If one were to capture the strikes in slow-motion, it is easy to see why Muay Thai or Thai kick boxing has the reputation of being one of the deadliest and most feared martial arts in the world.
With an arsenal of eight weapons to choose from, seasoned Muay Thai fighters swear by their fists, elbows, knees and feet to execute moves that are possibly more lethal than strikes coming from a baton or nunchucks.
While other martial arts use two points of contact (e.g fists in Western boxing) and four points (e.g hands and feet in sport-oriented martial arts), Muay Thai has eight points.
A well-trained fighter utilizes punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes that can make a deadly impact.
The roots of Muay Thai, which means ‘the art of eight limbs’ can be traced back to the battlefields of 15th century Thailand. The warrior’s eight points of contact substituted swords and sticks during weaponless combat.
It has since become the country’s national sport and bears similarities to Indochinese styles of kickboxing such as Tomoi in Malaysia, Muay Lao in Laos and Cambodia’s Pradal serey.
Today, the bone shattering techniques of this martial art is being used all over the world from the Thai military to the CIA and has inspired movies and legions of enthusiasts including in Malaysia.
Conditioned to Last
"1-2-3. Uppercut-block-kick", Mohd Aly Yakin instructs his students. The 32 year-old Muay Thai instructor moves swiftly around the training studio. He is of medium-built with an anatomy of solid muscles that even an accomplished athlete would envy. With seven years of teaching experience, Singaporean-born Aly was trained in Muay Thai two years ago in Chiang Mai, Thailand and is also trainer at a local fitness centre. Previously, he practised Taekwondo for 19 years which he started at the age of nine.
"Martial arts like Taekwondo employ 80 percent legs and 20 percent hands. But in Muay Thai it’s 50/50. Plus Muay Thai is easy to learn, there’s no uniform and it’s suitable for all ages."
He added that unlike other martial arts, Muay Thai students do not earn belts for their skills and progression. Instead, their skills will be tested in the ring where the championship belts are vied by top fighters.
Aly explained that the training and conditioning regimes for fighters were also very challenging. "In Thailand a typical training session would be punching and kicking on bamboo sticks and coconut trees. It’s grueling and painful. As a result, your shins, legs and elbows will be strong. But we train differently at my classes, of course."
Maybe Aly noticed the writer’s worried expression, busy scanning the studio for the aforementioned bamboo stick. None in sight, fortunately.
Geared for Eight Limbs
With shins conditioned to be used just like a club, the effective use of both elbows and knees are also emphasized.
The speed, precision and power of Muay Thai techniques are well-known among martial arts exponents, and fighters can often take down an opponent with just one shot. Broken bones are common in the ring, but numerous fighters have also died from a lethal kick or elbow.
Another distinctive element of Muay Thai is the rotation of the hips to deliver powerful punches and kicks. Aly demonstrated the movement with a kick on the punching bag and the sound of the impact alone sent chills down the writer’s back.
"Learning defensive and offensive techniques are a must because this is 100 percent physical contact", Aly stated.
"Fighters can target at almost any part of the body and only the head cannot be used to strike an opponent."
He explains that he currently has 600 students enrolled in the beginner’s, intermediate and advanced classes and that fighter-training classes are being carried out this year for a competition to be held in June.
More than Just About Fighting
But competing is not necessarily on everyone’s wish list when learning Muay Thai. Popularized by movies like ‘Ong Bak’ and martial art contender events, people from all walks of life have turned to Muay Thai as a means of physical exercise and self-defense.
"My students are mostly females in their 20’s, The youngest student I have is 12 years old, and the oldest is aged 63. It builds stamina, gets you in excellent shape and builds up your confidence."
Meanwhile, 61 year-old Lee Yoon Kong could not agree more. He has taken up Muay Thai for almost a year and has felt its benefits directly. "The main reason I learn Muay Thai is for me to keep fit cause if one is always sick one would be a social burden! I am now free of medication which I had to take to control my high cholesterol. I feel healthier now unlike when I was not attending this class."
Yoon Kong added that it is also an effective self-defense and combat sports offering the best in boxing punches and martial arts kicks.
"Muay Thai uses every part of the body as a weapon. Moreover, it has no ‘katas’ to learn. To be able to punch and kick the correct way certainly cuts short the time to maim your assailant in a self-defence situation."
For 28-year old Darshini, the rigorous drills have helped her get in shape.
"What I like most about the classes is that you really sweat it out compared with other workout like yoga. You definitely learn to toughen up too. Since I joined three months ago I noticed that I’ve shed a few kilos."
Muay Thai Breeds Aggression?
Raw, bloody and lethal, it is hard not to associate contact sports like Muay Thai to violence.
A misconception, Aly stressed that is quite common. "Muay Thai teaches an individual to be disciplined, humble and in control of his or her actions and feelings.
"At the same time, instructors must understand what the students want. They can't just simply teach. They must make the effort to know the background and character of their students. In Thailand, there have been cases where youngsters have run ins with the law as they join gangs or fight in the streets after learning Muay Thai. Instructors have to be professional to avoid students from abusing their skills."
De Facto Martial Art of Choice
Incorporated into different styles of competitive fighting, Muay Thai has garnered a worldwide recognition for its success with mixed martial arts. In Malaysia, Aly said that Muay Thai enthusiasts hope to have an official association by this October.
"Presently Muay Thai is not formally recognized in the country. There are Tomoi associations established by the people of Kelantan but none for Muay Thai yet. We hope through this association we can advance like any other sport or martial arts in the country."
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