Muay Thai can be referred to as the “art of eight limbs” because it makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight “points of contact”, as opposed to “two points” (fists) in Western boxing and “four points” (hands and feet) used in sport-orientated martial arts. A practitioner of Muay Thai can be known as nak muay. Western practitioners are sometimes called nak muay farang meaning foreign boxer.
Muay Thai could be said to be unique to Thailand, though the basic forms of this style of martial art may be found historically in Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Vietnam. In Thailand, Muay Thai is said to have evolved from Muay Boran, an unarmed combat method that could have been used by Siamese soldiers after losing their weapons in battle. It can also be argued that the ancient Siamese military created Muay Thai from the weapon-based art of Krabi Krabong, but at the same time the possibility that the two were merely developed alongside each other cannot be ruled out.
As well as being a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, it is believed Muay Thai practitioners would compete in from of spectators for entertainment. Eventually, the previously bare-fisted fighters started wearing lengths of hemp rope around their hands and forearms.
History suggests Muay Thai became a possible means of personal advancement as the nobility increasingly esteemed skilful practitioners of the art. Some fighters may even have been selected to live in the royal palace to teach Muay to the staff of the royal household, soldiers, princes or the king’s personal guards sometime dring the Ayutthaya period, which is generally accepted as being from 1350-1767, a platoon of royal guards was established. Their duty was to protect kings and country and they were known as Grom Nak Muay (Muay Fighter’s Regiment). This royal patronage of Muay Thai continued through the regns of Rama V and VII.
The ascension of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a golden age not only for Muay Thai but for the whole country of Thailand. It is accepted that Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a drect result of the king’s personal interest in the art. Masters of the art began teaching Muay Thai in training camps where students were provided with food and shelter. Trainees could be treated as one family and it was customary for students to adopt the camp’s name as their own surname.
Codified rules for Muay Thai were put into place around the turn of the 20th Century. Thailand’s first boxing ring was built in 1921 at Suan Kularp. Referees were introduced and rounds were now timed by clock. Fighter at the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium began wearing modern gloves during training and in boxing matches against foreigners. It was also around this time that the term Muay Thai became commonly used while the older form of the style was referred to as Muay Boran. With the success of Muay Thai in mixed martial arts, as it has now become the de facto martial art of choice for competitive stand-up fighters.