Muay Thai

Muay Thai ( Thai: มวยไทย ) ( "Thai Boxing" ) is the Thai name for a form of martial art practiced in several Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Cambodia (where it is Pradal Serey), Myanmar, and Malaysia (where it is known as Tomoi). The different styles of fighting in mainland South East Asia are analogous to the different types of Kung Fu in China or Silat in the South East Asian islands or Malay World. It is the national sport of Thailand, and is also known as Thai Boxing or Art of the Eight Limbs.

Traditional Muay Thai has a long history in Thailand. Martial arts have been used by the military since ancient times. The military style of Muay Thai is known as Lerdrit, while today's "Sport Muay Thai" varies slightly from the original art and uses kicks and punches in a ring with gloves similar to those used in Western boxing. Muay Thai is referred to as "The Science of Eight Limbs", as the hands, shins, elbows, and knees are all used extensively in this art. A master practitioner of Muay Thai thus has the ability to execute strikes using eight "points of contact," as opposed to "two points" (fists) in Western boxing and "four points" (fists, feet) used in the primarily sport-oriented forms of martial arts. Muay Thai is an especially versatile, brutal, straightforward martial art.

Ram Muay before an amateur Muay Thai match
Ram Muay before an amateur Muay Thai match


  • Nuk Muay - A student of Muay Thai
    A pair of Muay Thai shorts, note the Thai text that means Muay Thai in English.
    A pair of Muay Thai shorts, note the Thai text that means Muay Thai in English.
  • Nuk Soo - Thai word for Muay Thai warrior
  • Kru - Instructor or trainer
  • Ajarn - Master or instructor (more advanced than kru)
  • Wai Kru (also transliterated as Whai Kru) - A ritual before a competition. The fighter performs three bows, on the third one the fighter concentrates, thinking about someone who is very dear to them. This ritual is meant to show respect towards family, gym and teacher.
  • Ram Muay - The Ram Muay is the pre-fight ritual conducted after the Wai Kru. It is a dance that the fighter performs to traditional music. In ancient times, the Ram Muay was used as a warm-up before a fight, but it is now performed prior to the beginning of a Muay Thai match.
  • Pra Jiad - A type of armband worn by Muay Thai fighters. The Pra Jiad gives good luck and confidence to the athletes. Some Muay Thai fighters prefer to wear one Pra Jiad, while others wear two. In some Western Muay Thai gyms colored Pra Jiad are used to show rank, much like the colored belt system used in Karate, Taekwondo, etc., although other methods of showing rank are used, as well.
  • Mong Kon - Headgear worn by Muay Thai fighters to signify those athletes whom their teachers feel have learned many of the skills and techniques of Muay Thai. They are presented at ceremonies honoring the fighters and are to be worn only in the ring during fights. However, they must never fall on, be close to or held near the ground as doing so will cause the Mong Kon to lose its magic. The student is never allowed to touch or handle the Mong Kon. Only his Kru or Ajarn may handle it. The trainer will take care of the headgear, will present the band to the fighter just before a competition and will recover it from him at the conclusion of the match. In the past, one could could tell the school from which a fighter originated based on the color and style of his Mong Kon.
  • Krang Ruang - A Pra Jiad that has special meaning to the person wearing it. It could be anything from a piece of their father's hair to a swath from their mother's sarang.
  • Pong Malai - Floral wreaths that are given to a fighter before a fight by friends or fans. They look somewhat like the Hawaiian Lei.

Pre-fight rituals

Even before entering the ring many fighters perform rituals. Some may kneel before the ring, others might pray with their coach or by themselves or perform a series of repetitive movements, such as touching the ring ropes 3 times. Thai boxers always climb over the top rope when entering the ring, because in Thai culture the head is considered to be more important than the feet, which are thought to be dirty. It is therefore important to always have the head above the feet while entering the ring. Once in the ring, a fighter might go to the center and bow to each side.

Now begins the Wai Kru ritual or (Wai khru ram muay). The Wai Kru usually starts with the fighter walking around the ring, counter-clockwise. This could be described as "sealing the ring", showing that the match is between only these two combatants. The ritual is both practical and spiritual. In a practical sense, it prepares the body for combat. During the Wai Kru there are many different movements and steps that a fighter might perform before the match, along with stretches. Some motions imitate, for example, a swallow, a hunter, a soldier or an executioner. Some fighters use this ritual to attempt to scare their opponents, commonly by stomping around them. But in a deeper sense, the fighter is expressing religious devotion, humility and gratitude. Transcending both physical and temporal limitations, he opens himself to the divine presence and allows it to infuse his heart and soul. In ancient times, the ritual was intended to show devotion to the King and the fighter's mentor. Today, that devotion is given to the organizer of the match and the fighter's trainer.[1] The ritual also gives the fighter some time alone before the fight to collect his thoughts and concentrate on the task ahead.

