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Also known as Silat Tomoi
Focus Striking
Hardness Full contact
Country of origin Malaysia
Famous practitioners Mat Nan
Parenthood Muay boran
Silat Embo
Olympic sport No

Tomoi, also known as Muay Thai, is the Malay word for an unarmed offensive martial art from Thailand. It is mainly practiced in the northern states, Kelantan, Kedah, Perlis, Trengganu, Selangor.[1][2]

Practitioners are called petomoi or anak muay, the latter meaning "child of boxing".

The word tomoi originated from the Thai ต่อยมวย, "Toimoi" or dhoi muay; "Toi"(ต่อย) meaning Punch and "Moi" or "Muay" (มวย) meaning binding into rounded form. In Malaysia, however, tomoi has always been referred to the form of kickboxing sport of Siamese Kedah and those of the northern states while the general term for pugilism is tinju.[3]


Today the majority of the population of Kedah are Malay Muslims, who mostly speak the Kedah dialect of Malay. However, some speak Thai as a vernacular language. The lists of Thai Buddhist temples and the registered monks of Kedah and Perlis in 1890 and 1892 (in the National Archives of Kedah of 1992) are in the collection of the letters of Sultan Abdul Hamid of Kedah. And there were Siamese villages and temples in Kalentan, which included a Siamese/Thai temple named Wat Uttamaram ~ Tok Raja Temple in Kelantan.[4][5]

The art of "Tomoi" or "Toi Muay"(ต่อยมวย) was taught and practiced among these Siamese communities in Kedah and Kelantan.

The system of Tomoi, the guard, stance, and striking techniques, are identical to Muay Thai.

The system of Muay Thai came from the combination and development of many Siamese regional fight styles, including Muay Jerng from the North, Muay Korat from the North East, and Muay Chaiya from the South. Each of these regional styles had their own advantages and disadvantages in their individual guards, stances, footwork, striking techniques and the art of hand wrapping (called Kard Chuerk). The combination of advantages and disadvantages of these various regional boxing arts have been developed and tested for centuries until it became the system of Toimoi (ต่อยมวย) or Muay Thai.

These arts of hand wrapping and the Muay Thai guard do not exist in any reliefs or record of any other ancient empire in Southeast Asia, before the birth of Siam Ayuttaya.

It is unclear exactly where the various Indo-Chinese forms of kickboxing originated but they are known to share a common ancestry having been based on Chinese techniques with some influence from the Indian martial arts. One theory is that they were spread by the ancient kingdom of Funan, based in modern-day Cambodia, which once encompassed what are now Thailand, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Pahang. Originally, boxers wrapped their fists in hemp rope instead of wearing gloves. There was no ring, so the fights would take place in any open area while surrounded by spectators. If the crowd was satisfied when the match was over, the victor would be rewarded with food and money which helped supplement the income of poor families. British colonists later introduced the modern rules, boxing ring and gloves. The older techniques and weapons are still taught today as another style called silat embo.[6]

During the 1970s and 80s, tomoi was so popular that tournaments and exhibition matches were held at Kuala Lumpur's National Stadium. In its native Kelantan, tomoi particularly flourished during the 1960s and 70s before the Islamization movement beginning in the 80s. Matches between popular fighters would draw crowds as far as southern Thailand.[7] After the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) came into power, the Kelantan government banned several Malay cultural traditions for their "un-Islamic elements", including mak yong (dance-theatre) and wayang kulit (shadow puppetry). Tomoi was also outlawed in 1990 because of the war-dance and chanting which precedes the fight,[8] and also due to the fights that would break out among spectators.[7] Makeshift rings were still constructed in villages, but with no form of advertising or promotion for fear of attracting the authorities.[9] Many tomoi practitioners during this time left Kelantan and competed in neighbouring Trengganu, where its popularity rose around 1995. Because Kelantan is close to the border with Thailand, many Malaysians during this period began referring to the art by its Thai name of muay Thai (or moi Thai in the northern dialect).

