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Muay Thai: A brief history

Here at Huddersfield Thai boxing we are proud that we train with a genuine Thai Master in Grand Master Sken. Understanding and knowing the past of Muay Thai is integeral to the way Grand Master Sken is shaping the future of Muay Thai, by re-invigorating and re-visiting the techniques and philosophies of the past to blend with modern ideas to make a fresh, new, complete martial art. What follows is a brief history of Thailand and its martial arts.

AD 650: The Thai people organized the independent kingdom of Nanchao. By 1000AD, however, the chinese had overrun Nanchao and made it a tributary state. In turn the Mongols under the rule of Kublai Khan destroyed the kingdom of Nanchao. By 1253AD the Khmer Empire was well established in the Chao Phrayer valley (named after the river which flows through central Thailand). The Thais captured the town of Sukhothai in north central Thailand, and a new Thai nation with its capital at Sukhothai soon developed. During this period King Rama Kamheng (1260-1350) extended power southwards to the sea and down the Malay peninsula and contact was made with the ancient civilisation of India.

Presently Thailand (Land of the free), formally Siam, has Bangkok as its capital. Occupying a central position on the southeastern peninsula, Thailand is bordered by Burma on the west, by Laos on the north and east, by Cambodia on the southeast and by the gulf of Siam and Malaysia on the south.

The 16th Century saw the beginning of warfare with Burma. In 1568 the Burmese captured Ayutthayar and dominated the country until 1585 when, after the death of Bayinnaung the Burmese King, Prince Naresuan of Siam reorganised an army and drove the Burmese from Siam to gain independence. Prince Naresuan and the crown Prince of Burma, who had known each other since childhood, finally engaged in combat astride the backs of armoured war elephants to determine the independence of Siam. After a ferocious battle Prince Naresuan cut the crown Prince in half from shoulder to waist. The Burmese army withdrew, giving independence to Siam. Later King Naresuan honoured the bravery of the crown Prince by erecting a shrine at the site of thebattle.

During the reign of King Naresuan the Great (1590-1605) Muay Thai was part of military training. The king himself was an expert on individual combat techniques and won several contests.

Muay Thai, as a sport came into its own during the reign of Pra Chao Sua, The Tiger King (1703-1709). Every village staged prize fights with young, old, rich and poor joining training camps. The King himself was a highly skilledboxer and wearing disguise he would enter boxing events and defeat local champions. Some of the stratergies used today are attributed to the Tiger Kings style of boxing.

In 1930 Muay Thai underwent a transformation. A number of rules were introduced. These included boxing gloves, groin gaurd and weight categories, making it a much more humane sport. A few years earlier fighters wore only hemp rope wrapped around theirhands and these were sometimes dipped in glue and then rolled in fragments of glass! 

An important part of Muay thai is the pre-fight ritual, the Ram Muay; a slow motion, ballet like set of steps and movements. Often ridiculed by foreigners, ignorant of its significance, it is accompanied by music and starts with the Wai Kru, or obidience to the teacher. The boxer kneels in the ring facing the direction of his camp, home or birthplace. He covers his eyes with his gloves and says a short prayer, whilst three times bowing low until his gloves touch the canvas. Now the Ram Muay or boxing dance follows. It is performed in many different ways, each teacher having his own.

During the Ram Muay a fighter wears a Mongkon (headband). This is in fact the property of the teacher and is considered sacred. It must be removed before the contest begins.

One can often see a Thai boxer wearing a string or piece of cloth around both biceps. This is called the Kruang Ruang and may be worn throughout the fight. It sometimes contains protective charms, a small picture of Budda, or a herb said to have magical properties. In Britain the Kruang Ruang or armband now represents the grade of student much in the same way belts do in karate. This grading system and structure was introduced to Muay Thai by Grand Master Sken.

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