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Also known as Burmese Bareknuckle Boxing
Focus Striking
Hardness Full-contact
Country of origin Myanmar Myanmar
Famous practitioners Kyar Ba Nyein, Dave Leduc, Lone Chaw, Soe Lin Oo, Nilar Win, Tun Tun Min, Tway Ma Shaung, U Bo Sein, U Pyi Kyaw, Phyan Thwe, Saw Shark, Too Too, Saw Gaw Mu Doe, Shwe Du Won, Daiki Kaneko,

Lethwei (Burmese: လက်ဝှေ့; IPA: [lɛʔ.ʍḛ]) is a full contact Burmese martial art.[1] Lethwei is the traditional fight art of Myanmar also known as Burmese bareknuckle boxing, because the fighters only use tape and gauze on their hands. This discipline is considered to be one of the most aggressive and brutal martial arts in the world.[2] The use of fists, elbows, knees, feet but more suprisingly, the head makes it a very unusual martial art. This is the reason it also known as "the art of 9 limbs".[3][4]

It is similar to related styles in other parts of the Indian cultural sphere, namely Muay Thai from Thailand, Pradal Serey from Cambodia, Muay Lao from Laos, Tomoi from Malaysia and Musti-yuddha from India.[5]


In ancient times, matches were held for entertainment and were popular with every strata of society. Participation was opened to any male, whether king or commoner. At that time, matches took place in sandpits instead of rings.[6] Boxers fought without protective equipment, only wrapping their hands in hemp or gauze. There were no draws and no point system—the fight went on until one of the participants was knocked out or could no longer continue. Back then, Burmese boxing champions would enter the ring and call for open challenges.[7]

Kyar Ba Nyein, who participated in boxing at the 1952 Summer Olympics, pioneered modern Lethwei by setting in place modern rules and regulations.[8] He travelled around Myanmar, especially the Mon and Karen states, where many of the villagers still actively practiced Lethwei. Kyar Ba Nyein brought them back to Mandalay and Yangon and, after training with them, encouraged them to compete in the matches he organized.[9]

The Myanmar government made some organizational changes to make Burmese boxing more marketable internationally.[10][11][12][13]

The first international Lethwei event was held in June 2001, when three kickboxers from the USA competed against lethwei practitioners. They were Shannon Ritch, Albert Ramirez and Doug Evans. All three Americans were knocked out in the first round.

On July 10 & 11 2004, the second event headlining foreigners took place with four Japanese fighters fighting against Burmese boxers. They were Akitoshi Tamura, Yoshitaro Niimi, Takeharu Yamamoto and Naruji Wakasugi. MMA fighter Tamura, knocked out Aya Bo Sein in the second round and became the first foreigner to beat a lethwei practitioner in an official match.

On December 16, 2016, the very anticipated rematch of Dave Leduc and Tun Tun Min took place at the Air KBZ Aung Lan Championship in Yangon, Myanmar. The two previously fought in October to an explosive draw, but the rematch was sweetened by an added bonus: ownership of the Lethwei Open Weight World Championship Belt. Leduc became the first non-Burmese fighter to win the Lethwei world title by defeating Tun Tun Min in the second round.[14][15][16]

Unlike Thailand's Muay Thai, Myanmar's traditional Lethwei is more underground, due to travel restrictions and international sanctions on Myanmar. The sport has kept a low international profile for years, but that is rapidly changing. Since his win, Dave Leduc took the position of ambassador of the sport and his working hard on expanding across the world.[16]


Aside from punches, kicks, elbows and knee attacks, Burmese fighterss also make use of head-butts, raking knuckle strikes and take downs.

Lekkha Moun[edit]

Lekkha moun is the traditional Myanmar dance performed challenge your opponent with courage and respect. It is inspired from the birds of prey like the eagle, as they flap their wings when flying and hunting.


  • The use of the feet, hands, knees, elbows and head is permitted.
  • The fighters must only wear tape and gauze or their hands and feet.
  • If a knockout happens, the fighter as the right to a time-out once in the fight, to get revived.
  • There is no point system: The only way to win is by Knockout. Or because of an injury and the inability to fight any more. At the end of the match if the two fighters are still standing, the fight is declare a draw. This ensure that the fighters always give their 100% and tries to finish the fight.

If a knockout occurs, the fighter is revived and has the option of continuing the bout.[17] The only win by knockout, there are no point system. If neither fighter gets by knockout then the fight is declared a draw.[18]

Traditional matches include Flagship Tournament, which are still fought throughout Myanmar, especially during holidays or celebration festivals like Thingyan.[19][20][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kyaw Zin Hlaing (1 September 2015). "Easy win for Lethwei fighters". Myanmar Times. 
  2. ^ Nomad, Team (12 August 2016). "Dave Leduc To Fight In The Bloodiest And Most Brutal Form Of Striking Martial Art, Lethwei". Team Nomad. 
  3. ^ Goyder, James (22 July 2015). "Inside a Burmese Lethwei Gym". Fightland Blog (Vice). 
  4. ^ "Myanmese women show fighting spirit by embracing brutal martial art of Lethwei". South China Morning Post. 19 August 2015. 
  5. ^ https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Combat_Sports.html?id=vb29ngEACAAJ&redir_esc=y
  6. ^ Giordano, Vincent. "Born Warriors: Fighting for Survival". 15 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Volume 41. G. Bell and Sons. 1893. p. 151. At a Burmese boxing match a champion will jump into the ring and dance about, smacking his breast and arms and cracking his fingers, challenging all comers. 
  8. ^ "Kyar ba nyein". Scribd.com. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  9. ^ Giordano, Vincent. "Born Warriors Redux: A New Era Begins for an Ancient Sport". Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  10. ^ Goyder, James (17 December 2014). "The Burmese Kickboxing Style of Lethwei Expands Into Singapore". Vice Fightland). 
  11. ^ Giordano, Vincent (13 August 2015). "Burmese Lethwei: Bare Knuckle Revival". 
  12. ^ Calderon, Justin (23 September 2014). "Punches, headbutts, knockouts: Asia's 'new' martial arts sensation". CNN. 
  13. ^ Olavarria, Pedro (2 December 2014). "Bando: The style of Burmese Martial Arts". Vice Fightland. 
  14. ^ Kyaw Zin Hlaing (13 December 2016). "Myanmar's lethwei goliath toppled by Canadian 'Dave'". Myanmar Times. 
  15. ^ "デーブ・レダックチャンピオン Dave Leduc Champion". The Weekly Fight Japan. 12 December 2016. 
  16. ^ a b Anthony Da Silva-Casimiro (20 December 2016). "Tout sauf de la chance pour Dave Leduc". La Revue. 
  17. ^ Looi, Florence (8 September 2015). "Myanmar's Lethwei fighters bare their knuckles". Al Jazeera. 
  18. ^ a b Xegarra, Guillermo. "Born Warriors: Documentarian Vincent Giordano Interview Part 2". 
  19. ^ Giordano, Vincent. "Burmese Lethwei: The Tradition of Child Fighters". Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  20. ^ "Women join in Myanmar's ferocious kickboxing". Bangkok Post. 1 April 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Maung Gyi, Burmese bando boxing, Ed. R.Maxwell, Baltimore, 1978
  • Zoran Rebac, Traditional Burmese boxing, Ed. Paladin Press, Boulder, 2003