What is Muay Boran and Why It’s Making a Comeback?
The Complete Guide to What is Muay Boran?
In recent years, Muay Boran continues to gain popularity not only in the martial art circles in Thailand but also in different parts of the world. Thai actor Tony Jaa is one of the well-known practitioners of Muay Boran. Jaa starred in martial art movies such as “Ong Bak.” In the film, he demonstrated his skills in both Muay Thai and Muay Boran.
Today, different gyms in Thailand, including Phuket, the capital of Muay Thai teaches this traditional Thai martial art. With all the fuss about this ancient form of boxing, it begs the question- what is Muay Boran exactly? Also, what’s the difference between it and the more popular Muay Thai.
What is Muay Thai Boran?
Muay Boran refers to the collective Thai fighting styles that existed before the 1930s. After this period, Thai martial arts were regulated and made into the combat sports of Muay Thai. Both
disciplines share numerous combat techniques and fundamentals.
However, Muay Thai Boran focuses on unarmed combat used on the battlefield rather than a regulated ring sport. It also has fewer rules and some styles even use weapons. Moreover, Muay Thai Boran also has deadly techniques that aren’t allowed on combat sports.
On the other hand, Muay Thai has been known as a more modern and “sportified” fighting style. It’s a watered-down version of the Muay Boran. Several of the forbidden Muay Boran techniques that were meant to kill the opponent were immediately banned. Cheap shots, like hitting the groin or the back of the head, are also prohibited in combat sports.
In contrast, tactics that can be considered “dirty” or foul in combat sports are allowed in Muay Thai Boran. Actions such as striking the throat, hitting the back of the head and even headbutts are also taught and even encouraged in Muay Boran. To get a better understanding of what is Muay Thai Boran and how it came to be, let us look into its colourful history.
Short History of Muay Boran
Muay Thai Boran is considered as the ancestor of Muay Thai. Its roots can be traced as far back as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya (now Thailand). In the late 18th century, the Kingdom of Burma and Autthayathe were at war. In 1776, King Mangra of Burma captured the Thai capital.
According to legends, the invaders captured several Thai Boxers. In 1774, these boxers participated in matches as part of a 7-day festival to honour Buddha’s relics. The Burmese King organized the event to sate his curiosity on how their martial arts would fare against their opponent’s Thai boxing.
Among the captured Thai boxers was Nai Khanomtom who was able to defeat ten opponents including the Burmese champion. Even back then, Thai boxers are already performing Wai Kru as part of their pre-fight dance ritual. The Wai Kru mystified and enthralled Khanomtom’s foes and the crowd.
Khanomtom’s performance impressed the Burmese King that he gets to choose between riches or two beautiful wives for his reward. The Thai Boxer gained two wives and his freedom. Today, Thailand celebrates Muay Thai day on March 17 every year to honour what Khanomtom has accomplished.
Whether Khanomtom used the same techniques that Muay Boran fighters practice today remains a mystery. To further understand what is Muay Boran, let us compare it with the more popular boxing sport in Thailand- Muay Thai.
Similarities Between Muay Boran and Muay Thai
As a martial art, Muay Boran and Muay Thai are quite similar to one another in terms of utilizing all parts of the limbs to attack and defend. Muay Thai practitioners retained many of the core fundamentals of Mua Boran.
In short, Muay Boran was simply Muay Thai before it adopted Western rules for ring fights. During the process of creating Muay Thai during the 1930s, several strikes and attacks from Muay Boran has to be removed.
Muay Thai matches penalizes unsportsman strikes such as a kick to the groin, gouging the eyes, and hitting a grounded opponent. While this may be the case, both Thai martial art has a common ground such as:
- Utilizing different punches and combinations such as jabs, hooks, uppercuts, and
- Constantly using kicks such as axe kick, front kick, diagonal kick, push kick and
- Throwing knees in close range such as the diagonal knee, horizontal knee, straight
knee, knee bomb and knee from a clinch.
- Performing Wai Kru as part of the pre-fight ritual.
- Fighters of both Muay Thai and Muay Boran also use twisted hemp ropes or chuak to
cover their knuckles.
Muay Boran also uses clinching as an effective weapon to setup strikes and locks much like Muay Thai. Both martial arts also target the opponent’s joints and pressure points to wear down
their enemy. This might get you thinking, what is Muay Boran for if it can’t be played in a ring? Well, the answer is quite profound as Muay Boran is still evolving in lieu with its modern-day revitalization.
Today, the World Muay Boran Federation (WMBF) promotes the historic and cultural significance of this combat practice.
Differences Between Muay Boran and Muay Thai
At its core, Muay Boran and Muay Thai are almost identical at first glance. Both employ the use of a human’s pair of legs, feet, elbows, and hands. Muay Thai fighters call these limbs as the
“eight deadly weapons.” However, Muay Boran uses an additional part of the body- the head. Muay Boran doesn’t have a single unified system and different parts of the country seem to have their distinct styles. Aside from being less restrictive in movements and incorporating headbutts, Muay Boran also differs in a lot of things from Muay Thai. Among them include:
- The basic form of Muay Boran follows a centerline and the fighter tends to align his fists. In contrast, Muay Thai uses a less compact stance where the fighter’s fists are on the outside of the head’s centerline.
