The history of Muaythai is the history of the Thai people – both though are difficult to discover.
When the Burmese army sacked and razed Ayuddhaya to the ground, the archives of Thai history were lost. With them, much of the early history of Muaythai also went.
The little we do know, comes from the writings of the Burmese, Cambodian, early European visitors and some of the chronicles of the Lanna Kingdom – Chiang Mai.
What all sources agree on, is that Muaythai began as a close combat battlefield fighting skill. More deadly than the weapons it replaced.
Thai Boxing became the favourite sport and pastime of the people, the army and the King. Historical sources show that people from all walks of life flocked to training camps. Rich, poor, young and old all wanted some of the action. Every village staged its prize fights and had its champions. Every bout became a betting contest as well as a contest of local pride. The betting tradition has remained with the sport and today large sums are wagered on the outcome of fights.
Muaythai has always been a sport for the people as well as a military fighting skill. In all its golden ages, the people have trained and practised the sport whether they were King or commoner. It was a part of the school curriculum right up to the 1920’s when it was withdrawn because it was felt that the injury rate was too high. The people however, continued to study it in gyms and clubs just as they do today.
The 1930’s saw the most radical change in the sport. It was then that it was codified and today’s rules and regulations were introduced. Rope bindings of the arms and hands were abandoned and gloves took their place.
This innovation was also in response to the growing success of Thai Boxers in international boxing.
Along with the introduction of gloves, came weight classes based on the international boxing divisions. These and other innovations – such as the introduction of five rounds – substantially altered the fighting techniques that the boxers used causing some of them to disappear.
The battle art has evolved into a popular sport. Ruled, codified and now with five three minute rounds, each with a two minute recovery period between rounds.
But despite the changes of history, Muaythai has lost none of its exotic appeal and even mystique. Muaythai is still the fighting art to beat.
The fighting art that defeats all challenges from Kung Fu, Karate, Taekwando and the latest kickboxing fashions. They have all come to Thailand, not just once but many times and from many places to test themselves.
Muaythai has lost none of its appeal in Thailand. The television fight broadcasts rate among the Kingdom’s most popular programmes.
In the provinces, villages cluster around any available TV to watch. In the city, people disappear from the streets while Thailand is watching Muaythai.
Thai Boxing is also becoming increasingly popular outside of Thailand. It has its enthusiasts and practitioners in the Americas, Australia, Japan, Europe, as well as in many other countries around the world.
The illustrious history of Muaythai will continue as it receives greater recognition and gains in international popularity.