Muay Thai boxing - The national sport of Thailand - Green Door Enterprises

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[Published on 2010-02-22 in Attractionsby Andrew]

Muay Thai boxing - The national sport of Thailand

Muay Thai BoxingThe ancient martial art of Muay Thai ripples through Thailand’s history and is as popular and prevalent in Thai culture today, as it ever has been. The popularity of Muay Thai has grown over recent years, crossing countries and continents, spanning the world and gaining a multi-cultural fan base along with international leagues, academies and fighters from Asia and Europe to the United States and beyond. Muay Thai is regarded as one of the hardest and most respected forms of kick boxing in the world today.

The atmosphere is electric as both the fighters and spectators feed off one another’s energy and enthusiasm

Although the art of Muay Thai can be practiced and enjoyed as a spectator sport almost anywhere in the world. Thailand is still and will forever remain its true home. There is nowhere else in the world that comes close when compared to Thailand for the study, practice and knowledge of Muay Thai boxing. The Muay Thai academies of Bangkok and Pattaya have become a pilgrimage for thousands of foreign fighters wanting to train alongside real Thai fighters and tutors, and to experience what the art of Muay Thai really means.

A Brief History of Muay Thai

The Muay Thai style practiced today has descended and evolved from its ancestor Muay Boran. And at a glance looks similar to other forms of kick boxing and even western boxing, with the advent of padded gloves and similarly structured rounds fought inside a roped ring. However Muay Thai is still unique and as such requires a higher skill set and level of determination to prevail and be the best. Roughly translated ‘Muay Thai’ means ‘The Art of Eight Limbs’ due to each of the eight points of contact that can be utilized during a fight encompassing fists, elbows, kicks and knee’s. Other kick boxing styles use four points both the feet and fists, while Western boxing has just two, the fists.

It is believed that Muay Boran, Muay Thais predecessor, was used in combat by ancient Siamese soldiers after losing their weapons during a battle. Over time the unarmed combat was refined and evolved into a legitimate martial art. Even when Muay Thai was still an essential part of a soldier’s arsenal and regularly used on the battle field, it was also developing into an integral part of Thai culture. Muay Thai was frequently being used for entertainment in the earliest forms of the spectator sport we know today. Fights were held at local festivals and celebrations all over Thailand and were enjoyed by everyone in Thai society, from peasants and farmers to noblemen and kings. Muay Thai was seized upon by the upper classes and nobility and the most admired and skillful practitioners of the art were invited to come and teach the skills of Muay Thai to family members, staff and personal body guards of the elite. Princes and kings would have royal guards known as ‘The Royal Muay’ and during the Ayutthaya period a royal platoon of guards was established, whose duty was to protect both king and country. They were known as the Grom Nak Muay, ‘Muay Fighter Regiment’, this traditional royal regiment continued down the centuries and into the reigns of both king Rama V and VII, two of Thailand’s most revered monarchs. Both of who played a vital role in the history and outcome of the ancient art.

Muay Thai ripples through Thailand’s history and is as popular and prevalent in Thai culture today, as it ever has been

The reign of Rama V lasted from 1868 until 1910. This was a peaceful time for Thailand and Muay Thai flourished during this period. And is credited to the king as a result of his love for the sport. It was at this time that Muay Thai was taken up by the masses; Thai people began using Muay Thai as a means of exercise, recreation, self defense and personal advancement. Training camps began to spring up throughout the country and masters would teach the art of Muay Thai to the throngs of eager students wishing to acquire the skills and become masters themselves. The training camps became more than just fight schools and students were disciplined to be honorable, loyal and to gain confidence, pride and self-respect, which still holds true to this day. Students became loyal to the camp, and in turn became part of a larger family and would even adopt the camps name as their own surname. Students lived, studied and worked at the camps and were provided with food, water and shelter. Thus both the camp and Muay Thai became a way of life. The royal family would send scouts out to tour the camps, who would look for promising fighters and were responsible for arranging bouts between the camps best fighters consequently forming the earliest leagues and fighter rankings.