After this dance, the fighter walks over to his coach who removes the Mongkon and the Pong Malai. The match begins after a review of the rules by the judge and a glove shake.


The basic offensive techniques in Muay Thai use fists, elbows, shins, feet, and knees to strike the opponent. To bind the opponent for both offensive and defensive purposes, small amounts of stand-up grappling are used: the clinch. Muay Thai is often a fighting art of attrition, where opponents exchange blows with one another. This is certainly the case with traditional stylists in Thailand, but is a less popular form of fighting in the contemporary world fighting circuit. With the success of Muay Thai in mixed martial arts fighting, it has become the de facto martial art of choice for competitive stand-up fighters. As a result, it has evolved in order and incorporated much more powerful hand striking techniques used in western style boxing, and the Thai style of exchanging blow for blow is no longer favorable. Note: when Muay Thai fighters compete against fighters of other styles (and if the rules permit it), they almost invariably emphasize elbow (sok) and knee (kao) techniques to gain a distinct advantage in fighting. Almost all techniques in Muay Thai use the entire body movement, rotating the hip with each kick, punch, and block. The rotation of the hips in Muay Thai techniques, and intensive focus on "core muscles" (such as abdominal muscles and surrounding muscles) is very distinctive and is what sets Muay Thai apart from other styles of martial arts.

The Clinch

The fighter on the left has the dominant position in the Thai clinch. (Note that they have their fingers intertwined with the other hand. This is impossible with boxing gloves and should be avoided in training.)
The fighter on the left has the dominant position in the Thai clinch. (Note that they have their fingers intertwined with the other hand. This is impossible with boxing gloves and should be avoided in training.)

The clinch is applied by holding the opponent either around the neck and head or around the body. The neck hold is usually called the Thai clinch. Clinching is extensively used in Muay Thai and sometimes the clinching goes on for a whole round. In Western Boxing, the two fighters are separated when they clinch, in Muay Thai however, they are not separated. It is often in the clinch where knee techniques are used. The clinch should be performed with the palm of one hand on the back of the other and not as shown in the picture. The reason why the fingers must never be interlaced are of course that you have boxing gloves on you and while it gives you a tighter grip during training, it doesn't really help in the ring. A correct clinch also involves your forearms pressing against the other fighters collar bone while your hands are around the opponents head rather than his neck. A common technique is to just tap the head downward then execute a throw. Another easy technique is, if attacked with a knee, to throw the opponent to the opposite side of the attacking knee. This will offset his balance and either send him to the canvas or allow time to perform a knee of your own.

Defense against punches and kicks

Defensively, the concept of "wall of defense" is used, in which shoulders, arms and legs are used to hinder the attacker from successfully executing his techniques. Blocking is a critical element in Muay Thai and compounds the level of conditioning a successful practitioner must possess. Low and mid body roundhouse kicks are normally blocked with the upper portion of a raised shin. High body strikes are blocked with the forearm/glove, knee/shin. Mid section roundhouse kicks can also be caught/trapped, allowing for a sweep or counter attack to the remaining leg of the opponent. Punches are blocked with an ordinary boxing guard.

Elbow techniques

The elbow can be used in seven ways: horizontal, diagonal-upwards, diagonal-downwards, uppercut, downward, backward-spinning and flying. From the side it can be used as either a finishing move or as a way to cut your opponent's eyebrow so that blood might block his vision. The blood also raises the opponent's awareness of being hurt which could affect his performance. That's the most common way of using the elbow. The diagonal elbows are faster than the other forms, but are less powerful. The uppercut and flying elbows are the most powerful, but are slower and easier to avoid or block. The downward elbow is usually used as a finishing move.

There is also a distinct difference between a single elbow and a follow-up elbow. The single elbow is an elbow move independent from any other move, whereas a follow-up elbow is the second strike from the same arm, being a hook first with an elbow follow-up. Such elbows, and most other elbows, are use when the distance between fighters becomes too small and there is too little space to throw a hook at the opponents head.

Kicking techniques

The push kick and the roundhouse kick are the two most common kicks in Muay Thai. The Muay Thai roundhouse kick has been widely adopted by fighters from other martial arts. The roundhouse kick uses a rotational movement of the entire body. Thai boxers are trained to always connect with the shin. While sensitive in an unconditioned practitioner, the shin is the strongest part of the leg. The foot contains many fine bones and is much weaker. A fighter may end up hurting himself if he tries to attack with his foot.

