Commonly referred to as The Art of Eight Limbs, Muay Thai is a martial art that has been around for hundreds of years. Muay Thai, in its simplest form, is a martial art similar to kickboxing, but with a few extra strikes and techniques, such as elbow strikes, knee strikes, clinching and sweeps.
Due to it’s effectiveness, it is considered by many to be one of the most dangerous, but highly recommended, martial arts to learn. The techniques learned in Muay Thai are designed to inflict massive damage to opponents and consist of the perfect blend of throwing strikes with power and precision. Practitioners of Muay Thai often train throwing strikes and executing sweeps with low to moderate intensity levels, and only apply high level intensity during competition.
Muay Thai’s popularity in the modern era can be attributed to its effectiveness in competitive mixed martial arts. In some of the biggest mixed martial arts promotions, such as the UFC, Bellator, LFA, and PFL (just to name a few), we frequently witness gruesome stoppages, TKO’s and brutal knockouts with fighters’ use of Muay Thai strikes. While it’s probably not the only factor that has attributed to the increase in interest and popularity of Muay Thai, it’s definitely safe to say that these global mixed martial arts promotions have a major role to play.
If you’re still a bit lost about what Muay Thai is, don’t worry! This article will get into the details about one of the most popular martial arts to learn on the planet today (unless Wing-Chun makes a comeback).
While many of our favorite fighters and martial artists continue to practice their Muay Thai, the martial art had to start somewhere. You’ve probably taken an assumption and said that Muay Thai is from Thailand, and yes, you’re correct! But this martial art has been around for a very long time, and it’s origin story is quite interesting.
With origins traced all the way back as far as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya during the 14th century in what is known today as Thailand, Muay Thai was developed as a form of battlefield combat for soldiers to learn how to defend themselves using their entire body during combat. Over time, Muay Thai transitioned into a popular form of entertainment for the common man as well as the royal court, with Muay Thai fighters showcasing their skills in a variety of competitions and events.
A defining moment in history for Muay Thai was during the reign of King Naresuan in the 16th Century. King Naresuan was a skilled Muay Thai practitioner and heavily promoted his art throughout his kingdom. As a Muay Thai practitioner himself, he went as far as creating a structure of professional fighters known as "Nak Muay Korat", who represented their regions in organized competitions. The development of Nak Muay Korat not only heightened the status that Muay Thai possessed, but also created a sense of identity and unity among the Thai population.
The historical significance of Muay Thai goes beyond its martial ability. It eventually became an important part of Thai culture and heritage. Muay Thai became woven with various rituals and ceremonies that reflected the nation's spiritual and social values. In addition to the fighters' physically demanding training, they were taught to embody respect, honor and humility, which are core principles of Thai society.
Historically, Muay Thai doesn’t have a belt or ranking system, but there are some western Muay Thai gyms that do have a belt system of their own. A belt/ranking system can be beneficial in order to determine students’ individual skill level and allows for them to be paired with opponents who may match their skill level.
Muay Thai, in recent years, has experienced a massive surge in popularity in the U.S and around the world. With many people looking for new ways to get and stay in shape, the attraction to Muay Thai's dynamic and engaging techniques has caught the attention of martial arts enthusiasts from all around the world. Muay Thai's emphasis on full body workouts, rigorous training and mental discipline has resonated with people looking for intense training that's outside of the basic gym routines.
One main factor that can be attributed to Muay Thai's growth in popularity is its role in modern-day mixed martial arts (MMA). As mixed martial arts gained attention and acceptance as a widely televised and wildly entertaining combat sport, Muay Thai's effectiveness and versatility in stand up striking gained the attention of fighters and viewers. In modern mixed martial arts, its highly recommended a fighter learn Muay Thai before even thinking about entering a competitive match.
The growth of global Muay Thai competitions and tournaments has also played a role in the expansion of its international appeal. World class fighters from a variety of countries showcase their skills during these international events, and this allows for audiences to be exposed to the martial arts' excitement and spectacle. The establishment of many Muay Thai gyms and training facilities around the world has also provided people who are eager to learn this martial art with accessible environments for them to learn and practice their Muay Thai techniques. It's safe to say Muay Thai's growth in popularity among fight fans and martial arts practitioners means that it's here to stay and there's no indication that it's going away anytime soon.
So what makes Muay Thai such a popular martial art that has garnered the attention of professional fighters and dedicated practitioners from around the world? It’s the effectiveness of the martial art and how dangerous it can be to use onto other people who pose a threat. The techniques learned in Muay Thai remain very similar to traditional kickboxing, only now we add a few extra striking methods and instead of throwing with precision, we focus more on power.
