Muay boran

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Muay Boran
Muay Thai Boran 1.jpg
Also known as Muay Thai Boran
Focus Striking
Country of origin Thailand
Famous practitioners Tony Jaa
Descendant arts Muay Thai, Tomoi,
Olympic sport No

Muay boran (Thai: มวยโบราณ, RTGS: muai boran, IPA: [mūɛj bōːrāːn], lit. "ancient boxing") is an umbrella term for the unarmed martial arts of Thailand prior to the introduction of modern equipment and rules in the 1930s. It is thus the direct ancestor of modern Muay Thai and a descendant of the Indo-Chinese fighting arts practiced in the Kingdom of Funan 1000 years earlier.[1] Muay boran is not a single style but acts as an umbrella term for all traditional Siamese (Thai) styles of martial arts, which are Muay Chaiya,Muay Korat,Muay Tasao,Muay Jerng and etc.. These ancient styles have their own unique guards, stance and striking techniques... Whereas Muay Thai is often called the "science of eight limbs", muay boran is said to make use of nawa awut which means "nine weapons", adding headbutts as ninth offensive in addition to the "eight limbs" of hands, legs, elbows and knees used in Muay Thai.

History and Folklore[edit]

Hit by Knee


The history and culture of South East Asia is very important when studying the martial arts that it created. These arts are connected in every way to the religions and cultures of the people who practice them. Early Thailand "Ayutthaya's" archives and records were destroyed by the Burmese during a series of wars; consequently, history of the Tai people's reign over modern day Thailand is difficult to establish. Most of modern day Thailand's heritage has been adopted from the Khmer Empire who lost their Northern region to the Tai during an economic decline in the early 1200's AD.[2][3] Even though the Thai people are relatively new to the region, existing only 200 years prior to the settling of the United States; they have arguably been the strongest reason for the continuance of the arts. Due to the spread of the arts through the South East Asian by the Khmer empire, almost all current countries in the region practice techniques that are closely related if not identical to each other; often only different by their names and a few removed or added techniques. It is almost impossible to fully study the history of Muay Boran without also studying the other arts in neighboring countries.

Over the last few hundred years, unarguably, modern day Thailand has done the most to advance the continuation of the techniques. This is mostly contributed to the vast amount of wars in the region that plagued neighboring countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Burma after European occupation was pulled.[4][5] While martial artists were outlawed in these countries, the arts were practiced in Thailand and marketed to Europeans and other westerners which allowed for much of its advancement.[6] Through recent history, there has been major border conflict and struggles for land with Thailand's neighboring countries, especially Cambodia leading to a great amount of nationalism being produced.

Pre-European Colonial Development and Influence[edit]

Historical artifacts, Chinese written records, yantra tattooing and linguistics are all interesting contributors that can give a good visualization of Muay Boran's lineage. Muay Boran origination in the Kingdom of Funan, the first large organized civilization that developed in the South East Asian peninsula.[7][8] Funan was an Indianized society which quickly grew and overcame the neighboring tribes. Funan later became the Khmer Empire and then Cambodia. Muay Boran techniques are referred to as Yuthakun Khom in Cambodia and both are samples of techniques borrowed from the complete martial arts system of Bokator which originated between 200-500AD.

In the ancient empire of Siam "Thailand", each region had their own regional unique style of guard,stance and striking techniques, be the "Muay Jerng" of the north, "Muay Korat" of the NorthEast, "Muay Chaiya"of the south and etc. The top notch fighters from every region of Siam were gathered to fight, later on their styles started to merge and blend together in the Rattanakosin Era. Their empty-handed fighting system was variously referred to as pahuyuth (from the Sanskrit bahuyuddha meaning unarmed combat), dhoi muay (a cognate of the Malay word tomoi), or simply muay, a generic term for boxing or pugilism. The teaching of muay was kept up largely by Buddhist monks who in former times also served as the community's educators.[9]

As well as continuing to function as a practical fighting technique for use in actual unarmed warfare, muay was also a combat sport in which the opponents fought in front of spectators who went to watch for entertainment. These contests were a popular form of entertainment among all social strata, and became an integral part of local festivals.