Muay Thai also includes other varieties of kicking, such as the crescent kick, side kick or spinning back kick. But these are rarely used compared to the push kick and the roundhouse kick.

Knee techniques

Some knee techniques ( "kao" )

  • Kao Dode (Jumping knee strike) - the Thai boxer jumps up on one leg and strikes with that leg's knee.
  • Kao Loi (Jumping or Flying knee strike) - the Thai boxer jumps up or takes step(s), springs up off one leg and in mid-air switches to the other knee to strike. A quite spectacular sight when it connects.
  • Kao Tone (Straight knee strike) - the Thai boxer simply thrusts it straight upwards. According to one written source, this technique is somewhat more recent than Kao Dode or Kao Loi. Supposedly, when the Thai boxers fought with rope-bound hands rather than the modern boxing gloves, this particular technique was subject to potentially vicious cutting, slicing and sawing by an alert opponent who would block it or deflect it with the sharp "rope-glove" edges or sometimes by the glass glued onto the "rope-gloves". This explanation also holds true for some of the following knee strikes below as well.
  • Kao Noi (Small knee strike) - the Thai boxer hits the inside upper thigh (above the knee) of the opponent when clinching. This technique is used to wear down the opponent or to counter the opponent's knee strike or kick.


Two young Muay Thai fighters doing the pre-match ritual dance, called Wai Kru.
Two young Muay Thai fighters doing the pre-match ritual dance, called Wai Kru.

Like most competitive full contact fighting sports, Muay Thai has a heavy focus on body conditioning. Muay Thai is specifically designed to promote the level of fitness and toughness required for ring competition. Training regimens include many staples of combat sport conditioning such as running, shadowboxing, rope jumping, body weight resistance exercises, medicine ball exercises, abdominal exercises and in some cases weight training.

Training that is specific to a Muay Thai fighter includes training with coaches on Thai pads, focus mitts, heavy bag, and sparring. The daily training includes many rounds (3-5 minute periods broken up by a short rest, often 1-2 minutes) of these various methods of practice. Thai pad training is a cornerstone of Muay Thai conditioning which involves practicing punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes with a trainer wearing thick pads which cover the forearms and hands. These special pads are used to absorb the impact of the fighter’s strikes, and allow the fighter to react to the attacks of the pad holder. The trainer will often also wear a belly pad around the abdominal area so that the fighter can attack with straight kicks to the body at anytime during the round.

Focus mitts are specific to training a fighter’s hand speed, punch combinations, timing, punching power, defense, counter-punching and are also used to practice elbow strikes. Heavy bag training is a conditioning and power exercise that reinforces the techniques practiced on the pads. Sparring is a means to test technique, skills, range, strategy, and timing against a partner. Sparring is often a light to medium contact exercise because competitive fighters on a full schedule are not advised to risk injury by sparring hard. Specific tactics and strategies can be trained with sparring including in close fighting, clinching and kneeing only, cutting off the ring, or using reach and distance to keep an aggressive fighter away.

Due to the rigorous fighting and training regimen (some Thai boxers fight almost every other week) professional Muay Thai fighters have relatively short careers in the ring. Many retire from competition to begin instructing the next generation of Thai fighters. Most professional Thai boxers come from the lower economic backgrounds and the fight money (after the other parties get their cut) is sought as means of support for the fighters and their families. Very few higher economic strata Thais join the professional Muay Thai ranks; they usually practise the sport as amateur Muay Thai boxers.


A thaiboxer praying during the Wai Kru before match.
A thaiboxer praying during the Wai Kru before match.

Muay Thai is considered by some to be a derivation of a general indigenous martial art style native to Southeast Asia. Muay Thai was the first of these styles to be popularized outside of Southeast Asia.

Muay Thai began as Krabi Krabong, the Siamese military fighting style with a sword in one hand. Developing through time and natural evolution of the art, it gave birth to Muay Boran, ancient style Muay Thai. As the basis of battlefield warfare evolved technologically, hand-to-hand combat was no longer required within the military. Muay Boran was divided to Muay ThaSao (North), Muay Thai Korat (Esarn or Northeast), Muay Thai Lobburee (Center region) and Muay Thai Chaiya (South).

There is a phrase about Muay Thai Boran that states, "Punch Korat, Wit Lobburee, Posture Chaiya."

