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Also known as Silat Tomoi
Focus Striking
Hardness Full contact
Country of origin Malaysia Malaysia
Parenthood Silat Embo
Olympic sport No

Tomoi is an unarmed offensive martial art from Malaysia practiced mainly in the northern states of Kedah, Trengganu, and especially Kelantan. It is closely related to other Indochinese boxing styles such as muay Thai in Thailand, Kun Khmer in Cambodia, muay Lao in Laos and lethwei in Myanmar. Practitioners are called petomoi.

The word tomoi is a cognate of the Thai dhoi muay. This was originally used for pugilism in general, and usually referred to what is now called muay boran or "ancient boxing". In modern Thai it denotes western boxing. In Malaysia however, tomoi has always referred to the indigenous Southeast Asian tradition of kickboxing while the general term for pugilism is tinju.


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.[1] One theory is that they were spread by the ancient Funan empire, 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.

During the 1970s and 80s, tomoi was so popular that tournaments and exhibition matches were held at Kuala Lumpur's National Stadium. Authorities later stopped encouraging the sport due to the fights that would break out among spectators. 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. After coming 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 mainly on account of the animist war-dance ritual which precedes the fight, but also because of the violence and the fact that men and women mix freely in the audience. A few tomoi practitioners at the time competed in the boxing, kickboxing and muay Thai circuit outside of Kelantan but tomoi's popularity reached its lowest point. 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). In 2006 the ban was abolished and tomoi was again allowed to be practiced under the name of moi Kelate which means "Kelantan boxing" in the local dialect. The name used by promoters is "freestyle kickboxing" but most Malay-speakers in the north still call tomoi.[2]


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 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, armbands and cotton coverlets on the feet. The armbands were traditionally inscribed with prayers for victory but this is not always done today. Matches are made up of five rounds, each lasting three minutes and broken with a two minute rest period. 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. Victory is usually obtained on points but 20% of matches end in a knockout. This occurs when a fighter has fallen and cannot continue after the referee counts to ten.

See also[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Draeger, Donn F. (1981). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Kodansha International
  2. ^ Kamaruzaman Yaacob (Aug 9, 2006). "Kickboxing making comeback". The Star.