If there’s one thing be can be grateful to MMA for, aside from the years of entertainment and thrills it provided us, it’s introducing the world to the fascinating sport of Muay Thai.
This Thai style boxing technique used to be something practiced only in its home country, but as it’s exploded on the main stage, so too has the interest in learning all about it.
Muay Thai is one of the most commonly used schools of martial arts when it comes to MMA, and if you’ve ever watched a professional contest you’ve no doubt seen some of the moves before.
Although known predominantly as Thai boxing, there’s so much more to the sport than that, and we’re going to do a deep dive into it to find out what it’s all about.
What is Muay Thai and how does it differ from other martial arts?
Muay Thai is a form of boxing that was developed in Thailand and is considered their national sport. Although similar to kickboxing and other forms of boxing, the scoring and rules are different, and additional moves like clinching and elbow strikes are allowed.
This fascinating sport has a history richer than what we’ve seen in UFC or other MMA competitions, and if you’ve always wanted to learn more about it, we’re here to help.
This is the ultimate guide to Muay Thai that will teach you its origins, differences, rules, and techniques, so you can fall in love with the sport like so many millions of others have.
Table of Contents
- What is Muay Thai?
- The History and Folklore of Muay Thai
- Rise of Muay Thai’s Popularity
- Common Techniques Used By Fighters
- The Safety of This Boxing Style
- Famous Muay Thai Organizations and Competitions
- Muay Thai Weight Classes
- How to Watch at Home
- Tips for Muay Thai Beginners
- Related Questions
- Muay Thai Articles You Shouldn’t Miss
What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai is at its simplest, boxing, and it’s known as the national sport of Thailand with roots that date back hundreds of years.
The phrase “muay” literally translates to boxing in this language, and the pronunciation is often the center of debate, especially in the United States.
“Moo-ay” is considered the correct way to say Muay according to locals, but no matter how you pronounce it, it’s a thrilling sport to watch.
Some consider it to be similar to kickboxing, and watching a contest you’ll see the similarities, but there are different rules and scoring systems entirely.
Muay Thai differs from other types of fighting styles as a lot more is allowed for a full-body combat sport than you might realize.
As well as being able to do the typical kicks and punches, it’s encouraged that fighters strike blows with their elbows or use feet, and it can be quite an aggressive battle to take part in.
This style of fighting is sometimes known as the art of eight limbs, and if you watch a contest, you’ll see quickly what this means.
The eight limbs in question are the two hands, two feet, two elbows, and two knees of the fighter, and with eight being used by either opponent, there’s always a lot going on.
The History and Folklore of Muay Thai
As far as fighting styles go, not many have the deep history that Muay Thai does, which only adds further to its mystique and fascination.
The modern variation of this combat sport looks different than it did at first, with its roots beginning in Muay Boran, the ancient martial arts system that was developed in Thailand, the country formerly known as Siam.
During the 16th century, this form of martial arts was developed as a way for the military and everyday citizens to defend themselves, as the ongoing battles with neighboring territories called for it.
As a combination of different fighting styles that were created in different parts of the country, including Muay Thasao and Muay Korat, this was a martial arts system born of numerous techniques.
As the fighting became less prevalent and the need for self-defense and protection lessened, the Thai citizens began using their newfound skills as a way to form a competitive sport.
When King Rama V reigned from 1868 to 1910, the sport only flourished, with winners being given military titles and royal competitions becoming commonplace.
Items that are now commonplace in the combat sport like gloves and boxing rings became part of the competition, thanks largely in part to western forms of boxing and what had already been established there.
Rise of Muay Thai’s Popularity
Although once a sport that only Thai nationals knew about, Muay Thai is now a globally recognized sport, and a huge part of what makes MMA such a dynamic competition.
This is thanks, in part, to the international fights that were scheduled in the seventies and eighties where some of the most prized practitioners of martial arts were beaten by Muay Thai champions.
