Muay Thai (Thai Boxing, The Art of Eight Limbs) is what the Thai people call their most famous martial art. Muay Thai has been the country's most popular spectator sport for hundreds of years. It is unique among fighting disciplines in its approach to close-quarters fighting, as fighters are more extensively trained in use of their elbows and knees than in other martial arts. This martial art is practiced all over Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and The Philippines, often under different names. It's techniques are so effective that Muay Thai is often times the "striking" half of many competitor's MMA regimen.
Muay Thai evolved from the older Thai martial arts of Muay Boran, which are purported to be derived from Pradal Serey (Khmer Kickboxing). Muay Boran were the unarmed martial arts of the Thai military, though many of the best Muay Thai ringfighters were also members of the royal military force, Grom Nak Muay. Muay Thai was converted from these Muay Boran before the 16th century, although it is hard to find information over the exact date when Muay Thai diverged from Muay Boran concepts and added sport specific rules and changes. In modern times, the Thai military has switched to training its soldiers in another Thai martial art, Lerdrit.
The Practice of Muay Thai
Muay Thai is a competitive martial art which includes a heavy emphasis on sport fighting to hone students' skills. However, as in Judo, some techniques learned in the self-defense training are prohibited from sport competition as they are considered too likely to cause serious injury. Most Muay Thai gyms whose focus is on competition simply excluded training such prohibited strikes.
Muay Thai uses punches (including jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts, and spinning backfists), kicks (predominantly round kicks delivered with the shins), and especially various kinds of knee and elbow strikes. In the more traditional Muay Thai schools, self-defense against weapons is taught, as are grappling and ground fighting (Ling Lom), though these techniques are proscribed from sport Muay Thai. Training centers on the heavy bag, pad work and sparring, and there is a strong emphasis on clinch fighting.
Muay Thai as Sport
Sport Muay Thai consists of fights of 5 rounds, 3 minutes each. The scoring is a "ten-point must" system, the same as in Western boxing and kickboxing. Punches and elbow strikes may be delivered anywhere above the waist. Kicks and knees may be delivered to any part of the body but the groin. Throws are not allowed.
Clinching is very common in sport Muay Thai. Muay Thai teaches several different kinds of clinch, but by far the most commonly used has a fighter put both hands, one over the other, on the back of the opponent's head. From this position, a fighter may pull downwards to deliver knee strikes to the face or upper torso, or control the opponent's movements from side-to-side and create openings for other techniques. Strikes to the back of the head/neck are illegal.
Round kicks in Muay Thai are delivered with the shins, which is thought to inflict more pain upon the opponent than landing with the foot, as well as protecting the kicker from injuring the ankle or small bones of the foot. Jumping and flying knee strikes are also used extensively. A foot jab , or teep, is used which is similar to the front kick found in other martial arts.
Lerdrit is a modified version of Muay Thai used by the Thai army. Unlike Muay Thai it is an open hand system concentrated more on clinch grappling, knee, elbow, and kick techniques. Developed by a military officer Colonel Lerdrit the Thai army first incorporated the art into the military during the 1960's.