They have been as much a part of making it a sport as have the Kings. One of the prime movers in transforming the sport was the Tiger King, who not only influenced fighting styles but also the equipment.

During the reign of the Tiger King, the hands and forearms began being bound with strips of horse hair. This was to serve a dual purpose - protect the fighter and inflict more damage on the opponent. Later, these were replaced by hemp ropes or starched strips of cotton. For particular challenge matches and with the fighters agreement, ground glass was mixed with glue and spread on the strips.

The changes that the sport has undergone have been changes to equipment used rather than radical change. For example, Thai fighters have always worn groin guards. A kick or knee to the groin was a perfectly legal move up until the 1930's. In the early days, the protection was made from tree bark or sea shells held in place with a piece of cloth tied between the legs and around the waist.

The groin guard later became a triangular shaped pillow, red or blue, tied around the waist with a through strap between the legs.

The pillow went, after a boxer on a trip to Malaysia saw a groin box. He came back with the idea, which is close to the original idea of the sea shell and since then, Muay Thai fighters have used them.

The 1930's saw the most radical change in the sport. It was then that it was codified and today's rules and regulations were introduced. Rope bindings of the arms and hands were abandoned and gloves took their place.

This innovation was also in response to the growing success of Thai Boxers in international boxing.

Along with the introduction of gloves, came weight classes based on the international boxing divisions. These and other innovations - such as the introduction of five rounds - substantially altered the fighting techniques that the boxers used causing some of them to disappear.

Before the introduction of weight classes, a fighter could and did fight all comers regardless of size and weight differences. However, the introduction of the weight classes meant that the fighters were more evenly matched and instead of there being one champion, there became one for each weight class.

Most Muay Thai fighters belong to the lighter weight classes. Seventy percent of all fighters belong to the fly and bantam weight divisions. There are welterweight and middleweight fights but they are not seen that often and the heavier categories seldom fight.

The establishment of stadiums, instead of makeshift rings and courtyards, began during the reign of Rama VII before the Second World War. During the war, they gradually disappeared but mushroomed again soon afterwards - Muay Thai had not lost any of its appeal. The boxers from up-country once again headed toward fame and fortune in Bangkok.

The glory could be found at stadiums like Rajdamnern and Lumpinee. Later, they fought in full colour fury on television. Thailand's Channel 7 started broadcasting the fights in colour over 20 years ago. Today all four Thai television stations broadcast free to millions of Muay Thai fans throughout Thailand - four nights a week.

The battle art has evolved into a popular sport. Ruled, codified and now with five three minute rounds, each with a two minute recovery period between rounds.

Those old timers around today who fought before the second world war, lament the changes bought about by the standardisation of the sport. The three minute round and weight classes has, they say, changed the sport as they remembered it.

"We had to fight all comers," one recalls. "Had to know all the tricks of the trade. We used strikes and techniques these fighters haven't even been taught. We didn't have these breaks and instead fought 'till one of us dropped."

They are also right. Muay Thai has changed across the years. Changed and evolved from a battlefield close quarters killing ground technique based on a fighting tradition passed on from generation to generation up to the present time.

But despite the changes of history, Muay Thai has lost none of its exotic appeal and even mystique. Muay Thai is still the fighting art to beat. The fighting art that defeats all challenges from Kung Fu, Karate, Taekwando and the latest kickboxing fashions. They have all come to Thailand, not just once but many times and from many places to test themselves.

Muay Thai has lost none of its appeal in Thailand. The television fight broadcasts rate among the Kingdom's most popular programmes.

In the provinces, villages cluster around any available TV to watch. In the city, people disappear from the streets while Thailand is watching Muay Thai.

Thai Boxing is also becoming increasingly popular outside of Thailand. It has its enthusiasts and practitioners in the Americas, Australia, Japan, Europe, as well as in many other countries around the world.

The mix of karate, western style kickboxing and muay thai is today practiced and competed in a form we now now as: "K-1". The system of rules being slightly different from classic Muay Thai. As an example; therefore the use of the "thai-clinch" is not as applicable under K-1 rules and more distance fighting is practiced. This leads to even greater damage and impact on the fighters and K-1 has become known for its 80-90% knock out ratio = most K-1 fights do not end by win on points, they end up in K.O. - knock out.

Groundbreaking fighting legends like Andy Hug and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez made the crossover from Karate to Muay Thai and kickboxing. So was the new, revised form of Muay Thai born which included spinning and jumping techniques that are not usually a part of Muay Thai, but have been proven just as effective as the classic techniques used by the thaifighters for centuries.

The illustrious history of Muay Thai will continue as it receives greater recognition and gains in international popularity. The K-1 fights are not only on Japanese TV anymore, they are being shown on national TV in America (ESPN) and on standard cable in Europe (Euro Sport)


Source: World Muay Thai Council with additional text by Fredrik Hjelm