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Vintage Muay Thai

Vintage: denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind. Vintage is a word that can have several meanings. Its primary definition is “of old, recognized and enduring interest, importance or quality.” It is usually associated with the quality of aging, enduring or improving over time.

Muay Thai is a Martial Art with a long tradition, dating back hundreds of years. The origins and primordial history of this art are unknown; however, researchers trace back the periods of development of Muay from the 13th century onwards. The traditional classification of the history of Siam (that became Thailand in 1949) is based on five Eras; each one of them is identified by the city elected capital at that time. According to this classification there was a prehistoric Era or pre-Sukhothai, a Sukhothai Era, an Ayutthaya Era, a Thonburi Era and Rattanakosin Era; this last one is commonly divided into 3 Ages (ancient, middle, and late). Muay Thai went through many transformations along the centuries going from a purely battlefield skill to a well- regulated sport. The much appreciated fighting sport we know today is the result of the mixing of ancient Muay with western Boxing: this mix was created in the course of a few decades, during the middle and late Rattanakosin Era, that is roughly from 1909 to 1970. Conventionally, this period corresponds to King Rama VI to early King Rama IX reign. According to many scholars, a “vintage” expression of Muay Thai corresponds to this specific time-span. Let us see why.


During Rama VI (king Mongkut) reign (1909-1924), Muay went through a transformation that led to the future development of this Art. In fact, the very first permanent boxing stadium was erected (Sanam Muay Suan Kularb) in 1921 and boxing matches were organized on a regular basis. Boxers still wrapped their hands with raw cotton ropes, fighting with the old Muay Kard Chiek rules. In this period western boxing gloves started to be used and the rules and regulations slowly became stricter, aimed at defining a new approach to fighting, less brutal and extremely spectacular. The introduction of western Boxing was not welcome at first: however, trainers and fighters accepted the new “companion” and little by little absorbed the elements that could upgrade their technique and training methodology. Every camp structured training sessions according to a more modern approach: proper dieting and functional fitness programs were developed and training equipment borrowed from western Boxing started to be employed by all teachers.

In Rama VII (king Prachathipok) period (1924 to 1933), two more stadiums were established: Sanam Muay Lak Muang and Sanam Muay Ta Chang. In those years several textbooks were written by prominent teachers of the time, outlining a martial art in full evolution: this process didn’t stop then and it is still on at present time. According to many experts this evolutionary capability represents the real strenght of Muay Thai. In 1929 the use of boxing gloves was declared mandatory: the death of a boxer caused by the head punches he had suffered in the course of a Kard Chiek fight brought to the final decision of banning rope binding. Since then, the ancient style of hand wrapping started to slowly disappear until becoming a part of the attire used in Muay demonstrations.


Rama VIII (king Anandha Mahidol) (1933-1945). Before World War II Muay Thai was for many years in a quiet phase. Bangkok Rajadamnern Stadium’s foundation was ordered by former Prime Minister Pibulsongkram. The italian “Imprese Italiane all’Estero” company won the construction contract to build the stadium in 1941. The foundation stone was laid on March 1st (the definitive, well-equipped stadium was completed in 1951). Later on, at the end of 1944, an attempt to revive Thailand’s national sport was initiated and in August 1945 after the war ended the revival was in its full swing. Rajadamnern Stadium was renovated: by the end of that year boxing matches were once again held there. This could be counted as the true starting point of the modern age of Muay Thai.
Those years saw the great transformation of an ancestral fighting discipline that evolved into a modern sport. But what happened to the old styles of Muay that evolved independently in each regions of Thailand and made the history of this Art before modernity changed it? The four principal regional styles are Muay Lopburi (central Thailand), Muay Korat (north eastern Thailand), Muay Chaiya (southern Thailand) and Muay Ta Sao (northern Thailand). The researchers agree that during Rama VI to Rama VIII periods all these local styles went through a systematic transformation that aimed at adapting the old martial techniques and fighting strategies to the new situation. In fact these years are labelled as “development” or “changing” period by the followers of traditional styles: Muay Thai changed from Boran to Modern.


Thai people are very pragmatic: when the needs change, the tools must be changed accordingly. For this reason, all of the main regional styles adapted their skills to the new necessity of competing with rules and regulations they had never used before. The result was that many of the techniques that had made Muay stylists famous along the centuries, slowly started to be abandoned because they were considered obsolete. In order to win fights while following the new rules, practitioners of old styles had to focus on a few effective techniques that guaranteed the best results. The famed Pla Kat style of fighting started to be abandoned: Pla Kat or fighting fishes attack and quickly retreat more and more times until the opponent is defeated. Before the introduction of boxing gloves, many Nak Muay Kard Chiek (fighters) employed the same strategy to strike and rapidly get back to a safe position, thus avoiding with quick footwork a possible counterattack. Along the years, the “new” approach tended to a more solid footwork that allowed to unleash strikes charged with more power. This attitude was similar to the one used by fighters from Nakhon Ratchasima province (Korat): in fact, that period witnessed a long series of successful performances by Muay Korat boxers, since their style was already well suited to incorporate the new regulations. One of the trademarks of modern Muay Thai, the famed Tae Wiang (swing kick) was borrowed from Korat boxers; in a short time it proved to be one of the most effective kicking techniques that could be used in modern competition and most fighters and teachers adopted it. Punching techniques coming from western Boxing were by far the best ones when fighting with boxing gloves on. Thai fighters tended to rely on lower limbs (knee and lower leg) and elbows to attack: since the introduction of big boxing gloves they were forced to re-structure their style and they had to “learn” to use the new piece of equipment. Without presumption, they studied and eventually learned the new way of the gloved fist without forgetting some of the old hand blows such as the fisherman punch, the open hand strike and the back fist. The so called fisherman punch was actually a hammer punch that boxers used to attack the collarbones and the crown of the head. The palm or heel of the hand blow was a common technique both in Kard Chiek fighting and in military close combat. The back of the hand was used to unleash wide horizontal swings or short downward strikes: the former aimed at the side of the head while the latter was employed to attack the bridge of the nose from a close distance. Drawing on their vast experience, in a few years the best thai teachers devised a superb new fighting art that combined the best of two worlds: the ancient Art of Siamese warriors and the modern Science of western athletes. Thai Boxing was starting its long journey to the top of the world of fighting sports.
Even if Thai Boxing is a wonderful hybrid that found its place among the most spectacular sports, it cannot be denied that during the years of the great change from Muay Kard Chiek to Thai Boxing, for a brief time-span, fighters showed the best of two worlds: the ancient one (still linked to old Muay Boran) and the modern one (resulting from the mix of western Boxing and traditional Muay). For modern practitioners and especially for all Khru Muay the study of the training systems, fighting strategies and special techniques of the great thai fighters of that time has the greatest value. Vintage Muay Thai represents a precious technical heritage that must not be lost no matter what direction Thai Boxing will take in its future development.