Muay Korat emphasizes strength. There is one technique called "Throwing Buffalo Punch", called this because it supposedly can defeat a buffalo in one blow. Muay Lobburee emphasizes clever movements. Its strength point is the straight and turned punch. Muay Chaiya emphasizes posture and defense. It's difficult for an opponent to attack. Muay Chaiya stresses elbows and knees.

Muay Thai became a sporting martial art, kept alive in Thailand as a competitive sport, and for many, a way of life.

Traditionally in the past, Muay Thai was used as entertainment to kings. It is thought by some sources that gloves were made out of wrapped twine, tar, and broken pieces of glass to ensure a bloody event, however it is still a subject of debate. [The notion of incorporating broken glass into the gloves of a Muay Thai fighter could have been taken from a Jean Claude Van Damme movie]

Nai Khanomtom

A very famous fighter was Nai Khanomtom. Around 1774, he was captured along with other Thai prisoners, either in a skirmish or at the fall of the ancient capital of Siam (Thailand's name at that time) of Ayutthaya. He was brought to Rangoon in Burma, where the Burmese king Mangra was holding a religious festival in honor of Buddha's relics. The festivities included many forms of entertainment. King Mangra was reported to be curious to see how the various fighting styles of Burma and other countries would compare. At one point, he wanted to see how Muay Thai (or Muay Boran) would compare to the Burmese art (Bama Lethwei). Nai Khanomtom was selected to fight against the Burmese champion. Nai Khanomtom did a Wai Kru (wai khru ram muay) pre-fight dance which puzzled all of the Burmese. When the fight began, he charged out and using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, quickly pummeled the Burmese.

The referee was reported to have stated that the Burmese opponent was distracted by the Wai Kru, so the knockout was invalid. The King then asked if Nai Khanomtom would fight nine other Burmese champions to prove himself. He agreed and fought them all, one after the other. The last Burmese was reputed to be a great boxing teacher. Nai Khanomtom defeated them all in a superior fashion. King Mangra was so impressed that he remarked, "Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. As his lord master was incompetent, the country was lost to the enemy. If his lord had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen." He granted Nai Khanomtom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives. Nai Khanomtom chose the wives as he said that money was easier to find. He then departed with his wives for Siam (Thailand). Other variations of this story had him also winning the release of his fellow Thai prisoners. His feat is celebrated every March 17 as "Boxer's Day" or "National Muay Thai Day" in his honor and that of Muay Thai's.


Muay Thai, along with savate and karate, heavily influenced the development of kickboxing in Japan, Europe, and North America. However, unlike Muay Thai, many kickboxing competitions do not allow elbow strikes, knee strikes, and kicks below the waist. These rule changes have led some martial artists to consider kickboxing a 'watered down' version of Muay Thai.

Mixed Martial Arts

Starting in the 1990s, Muay Thai has enjoyed a boost in popularity worldwide as it has been very effective in mixed martial arts fights, such as those held by the PRIDE Fighting Championships and Ultimate Fighting Championship. Mixed martial artists such as Marco Ruas (of Ruas Vale Tudo), Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (of the Chute Boxe Academy) have combined many striking elements of Muay Thai with grappling, submission, and choking elements from Judo, Wrestling, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into a hybrid synthesis that has been highly effective in defeating practitioners of "pure" martial arts. Other fighters that have used Muay Thai as their primary style in mixed martial arts include Duane "Bang" Ludwig, Yves Edwards and Spencer Cooper. Shoot-fighters and professional wrestlers who have trained and been influenced by Muay Thai include Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask and founder of shooto), and Yoshiaki Fujiwara.

The rules

Muay Thai is practiced in a lot of countries and there are different rules depending on what country the fight is in and under what organization the fight is arranged. These rules, however, are gathered from the rules section of the World Muay Thai Councils web site. This is not the complete rulebook but it contains a selection of the most important or most interesting rules.

Weight divisions

Category Weight (up to)
Super Heavyweight 209 lbs+ (95 kg.+)
Heavyweight 190 lbs+ (86.183 kg.+)
Cruiserweight 190 lbs (86.183 kg.)
Light Heavyweight 175 lbs (79.379 kg.)
Super Middleweight 168 lbs (76.363 kg.)
Middleweight 160 lbs (71.575 kg.)
Junior Middleweight 154 lbs (69.853 kg.)
Welterweight 147 lbs (66.638 kg.)
Junior Welterweight 140 lbs (63.503 kg.)
Lightweight 135 lbs (61.235 kg.)
Junior Lightweight 130 lbs (58.967 kg.)
Featherweight 126 lbs (57.153 kg.)
Junior Featherweight 122 lbs (55.338 kg.)
Bantamweight 118 lbs (53.524 kg.)
Junior Bantamweight 115 lbs (52.163 kg.)
Flyweight 112 lbs (50.802 kg.)
Junior Flyweight 108 lbs (48.988 kg.)
Mini Flyweight 105 lbs (47.727 kg.)

