Muay Thai

What Is Muay Thai?

With the rise of the MMA and UFC, new fighting styles are now competing with traditional boxing for the attention of the public. One unique fighting style which goes back centuries and is not associated with MMA comes from Thailand and is called Muay Thai.

A combat sport which uses the arms and legs as weapons, Muay Thai is a sport that is related to the fighting styles from Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Tomoi, and even has some influence from India. However, Muay Thai is unique and has grown in worldwide popularity thanks in large part to the success of Thai fighters who participate in kickboxing.

Although similar in appearance, Muay Thai is unique, brutal, and has built a strong following in Southeast Asia which is now spreading around the world. To understand Muay Thai, it is important to look at the history of the sport, its techniques, and influence on other sports.

History Of Muay Thai

Muay Thai goes back at least three centuries. When the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma came into conflict with Siam during the mid-1700s, Nai Khanomtom, a famous fighter from Siam was captured. His unique boxing skills were so impressive, especially after knocking out ten Burmese fighters in a row, that they released him in 1767. His fighting methods were called Siamese Style, which later became Muay Thai. It was not long before it became a national sport.

Muay THai Hsitory Carvings

Information about the early days of Muay Thai is scant. It may have been a fighting style used in warfare or restricted to sports, there is no way to be sure. What is known is that after Nai Khanomtom became famous for his fighting techniques, they spread across Siam and were performed at festivals and celebrations, particularly at temples where such observations took place.

Before Muay Thai, bare-fisted fighting was a popular form of sports which evolved more into the Muay Thai style. Fighters began wearing hemp rope around their hands and arms for protection. What is known is that the style was not only popular at events but was also part of the military training for the forces of Siam during this era.

By the 19th century, the sport had reached a peak in the country, not only for the events, but it was used as exercise, self-defense, and even personal advancement. Muay Thai was not only a combat sport, but a way of life for many people. That evolved further into the 20th century when Suan Kulap College introduced the western or British style of boxing. This is when the term “Muay Thai” was first formally used.

King Rama VII created a new series of rules and protection for the fighters, which included gloves and cups to protect the groin area. The gloves replaced the ropes to provide additional protection and soften the blows inflicted which resulted in fewer injuries and deaths. As Muay Thai developed, the older form of the sport was called Muay Boran to distinguish it from the former.

Despite the British influence, Muay Thai remained mostly regulated to Thailand until the early 1990s when the International Federation of Muay Thai Amateur was formed. As the formal regulation of Muay Thai continued, it expanded its reach around the world, encompassing 70 countries by the turn of the 21st century. With thousands of gyms around the world teaching Muay Thai, the sport today is now bigger than ever.

Hints of the past are still found in some of the traditions of Muay Thai. For example, the headband (mongkol) and armbands (pra jiad) are worn into the ring before the match begins. They represent the time when Thailand was in a constant state of war. The bands represent the clothing of loved ones worn for good luck.

Today, the mongkol usually represents the gym where the fighter trains. It is removed before the bout and placed in the corner again for good luck. Many Muay Thai fighters will have a Buddhist monk bless the mongkol at some point before the match begins.

Fighting Style

The “Art of Eight Limbs” as Muay Thai is called comes from the eight points of contact that is used in this fighting style. This consists of the fists, elbows, knee strikes, and kicks compared to the four points of kickboxing and two points of traditional boxing.  The techniques that are used in Muay Thai are divided into major and minor groups.

Despite the division and origins of Muay Thai, it does have similarities with other fighting styles, including boxing and kickboxing. However, the overall approach of Muay Thai is significantly different, which is why learning the craft may take years of practice. What follows is a breakdown of the eight points of contact for Muay Thai.


You’ll find many of the punches used in Muay Thai are similar to what you find in boxing, such as the jab, cross, uppercut, and corkscrew punches. In addition, Muay Thai uses back fists, hammer fists, and other punches more associated with kickboxing or mixed martial arts. One difference is that body punching, a familiar technique in boxing, is used less in Muay Thai because it drops the hands which exposes the head.


The elbow can be used in numerous ways to strike the opponent. From horizontal to diagonal strikes to uppercuts, back-spinning, and even flying, the elbow is often used to cut or to finish off a wounded opponent. The elbows are also defensive weapons, used most often to block the knees of an opponent from striking. Because of the impact, the elbow is considered the most dangerous type of attack.


There are different types of kicks in Muay Thai, but the two most common are called the “thip” or foot jab which is less impactful, but good at judging the distance of the opponent and setting up other strikes. And, the “te chiang” or roundhouse kick, used most often to finish off an opponent with one strike. What is different about the kicks compared to many kickboxing techniques is that the shin is used as the striking surface, not the foot. This is because it is easier to damage the bones in the foot compared to the shin, which is prepared for striking thanks to the training used on heavy bags.

Knee Strikes:

There are different types of strikes that involve the knee with each type denoted by its direction. There is the straight, curving, diagonal, and horizontal which are the most common. A variation is the knee strike to the face when the head of the opponent is being held down. Knee strikes carry considerable impact, although usually not as much as a roundhouse kick.

Defense In Muay Thai

There are six basic types of defensive maneuvers in Muay Thai, many of which are superficially similar to boxing or kickboxing. The first type is anticipating the move of the opponent and striking or countering before it has a chance to develop. For example, a foot jab or thip can be used in anticipation of a roundhouse kick to change the distance and thus avoid the impact. Other types of defensive moves include the following;

  • Parry
  • Block
  • Avoid
  • Evade
  • Disrupt

The basic defensive techniques used are designed to protect the fighter while potentially setting up a counterattack. For example, parrying a blow can be used alone or as part of a maneuver which strikes a now vulnerable opponent. Basic blocks are designed to stop an attack while avoiding and evading techniques are used to put the opponent out of position when striking.

Other Muay Thai Techniques

In addition to the strikes, there are other techniques that are used in Muay Thai which separates it from traditional boxing or kickboxing. For example, clinching is usually broken up in boxing and kickboxing while in Muay Thai, such grappling techniques are allowed to continue. The clinching is often used to set up a strike if the correct technique is used.

For example, pressing against the collar bone of an opponent with the hands around the head instead of the neck is acceptable. Other legal clinches include the arm, side, and behind the neck to stop an opponent from striking. The referee is there to break illegal clinches and enforce the rules and timing of each bout. They also have the power to stop the match if by their judgment one fighter has had enough.

Ring Career In Muay Thai

Because Muay Thai fighters undergo a rigorous training schedule and fight frequently, almost every other week is typical, the career is relatively short on average. After a few years, most Muay Thai fighters will retire, and many will train others in the sport. While many who participate will earn an income to support their families, only a few become famous enough to garner fame and fortune. 

Carrer for Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a sport which is centuries-old yet continues to evolve with the introduction of new fighters into the sport. It is not surprising given the level of conditioning required for Muay Thai that it has become a popular form of exercise in which the techniques are practiced without the combat occurring.