THE MARTIAL ARTS OF THAILAND
A.D 650, The Thai people organized the independent Kingdom of Nanchao. By 1000 A.D however, the Chinese had over-run Nanchao and made it a tributary state. In turn the Mongols under the rule of Kublai Khan destroyed the Kingdom of Nanchoi. By 1253 A.D. the Khmer Empire was well established in the Chao Phrayar valley (named after the river which flows through central Thailand). The Thais captured the Khmer town of Sukhothai in North Central Thailand, and a new Thai nation with its capital at Sukhothai soon developed. During this period King Rama Kamheng (1260 - 1350) extended power southwards to the sea and down to the Malay peninsula and contact was made with the ancient civilization of India.
Presently Thailand (Land of the free), formerly Siam, has Bangkok as its capital. Occupying a central position on the South-eastern peninsula, Thailand is bordered by Cambodia on the South-east and by the Gulf of Siam and Malaysia on the south.
The 16th Century saw the beginning of warfare with Burma. In 1568 the Burmese captured Ayutthayar and dominated the country until 1585 when, after the death of Bayinnaung the Burmese King, Prince Naresuan of Siam organized an army and drove the Burmese from Siam to gain independence.
Prince Naresuan and the Crown Prince of Burma, who had known each other since childhood, finally engaged in combat astride armored war elephants to determine the independence of Siam. After a ferocious battle Prince Naresuan cut the Crown Prince in half from shoulder to waist. The Burmese army withdrew, giving independence to Siam. Later King Naresuan honored the bravery of the Crown Prince by erecting a shrine at the site of the battle.
During the reign of King Naresuan the Great Muay Thai was part of the military training. The King himself was an expert on individual combat techniques and won several contests.
Muay Thai, as a sport, came into it's own during the reign of Phra Chao Sua, The Tiger King (1703 - 1709). Every village staged its prize fights with young and old, rich and poor, joining training camps.
The King himself was highly skilled boxer and wearing a disguise he would enter boxing events and defeat local champions. Some of the strategies used today are attributed to the Tiger King's style of fighting.
In 1930, Muay Thai underwent a transformation. A number of rules were introduced; these included boxing gloves, groin guard and weight categories, making it a much more humane sport, as a few years previously fighters wore only hemp rope wrapped around their hands and these were sometimes dipped in glue and then rolled in fragments of glass.
An important part of Muay Thai is the pre-fight ritual, Ram Muay; a slow-motion, almost ballet-like set of steps and movements, often ridiculed by foreigners ignorant of its significance. It is accompanied by music and starts with the Wai Kru or obeisance to the teacher. The boxer kneels in the center of the ring facing the direction off his camp, home or birthplace. He covers his eyes with the gloves and says a short prayer while bowing low three times until his gloves touch the canvas. Now the Ram Muay or boxing dance follows. It is performed in many different ways, each teacher having his own.
During the Ram Muay a fighter wears the traditional crown called the Monkon (headband). This is in fact the property of the teacher and is considered sacred. It must be removed before the contest begins.
One can often see a boxer wearing a string or piece of wrapped cloth around the biceps. This is called the Kruang Ruang and may be worn throughout the fight. It sometimes contains protective charms, a small picture of the Buddha, or a herb said to have magical properties.
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