Thai boxing, Muay Thai, is the national sport of Thailand. It is known as “The Art of Eight Limbs” because fighters use eight points of contact – fists, elbows, knees and shins. Muay Thai is an ancient martial art with a history deeply rooted in tradition. And in Thailand, they still view their martial arts as sacred cultural treasures. The fighters still exemplify the virtues of the Thai warriors. They are humble and modest, fearless and self-confident, moral and self-disciplined. And perhaps above all, they show respect – to their Kru (teacher), their king and their country, and each other.    

The traditional rituals begin when the fighters enter the ring. First, the boxers go to the center and pay respect to the spectators. Then they circle the ring and offer prayers at each corner. Often, one or both will walk slowly around the ring, one hand on the top rope, symbolically sealing the ring from evil spirits. 

Muay Thai – An Almost Musical Performance

Thai Fighters' Ring Rituals

Two Muay Thai fighters entering the ring and performing rituals deeply rooted in their country’s history before the fight – Bangkok, Thailand

Each boxer then performs the graceful and spiritual Wai Khru Ram Muay, “the war-dance saluting the teacher.” This two-part ritual demonstrates respect and gratitude to the boxer’s teacher, parents, and ancestors, as well as king and country. First, the Wai Khru. Kneeling, gloves to his face, the boxer bows three times until his gloves touch the ring floor. This is followed by the fluid movements of the ram muay, or boxing dance. The symbolism and tranquility of the Wai Khru Ram Muay are a sharp contrast to action that follows, as the fighters explode from their corners and attack with fists, elbows and legs.  

A Sport Deeply Rooted in Thai Tradition

Muay Thai Fighters

Two Muay Thai protagonists, one trying to protect himself from the other, during an intense moment – Bangkok, Thailand

Should you find yourself lucky enough to attend a Muay Thai match, you will immediately notice a distinguishing feature of Thai boxing – rhythmic music, Samara. It is, to Western ears, totally otherworldly, mysterious yet compelling. Samara is performed live by four musicians, playing the Thai reed pipe or oboe, Thai drums and/or cymbals.

Reminiscent of Indian music perhaps mixed with Scottish bagpipes, it is also strangely martial. The tempo of the music starts out slow and stately to match the mood of the Wai Khru Ram Muay. When the fight begins, the reed pipes keen and wail, while the drums and cymbals beat out a driving syncopated beat. The music matches the intensity of the fighting, urging the boxers on.  

Muay Thai Fighter Break

A fighter getting taken care of during a break by his trainers – Bangkok, Thailand

The fighting is fast and furious. Boxers are often bloodied and battered, sometimes in the first of the five three-minute-long rounds. The bell sounds, ending the round, and the sweating fighters return to their corners for two minute rests. A stool appears, and a bucket of water. Trainers rub muscles, tend to injuries, wash and wipe down their fighter, and offer water and encouragement. The next round begins, more intense than the preceeding one. The boxers find new strength and stamina from deep within.

Don’t fear failure. […] In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail. – Bruce Lee

A Fight With Artistic Elements

Cheering Men Muay Thai

Men of the crowd focused and cheering on the fighters – Bangkok, Thailand

Prepare to be overwhelmed by the roar of the crowd, the rhythmic music, and the raw spectacle that makes Muay Thai so thrilling to witness in person. It is a fight that will draw you in and just like the fighters themselves, leave you breathless and absolutely in the moment where time is an important component. 

The focus of the crowd is fully on the ring, despite the drinking and gambling that is going on. The hypnotic samara music plays on; the crowd whistles and shouts, urging on their favorite fighter. With every knee, they yell “KNEEE!” Every kick and punch elicits a loud “EEYYY!”.  And you can hear every time that flesh hits flesh. Which fighter, red or blue, will be victorious?  

Muay Thai Knockdown

A Muay Thai fighter knocked down -Bangkok,Thailand

Will victory come by knockout, technical knock-out, or the judges‘ scoring?  Who has landed the most clean blows with the most power and accuracy? After watching Muay Thai, you might agree that no other martial art requires so much endurance and fortitude; no other is identified so thoroughly with its nation and cultural heritage; and, no other is more fearsome and triumphant. If the balance of power between nations were to be decided by hand-to-hand combat, the Thais might very well rule the world.