The translation of Muay Boran is ancient boxing, ‘Muay’ meaning boxing and ‘Boran’ meaning Ancient but I believe there is a lot lost in the translation, from my point of view ‘Muay’ represents fighting as the term boxing by definition relates to sport and the ancient fighting skills referred to in ‘Muay Boran’ came from the battlefield in life and death situations. Therefore the ‘Muay’ in ‘Muay Boran’ encompasses all the fighting styles of the Thai nation which include all skills including the use of weaponry (Krabi-krabong) and fighting strategies.
Krabi-krabong in translation is sword (Krabi) and Staff (krabong) but is really in reference to the weapons used in Muay Boran of which there are many, if you consider the fact that the Thai people where farmers they would not always have swords they may use simple farming so the weapons would be; bow & arrows, spears, swords, farming tools, knives, Axes or maybe a club fashioned from a tree branch. A great example of the use of this weaponry can be seen in a movie called “Bang-Rajan the Legend of the Village Warriors” the movie which is based on a true story has many quite gory examples of how these weapons may be used.
How old is Muay Boran?
Muay Boran is said to be as much as three thousand years old as the ancestors of the Thai people where a tribal nation who moved around and fought often for survival hence the development of this lethal fighting style. The modern take is that Muay Boran is only several hundred years old but in most cases it is only the lineage of the combat sport that other perspectives have taking into account, and considering the translation of “Ancient” several hundred years doesn’t seem very ancient.
I have trained under Grand Master Sken for over twenty-six years and his teachings have always been very inclusive of the history and origins of The Art, there is a brief history in our original S.I.M.T.A. Manual which makes reference to the Kingdom of Nanchao which arose in the year AD 650 (see below) which shows that the Thai people have a long history and to believe that AD 650 was the first appearance of the Thai nation seems unlikely.
Warriors and Masters
The Journey of Muay Boran from the battlefield to the combat sport occurred systematically over hundreds of years, the skills of the warriors where honed over the generations through countless battles with neighbouring tribes and nations to the point where the Thai people where eventually victorious in claiming their own country and independence as the nation of Siam (in the year 1590), from that point the art became part of military training to help defend Siam from future threats, some of the greatest masters of the art became bodyguards to the King who in turn would give them titles and lands. The Masters continued to pass on their knowledge to the people of their lands using descriptive terms to identify different movements known as Masters tricks, for example: ‘Jarakhe Fad Hang’ which translates as ‘The crocodile sweeps its tail’ meaning spinning hook kick, this was and still is a great way to remember a certain skill as it is a vivid picture that helps a student visualize the movement.
Some example names:
Jarakhe Fad Hang - (Crocodile sweeps its tail)
Salab Fan Pla - (Cross-switch)
Paksa Waeg Ran - (Bird peeping through the nest)
Chawa Sad Hok - (Chawa throws spear)
Inao Thang Grit - (I Nao stabs his Grit)
Yo Khao Prasumaru - (Lifting the Sumer Mountain)
Ta Then Kham Fak - (Old man holding the melon)
Mon Yan Lak - (Monk supports the pillar)
Pak Look Thoy - (Impaling the stake)
Hak Nguang Aiyara - (Break the elephant’s tusks)
Naka Bid Hang - (Serpent twists its tail)
Viroon Hok Glab - (Bird somersaults)
Dab Chawala - (Extinguish the lamps)
Khuanyak Jab Ling - (The giant catches the monkey)
Hak Kor Erawan - (Break the elephant’s neck)
This way of passing knowledge to students was probably more suited to the era as many farmers and villagers may not have been able to read or write so the expression would help with visualisation of the movement and also make it easier to remember.
Muay Boran transition to National Sport
Muay Boran became a celebrated part of the Thai peoples culture contests would be held often at festivals but as a sport it really came into its own during the reign of Pra Chao Sua, (the Tiger King 1703 - 1709) every village staged its prize fights, The King himself was a highly skilled fighter, and wearing a disguise he would enter boxing events and defeat local champions, some of the strategies used today are attributed to the Tiger Kings style of fighting.
Muay Thai is commonly known as the ring/combat sport but is still a part of the fighting reference of ‘Muay’ as the skill set is derived from the Ancient Art; Thai Boxing I think is a more suitable way to describe the modern combat sport as it is guided by rules for safety and sportsmanship, the modern rules were introduced in the 1930s these included boxing gloves, groin guards and weight categories as previous to this combatants only wore rope wrapped around their hands which were usually soaked in water to harden and had knots around the knuckles, head butts and attacks to the groin were also allowed as well as follow up attacks when a fighter was on the ground, some of these matches resulted in serious injury or even fatalities hence the rules where changes to make it more humane.
I believe the term Muay Thai should be a reference to the evolving skills of the Ancient Art of Muay Boran this would give a separate description to the evolving Art from the traditional skills of the old warriors and Masters.
A good example of the evolution of the Art can be seen in the movie ‘Ong Bak’ starring Tony Jaa which shows a man traditionally trained in Muay Boran having to take on fighters in the modern world although this is a fictional movie its representation of Muay Boran fighting style is I think is quite accurate, Tony Jaa’s modern gymnastic training along with his traditional training makes for some very explosive technical abilities.
(image credit: (2003). Retrieved August 7th, 2020, from Martial Arts Action Movies: https://martialartsactionmovies.com/ong-bak-with-tony-jaa
Is Muay Boran dying out?
Due to the popularity of Thai Boxing as the national sport of Thailand and also it’s increasing popularity around the world the traditional ways have been less practiced in the past but there are those who have continued to keep the old ways alive, Grand Master Sken has always been passionate about passing on the history and traditions of this great art, I realised this quite early on in my training and on visiting Thailand many years ago I also had the opportunity to train with Grand Master Yodtong who also dedicated his teaching to the history and traditions as well as having a great fighting camp. I did note that a lot of the clubs around Thailand where dedicated to just the sport, so I knew that my trainng was more in depth as many of the great fighters were unaware of many aspect of the training that I had received (This is not to say these fighter were not proficient they were in fact absolute warriors in the ring).
One of the most prominent traditional camps in Thailand is Muay Chaiya who has a great history and lineage, this style shows many of the traditional skills that came from the battlefield including ground grappling work that many don’t realise is actually part of ‘Muay Thai’ if you look at the MMA combat sport the main styles practiced are Thai boxing and Jujitsu but if you look at Muay Chaiya it shows ground work with locks etc so the Art of Muay Boran has all concepts or styles within it.
Krabi Krabong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5N_VeBjXOA
Grand Master Kru Preang
Muay Chaiya is teaching champions
Some of the great Thai fighters who have had a great careers fighting in the ring are now continuing their training in the traditional way at Muay Chaiya fighters like Saenchai and Buakaw who are great ambassadors of the sport are now helping preserve the history and traditions of this great Art
Buakaw training at Muay Chaiya: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8484TK6o8tU
This perspective is in no way intended to offend anyone it is just the way I see the Art, Muay Boran has a great history and a vast amount of transferable skills and knowledge that are continuing to evolve, and you could spend a lifetime learning and still barely scratch the surface.
‘Forever a Student’