October 27, 2020

Muay Boran: 15 Cool Facts You Should Know

Have you heard of Muay Boran? No? 

You totally should! 

Muay means fighting in the Thai language, while Boran means ancient. Couple them together and Muay Boran means an ancient technique of fighting. This term is a broad one, as it encompasses several forms of martial arts of Thailand which are unarmed, and which were the norm before the 1930s when advanced equipment and rules were introduced to Thai martial art arena. 

As Thai martial art forms gain popularity all over the world, it’s only fair that we look at them in their rawest, most original form. And therefore, without wasting any time, let’s look at 15 cool facts about Muay Boran:

1. You gotta dance before you fight! 

Yes, you read that right! Thai martial art forms are deeply associated with their culture and before a fight, a Thai fighter pays his respect to his teacher by performing this ritual called Wai Kru. Wai means a greeting while Kru means a teacher, and thus it means greetings from a student to his/her teacher. 

As part of this ritual, the fighter circles the opponent three times and then kneels and bows three times, to show respect to his/her teacher and the god which he/she believes in. 

2. A Siamese fighter was granted freedom by the Burmese King because of his skills in Muay Boran

As per folklore, in 1767, Burmese invaders surrounded the Siamese and a 7 day-night festival, in honor of the relics of Buddha, was organised. At some point, King Hsinbyushin wanted to test his fighters against Thai boxers. And so, the king’s champion fighter was pitched against Nai Khanomtom. 

Before the fight, Nai Khanomtom did the ritualistic Wai Kru dance and then went on to defeat the king’s fighter. But the referee declared it invalid stating that the opponent was too distracted by the dance. 

But then Nai Khanomtom went on to defeat nine other champion Burmese fighters, including a great kickboxing teacher. The king, obviously impressed, granted him his freedom and asked him to choose between riches and two beautiful Burmese wives. He chose the latter, stating that money’s easier to obtain, and went off. 

3. Muay Boran was revived in a funeral ceremony! 

After one of his sons’ death, King Chulalongkom ordered a gathering of fighters with extraordinary skills for the funeral ceremony. Among them, three fighters were given the title of “muem” to propagate the diminishing art of muay (or fighting). 

The fighters were renamed and their new names represented a distinct style: Muen Changat Choengchok (effective punching style), Muen Muaymichue (muay with a reputation), and Muen Muemaenmat (skilful punches). These fighters then gave birth to different muay styles: Lopburi, Chaiya and Khorat. 

While several varieties have been added over the years, these three remain the original styles which were included under Muay Boran

4. Attack the limbs, attacks the joints, attack the groin! There’s only one rule: NO RULES. 

Unlike the more popular Muay Thai, this martial art form has hardly any rules. Only weapons aren’t allowed. Other than that, fighters can attack their opponents’ joints, groin area and any vulnerability they can find! In fact, Muay Boran is known for the fighters attacking their opponents’ limbs till they go numb. Taking out an entire limb gives you a major advantage over your opponent, which can help you take them down quickly. 

The traditional forms of Muay Boran had several lethal moves as well, as it was originally developed to be used on battlefields or for self-defense. But in the modern context, such moves aren’t generally used unless in real-life emergencies. 

5. Muay Boran is a culmination of several different styles. 

We saw that in the funeral ceremony story, there were different styles of Muay Boran which were specialized and were developed further. But today’s Muay Boran brings all of them together into one martial art form. Some of the styles which are incorporated into Muay Boran are:

  • Muay Chaiya: elbows and knee hits are used heavily. 
  • Muay Lopburi: punches and boxing is used efficiently. 
  • Muay Korat: hard, heavy shots are struck
  • Muay Thasao: fluid feet movements

6. There are a lot of knees and elbows flying around in Muay Boran

Flying knees and flying elbows are used abundantly in Muay Boran. While this leaves the attacker vulnerable to counter-attack from the opponent and are generally quite risky, the power such attacks generate is immense, and it’s no wonder why fighters are drawn towards these moves, as they cause immense damage to the opponent if executed successfully. 