Although originally bare-knuckle, Siamese boxers at some point began binding their fists and forearms in hemp rope. This type of match was called muay kaad cheuk (คาดเชือก). Many believe that, if both agreed beforehand, boxers would glue glass shards or broken shells on their hemp gloves to ensure a bloody event, but this is debatable. It is generally concurred that if this practice ever existed, it was definitely not common. Some have suggested that fighters would only apply glass to their gloves during war but not in regular matches.[9]

Muay gradually became a possible means of personal advancement as the nobility increasingly esteemed skillful practitioners of the art and invited selected fighters to come to live in the royal palace to teach the soldiers, princes or the king's personal guards. This "royal muay" was called muay luang (มวยหลวง). Some time during the Ayutthaya period, a platoon of royal guards was established, whose duty was to protect king and the country. They were known as Krom Nak Muay (Muay Fighters' Regiment). The royal patronage of muay continued during the reign of Khun Luang Sorasak, better known as Phra Chao Seua meaning Tiger King. Records state that he was so dedicated to muay that he would disguise himself in order to compete at temple fairs.

Divergence and Decline[edit]

The ascension of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a golden age not only for muay but for all of Thailand. Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king's personal interest in the art. The country was at peace and muay functioned as a means of physical exercise, self-defense, recreation and personal advancement. At least four regional styles of the art were already in existence at the time. These were Muay Thasao from the north, Muay Khorat from the east or northeast, Muay Lopburi from the central area and Muay Chaiya from the south. There is a phrase which demonstrates the different characteristics of each style: "punch Korat, wit Lopburi, posture Chaiya, faster Thasao" (หมัดหนักโคราช ฉลาดลพบุรี ท่าดีไชยา เร็วกว่าท่าเสา).

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the modern boxing ring was introduced and codified rules were put into place. These included the rules that the fighters should wear western gloves and cotton coverlets over their feet and ankles. Many of the old techniques were either banned or became impractical for the new type of matches. Around this time the term Muay Thai became commonly used for the new style while the older form was referred to as muay boran or ancient boxing.

Traditionally, Muay Thai masters would teach the techniques of muay boran to advanced students but this is not often done today. Professional boxers consider it a waste of training time for them to learn techniques that they won't be able to use in competitions and tournaments. Even in Thailand it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a school willing to teach it; they prefer to focus on "modern" Muay Thai, as this is more easily exploitable as a form of income. A number of styles and techniques have been lost. Muay boran was not well known in the West until it was featured in the 2003 Thai film Ong Bak starring Tony Jaa. Some schools nowadays take advantage of the art's popularity by selling Muay Thai under the name of muay boran.


The basic muay boran fighting stance is much lower and wider than in Muay Thai, much like the traditional Chinese and Indian martial arts. This required fighters to have greater agility, flexibility and speed, as well as allowing them to jump off their opponent's knee to deliver a blow to the head. The precedence given to kicks is probably indigenous[9] since Indian boxing and most southern Chinese martial arts keep even low kicks to a minimum.

Yantra Tattooing[edit]

During the Khmer Empire's rule, soldiers covered themselves from head to toe with tattoos that were believed to give them supernatural powers. These tattoos were referred to as Yantra and are still adorned as tradition by boxers of all nationalities throughout the region. Many believe that the Khmer Empire's army was so strong due to the awards of these tattoos. Each tattoo was customized by a monk for each soldier.


The old rules of muay boran simply consisted of a ban on hitting the groin, eye-gouging, hitting a fallen opponent, grappling or hair-pulling.[9] Weight classes did not exist and there was no specially constructed ring. Instead, matches took place in any open space surrounded by a rough circle of spectators. Rounds were timed by making a small hole into a coconut and placing it in water. When the coconut sank, a drum would be beaten to signal the end of a round.

Origin of the Name[edit]

The University of Harvard studied and published a book sponsored by the South East Asian Consul in the 1940's that described how Thai along with other languages of the region originated from Khmer. The term Boran was adopted from the Khmer language and means "ancient".[10] The Khmer language was spoken by Cambodia's ancestors who occupied the area prior to the Tai Southern migration which happened between 1249-1463AD.[11][12] The Tai's spoke a Southern Chinese tonal language that produced slight variations in the pronunciation of Khmer words and thus gave birth to the modern day Thai. Khmer is still spoken in many parts of Southern Thailand.

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