According to rule 8, section 2, the minimum weight to compete is 100 pounds (45.36 kg.).


Boxing gloves

Category Weight (up to)
Junior Middleweight and upwards 10 ounce (284 grams)
Featherweight - Welterweight 8 ounce (227 grams)
Mini Flyweight - Junior Featherweight 6 ounce (132 grams)


Wai Kru and Round Definition

Prior to the start of the first round, both fighters shall perform the Wai Kru (paying respect to the teacher), accompanied by the appropriate Thai traditional music, incorporating the Ching (cymbal), Klong khaek (tom-tom) and Pee Java (Thai reed pipe). A Muay Thai match shall consist of five rounds, 3 minutes per round with a 2 minute break between each round. Any stoppage during the match for any reason, will not be counted as part of the 3 minute round time.


1.1. Points will be awarded for a correct Thai Boxing style, combined with hard and accurate strikes.

1.2. Points will be awarded for aggressive and dominating Muay Thai skill.

1.3. Points will be awarded for a fighter actively dominating his opponent.

1.4. Points will be awarded for the use of a traditional Thai style of defence and counter-attack.

The maximum score for each round is 10 points, the loser scoring either 9, 8 or 7.


18.1. Biting, eye gouging, spitting, or head butting.

18.2. Wrestling, back or arm locks or any similar judo or wrestling hold.

18.3. Deliberately falling on his opponent.

18.4. Holding the ropes for any reason.

18.5. Swearing or the use of abusive language during the match.

18.6. Knocking out or injuring his opponent after the referee has ordered the match to stop for any reason.

18.7. Deliberately striking the groin area.

To be penalized by the deduction of 1 point for each time committed.

A boxer, who has been hit in the groin, may request a 5 minute break before continuing the match.

Drug Usage

The use of drugs or stimulants, either before or after the fight is strictly forbidden. Any user will be disqualified. The sole drug allowed for the prevention of bleeding is Adrenalin 1:1000 and must be administered under a doctor's directions.

Associations and Federations

International associations

International Federation of Muay Thai Amateurs / IFMA
World Muay Thai Council / WMC

National associations

United States Muay Thai Association / USMTA
Thai Boxing Association of the USA
Czech Muay Thai Federation / CMF
The Danish Muay Thai Federation / DMF
Muay Thai Association of Finland / MTAF
The Swedish Thai Boxing Federation / STBF


Media depiction

Ong-Bak, one of the films that have promoted Muay Thai and Muay Boran.
Ong-Bak, one of the films that have promoted Muay Thai and Muay Boran.
  • In 2004, Asanee Suwan won the Thai equivalent of the American Academy Award for best actor, the Supannahongsa Award, for his portrayal of Parinya Charoenphol (affectionately known as Nong Toom in Thailand) in Beautiful Boxer. The movie tells the true-life story of a man who masters Muay Thai in order to realize his dream of becoming a woman.
  • Recently the films Ong-Bak, Tom-Yum-Goong (The Protector), and Born to Fight helped to popularize Muay Thai. Ong-Bak demonstrates some techniques of the older style of Muay Thai - Muay Boran and Tom-Yum-Goong illustrates the fighting style of the Thai Royal Bodyguards (Jaturongkabaht, circa 1400-1700s) - Muay Koshasan (Elephant Boxing style). Muay Koshasan is also known as Muay Chang Tumlai Roang - (Smashing Elephant Boxing style) in that it emphasizes a lot of throwing, crushing, and breaking of joints and limbs.
  • The film Kickboxer starring Jean Claude Van Damme was a film set in Thailand and based on the sport of Muay Thai. Van Damme's portrayal in this film should not be taken as an accurate depiction of Muay Thai.
  • The film Muay Thai starring Jason Willis is set in Evansville, Indiana, about one of the best upcoming Thai fighters in 2006.
  • Captain Falcon from Super Smash Brothers Melee fights using an extremely stylized, cartoony version of Muay Thai. The Muay Thai influence can be seen most clearly in his non-special moves, which include an elbow strike, a rising knee, and a one handed, clinch.
  • Vanessa Lewis (Virtua Fighter) uses Muay Thai as an alternate stance in addition to her standard Vale Tudo move set in Virtua Fighter 4. Jax (Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance) also uses a watered-down form of the style.
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