Muay Thai: “The Art of Eight Limbs”

An Armchair Historian’s Guide

(For People Who Hate Reading)

What Muay Thai Is

Muay Thai (pronounced “Moy-Tie” & NEVER “Moo-Tai”), also called Thai Boxing, is a combat sport of Thailand which evolved from the battlefield.  Originally used by Thai Soldiers during wartime for “hand-to-hand” combat situations, Muay Thai eventually developed codified rules and became their national sport.  Considered a national treasure, it is a major part of Thai culture and tourism.

Muay Thai utilizes punches, kicks, knees, and elbows as offensive weapons from which came, the “Art of Eight Limbs.” Sweeps and throws (similar to, but distinct from, Greco-Roman Wrestling) are also significant components of the sport.  These techniques are often executed from the “clinch” or used to counter opponent’s kicks. The influence of the sport can be seen in the highest level of mixed martial arts competition around the world including the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and One Championship.

What Muay Thai Is NOT

Muay Thai is not karate, kung-fu, or taekwondo. It is not kickboxing yet the distinction is often lost on well-intentioned fans.  During the 1980s, the Professional Karate Association (PKA) held “Full Contact” kickboxing matches which aired on ESPN. The uniform-of-the-day for these events was a pair of fabulous shiny pants and foot protection boots.  That is NOT Muay Thai.

Some speculate that the association with that PKA style kickboxing has prevented a real mainstream breakthrough in the US for Muay Thai.  In any case, referring to Muay Thai as kickboxing around a purist and you’re likely to get a cold stare or worse.

While there are similarities, Muay Thai and kickboxing are two separate & distinct sports.  This fight breakdown by Lawrence Kenshin is a historic “style vs. style matchup.”  The fight illustrates this distinction with brutal clarity. While the rules for this fight were modified, and therefore not fought under pure Muay Thai rules, you’ll immediately recognize the difference between each style.

Where It’s Been

The facts of the earliest origins of Muay Thai are debated.  This is because many of the historical records were destroyed during the years of conflict with neighboring lands. While there are variations of the following story of Muay Thai heritage, this is my favorite.

According to legend, in 1774 Nai Khanom Tom was a prisoner-of-war held by the Burmese after being captured during the invasion of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (modern day Thailand).  The King of Burma wanted to see if Muay Boran could compete with Burmese boxing. So, during a festival he called for a fight to be organized.

Nai Khanom Tom was selected to fight against the Burmese boxing champion. As is customary before a Muay Thai fight, he performed the traditional dance called the Wai Kru.  Following the Wai Kru, the fight commenced. It didn’t end well for the Burmese Boxing Champion. He was KO’d by the Thai Warrior.

After the fight, the Burmese claimed the win was invalid due to some sort of black magic sorcery. Classic excuse in the 18th century, apparently.  So, the Burmese King brought in nine more of his fighters and Nai Khanom Tom defeated all nine in a row. All doubt was removed and they could no longer deny the skill of the Thai.

So, what did the King do? Did he put Nai Khanom Tom to death? No. Was the King furious? No. Actually, dude was pretty impressed.

As a matter of fact, the Burmese King was so impressed with the skill of Nai Khanom Tom that he gave him his freedom.  But that’s not it. Tom wasn’t leaving empty handed. He gave Tom some parting gifts including: cash money and two wives for his troubles.

He said that Nai Khanom Tom and the Thai people were truly “Blessed with Venom.” To this day, that phrase is synonymous with Muay Thai and is a source of pride and inspiration. And every year on March 17th the Thai people and Muay Thai community celebrate “Muay Thai Day.”

How much of the story is true and how much is folklore is for the individual to decide.  For us, we recognize it as a source of inspiration and as a way of connecting with our Muay Thai community.  Nai Khanom Tom is known as the “Father of Muay Thai.”

As a way to honor him and the sport we love, we created an exclusive “Blessed with Venom” Muay Thai T-Shirt.  Click below to grab yours, represent, and be the envy of our Muay Thai community.

A Tribute to Nai Khanom Tom, The Father of Muay Thai



Where it’s Going

With the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts, a much larger audience is being exposed to Muay Thai techniques in actual competition. It has become widely recognized as being amongst the most effective of the striking arts. In 1993, the UFC gave fighters a venue to see which martial arts were most effective.  Before that it was mostly just debates around the water cooler as to which martial art was superior.

In the early days of the UFC, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu reigned supreme.  MMA has evolved exponentially in 25 years and yet Muay Thai continues to be the gold standard for striking.  While it hasn’t yet become a household name in the United States like Kung-Fu(hyperlink to kung-fu & hip-hop fight file), or any of the other Chinese martial arts, it has proven to be supremely effective in actual competition.

It is becoming more and more common for UFC fighters to fly halfway across the world to train with some of the best pound-for-pound Muay Thai fighters in the world.  Thailand is the Mecca of Muay Thai. No where else even comes close. There are more pound-for-pound Nak Muay Legends in Thailand than anywhere else in the world. Thailand is to Muay Thai what the US is to American Football.

With Muay Thai being granted provisional recognition as an Olympic Sport and a recent deal between ESPN and the UFC, we could see an explosion in exposure and popularity of Muay Thai in the near future.  The excitement and effectiveness of it as a martial art, coupled with it being relatively unknown globally, makes Muay Thai the most undervalued stock in the world of martial arts. The potential for growth is exponential.  Our recommendation for Muay Thai: “BUY BUY BUY!”