In 1921 during the reign of King Rama VII, Thailand’s first official boxing stadium was constructed at Suan Kularp and is known today as the famous Lumpini Stadium. Official referees were also introduced along with rounds being timed by a clock. In the following years foreign boxers began to visit Lumpini and were invited to fight against their Thai counter-parts. It was due to this influx of western fighters that modern boxing gloves found their way into the Muay Thai ring. Foreign managers and sporting officials insisted on the wearing of padded gloves, however traditional rope binding of the hands and feet was still practiced between Thai fighters until a death occurred at the stadium, causing concerns for the growth and safety within the sport and the rules were changed indefinitely to use the western style padded gloves. It was the construction of Lumpini Stadium and the introduction of some western rules and accessories that gave birth to modern Muay Thai as it is practiced today.

A Night at the Ring

To experience an actual live Muay Thai fight is truly thrilling. The atmosphere is electric as both the fighters and spectators feed off one another’s energy and enthusiasm. The crowd erupts with loud cheers and jeers each and every time a blow lands. The whole night is accompanied by traditional live Thai music. Pre match ceremonies are acted out before every fight, as they have been for centuries. A night at the ring lets you see and feel a real slice of Thai culture, as well as admiring the guts and zest of the boxers stepping inside the ring and fighting for pride, glory and above all victory!

Bangkok has two major stadiums, the previously mentioned and probably the most famous Lumpini Stadium, which is located to the east of Lumpini Park on Rama IV Road. Any taxi or tuk tuk driver will understand and know exactly how to get you there.  Fights are held here three times a week, on Tuesday and Friday evenings starting at 6.00 pm and Saturdays starting at 5.00 pm and 8.30 pm. Ticket’s can be purchased at the stadium entrance and  prices vary according to the seating. Ring side is the most expensive and prices fall significantly towards the outer perimeter.

The crowd erupts with loud cheers and jeers each and every time a blow lands

The second largest Stadium in Bangkok is the Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium and can be found on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue. Fights are held on Mondays at 5.00 pm and 9.00 pm on Wednesdays at 6.00 pm and Thursdays at 6.00 pm. The Stadium is also open on Sundays with practice bouts starting from 2.00 pm, with the main event starting at 5.00 pm. The Ratchadamnoen areas is also famous for it’s wide selection of food available around the stadium with everything from spicy north eastern (Isarn Food) to Thai favorites such as Tom Yam Soup. Enjoying a good meal after the fight along side other fans, discussing the outcome and exchanged blows completes a night at the ring.

If the city of Bangkok is not on your itinerary but the lure of experiencing a real Muay Thai boxing match is, then Pattaya can most certainly deliver. There are a wealth of Muay Thai academies and gym’s through out the city and fights are pitched weekly between different camps at the Fairfax Stadium Pattaya, which is located on Theppersit road soi 2, in between Pattaya and Jomtien Beach and is an easy taxi or baht bus ride away. As well as the weekly fights, frequent special events are held, such as championship belts being contended for, foreign fights, and charity nights which are great fun and bring a festival feel to the evening and attract a lot of local officials, business people and media. Tickets can be purchased at the Stadium and prices range from 1200 Baht for ring side seats to 500 baht for the standard seating area. Many regulars to the stadium believe the best seats are in the 500 Baht area, as you get a better view of the ring. VIP tickets can be purchased at some events, which can include a table plus food and drinks. Theses prices will vary depending on the night, promoter etc. Buying tickets in advance can get you a better price for special events and most. if not all, gyms and camps will have an agent selling advanced tickets.

Muay Thai for Fitness

As with all sports and full contact sports in particular, physical fitness and conditioning are paramount for success. Training schedules for Muay Thai boxers are rigorous to say the least. Cardio, strength, muscle gain and definition, plus fat loss are crucial to a fighter’s survival.

Running is one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise to get and stay fit. You will often see groups of fighters running along the beach or other roads in Pattaya, which in addition to losing fat and getting fit helps form a bond between them, as they motivate and encourage each other to work hard and not give up. At the gym you will see students jogging backwards (at a slower pace of course) in circles to improve balance and to get comfortable back peddling in the ring as well as burning off a few extra calories.

Skipping is next on the agenda when it comes to cardio and balance training. As with all forms of kick boxing and western style boxing, skipping is a staple of a fighter’s day in the gym. Skipping is excellent for shredding fat, becoming light on your toes and improving balance and coordination.