7. Your survival above everything! 

As Muay Boran was developed primarily for your survival, it’s no surprise that it follows no rules and defending yourself and knocking out the opponent by any means takes the highest priority. This is also the reason for the guarding stance used in Muay Boran, where the front fist is kept in front of the eyes, while the rear one is level with the chin. The stance is usually kept low and wide. This allows the fighter to defend himself/herself with relative ease, while also protecting their vulnerable parts while also allowing him/her to attack the opponent quickly. 

8. Muay Thai has 8 weapons. Muay Boran has 9! 

While in Muay Thai, you use 8 weapons: your two fists, two elbows, two legs and two knees. But in Muay Boran, you can also use your head as a weapon! In close ranges, a good headbutt can be fatal. And hence, fighters get the chance of handing out a dangerous attack during conditions of proximity. 

9. It originated more than 1000 years ago! 

The initial forms of Muay Boran appeared around 900 AD and were passed on through generations. It was used for self-defense by individuals and was also used in battlefields. 

10. No arms but several weapons! 

If there had to be one rule which is strictly followed by Muay Boran fighters, it is fighting without any arms. But. The whole body is used as a weapon in this fighting technique. It consists of a beautiful (and deadly) combination of kicks, joint locks, grapples and throws to beat (or kill) your opponent as soon as possible. 

In traditional Muay Boran battles, fighters used to cover their knuckles with a knotted cloth or hemp rope, often dipping them in the water later to increase the heaviness and strength of their fist. This improved the overall effect of the strikes by the fists of the fighter. 

11. You think fighting one opponent is hard? Here, take multiple! 

If we take real-life situations as examples, we’ll observe that one-to-one fights are exceptions rather than the norm. And therefore, it is vital to learn and practice against multiple opponents at once. And that is precisely why, while training for Muay Boran, there are several sessions where you’re pitched against multiple opponents, which helps the fighter in developing his skills more holistically. 

12. This ancient art can be learned even today! 

Indeed! It isn’t practiced and played nearly as widely as Muay Thai, but it does exist even today. While time has brought in quite many changes in Muay Boran, the basic principles remain the same. It’s still an art which teaches you how to survive extreme situations and come out superior to your opponent(s). 

You can learn it from several gyms and training centres located in Thailand. Some of the centres where Muay Boran can be learned from presently are:

  • Muay Sangha, Chiang Mai
  • Baan Chang Thai Arts School
  • Tiger Muay Thai, Phuket

13. Tony Jaa, the popular Thai actor, is well versed in Muay Boran

Starring in several martial art movies, Tony Jaa is skilled in Muay Boran as well as in Muay Thai. He’s one of the most popular Muay Boran practitioners. He has used several Muay Boran techniques in the movies in which he’s acted, like Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Ong-Bak 2 etc. He’s been one of the reasons why Muay Boran has grown in popularity in the past years. 

14. It evolved into several specialised martial arts including the national sports of Thailand. 

Muay Thai, the national sports of Thailand, and whose popularity is increasing exponentially over the last few decades, is said to have descended from Muay Boran. The reason behind its astronomical rise in the world arena is the dominance of Thai fighters over fighters of other martial art forms. 

Muay Thai is quite different from its predecessor, as it’s more westernized, restrained by several rules. The primary stance is different, it is judged by points based on different criteria, lethal moves have been banned, and several vulnerabilities are protected. Then again, it shares quite some similarities as well. 

Muay Lao, or Lao kickboxing, an unarmed martial art from Laos, has also originated from Muay Boran. The sport was a part of the 2009 Asian Games.

15. No rounds, and definitely no rest in a Muay Boran match! 

A Muay Thai player gets to rest between rounds and points are scored based on some set rules. Contrary to that, neither of the fighters in a Muay Boran game can rest unless and until one of them is unable to continue or is knocked out. Until then, they keep on fighting. 

This is the reason why rather than probing the opponent, it is vital here to evaluate your opponent as quickly as possible. The games are quite adventurous, as both sides try their best to knock each other out. 

Eugene Hardy

Eugene is a professional Muay Thai fighter, with several years of experience. Also, a black belt holder. He actively participates in tournaments and provides training to his students. Eugene started this blog to share his experiences with Martial Arts.

View all posts by Eugene Hardy →

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