Believed to have originated over 2,000 years ago, Muay
Thai boxing, more commonly known as kickboxing, is
one of the oldest marital arts practiced today, and its popularity
is still growing. There are an estimated 60,000 full-time
kickboxers in Thailand alone, and kickboxing events and training
schools are sprouting up all over the globe, from the United
States to Russia, Japan and New Zealand. Many start training
as young as seven or eight, hoping to one day compete at international
level. For most, however, whether Thai or non-Thai, the thought
of fighting at one of Bangkok's top two stadia, Lumphini
or Ratchadamnoen, is the ultimate kickboxing achievement.
'The Science of Eight Limbs"
A full contact sport, Muay Thai boxing is termed "the
science of eight limbs" because blows originate from
the elbow and knees as well as the hands and feet. International
boxing laws have toned down the danger of the sport in recent
years, and all official combatants must wear gloves and groin
supports. However, the sheer speed of a professional's reflexes
and the muscular strength and ability behind each blow always
ensures a dramatic and powerful display at a kickboxing match.
History and heritage
Thais are fiercely proud of their national sport and matches
are crowded with spectators, not to mention the thousands
who watch on television screens at home or in the bars. Yet
it is not merely the sport itself that commands such a combination
of excitement and reverence, but its historical and cultural
Thailand has always held a strong position in Southeast Asian
history, and it is believed that Muay Thai boxing played a
central role in the defence of the country against numerous
foreign aggressors. As such, it is revered as both part of
and saviour of the Thai culture, and even now teachers of
this martial art are shown the utmost respect and gratitude.
Muay Thai matches
Matches take place every day across the whole of Thailand
and are crowded with Thais and foreign visitors alike. In
Bangkok, Lumphini stadium and Ratchadamnoen
have matches on alternate days of the week, usually consisting
of eight bouts and starting at about 6pm. Ratchadamnoen stadium
offers special rates on Sundays, when ringside seats go for
about 500B ($10 US) instead of the usual 1,000B ($20) although
it is advisable to book these seats well in advance.
Younger, less experienced boxers start off the night, building
up to the main event between two "names" at about
9pm. Each bout consists of five three-minute rounds, with
two-minute breaks in-between. Action is fast and furious and
the atmosphere is electric. The fighting is accompanied by
a band playing clarinet and percussion music, to whip the
crowd up to an even higher level of excitement.
Each match is preceded by a traditional dance by the contestants,
to demonstrate their respect and appreciation for their teachers.
During this dance a cord that has been blessed by the teachers,
or perhaps by a priest, is wrapped around the heads of the
dancers. This sacred symbol of good luck is called a mongkol,
and is removed before play.
Learning Muay Thai in Thailand
With schools and clubs worldwide, Muay Thai boxing has truly
become an international sport. However, Thai people believe
that to be a true professional in the sport you must appreciate
its historical and cultural background, as well as learn the
physical skills. The Muay Thai Institute was set up
in 1997 to promote and teach Muay Thai to Thais and foreigners
alike, in the true Thai fashion. Courses range from basic
(US$160) to professional (US $1,200), and instructor and referees
courses are also available. The Institute welcomes enquiries,
and you can contact them directly at :
Muay Thai Institute
Bangkok 12130 (Tel 992 00969).