- According to some theories, Muay Boran’s centred stance makes it easier to deflect the opponent’s incoming strikes. It also allows the defence to instantly morph into a grapple. Moreover, it also protects the fighter from blows aimed at the vitals.
- Muay Boran’s stance is also lower and wider compared to Muay Thai. Fighters usually assume a more defensive and wide stance that helps cover the groin and other vulnerable spots.
- Muay Boran fighters must protect themselves from strikes that may be called illegal in Muay Thai. For this reason, a wider and more defensive stance is a better strategy.
- In terms of offence, what is Muay Boran famed for is its emphasis on hitting the opponent’s limbs until they became numb. The simple reason behind this tactic is that if you take away your enemy’s limbs, you are taking away their best weapon against you.
In contrast, Muay Thai also has attacks aimed at the limbs. However, these strikes don’t score points during Muay Boran matches hence fighters pay less attention to them. Muay Boran also promotes flashy strikes that could devastate the opponent. Several of these attacks often have a wider swing to generate more power. However, this also opens more vulnerable spots and exposes the attacker to more potential danger.
For example, Muay Boran uses a lot of flying elbows and flying knees to take down the opponent. This Muay Boran style also centres on getting in the most number of strikes even if it means exposing the attacker to more risks. Additionally, Muay Boran centres on barehanded combat.
As such, Muay Thai Boran techniques favour fast-paced fights. The goal is to knock the opponent as quickly as possible. In essence, this is what is Muay Thai Boran famed for- it often favours explosiveness rather than pacing oneself during matches. Muay Boran matches also require fighters to quickly evaluate the opponents they face rather than probing them on the early rounds.
Muay Boran Styles and Variations
Thailand is a country that has numerous ethnic groups that have self-defence techniques and even martial arts. For this reason, different areas of the country usually have their variation of
the Muay Boran. Below are some of the known variants of Muay Boran and their area of origin.
This style of Muay Thai Boran originated from South Thailand. It also has a system of weapon combat called Krabi Krabong. Muay Chaiya gives emphasis on inflicting severe damage to your opponent through brutal elbows and heavy knee hits. Additionally, it also focuses on defence and excellent posture.
Originating from East Thailand, this style was based on generating power and playing on the fighter’s strength. The system favours hard and heavy shots such as the Buffalo Punch.
Central Thailand also has its own style called Mua Lopburi. This style is heavily based on efficiently using punches and boxing smartly.
In Thai language, ThaSao roughly translates to “Monkey Feet” Boxing. The style best represents the art of Muay Boran because of its fluid movements.
Some of the popular Muay Boran training centres and gyms have adapted the basic stance of the Muay Chaiya and Muay Korat variations. Muay Chaiya favours a lower stance that leans on the defensive. This stance allows huge fighters to use leaping knees and splitting elbows.
However, speedy and evasive fighters may not benefit from this stance. On the other hand, Muay Korat uses an upright standing position with a higher guard. This stance allows the fighter to generate powerful kicks and punches such as the buffalo swing or weang kwai.
Knowing this fact, you might also be asking what is Muay Boran used for other than self- defence? The martial art can be a great exercise to keep you fit and even teach you discipline and mental toughness.
How Much Muay Boran is still in Muay Thai?
One of the common questions about Muay Boran is how much of it can still be seen in Muay Thai? The short answer is- nobody knows how much exactly but its a significant amount. If you
compare the moves of both disciplines you can still see a shadow of Muay Boran to the more modern Muay Thai.
However, plenty of “old skills” and techniques is lost. Only a small group of people may have exclusively been practising it. Some of the commercial Muay Boran schools may also not have the more traditional techniques in their curriculum. This begs the question, what is Muay Thai Boran good for if you can’t learn it? Below are some of the places in Thailand where you can learn this martial art.
Where to Learn Muay Boran?
Because of the popularity of Muay Thai, numerous martial art practitioners and even regular people have also become interested in Muay Boran. Today, the majority of Muay Boran training camps and trainers are open to teaching this fighting style even to foreigners.
Muay Boran training facilities are also located in some of the popular martial art centres in Thailand such as Chiang Mai and Phuket. Some schools and trainers charge tuition of around 300 Thai Baht per hour. These are some of the training centres and gyms where you can learn Muay Boran:
- Baan Chang Thai Arts School
- Muay Sangha in Chiang Mai
- Muay Thai Conservation Centre
- Tiger Muay Thai
- Rawai Muay Thai Camp
You may even find Muay Boran centre or trainer in your area today or in the next few years since its popularity. Muay Boran has gone global and even has schools as far as Hawaii.
Muay Boran is significant to Thailand’s history and culture. It has helped defend the country from invaders and paved the way to one of Thailand’s well-known sports. We hope that this article has helped you understand what is Muay Boran and why it is an interesting martial art.