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Muay Taweesit, Western Boxing and the development of modern Muay Thai.

by Marco De Cesaris

Master Kimseng Taweesit was one of the most prominent figures of Muay in modern times. Born in Bangkok in 1890 he was sent to Singapore by his parents to attend school there when he was 14 years old. Singapore in 1905 was a British Crown colony, ruled by a governor under the direct supervision of the British Colonial Office in London. An important trading port since 14th century, Singapore had become a melting pot of different cultures during the years of young Kimseng’s stay. In fact, as history goes, while attending school there, Master Taweesit learned Japanese Ju Jitsu and Kodokan Judo, Western Fencing, one of the many local styles of Silat and a family style of Chinese Kung Fu. All of these experiences contributed to his growth as an all-round martial artist and in later times helped him to create what we call today Muay Taweesit, probably the first modern-traditional style of Muay. However, the experience that influenced him the most was, without any doubt, the training he received from Mr. Baker in western Boxing. We don’t know much about Mr. Baker: he was a bake-house owner who possessed a vast knowledge of the Sweet Science of Self Defence (as Boxing was labelled at the time). What we know for sure is that Kimseng was trained by Mr. Baker in both the practical skills and the theoretical aspects of the Noble Art. Combining this knowledge with the traditional Muay techniques he learned from Khru Kiao, Master Taweesit went on to become one of the most successful Thai Boxing trainers since 1917 when he founded his own Muay camp in Bangkok. His fighters dominated the fight game in Thailand in the crucial years of the birth of the “new style” of Muay. In fact, in 1929 (officially due to the tragic death of Jia Khackamen during his fight with Phae Liangprasert) the old style of Kaard Cheuk fighting (no-holds-barred combat with hands wrapped in raw cotton ropes) was abandoned. The rules of International Boxing as well as its techniques were integrated into Muay. This process originated a new hybrid combat sport, that combined the old Siamese traditions of unarmed fighting with the western style of fist-fighting. In fact, Western Boxing was introduced in Asia in the early 1900s. Boxing in Korea began in 1912, when the country was still under Japanese colonial rule. Consequently, it reached Japan in 1920. The first Asian boxer to win a world title was Pancho Villa, a flyweight from the Philippines, in 1923. As mentioned, Western Boxing regulated according to Queensberry rules reached Thailand around the same time.


Master Taweesit was ahead of time and probably his knowledge of both worlds (Muay Thai and Western Boxing) and his modern vision of fighting contributed heavily to the creation of Muay Thai as we know it today. Therefore, we can say that the principles and techniques that Mr. Baker taught to young Kimseng proved to be a fundamental skill that helped him create a very effective ring fighting style. The questions that arise are: what kind of Western Boxing did Mr. Baker taught Master Taweesit? Was that style of Boxing similar to today’s modern sport? What was Boxing like in 1904?
In order to answer these questions we shall analyse the technical characteristics of the most prominent fighters of the beginning of the 20th century, their styles and the innovative skills some of them introduced into the fight game. Similarly to Muay, which in 1904 was about to face a revolutionary period of its evolution, so Western Boxing was starting its New Era of development. Bare Knuckles Boxing had been abandoned just a few years before (the last official Bare Knuckles Boxing heavyweight championship fight between J.L Sullivan and J. Kilrain took place in 1889) and fighting according to Queensbury Rules (that introduced the compulsory use of gloves) had become the standard. Boxing had just started a dramatic technical change: the bare-knuckles fighters gave way to the boxers. Some of the most influential boxers who displayed time and again their skills at the beginning of the 20th century and who contributed to shape the new-born Boxing are, in my opinion, the following:

•Jack Johnson Heavyweight


He was undoubtedly the King of counter-fighting. One of the best of all time.

• Jim Driscoll Featherweight


The Master of straight hitting. He has been the inspiration of many a fighters who followed his steps. Among them also the famous Bruce Lee.

• Bob Fitzsimmons Heavyweight


He was renowned for his explosive power and for his aggressive footwork (Double Shift).

• Charles Kid McCoy Middleweight


He possessed smart ring-craft and developed a special technique that he used to call “corkscrew punch”

• Young Griffo Featherweight


Undisputed Master of defense. He was a shadow in the ring, an artist of dodging and sidestepping.

• Sam Langford Heavyweight


A fearsome puncher, the power he expressed in his strikes was due (in his words) to his good application of the hip twists

• Terry McGovern Featherweight


Nicknamed Terrible Terry. He was on of hardest body puncher. Feared by his opponents.

• James J. Corbett Heavyweight


He is still considered one of the great stylists of this sport. His left short hook was considered the best in the game.

• Frank Klaus Middleweight


An aggressive slugger, without any doubt one of the best in-fighters of his time

• Mike Donovan Middleweight


The professor of boxing. Great fighter and, after his retirement from prize fighting, also a great coach

• Joe Gans Lightweight


Nicknamed the Old Master for his flawless style. One of the all-time great fighters

• Stanley Ketchel Middleweight


Aggressive, fierce and powerful (nicknamed the Michigan Assassin)

•Tommy Burns Heavyweight


Hard and durable short range fighter. One of the smallest heavyweight champions (only 5’7’’).

• Battling Nelson Lightweight


Combative and unstoppable. Nicknamed the Durable Dane for his incredible toughness (fought and won contests that lasted more than 40 rounds)

• Tommy Ryan Middleweight


Defeated all challengers to his middleweight crown

• Philadelphia Jack O’Brien Light Heavyweight


Technical fighter who fought 185 matches and also knocked out the great Bob Fitzimmons.

All of these champions are widely recognised as great fighters: their unique technical characteristics can be considered fundamental for helping to shape the type of boxing that Mr. Baker had learned. The skills he possessed as an experienced boxing coach at the beginning of the 20th century derived from the innovations introduced by those gifted boxers. These were the skills that most probably Mr. Baker transferred to Master Taweesit during his stay in Singapore and that were later introduced into Muay in order to mold modern Thai Boxing. In the next articles of this series we’ll analyse some of the most intriguing features of these great champions’ styles, in detail.