In these modern times, martial arts are more a form of exercise, a type of self defense and a sporting event. These ancient combat arts, however, were created to help soldiers in battle. Muay Thai, now such a staple of mixed martial arts fighting, was created for use on the battlefield.
Muay Thai is an effective fighting skill in mixed martial arts because it combines both striking and clinching techniques. This versatile fighting art utilizes punching and kicking, as well as knee and elbow strikes. Because of the variety of skills used in Muay Thai fighting, it is effective now as an MMA technique and was effective in ancient times on the battlefield.
In its most ancient form, Muay Thai was known as muay boran. This art was an excellent battlefield defense. When a soldier lost his weapon, he would use muay boran fighting instead. This was sometimes even more deadly than a conventional weapon.
Eventually muay boran became what is now known as Muay Thai. By the 1500s, Siamese soldiers were all trained with muay boran or Muay Thai skills. Muay Thai was even a recognized way to settle political disagreements or settle other national issues.
After the 1767 battle of Ayutthaya, Burmese soldiers captured this ancient Siamese capital and rounded up thousands of Thai soldiers. During a Burmese festival, the king decided to have one of these Thai prisoners use Muay Thai in a fight against Burmese fighters who would use the Burmese martial art of lethwei. The Thai fighter, Nai Khnanomtom, began his fight with a dance to honor his ancestors. After Nai Khanomtom handily defeated the Burmese fighter, the King declared the match invalid because he thought the pre-fight dance was black magic and distracted the Burmese fighter. So he paired the Thai fighter up against nine more seasoned Burmese fighters. Nai Khanomtom easily defeated all of these fighters, and this incident is a huge part of Thai martial arts folklore.
As might be expected, Thailand’s kings were often huge proponents of Muay Thai. During his short, but peaceful rule in the early 18th Century, King Pra Chao Sua insisted that all soldiers be trained in Muay Thai. He would even sneak out of his palace and take part in Muay Thai bouts secretly, often beating popular local opponents. King Rama V was another monarch that enjoyed Muay Thai. Those fighters who won royal bouts were given military titles as their prize. Following him, King Rama VI was the first leader to propose that rules and some safety requirements be put into place, as deaths were fairly common. Referees, gloves and foot coverlets were added as safety measures during this time.
With its versatility, Muay Thai gained popularity worldwide and then found a huge place in the MMA arena. Today many seasoned MMA fighters, including champions such as Muaricio Rua and Cristiane Santos, utilize Muay Thai fighting skills in their bouts with great success.