The Kelantan Boxing And Tomoi Association (KBA), led by Ramli Awang and supported by the Kelantan police, continued calling for the ban's abolition.[10] In 2006 the ban was lifted and tomoi matches were allowed so long as they were sanctioned by KBA.[8] The first official tomoi event in Kelantan after the ban's abolition was held at Kok Lanas from November 3–5 in 2006, showcasing the top fighters in Kelantan and southern Thailand. Despite the ban being lifted, authorities and the media attempted to distance tomoi from its Malay roots as a way of discouraging it, marketing the art as Thai or as a neutral international sport. The name proposed by the government was muay Kelate (lit. "Kelantan boxing" in the local dialect) while the name used by promoters was "freestyle kickboxing", but most Malay-speakers in the north still call it tomoi. Under the proposed rules, betting is not allowed and boxers would now wear longer pants to cover their thighs, but the latter rule was never enforced or practiced. Today every district in Kelantan has a tomoi club, and many of Malaysia's boxing champions began as petomoi.[9] It was and still is part of the unarmed combat training of the Kelantan police force.


Boxers usually begin their training at the age of nine. Tomoi incorporates kicks (tendang), punches (tumbuk), knees (lutut) and elbow strikes (tujah). Punches consist of the straight jab, cross, hook, uppercut, and backfist. Kicks include the foot-thrust, front kick, roundhouse kick, backward roundhouse, lower roundhouse, and axe kick. The foot-thrust is typically not meant to damage the opponent but to push them back. Tomoi practitioners consider punches to be the weakest form of attack, and regard elbow and knee strikes as the best way of inflicting damage, so much so that it is sometimes referred to as the art of siku lutut which literally translates as "elbow-knee". Elbow strikes include the horizontal elbow, vertical elbow, elbow thrust, spinning elbow, back elbow, and double elbow. Knee strikes are mostly delivered while clinching the opponent. Each of the eight striking points (fists, feet, elbows and knees) can also be used during a midair attack.

Although tomoi is primarily unarmed, its ancient counterpart also incorporated weapons such as the knife, sword, and the mae sawk, a bamboo truncheon with a perpendicular handle. The same unarmed techniques are applied to the weapons, although they are rarely taught today. Traditional training methods like kicking trees and splashing water near the face without blinking are confined to rural areas. More commonly used conditioning methods include running, skipping rope, shadowboxing, and resistance exercises.


Standard attire consists of shorts, boxing gloves, and cotton coverlets on the feet. Fights begin with the chanting of Hindu-Buddhist prayers, and a war-dance in salutation to the boxer's guru, to Rama, and to the spirit of the ring. Both the chanting and the dance are discouraged today and officially illegal. Matches are made up of five rounds, each lasting three minutes and broken with a two-minute rest period. Victory is usually obtained on points, with the most points being awarded for knocking the opponent to the ground. 20% of matches end in a knockout. This occurs when a fighter has fallen and cannot continue after the referee counts to ten. Matches are judged by a five-member team. Biting, blows aimed at the groin, holding the ropes, attacking a fallen opponent, and hitting an opponent from behind is illegal. During the match, traditional music is played with the gendang (drums), serunai (oboe) and other instruments. The music slows down and speeds up according to the pace of the fight. Tomoi is traditionally practiced only by men, and it was forbidden for women to even enter the ring. Today girls are allowed to practice and compete in all Malaysian states except Kelantan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Siamese in Kedah under nation-state making" By Keiko Kuroda (Kagoshima University)
  2. ^ Reference: "Thailand: the short History" by David K. Wyatt
  3. ^ Yang Kassim (1991). Malay-English Dictionary (Bilingual). Seremban: Minerva. ISBN 983-68-0076-X. 
  4. ^ Buddism and Ethnicity: The case of the Siamese of Kelantan by Mohamed Yusoff Ismail
  5. ^ "The Siamese in Kedah under nation-state making" By Keiko Kuroda (Kagoshima University)
  6. ^ Zainal Abidin Shaikh Awab and Nigel Sutton (2006). Silat Tua: The Malay Dance Of Life. Kuala Lumpur: Azlan Ghanie Sdn Bhd. ISBN 978-983-42328-0-1. 
  7. ^ a b Kamaruzaman Yaacob (Aug 9, 2006). "Kickboxing making comeback". The Star. 
  8. ^ a b "Kelantan lifts ban on tomoi". New Straits Times. July 24, 2006. 
  9. ^ a b Ian Mcintyre (Oct 29, 2006). "Kicking its way back into the reckoning". The Star. 
  10. ^ "Kelantan urged to lift ban on Tomoi". Utusan. Oct 6, 2001.