A martial art that is growing in popularity in recent years, Muay Thai is a martial art and combat sport which employs stand up striking combined with several clinching techniques.
Known as the “art of eight limbs”, Muay Thai is perhaps best characterized by its use of elbows, knees, fists, and shins, which is why it has developed such a reputation for being dangerous.
But is this reputation founded in truth, and if so, just how dangerous is it?
Sometimes referred to as Thai Boxing, Muay Thai can be traced back to at least the 16th century, where it was practiced and used by soldiers under Thai king Naresuan, the 18th monarch of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
When an exhibition match was observed by French diplomat Simon de la Loubere, and reported back to French king Louis XIV in 1687, western interest in Muay Thai began to show signs of increasing, helped in turn by Loubere’s famous writings from that period.
It was also popularized during the Burmese-Siamese war (1765-1767), where the fighting technique was used in both open warfare, as well as exhibitions for paying observers.
The interest of several Thai kings during the 19th century ensured the longevity of the sport, particularly King Chulalongkorn (also known as Rama V), who took the throne in 1868.
From this point on, Muay Thai became widely known as a method of fitness, exercise, discipline, recreation, and personal advancement within the country.
Muay Thai has continued to grow in popularity during the 20th and 21st centuries, mainly due to the widespread appeal of competitive martial arts, and the presence of Thai fighters in global mixed martial arts and Muay Thai events.
In the early 1920s, King Rama VII pushed for coded rules to be written, binding the sport in legality, and the first official boxing rings were built from 1921 onwards due to the widespread popularity in the country.
As of 2020, there are more than 3800 overseas Muay Thai gyms, and elements of the sport have been prevalent in MMA tournaments in the United States and abroad.
Whilst every limb is allowed to be used during fighting, there are several rules about how they can be employed.
For a strike to be awarded with a point, it has to make contact without being blocked by the opponent.
Similarly, strikes do not count if they come into contact with the opponent’s glove, shins, feet, or forearms, and groin shots are also prohibited.
Due to the sport featuring every limb, there are numerous techniques which can be employed with different parts of the body.
Known as chok, punching was originally quite limited in Muay Thai, and despite their increase the sport is still perhaps most associated with kicking.
Thanks to cultural exchanges with western boxing and other martial arts, a wider use of punching is now implemented, and all forms are allowed.
These commonly include jabs, crosses/straights, hooks/swings, overhands/haymakers, backfists, spinning backfists, uppercuts, Superman punches, and cobra punches.
Due to the nature of the sport, and the use of knees and kicks, body punches are not generally used during fighting, mainly so that opponents do not risk further head injuries from kicks or knee attacks.
Known as sok, elbow attacks are commonly used in Muay Thai.
Used as a striking weapon, elbow attacks consist of: elbow slashes, horizontal elbows, uppercut elbows, forward elbow thrusts, reverse horizontal elbows, spinning elbows, double elbow chops, mid air elbow strikes, and jump elbow chops.
These are commonly used as finisher moves, as well as ways to split an opponent’s eyebrow so as to blind them with blood during combat.
Overall, elbows are considered the most dangerous form of attack in Muay Thai.
As I have already mentioned, Muay Thai is perhaps most associated with kicking attacks, referred to as te.
These can consist of: straight kicks, roundhouse kicks, diagonal kicks, half shin/half knee kicks, reverse roundhouse kicks, down roundhouse kicks, ax heel kicks, jump kicks, and step up kicks.
The most commonly used kicks in Muay Thai are the foot jabs (or thip), roundhouse kicks, or te chiang, which refers to a kick which travels in an upward triangular motion, catching the opponent under the ribs and arms.
As with kicking, knee attacks (or ti khao) are another commonly used tactic in Muay Thai.
Consisting of: straight knee strikes, diagonal knee strikes, curving knee strikes, horizontal knee strikes, knee slaps, knee bombs, flying knees, and step up knee strikes, these are some of the deadliest moves in the sport.
As well as these, additional moves are also employed.
These consist of foot thrusts (or teep), clinch and neck wrestling moves (known as chap kho), and a series of effective defensive maneuvers.
So, Is It Dangerous?
If the above techniques were not proof enough, there are several other reasons why Muay Thai could be considered dangerous, even for martial arts.
The use of all limbs leads to increased risk or injury, and the general stress on the body can be intense over time.
This is furthered by the lack of protective gear, the powerful strikes, and the high injury risk associated with sparring alone.
Also, the severe weight cutting can cause bodily issues over an extended period of time.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about Muay Thai and just how dangerous it is.
Just like any martial art, Muay Thai is at its most dangerous when not properly practiced and taught, and as such, licensed gyms should always be used when attempting to learn the sport.
These specialized locales are aimed at making it as skilled and disciplined as possible, two things which, given time, can certainly help to reduce injury risk, increase ability, and help to encourage a more fun experience.