There are countless martial arts in existence in the world today that have their fair share of useful techniques and styles that apply to real-life combat. However, there are few that match the outright brutality and toughness of Muay Thai, the striking art that comes from Thailand.For those unfamiliar, Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is a combat sport which involves striking with the feet and some clinching techniques. It is sometimes referred to as "the art of eight limbs" because of its main methods of striking, hands, knees, shins, and elbows.
The Art of Muay Thai
It has proven to be one of the most efficient striking styles in the world, with its wide range of techniques, giving the fighter the ability to use these techniques in both ranged striking - up close or in the clinch. Punching techniques were originally limited, but once the sport crossed with western boxing in its infancy, a full range of punches was allowed, including jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts and overhands, as well as the more powerful Superman punch and spinning back fist, which are not allowed in traditional western boxing.Elbow strikes have the same amount of variety in Muay Thai, as there are 6 different standing elbow techniques as well as a spinning elbow and a flying elbow strike. In terms of kicks, there are just as many techniques as elbows, but the most common include the Thip (Stylized in english as Teep), which is a foot-jab, and the roundhouse kick.
Unlike other martial arts such as Karate or Tae Kwon Do, where kicks connect with the foot, Muay Thai round kicks are all mostly intended to land with the shin, calling for a different aiming technique and strengthening of the shins. This is because the foot is weaker and has more bones that can break on impact, whereas the shin is one of the hardest surfaces of the body and can sustain more damage to an opponent. Knee strikes are another major part of this martial art and they have just as much variety, including but not limited to - straight knees, curving and diagonal knees, and flying knees.
The focus of Muay Thai is using proper technique that channels more torque that compensates for less power (this is not to say practitioners have less power, as most have KO power in virtually all of their strikes), and the human body's harder surfaces to inflict greater damage to an opponent. This comes from the hereditary small stature of many of Thailand's inhabitants. Although not imposing in size, Thais with training in this martial art can effectively use their limbs to inflict damage to their opponent in ways that can incapacitate their limbs or cut open their faces.
Why Muay Thai Fighters Are As Tough As They Come
The main reasons why Muay Thai fighters are tougher than others are the training; and the damages incurred during both training and live fights. Firstly, since Muay Thai involves kicking with the shin, the shin bones must be conditioned in training. This is done by repeatedly striking a resistant or hard surface with the shin to start the process of cortical remodeling, or bone growth. Muay Thai fighters will repeatedly kick dense heavy bags with their shins, effectively conditioning their shins by microscopically breaking down the shin bones, and allowing for the natural process of healing to occur and their shin to develop a tougher, harder bone surface. Those without access to heavy bags will use bags filled with sand for the same effect, or even use banana trees.Along with their rigorous training and preparation, Muay Thai matches are some of the most brutal contests in combat sports. Cuts are incredibly more common in Muay Thai, more than most other full contact bouts. This is attributed to the heavy use of elbows, as the combination of the pointed shape and hardness of the elbow with the bony surface of the face and head causes for increased friction and as such, easier cutting of the skin of the head. Seasoned Muay Thai fighters are used to this as well, as heavy cutting will produce scar tissue that is less painful when cut or hit. However, it works in the opposite way of the conditioning of shins, as scar tissue is more easily cut open and; as in most other combat sports, causes risk for the fight to be stopped.
John Wayne Parr: Muay Thai Pioneer
One of the men who brought Muay Thai to the main stream and revolutionized how people approached training, who even took it a step further, training and competing with the Thais, was John Wayne Parr. He is a world famous kick-boxer with a 97-32 pro Kickboxing record and a 10-3 boxing record, and is known as one of the greatest strikers of all time. He has not only shown his skill at Muay Thai, but also western kickboxing (where it is illegal to elbow, and clinches are less encouraged), and even created his own hybrid of MMA and Muay Thai called CMT (Caged Muay Thai) where the fighters participate under Muay Thai rules, with MMA gloves and in a cage.Parr is a true pioneer of the sport, but even he had his own struggles early on. In his interview with online publication Killingbuddha.co, JWP elaborated on his struggles when he first fought and trained with Thais.
"The very first time that I fought, I was 17 years old and a Thai knocked me out in 30 seconds. I developed a fear of fighting Thais for about two years. Then I got the opportunity to move to Thailand. So when it came time to fight my next Thai, it was a bit daunting. Also, it was my first fight that I was allowed to throw elbows. Just before I got into the ring, one of the Thai gamblers came up to me and said that if I win by elbows, he'd give me a tip of 1500 Baht. I threw non-stop elbows for four rounds until I knocked him out. Sure enough, the gentleman came up and gave me my 1500 baht. And that got me over my fear of fighting Thais with elbows. I then went on to win my next nine fights in Thailand, which helped catapult me to the top five in Lumpinee stadium. [Note: Lumpinee stadium is one of the most, if not the most, prestigious stadiums in Thailand]."
This did not come easy to JWP, however, he had to train hard in order to hone his skills to where they are now.
"It was super tough. We trained from 6 until 9 am, then we have breakfast around 10. You sleep during the day. Then in the afternoon we start from 3 and end at 6:30 pm. Then we shower, have dinner, and go bed."
Parr had a unique experience in that he was treated as one of the Thais while he trained there, but he also learned that the brutal art of Muay Thai came from an equally brutal and passionate culture.
"Thais are super friendly. They are amazing. Thais could have a 100 Baht in their pocket and they'll look after you. If you're walking down the street, and you look lost, instead of giving you directions, they'll say, 'Hop on the back of my motor bike. I'll take you there myself.' Or if you look cold, they might give you a spare jacket. They believe in good karma. If I win a thousand Baht, I'll treat all of my friends to dinner. Whereas Westerners will only pay for themselves. In Thailand they say, 'Today, I have money. Tomorrow, you have money. Everyone eats.' It's about sharing. Everyone is poor, so when a little bit of money comes in, it's about everyone having a good time. At the same time, don't make them angry. As happy as they are, if you do push them to the limit, they turn very evil. Instead of street fighting, they might pick up a pole, a knife, or a gun. Life is very cheap there. So if you happen to die in the process, they don't care."
While Muay Thai may come from a brutal culture where people fight to survive, it doesn't take away from the sheer heart that these fighters show. It takes rigorous training and world class skill to compete professionally in Muay Thai and those that do are truly on another level when it comes to striking, will, and especially toughness.