Today, Thailand makes up a massive hub for both local and foreign talent, and Muay Thai gyms there are as prevalent as Starbucks in the US.
Believe it or not, that wasn’t always the case (yes, there was a time before Starbucks.) However, as our understanding of martial arts grew and our openness to accept better forms of striking evolved, Muay Thai has become the king of striking.
So for all who may not know, I’ll do my best to give you an explanation of Muay Thai — its history (without boring you) and its current world standing.
In the beginning
Muay Thai, also known as the Art of Eight Limbs, is a combat sport that originated in Thailand. The martial art uses a combination of fists, elbows, knees, and shins to strike an opponent. But Muay Thai wasn’t always popular in the West; in fact, the sport is still growing in many parts of the world due to its slow style of fighting which can sometimes fade in appeal to its more popular cousin — kickboxing.
Let’s talk a little bit about the origins of Muay Thai, which trace back to the 16th century in Thailand. At the time, the country, at war with its neighbors, used Muay Thai as a combat technique in its Thai army. Soldiers trained in Muay Thai as a way to protect themselves and their country from invading forces. They also used the sport as a way to settle disputes between rival villages.
As the popularity of Muay Thai grew – still only in Thailand – it became a formalized sport with rules and regulations. In the 18th century, King Prachao Sua, also known as the Tiger King (not the Netflix one) became a big proponent of Muay Thai and helped develop the sport. He organized tournaments and encouraged the best fighters to compete against each other.
The first professional Muay Thai fights were held in the early 20th century, and by the 1930s, even schools had begun teaching the sport and using it as a physical education program.
If you ever travel to Thailand you’ll witness its incredible popularity there, like football in the US or soccer in the UK — a widely loved part of Thai culture. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Muay Thai started to become popular outside of Thailand.
Growing past the border
Muay Thai’s popularity really started to grow in the 1970s, thanks to the rise of martial arts movies and the success of legendary fighters like Apidej Sit-Hirun and Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn. These fighters played an instrumental role in showcasing the sport’s techniques and skills to a global audience.
The ’80s saw legends like Ramon Dekkers (RIP) fight in Thailand and actually win — a feat unheard of at the time. He became the first Westerner to beat a Thai champion in Thailand. His aggressive style made him a fan favorite and an absolute legend not only in Thailand but in Europe as well.
The early 2000s saw superstar Buakaw Banchamek really put Muay Thai on the map as he competed in the famous K1 Max (Middleweight Artistic Xtreme) and won in 2004 and 2006. He put on a clinic against some of the most known and beloved fighters you know today. If you haven’t seen those fights, I really suggest to Youtube them.
Muay Thai has had a significant impact on modern-day martial arts, with its efficient and methodical approach making it arguably the most effective form of striking. Its famous leg kicks, elbows, and knees can cause serious damage to opponents.
Reaching new heights
The importance of Muay Thai in MMA cannot be overstated. While various disciplines including wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are integral to the sport of MMA, more often than not the most popular fighters have a good base in Muay Thai.
Many of the most elite fighters on Earth go to Thailand for training camps or just to improve themselves in the sport. Even beginners and novices come to Thailand to enjoy training with world-class coaches in a beautiful tropical country that offers some of the friendliest people, the best food, and affordable living (yes, I’m thinking about booking a ticket as we speak).
The internet and social media has also aided the sport’s growth in recent years as online platforms allow fighters to showcase their skills and attract a global audience. It has allowed fans to connect with their favorite fighters and learn more about the sport.
Currently, One Championship in Asia has some of the best Muay Thai fighters alive. Their reach in tandem with their heavy social media activity, helping to raise the profile of not only the sport but the individual fighters .
The sport has come a long way since its early days in Thailand. Today, it continues to develop and evolve with massive worldwide appeal, only growing in popularity as it reaches new audiences and heads for world domination.
Are you interested in Muay Thai? Try a free Kickboxing class with us today to start your journey!