Muay Thai or Thai kick boxing has seen a surge in popularity in recent years thanks to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) where many of the competitors employ this brutal and sometimes deadly art.
In fact the Gracies were inspired to promote mixed martial arts matches after a trip to Thailand where they saw competitions similar to those in their native Brazil. Muay Thai has been the national sport of Thailand long before the UFC though, and steeped in ritual. The sport can also be found in other parts Southeast Asia and is known as Pradal Serey in Cambodia and in and Malaysia as Tomoi. What attracts many competitors to this martial arts form is its lighting attacks of hands and feet. Unlike Western style boxing, traditional or "old school" Thai boxing didn't end until somebody got knocked out. It is a brutal and demanding combat sport.
In Thailand Muay Thai training begins at a young age with boys beginning training as soon as they are able to walk. Women are also involved with the sport and have their own tournaments.
American Kathy "The Punisher" Long who is a regular contributor to Black Belt Magazine also competed in Muay Thai and is now training several male competitors as well as commentating for UFC. There are competitions and schools every where from California to Russia as the sport remains popular.
The sport which been around in one form or another for centuries and is steeped in tradition and rules. Buddhist rituals are part of traditional so in Thailand a fighter will take a trip to a shrine as well as meditate. The fight itself is preceded by a symbolic dance called wai khru which also acts as a form of warm up exercise. The headband and armbands worn by the fighters also have meaning.
The headband is called "mongkhol" and is a blessed by a monk and is worn for good luck, but is taken off before the Muay Thai fight while the armbands remain because they offer protection to a fighter and won't be taken off until the fight is done.
The fight itself is broken up into five three-minute rounds with two-minute breaks in between each round. Matches are decided by knockout like in the old days as well as a modern point system. Three judges decide who carries the round and the one who wins the most rounds, win the fight. There's a referee in the ring with the fighters though and prevents injuries from occurring and stops fighters from grappling or doing anything else that violate the rules which only allow for striking.
Few see the weaknesses of Muay Thai because if is brutal moves using hands and feet as a fighter employs "Art of the Eight Limbs." The sport form we now know today stems from Lerdrit which was taught to the Royal Thai Army. Forward movement, kicks, knees, locking, grappling and elbows are all major concepts in Lerdrit with the major difference being that one uses and open hand not a fist like Muay Thai. Though this method is combat tested it still has the difficulties like Muay Thai.
First one must remember this a sport which is limited in what someone can do and how they can move. In Thai Boxing opponents are always coming at you straight on with rules prohibiting many moves including wrestling on the ground. This can bring an end to a Muay Thai fighter's deadly assault once they are taken down. Also there are no defenses to weapons. In a street fight there is much more to the fight then hit and get hit back. Judo may be a competitive sport in Japan and around the world, but only rules separate competitive Judo from what one might use for self defense in real world situations. In fact most UFC fighters find themselves having to study another art form in addition to Muay Thai so they survive matches with better trained fighters.
On the street a Muay Thai fighter isn't ready for battle, a mistake made by a lot of sprot martial artists, since you're not dealing in a fair fight. Full contact may make a person tough, and you most certainly can knock someone out with a good blow to the head. Muay Thai for the street is simply inefficient. There are a lot faster ways to dispatch someone. The lesson here is you can enjoy a sport like Muay Thai, but study a martial art that you can use outside the ring. Survival is pass fail and nobody cares about how well you score.
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