Muay Thai is a combat martial art from Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. This physical and mental discipline which includes combat on foot is known as "The Art of Eight Weapons" because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet, being associated with a good physical preparation that makes a full-contact fight very efficient.
Based on Khmer Martial Art that originated from Indian martial arts, practitioners claim that these systems can be traced back to a thousand years. In the case of Thailand, Muay Thai evolved from the older Muay Boran (ancient boxing), an unarmed combat method which would have been used by Siamese soldiers after losing their weapons in battle.
As well as being a practical fighting technique for use in actual warfare, Muay became a sport in which the opponents fought in front of spectators who went to watch for entertainment. These Muay contests gradually became an integral part of local festivals and celebrations, especially those held at temples.
According to Thai folklore at the time of the fall of the ancient Siam capital in 1767, the invading Burmese troops rounded up thousands of Thais and took them to Burma as prisoners. Among them were a large number of Thai kickboxers, who were taken to the city of Ava.
At one point, the King wanted to see how muay boran would compare to the Burmese. Nai Khanomtom was selected to fight against the Burmese champion. The boxing ring was set up in front of the throne and Nai Khanomtom did a traditional Wai Kru pre-fight dance, to pay his respects to his teachers and ancestors, as well as the spectators, dancing around his opponent. This amazed and perplexed the Burmese people, who thought it was black magic. When the fight began, Nai Khanomtom charged out, using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees to pummel his opponent until he collapsed.
However the Burmese referee said the Burmese champion was too distracted by the dance, and declared the knockout invalid. The King then asked if Nai Khanomtom would fight nine other Burmese champions to prove himself. He agreed and fought them all, one after the other with no rest periods in between. His last opponent was a great kickboxing teacher from Rakhine. Nai Khanomtom mangled him by his kicks and no one else dared to challenge him. The King was so impressed that he allegedly remarked, "Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents.
The King granted Nai Khanomtom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives. Nai Khanomtom chose the wives as he said that money was easier to find. He then departed with his wives for Siam. Other variations of this story had him also winning the release of his fellow Thai prisoners. His feat is celebrated every March 17 as Boxer's Day or National Muay Boran Day in his honor and that of muay boran's.
Like most competitive full contact fighting sports, Muay Thai has a heavy focus on body conditioning. Thai boxers rely heavily on kicks utilizing the shin bone. As such, practitioners of muay Thai will repeatedly hit hard objects with their shins, conditioning it, hardening the bone through a process called cortical remodeling.
Training that is specific to a Thai fighter includes training with coaches on Thai pads, focus mitts, heavy bag, and sparring. The daily training includes many rounds of these various methods of practice. Thai pad training is a cornerstone of Muay Thai conditioning which involves practicing punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes with a trainer wearing thick pads which cover the forearms and hands. These special pads (often referred to as thai pads) are used to absorb the impact of the fighter’s strikes and allow the fighter to react to the attacks of the pad holder in a live situation.
Focus mitts are specific to training a fighter’s hand speed, punch combinations, timing, punching power, defense, and counter-punching and may also be used to practice elbow strikes. Heavy bag training is a conditioning and power exercise that reinforces the techniques practiced on the pads. Sparring is a means to test technique, skills, range, strategy, and timing against a partner. Sparring is often a light to medium contact exercise because competitive fighters on a full schedule are not advised to risk injury by sparring hard.
Due to the rigorous training regimen (some Thai boxers fight almost every other week) professional boxers in Thailand have relatively short careers in the ring. Many retire from competition to begin instructing the next generation of Thai fighters.
Muay Thai, like boxing and various forms of kickboxing, is recognized as a very effective striking base within MMA, and is very widely practiced among mixed martial artists. Many techniques associated with muay Thai are often seen in MMA, such as punches, elbows, clinch fighting, leg kicks and knees.