Today, many people flock to Thailand just to see a fight close up, and there is a range of training facilities to enroll in as well.
Not only is this sport practiced competitively, and makes up a large portion of mixed martial arts practice, but people use it to improve their strength and fitness, and learn the valuable tool of self-defense.
Common Techniques Used By Fighters
After watching just five minutes of a Muay Thai match, and it will be instantly obvious that is sport is unique. If you have hopes and aspirations to train in Muay Thai, the first and most important thing you’ll learn is the stance.
As the foundation of both your defensive and offensive moves, having the right balance and keeping a wide stance is crucial to succeeding in this form of martial arts.
Just as important as stance is your guard, and this is how you’ll protect yourself, holding your hands and arms in front of you for protection.
As it’s known as the art of eight limbs, there’s a lot more to defend against compared to standard boxing, where you’re only having to protect yourself from punches, and here are some of the common moves you’ll learn:
The three most important punches in Muay Thai are hooks, straight punches, and uppercuts.
Just like other forms of boxing, these can do serious damage to your opponent, and they’re able to be legally performed on any part of their body.
Kicking is a common technique in Muay Thai, and there are four key types of kicks used to take someone down, including leg kick, body kick, push kick, and head kick.
A leg kick is powerful, and hard to catch, but can be blocked by an opponent. Body kicks are administered to your opponent’s body and capable of doing a lot of damage.
Head kicks can be hard to deliver due to their height but will usually be devastating to your opponent. A push kick, or teep, is used to determine the distance between fighters and establish yourself as the superior fighter.
If you’ve ever been elbowed before you know the pain this appendage can deliver. In Muay Thai, elbows are a serious weapon and a popular choice in this form of martial arts.
A powerful elbow is capable of knocking an opponent out, but are hard to land as you have to be in close range to the other fighter for them to work effectively.
A swift strike to your opponent’s body with your knee can do a lot of damage, and if you’re close enough, you can reach their legs and head as well. Some fighters use this while clinching to get a two-for-one effect.
This Muay Thai technique is used to take control of your opponent and gives you the upper hand to continue the attack while they’re subdued, similar to grappling.
It must be administered in close quarters to be effective, and it can prevent them from striking you while you have a good hold of them.
The Safety of This Boxing Style
Muay Thai is a full-body contact competitive sport, and as expected, there’s the potential to be injured when you’re competing.
Although not everyone who takes part in Muay Thai today is doing so to fight at a professional level, there are still risks involved when you participate in any type of combat sport.
A professional boxing match that uses Muay Thai techniques will usually take place in a controlled environment where there are referees to supervise.
This ensures the rules are adhered to by both opponents and anything that becomes too unsafe or outside of the scope of the rules is put an end to immediately.
Some health risks involved with this type of combat sport include fractures, broken bones, bruises, and bloody noses.
As someone involved in MMA and Thai boxing specifically, these are all side effects of their passion, and something that most realize before stepping into the cage or ring to fight a competitor.
Those practicing Muay Thai purely as a form of fitness and strength training will have less chance of being injured. However, proper technique is required to minimize the risk of injury and a correct workout routine that includes warming up and cooling down the body will be essential.
Famous Muay Thai Organizations and Competitions
The International Federation of Muaythai Associations is the sole recognized governing body of the sport, including both amateur and professional competitions.
There are countless sporting events and contests each year for Muay Thai competitors to participate in, but among the most popular are:
- Kings Cup Super 8 Tournament: Held each year in Thailand and facing the King’s palace, this spectacular fight sees up to 300,000 spectators.
- Isuzu Cup Muay Thai Championship: Sponsored by the famous car manufacturer, the Isuzu Cup is held once a year and the winner will take home Bt1 million in cash.
- Toyota Marathon Tournament: This Muay Thai competition has been running for almost 20 years and takes part in different regions across the country, with many weight ranges competing.
Muay Thai Weight Classes
As with other styles of boxing and combat sports, there are weight ranges in the world of Muay Thai and these determine the class a fighter is in.
