King Naresuan was the King of Siam from 1590 until his death in 1605. At a young age he was taken captive by the Burmese to ensure the fidelity of his father, Maha Tammaraja, who became King of the Ayutthaya Kingdom after it was occupied by the Burmese in 1569. Naresuan spent nine years of his youth at Pegu under the protection of the Burmese King Bayinnaung, who trained him in martial arts, literature and military strategies. When Naresuan was 16 years old he was exchanged with his sister, Princess Suparntevi, and became governor of Phitsanulok.
In 1590 the King died, and Naresuan officially became the leader of the kingdom. Under King Naresuan, the armies of Siam defeated the Burmese in successive battles. In the final battle King Naresuan, mounted on a great armored war elephant, charged through his army to the front line to face the Crown Prince of Burma, also seated on an elephant of war. King Naresuan challenged the Prince to single combat and after a fierce skirmish the King cut the Crown Prince in half from shoulder to hip. Seeing their slain leader, the Burmese army turned and fled back to Burma. This single act of bravery b y King Naresuan freed Siam forever. King Naresuan came to be known as the “Black Prince” by the Burmese, and he made muay thai part of military training as a supplement to the sword, spear and spike used in close combat fighting.
Pictured above is Nai Khanom Tom, who was a warrior from Thailand's ancient capital that was captured after the Burmese attacked the city in 1767. In order to earn his freedom, Nai Khanom Tom had to defeat nine consecutive opponents which would prove the superiority of his fighting style. Nai Khanom Tom took on opponent after opponent defeating all until no one was left to stand before him. He earned his freedom, a feat which is celebrated every March 17 in Thailand as "National Muay Thai Day". Every time you practice Muay Thai – every time you strike a bag with your elbow or throw a push or swing kick you honour Nai Khanom Tom's memory and achievement, whether you know it or not.
Known as the science of the eight limbs, Muay Thai incorporates the use of hands, elbow, knees, and legs to devastate the attacker. Historically, fighters used horse hide strips, hemp, and/or rope in lieu of gloves. If both fighters agreed, they may have dipped their hands into broken glass. Since the introduction of boxing gloves about 70 years ago, Muay Thai fighters have been making use of their ancient fighting art with modern equipment.
The 4000 year old art of Muay Thai was never modified or changed until the Japanese discovered it. They admired the art for its simplicity, effectiveness, and efficiency and have taken the liberty of bringing it back to their country. Today, we see the Japanese version of Muay Thai called “Kickboxing.”
Muay Thai has gained world-wide recognition as the most effective stand-up fighting style in the world. Many European nations have recognized this as muay thai has gained a lot of popularity and respect in Holland, France, and England, as well as many other parts of Europe. Many of the world’s top fighters have can be found fighting out of the Euros, such as: Ernesto Hoost, Peter Aerts, and Ramon Dekkers. Muay Thai is also very popular in Canada with such fighters as Ryan Nery, Jeremy DiFranco and Super League fighter Clifton Brown (Siam No.1). Moreover, the art of Muay Thai has been combat proven both in ancient and modern day settings over and over again. For example, many of the top fighters and champions in the K-1 fighting league are Muay Thai fighters. Fighters such as Buakaw Por.Pramuk and Remy Bonjasky have demonstrated supremacy in the rings of K-1 and many other stand-up fighting circuits.
Muay Thai also plays a significant role incorporating Thailand’s history and cultural system into the sport. In Thailand, the fight events are not only made up of fighters, trainers, and coaches, but of musical bands and rituals. Before each match begins, the fighters are dressed ceremonial garments such as the Mongkon (ceremonial headgear worn before the start of a match), prajout’s (arm bands worn above the fighter’s biceps – known to bring charm), and Phuangmalai (garland(s) worn around the fighter’s neck). Moreover, each fighter must perform a traditional ‘dance’ known as the wai kru and ram muay to pay respect to the teacher(s)/mentor(s) and the sport/culture of it. It is also has the functions of warming up the fighter and stretching them. Lastly, it plays a role in gathering a fighter’s confidence through karma. Music is played from a traditional Thai band (consisting of woodwind instruments and drums) from the start of the pre-fight rituals to the end of the fight. As the fight progresses, the music may speed up to keep up the pace of the fight. Fighters also use the music as a general guide to their overall rhythm – how they breathe, attack, move, etc.
To the Thais, Muay Thai is not only a sport, but a powerful symbol of preserving their culture and history.