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The deep meaning of Combat Muay Boran Form

“A Form is a book that is read with the body”

Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952)

The thai word rai ram, ร่ายรำ means to dance. In Siamese armed or unarmed martial arts this same word has a broader meaning: in fact, it refers to a sequence of prearranged offensive and defensive movements that a martial artist executes solo or with a partner. This practice is of paramount importance for a practitioner who wants to reach the core of the martial art of his choice. The essence of oriental fighting systems are often embedded into prearranged sets: however, the vital information that the creator of a sequence includes in its work is always encrypted and without possessing the key, the secrets of a form will remain concealed for the average martial artist. In order to better understand the concept of prearranged fighting sets, the first element to be clarified is the reason why forms are created by knowledgeable martial arts masters. According to Muay Thai master Chaisawat Tienviboon martial dancing exists in the fighting arts of every nation: the main reason for this is the need to preserve combat strategies, tactics and techniques for future generations of practitioners. Every Master considers the combat principles he has learned and tested something very precious, worth of being preserved and kept secret until he meets the right students that could inherit his art. For this reason, the various offensive and defensive maneuvers are coherently organised in a set of movements that can be rehearsed over and over again. All trainee can experiment on their own thus developing the right body mechanics connected to their fighting system. However, only the master who created the sequence will hold the key to fully understand the combative principles hidden in his form: the various applications of each position of the martial dance, without his explanations, will have no fighting meaning and the Rai Ram will be just that, a beautiful dance. Some students will simply have no patience and, without understanding the high value of forms training, will discard this practice as being useless for combat. This is a big mistake since a daily practice of fighting sequences bring a tangible enhancement of a martial artist’s technical and physical attributes.

Solo forms training and the practice of combat applications with a partner are two sides of the same coin. Solo training (image 1) builds the correct body mechanics needed to execute each step, parry, dodge, single attack or combination with speed, grace, force, balance, coordination.


Partner training (image 2) is vital to develop a sense of distance from the opponent and a good timing, both crucial attributes to apply the techniques included in the form.


The sparring partner can also wear mitts and other protective equipment (image 3) in order to allow the executor to unleash his full power on the target: impact training is the best way to enhance the force of all the attacking techniques that are included in a given form.


Combat Muay Boran form.
The sequence is composed of 81 movements, each one with more than a single “combative meaning”. The fighting techniques (postures) included in this set belong to Chern Muay style: in fact, they stress the aggressive use of the nine body weapons (Nawarthawoot) to punch, kick, knee, elbow, head-butt, throw, overlay, catch, break. Moreover, the basics of all the traditional defensive systems are included in the form. Many of the fighting principles included in this form come from the three main regional styles of Muay: Korat, Lopburi, Chaiya. The techniques trained and emphasized by each style reflect the essence of that style: the Combat Muay Boran martial system is based on realistic, practical, powerful applications of the ancient Siamese combat strategies.

Some of the technical features of the Combat Muay Boran sequence are as follows.

Combinations of strikes. Several combinations of strikes executed with the same weapon or with different body weapons are included. The concept of striking combinations is fundamental in Combat Muay Boran: in fact, the best way to successfully reach an opponent’s weak spots is by combinations of strikes (Phasom Muay). The way strikes are combined makes the difference between an expert fighter and a novice: the best fighters deliver blows in series, strikes are linked in a natural manner, flowing smoothly one after the other. This form teaches the trainee to “think in combinations” instead of getting into the habit of throwing one strike and then wait and see what happens.

Defense against multiple attacks. Also the ability to block and counter multiple attacks is considered vital in order to develop realistic combative instincts. The first attack may be the beginning of a series of two or more blows. Being formatted to care about the first stroke only can lead to dangerous habits. Far from being a stylized sequence of non-sense gestures this form prepares those who train it seriously for the harsh reality of combat, creating sound combative reflexes.

Grappling techniques. Muay Thai is the art of attacking and defending with the use of nine body weapons (hands, legs, knees, elbows and head). However, a part of the ancient art of thai grappling (Muay Pram) has always being included in every thai boxer’s arsenal. Ancient Muay (Muay Boran) was rich in holding, throwing and joint locking techniques: the Combat Muay Boran form includes some of those powerful maneuvers (image 4). By working this form, multi-skilled fighters will be created, midway between pure strikers and pure grapplers.


How to train the Combat Muay Boran form.

Step 1: memorize the correct sequence. Hundreds of slow executions of the entire form are needed at this stage of the learning process. The goal is to perform the whole set without conscious effort, i.e., without stopping to think: what’s next? This stage can take a few months to a year, according to the level of proficiency of the trainee.
Step 2: divide the sequence into blocks of techniques and work each block separately. In order to really possess the form, every Combat Muay Boran student must go through this stage. This breakdown can be easily done because this form is conceived to be split if need be, without losing its fighting rationale. Then, the shorter portions of the sequence must be dissected, analysed and learned until becoming second nature. This is the most important part of the learning process that should be undertaken with the careful supervision of an expert Combat Muay Boran teacher.
Step 3: work on the martial applications of each posture, with a sparring partner and with a pad man. Timing, sense of distance, tactile sensitivity and a better understanding of the fighting principles of each technique’s applications are developed with the cooperation of a sparring partner. A pad man is needed to express and enhance the real power of each offensive maneuver learned through solo practice of the sequence.
Step 4: rehearse the whole sequence or the shorter blocks at real speed for a scheduled number of times. At this stage the sense of enemy (the ability to visualize an opponent) must already be well developed and every offensive or defensive maneuver should express high battle energy (Phalang Yuth). Fighting and dancing finally become a single artistic and potentially destructive form of expression.
A form is a compendium of fighting techniques, a smart system of preservation and transmission of battle-tested martial strategies and tactics: however, for a sincere and dedicated practitioner a form represents an infinite source of stimuli that reveals its facets in ever changing ways. In fact, just like a good book that seems to “change” according to the mood of the reader, a combat form adapts to the executor giving him a different feeling each time he performs it. In the words of Master Mabuni: “A form is not fixed or immoveable. Like water, it’s ever changing and fits itself to the shape of the vessel containing it.” Because of this, practicing the Combat Muay Boran form with the right spirit on a daily basis, nourishes the body and mind of a Nak Muay with the right technical and spiritual “food”. A Muay Boran practitioner will greatly benefit from this practice: his skill and his fighting spirit will be enhanced and step by step his understanding of the secrets of the Art will be heightened.

· For more information: Combat Muay Boran – the official guide.