According to the World Muay Thai Council, the governing body for the sport, these are the weight divisions that fighters must be categorized into for competition:
- Mini Flyweight: 100 pounds to 105 pounds
- Light Flyweight: 105 pounds to 108 pounds
- Flyweight: 108 pounds to 112 pounds
- Super Flyweight: 112 pounds to 112 pounds
- Bantamweight: 115 pounds to 118 pounds
- Super Bantamweight: 118 pounds to 122 pounds
- Featherweight: 122 pounds to 126 pounds
- Super Featherweight: 126 pounds to 130 pounds
- Lightweight: 130 pounds to 135 pounds
- Super Lightweight: 135 pounds to 140 pounds
- Welterweight: 140 pounds to 147 pounds
- Super Welterweight: 147 pounds to 154 pounds
- Middleweight: 154 pounds to 160 pounds
- Super Middleweight: 160 pounds to 168 pounds
- Light Heavyweight: 168 pounds to 175 pounds
- Cruiserweight: 175 pounds to 190 pounds
- Super Cruiserweight: 190 pounds to 210 pounds
- Heavyweight: 210 pounds to 230 pounds
- Super Heavyweight: 230 pounds and up
How to Watch at Home
If you’re a fan of Muay Thai and want to watch more regular fights, but find it hard to do from the United States, there are a few options.
The easiest way is to find a sport content streaming service that regularly screens fights as they happen, giving you full-time access to the competitions.
Otherwise, you might plan a trip to Thailand in the future to see the action in person and be amazed at just how much Muay Thai goes on there each night.
A visit to the bustling epicenter will give you multiple chances to watch up and coming fighters in battle, or even larger fights with more prominent participants if you’re lucky, as well as the chance to train in a gym yourself.
Thanks to the rise of MMA in the US, Muay Thai itself is developing as a standalone combat sport. You may have a training center or gym in your local area and be able to watch contests between American fighters, so keep your eyes out for up and coming competitions.
Tips for Muay Thai Beginners
There’s something alluring about the thrill of Muay Thai, and whether you want to learn this form of martial art for competition, or just to improve your fitness, it’s one of the better systems.
If you’re brand new to Muay Thai and want to know how to get started, check out these tips for inside information:
- Be physically fit: Work on your baseline fitness before starting a Muay Thai class, as it takes its toll after just one session. Have a separate exercise routine just for improving cardio and strength in addition to regular training for your new brand of boxing.
- Choose the right gloves: Invest in a pair of Muay Thai boxing gloves made specifically for this sport. They’ll give you protection but allow for flexibility so you can still clinch and do the other vital moves.
- Wrap your hands: All fighters wrap their hands, but it’s especially important when you’re new to the sport. Wrapping gives your bones and tendons some protection as you take the time to condition them to what they’re doing.
- Learn the technique: Without correct form, you can do serious damage to yourself and your opponent, and not in a good way. Don’t rush through training with Muay Thai as every moment needs to be succinct to work.
Muay Thai is one of the most popular fighting schools when it comes to MMA and one that people are eager to train in for whatever reason.
If you’ve considered getting into Muay Thai or any form of MMA training yourself, we’ve got the answers to some questions that can point you in the right direction to see if it’s right for you.
Is Muay Thai Good for Weight Loss?
If your reasons for practicing Muay Thai are more about fitness, it’s a great choice that can build strength, burn fat, and help you lose weight, but you should be generally fit to begin with.
According to Live Strong, a Muay Thai style training session can burn up to 690 calories in one go, and targets most muscle groups while delivering a cardiovascular workout at the same time.
Are Kickboxing and Muay Thai the Same?
Although both forms of boxing, some differences between these two combat sports sets them apart.
The most obvious is the 4-point striking system that allows participants to use just kicks and punches, whereas Muay Thai has an 8-point system that also incorporates elbows and knees.