Don’t be surprised to see old truck tyres stacked or leaning against the gym walls. Tyre bouncing is the practice of laying a tyre on its side and gently bouncing up and down on it, either from foot to foot or in single small jumps. This sounds easy at first and looks strange when you see it initially. However this exercise is extremely beneficial in a multitude of ways. First of all, it strengthens the leg muscles (which is quite important in any form of kick boxing). This exercise concentrates on the calf muscle, which is one of the hardest muscles in the body to develop and the bouncing motion contributes to balance, along with the skipping, but frees up your hands so you can do additional punches and practice holding up your guard while maintaining the spring in your step. It is also another great form of cardio work and when combined with running and skipping, the only result is improved fitness and fat loss!

Training schedules for Muay Thai boxers are rigorous to say the least

Pad work is a major part of a fighter’s curriculum. Accurate and powerful punching and kicking are obviously two major areas to work on. Two main types of pads are used by instructor’s; the Thai Pad and Focus Mitts. The Thai Pad is worn by the instructor and covers most of the upper body covering both forearms and hands, along with a belly pad to protect the abdominal region when a fighter is practicing kneeing and kicking. Focus Mitts are hand held pads used to help fighter’s better target and strengthen punches. This form of exercise is also great for burning off fat and adding to overall fitness.

Sparring with a coach or other student is where it all the practice comes together. Your own technique and style will develop along with gaining further confidence and experience in the ring. Sparring is light to moderate in contact and is just another part of training. It is not a bout and any anger or aggression should be left at the ropes. There is no winner or loser while sparring. Extra protective head, knee, shin and ankle pads can be worn to ensure against injury.

Weight training is essential for fighters wishing to target specific muscle groups that are important for getting an edge in the ring. Fighters need to develop key areas, such as the neck muscle, which is vital for clinching and grappling, the abdominal muscles to absorb body kicks, knees and punches. Plus the back and shoulder muscles for getting weight and strength behind punches.

Due to the hectic training and fight schedule of a professional Muay Thai fighter (most fight every other week), the average pro’s career is quite short, most go on to become instructors at camps and academies around Thailand, so it is common to be trained by and along side real, although now retired, professionals with literally hundreds if not thousands of hours of training and real fight experience under their belts. Training directly with a genuine Muay Thai tutor provides you with centuries of knowledge and techniques handed down form generation to generation of Muay Thai masters.

Any part or indeed the entire Muay Thai training regime can be taken up by anyone wishing to lose weight, get fit or gain confidence, even if you never want to become a world championship contender. Camps offer lessons and training programmes to suit all levels of fitness and Muay Thai experience.

Where to Get Started?

There are dozens of gyms and camps around Pattaya. The Fairtex Academy, located on Pattaya Nua Road,about 500 metres up from the Dolphin Roundabout, is a very well equipped gym and affiliated with the Fairtex Stadium, although it is at the higher end budget. California Wow, Located at the Avenue Shopping Mall, is also on the more expensive side. They offer Muay Thai classes purely as a fitness programme, but you do get to wear gloves and throw some kicks and punches with an instructor. Two of the more traditional style Muay Thai camps are Tony’s Muay Thai Academy on Third Road and Stipolek Gym on Sukhumvit Road. Both offer full Muay Thai training with ex professionals and have fully equipped gyms with all the trimmings, from truck tyres, pads and punch bags to a roped rings and weights rooms. Both gyms have Thai and western fighters and even some of the instructors still regularly attended and fight at the Fairtex Stadium.

There are numerous other gyms and camps around Pattaya and even to the East side of Sukhumvit Road. All offer the opportunity to train and learn to fight in a real Muay Thai environment. All camps and gyms have the accessories needed to get started, like gloves and pads etc. and most have shops selling the essentials, such as traditional Muay Thai shorts, pads, gloves, and wrist tape. The list of Muay Thai accessories is endless, but no matter what you’re looking you’re sure to find it!

Remember Muay Thai isn’t just about fighting and beating someone in the ring. Using some, if not all, of the training regimes employed by Muay Thai fighters is one of the best ways to get fit and get in shape.

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