Let’s explore the fundamental techniques of Muay Thai.
Renowned for its unique style in combat, Muay Thai uses eight distinct limbs to execute techniques - the fists, elbows, knees and shins. Unlike many other martial arts that only consist of using punches and kicks, Muay Thai fighters and practitioners use these eight limbs, with either single strikes or in combinations, to deliver strikes with devastating effect, making it one of the most versatile and formidable striking fighting styles in the world. Fists and shins are used for the obvious punches and kicks, while elbows are used to throw short-ranged strikes that are capable of cutting open a fighters' opponent with enough force.
As a striking based martial art, Muay Thai allows for fighters to be well versed in a number of striking techniques. Punches include the jab, cross, hook and uppercut, allowing for fighters to exploit their opponent's weaknesses and create openings for other strikes. Kicks are a crucial piece of Muay Thai as fighters can use a variation of kicking techniques, such as the roundhouse kick, push kick and the teep in order to target an opponent's leg, body and head. When in close quarters, Muay Thai fighters are able to use their knees and elbows, which become more devastating during the clinch. Elbows are one of the preferred striking technique among Muay Thai fighters as their power and precision often lead fighters to deliver clean knockouts or severely cut their opponent.
One of the more "stand out" techniques seen among Muay Thai fighters are the clinching and grappling techniques, which create a visually clear differentiator in comparison to other striking based martial arts. The clinch is a close proximity grappling position where fighters attempt to control each other's necks and arms. Within the clinch, Muay Thai fighters are able to deliver explosive knees, elbows and sweeps to strike their opponent and deliver damage. This aspect of Muay Thai requires significant strength, balance and strategy. Muay Thai also incorporates some grappling techniques, such as trips, sweeps and throws, although it is important to point out that Muay Thai is primarily a striking martial art, and its grappling is often used to set up striking opportunities. Be mindful of this before attempting any Royce Gracie type stuff.
Muay Thai training places a great emphasis on defense and evasive footwork in order for fighters to avoid getting hit while simultaneously setting up their opponents for a counter attack strike or combination. Muay Thai fighters are trained to block, parry, and deflect incoming strikes with their arms and legs. When engaged in a Muay Thai fight, proper timing and distance management is critical to avoid taking unnecessary damage. Frequently, you will see fighters move in and out of range quickly, and this helps with them being able to control the flow of their fight and capitalize on their opponents' mistakes. Defensive tactics are not only important for fighters to protect themselves, but also to create an opening so that they can land devastating and effective strikes.
As one of the more physically demanding martial arts in all of combat sports, training in Muay Thai has proven to be one of the preferred methods to getting in shape for many fighters and practitioners. Muay Thai training involves a ton of cardio, strength training, and most of all, consistency in the gym. With any martial art, showing up to the gym for regular training is crucial for any fighters potential growth in Muay Thai.
Muay Thai training, at its core, is designed to condition the entire body. The training involves a mix of cardio, resistance training, and a lot of body weight exercise - all of this to help fighters and practitioners develop and improve their strength and endurance. Muay Thai practitioners often experience an increase in muscle tone and overall enhancement in physical performance. The large volume of striking and clinching techniques engages various muscle groups, including the core, legs, and upper body, which help improve balance and the overall physique.
Flexibility is also important for Muay Thai training. In order for a fighter to be able to kick their opponent's head, they need to be flexible enough so that their shins can reach their target. The kicking techniques used in Muay Thai require a wide range of motion in the hips and legs. With regular stretching exercises and drills, fighters gradually improve their flexibility, which help with minimizing injury risks and provides better mobility.
While the physical advantages of Muay Thai training are great, even greater are the mental benefits that Muay Thai training provides. In general, hitting a punching bag with great force helps relieve stress, and lets one unload any anger and frustration. But one of the greatest attributes learned with Muay Thai training is the mental discipline that comes with the training.
Fighters and practitioners must be consistent in their training, making sure they always show up for training. Even on days where things seem loomy and exhaustion kicks in, Muay Thai fighters and practitioners eventually develop a mental discipline that allows them to persevere throughout even the most brutal training. This type of mental training not only is beneficial in the gym, but translates well outside the gym, enhancing ones' work ethic and determination.
Whether you’re just beginning your journey into the world of martial arts, or you’re a seasoned practitioner who’s got the intrigue to try out Muay Thai, this incredibly effective martial art has everything you need to get and stay in top physical and mental shape. Many Muay Thai gyms offer a variety of classes tailored for beginners and experienced practitioners. We highly recommend anyone who has an interest in Muay Thai to visit their local mixed martial arts gym and give it a go.