Muay Thai is a combat sport from Thailand that uses a range of stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. Descended from muay boran, Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport. It is often referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it makes use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight “points of contact”.


In Thailand, Muay Thai is a modern integration of traditional regional muays, be Muay Chaiya, Muay Korat, Muay Tarsao, Muay Jearng, which can be collectively called muay boran or “ancient boxing”. Krabi krabong nevertheless was an important influence on Muay Boran and so Muay Thai can be seen in several kicks, holds and the movements in the wai khru which have their origins in armed combat. Muay Boran, and therefore Muay Thai, was originally called toi muay or simply muay. Eventually, the previously bare-fisted fighters started wearing lengths of hemp rope around their hands and forearms. This type of match was called muay khat chueak.


Muay gradually became a possible means of personal advancement as the nobility increasingly esteemed skilful practitioners of the art and invited selected fighters to come to live in the royal palace to teach muay to the staff of the royal household, soldiers, princes or the king’s personal guards. This “royal muay” was called muay luang. Some time during the Ayutthaya period, a platoon of royal guards was established, whose duty was to protect king and the country. They were known as Krom Nak Muay (“Muay Kick-Fighters’ Regiment”).


King Rama VII (r. 1925-1935) pushed for codified rules for Muay Thai, and they were put into place. Thailand’s first boxing ring was built in 1921 at Suan Kularp. Referees were introduced and rounds were now timed by kick. Fighters at the Lumpinee Kickboxing Stadium began wearing modern gloves during training and in boxing matches against foreigners. Rope-binding was still used in fights between Thais but after the occurrence of a death in the ring, it was decided that fighters should wear gloves and cotton coverlets over the feet and ankles. It was also around this time that the term Muay Thai became commonly used while the older form of the style came to be known as muay boran.


With the current success of Muay Thai in the growing popularity of mixed martial arts, it has become the de facto style of choice for competitive stand-up fighters. As a result, western practitioners of Muay Thai have incorporated much more powerful hand striking techniques from boxing although some Thai purists accuse them of diluting the art.


Like most competitive full contact fighting sports, Muay Thai has a heavy focus on body conditioning. Muay Thai itself is designed to promote the level of fitness and toughness required for ring competition. Training regimens include many staples of combat sport conditioning such as running, shadowboxing, rope jumping, body weight resistance exercises, medicine ball exercises, abdominal exercises, and in some cases weight training. Muay Thai fighters rely heavily on kicks utilizing the shin bone. As such, practitioners of Muay Thai will repeatedly hit hard objects with their shins, conditioning it, hardening the bone through a process called cortical remodelling.


Muay Thai specific training includes training with coaches on Thai pads, focus mitts, heavy bag, and sparring. The daily training includes many rounds (3-5 minute periods broken up by a short rest, often 1–2 minutes) of these various methods of practice. Thai pad training is a cornerstone of Muay Thai conditioning which involves practicing punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes with a trainer wearing thick pads which cover the forearms and hands. These special pads are used to absorb the impact of the fighter’s strikes and allow the fighter to react to the attacks of the pad holder in a live situation. The trainer will often also wear a belly pad around the abdominal area so that the fighter can attack with straight kicks or knees to the body at anytime during the round.

Focus mitts are specific to training a fighter’s hand speed, punch combinations, timing, punching power, defence, and counter-punching and may also be used to practice elbow strikes. Heavy bag training is a conditioning and power exercise that reinforces the techniques practiced on the pads. Sparring is a means to test technique, skills, range, strategy, and timing against a partner. Sparring is often a light to medium contact exercise because competitive fighters on a full schedule are not advised to risk injury by sparring hard. Specific tactics and strategies can be trained with sparring including in close fighting, clinching and kneeing only, cutting off the ring, or using reach and distance to keep an aggressive fighter away.