From Ancient Battles to Modern Entertainment
Thai Boxing – Muay Thai
Picture if you will, two men (or women) fighting each other ferociously, using their whole bodies with great speed, agility and flexibility, while the arena is ablaze with neon lights and the spectators excitedly cheer over the sounds of classical Thai instruments.
Muay Thai is a combat sport, in which tradition and modern competition go hand in hand. It is referred to as the art of eight limbs, as there are eight points of contact (punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes). It has historically been used as a warfare technique, as well as an important part of festivals and ceremonies in peaceful times. The legend goes that in the 16th century, Thai king Naresuan fought his way out of Burmese imprisonment using Thai boxing to defeat all of his opponents. On his return to Thailand he established what was then known as Siamese boxing, as the national sport. Since then, this martial art has modernised and adopted rules to increase safety for the ‘warriors’, including wearing gloves.
Muay Thai is fought in five three-minute rounds, with two-minute breaks in between, and the winner is decided by three judges either by knockout or by points. It all begins with a spiritual Wai Khru dance, through which the fighters thank their teachers, spirits and the sport itself. The headband is removed after this initial ceremony, but armbands are worn throughout the match to offer spiritual protection. Live music accompanies the event, with drums, cymbals and Javanese clarinet, matching the tempo of the fighters.
The two main venues to see Muay Thai in Bangkok are Lumphini Stadium (Th Phra Ram IV, MRT Lumphni) and Ratchadamnoen Stadium (Th Ratchadamnoen Nok, busses 70, 503, 509). Lumphini hosts matches on Tuesdays and Fridays from 18.30 – 23.00, on Saturday afternoons from 16.30 – 20.00, and on Saturday nights from 20.30 – 24.00. The tickets cost 500 -1,500 baht, and around 2,000 baht for a ring-side seat.
To see Thai boxing at Ratchadamnoen, head there on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday for the 18.30 – 23.00 matches, or on Sunday for the 16.00 – 20.00 or 20.30 – 24.00 matches. Expect to pay 1,000 – 2,000 baht for a ticket. For free admission, check out Chanel 7 Stadium (behind the old Northern Bus Terminal [Mo-chit], opposite Chatuchak Park) on Sundays from 13.45 or on the third Wednesday of each month at 12.00.
More and more gyms around the world offer Muay Thai classes and it is not unusual to see farangs (foreigners) fighting or training in Thailand. If you want to learn the art in the place where it originated, many gyms in Thailand will be happy to assist you. The Muay Thai Institute is an authority in the field and offers accredited courses for boxers, instructors and referees. It is located in Rangsit, north of Bangkok domestic airport. The school is famous for training many amateurs and professionals from Thailand and abroad. Upon course completion it issues certificates, which are recognised by the Thai Ministry of Education and the World Muay Thai Council. Prices start at 6,400 baht for a basic course, and go up to 48,000 baht for a course with the goal of turning you pro.
If you had not heard of Muay Thai before, maybe now when you see Thais glued to TV-screens when a match is on, you’ll be able to better understand their passions – even if kicking each other for fun does not fall into your amusement repertoire. It’s a sport, but it can also be a mental and spiritual practice that is embedded in the local culture.