Ancient Arts for the Modern Woman
When thinking about the connotations of the ancient art form of Muay Thai, or Thai Kick-Boxing as it has become more widely known in Koh Samui training camps, muscular and sweat riddled warriors come to mind, knees and elbows dangerously trained to crush and conquer. The masters of Muay Thai initially derived this art from the need for close contact and hand to hand combat in difficult terrain, from their early threats of invasion. In hand-to-hand combat, weapons become clumsy and therefore elbows, knees, feet and fists became more practical. Now considered Thailand’s national sport, it has risen in the eyes of martial artists to be one of the most difficult and toughest of the arts.
Originally women were banned from exercising this art form, although many Thai women know enough of the fighting techniques to stand off an attacker, or to kick your ass for not taking out the garbage. Today you can see children, men and women practicing harmoniously side by side at any dojo in Thailand.
For women, learning this art has many benefits beyond competition. It is a science, an artful skill, and most importantly a discipline. The beauty of the sport lies in precision and placement of blows or defensive manoeuvres, agility and mental focus, and where size of body has little to no significance. In fact, the women who are attracted to learning Muay Thai come from many different walks of life, some of whom you would never think knew how to make you cry in the blink of an eye.
Martial arts have the amazing outcome of a potentially small and defenceless person becoming the most lethal and fastest person in a group. In Muay Thai, the unsuspected woman in the class is no exception. An overgrown steroid brute of a man can easily be made to hobble back to his corner with a few quick and well-placed blows from a secretary, a mother, a nurse, or even a student who is only one-half of the man’s weight.
Muay Thai training camps have established themselves throughout Koh Samui, as well as Muay Thai schools and other learning facilities. Today you can see this fantastic art at arenas and at private Koh Samui boxing gyms around the island.
Using the human body as a weapon
Muay Thai is referred to as “The Science of Eight Limbs” from its strength in using two hands, two shins, two knees and two elbows. Some call it “NawaArwut” or the Art of Nine Limbs, to include the Head.
Muay Thai uses all the weapons of the human body; the fists, elbows, chin and the knees creating the eight points of contact practitioners use when striking their opponents. Due to its emphasis on body conditioning, consistent training builds up a person’s strength and endurance. Obviously Muay Thai is a full-contact sport, and potential students should be prepared to bring home some bruises and cuts, especially at the beginning. As with any physical activity the body adjusts with frequent training.
Throughout its history, Muay Thai has always been a sport for the people, as well as been regarded as a military fighting skill. In its golden ages, the people of Thailand have trained and practiced the sport whether they were the King or a commoner. In fact it was a part of the school national curriculum right up to the 1920’s, when it was withdrawn because it was felt that the injury rate was too high. Enthusiasts continued to study it in gyms and clubs just as they do today.
Those who regarded Muay Thai as an art form have been instrumental in moving it from the battlefield to the ring. They have been as much a part of making it a sport as have the Kings of Thailand. One of the prime movers in transforming the sport was the Tiger King, who not only influenced fighting styles but also the equipment.
During the reign of the Tiger King, the hands and forearms began being bound with strips of horse hair. This was to serve a dual purpose; to protect the fighter and inflict more damage on the opponent. Later, these were replaced by hemp ropes or starched strips of cotton. For particular challenge matches and with the fighter’s agreement, ground glass was mixed with glue and spread on the strips, resulting in the bloodiest matches recorded in the history of the sport.
The changes that the sport has undergone have been to the equipment used, rather than radical alterations to the actual art form. For example, Thai fighters have always worn groin guards. A kick or knee to the groin was a perfectly legal move up until the 1930’s. In these early days, the protection was made from tree bark or sea shells held in place with a piece of cloth tied between the legs and around the waist. The sport was eventually codified and today’s rules and regulations were introduced. Rope bindings of the arms and hands were abandoned and gloves took their place.
International Federation of Muay Thai Amateur
It was IFMA who staged the first female World Cup and has successfully promoted female Muay Thai very strongly around the world. When Amateur Muay Thai first came to prominence under the IFMA umbrella, sceptics never would have thought it would grow from a mere 19 countries to include over 100 countries in our present time. And, more specifically, who would have foreseen the massive leap in female participation levels? Women’s involvement in the competitions has escalated to a point where a second ring is required to accommodate the numbers.
As the men’s competitions developed over the years, from 1990, female fighters looked on and began to question about their status. So, in 1999 at the Stadium in Bangkok, the first amateur women’s fights took place. Since it was the first time for this competition, it began in time-honoured fashion as a demonstration of skills and techniques. In front of an enthusiastic crowd, many of the myths about women not being skilled enough to fight, or entertaining enough for the crowd, were laid to rest. The highlight was a battle between Amy Birch from Australia and Rungaroon Sor Fongnam from Thailand, undoubtedly two of the best. It was a great fight that ensured women’s involvement in the World Cup was here to stay. Female Muay Thai unmistakably has become as popular, and perhaps even a little more, as the male sport.
Women from all over the world now travel to Thailand to perfect their art. The quest is to train within some of the most famous Muay Thai Gyms, and with the Thai Masters who teach there. You will see them running the roadways of Koh Samui under the unforgiving sun, or tangled in a maze of limbs and grunting with animal-like sounds alongside their male peers, as they pummel their sparring partners within the training grounds. So, the next time that you witness a woman, no matter what her physical stature, standing next to the Muay Thai bags in the gym, you might just want to stand back for a few moments. And if she smiles at you with a glint in her eye, you may just want to take off your gloves.