Known by many as Thai Boxing, Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and is avidly watched and followed by much of the population of the country.
This form of 'hard martial art' is not only a sport but is considered to be a form of entertainment, and makes for a fun night out for many visitors to Thailand who have never seen a Muay Thai fight before.
What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has its origins hundreds of years ago. Throughout the centuries the sport has changed and evolved somewhat; different forms of the sport have developed over the years from the origins of Muay Boran (ancient boxing) into the form of Thai boxing that we see today.
As well as being a sport, Thai boxing has been a form of warfare as well. Armies were trained in the art of Muay Thai in order to protect kings, and with a history like this you can easily see how it has become such a highly regarded sport in Thailand!
How does Muay Thai differ from Western boxing?
Nowadays boxers do not use their bare hands as they used to, but have gloves very similar to those used in Western boxing. Obviously punching is utilized, though the gloves and the punching are where the similarities between these two types of boxing end!
Muay Thai is often referred to as 'The Art of Eight Limbs' because eight parts of the body are used by Muay Thai boxers – both hands, elbows, knees and shins are all used. This contrasts to Western boxing where there are just two limbs, or two points of contact – the fists.
For each point of contact there are many different moves that the Thai boxer can use, making this an interesting and quite technical sport, and one that is often learnt from an early age. Children regularly compete for titles and while it is often the children who draw the larger crowds, some Western visitors may find that watching such young children fighting goes against their values and beliefs.
Child Muay Thai Boxers
There's no doubt that watching an evening of Muay Thai is great entertainment and if there's a competition on while you're visiting Thailand you should try to get along and watch a couple of rounds at least, after all, this is the country's national sport!
Despite the entertainment value some tourists may find it just a little too controversial when young children, including girls, take to the ring and start punching and kicking each other! This isn't something you would expect to see in the Western world after all, and can leave some tourists a little shocked. Why would their parents push them into a dangerous sport at such a young age? Are they being exploited so that parents and trainers can make money out of them?
These are the kind of questions that run through many visitors' minds, but there are both pros and cons to children competing in Muay Thai.
Arguments in favor of children competing in Muay Thai
Though it may be controversial, there are actually many advantages to children competing in Muay Thai. Here are just a few…
Although Thailand is an emerging economy there are still many people here who struggle to make ends meet, working long hours for little money. By starting training at a young age and becoming successful, children can win competitions that can help pay for their upbringing, providing food, clothes, books and more which might otherwise be difficult to obtain.
Education is compulsory up to and including Grade 9 so young children should not be missing any school to train and fight, however, if they become successful at the sport they can continue competing into their teens and adulthood, providing them with a reasonable income.
Child boxers train extensively for their matches. Rarely do injuries occur when the children are so well trained in defense and agility.
With all the training they do, child boxers are kept very fit and healthy, probably much more so than other Thai children.
The advantages sound good, but opponents will argue that there are many disadvantages too, such as that the children are being exploited by greedy parents; it is dangerous; they should be enjoying their childhood etc etc, and while these are valid points they don't necessarily apply to all child Thai boxers.
Some children may be being exploited, but others are merely being encouraged because a parent or a trainer could see the potential in them. It might be wrong to encourage competition at such a young age, but this isn't unique to Thailand – the beauty pageants for young girls in North America that are very popular with some, could be argued as exploitation by others, so is Thai boxing really all that different?
Make up your own mind by going along to one of the Muay Thai evenings the next time you're in Fort Worth, Texas!
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