Leth Wei, the brutal fighting style of Burmese warriors
Let Wei, also known as Lert Wei, Burmese boxing or Myanma traditional boxing, is a very violent martial art recently “discovered” by Muay Thai fanatics. Sharing a common past with Siamese Muay Boran and Khmer Bokator, Let Wei was practiced by Burmese warriors since the 12th century, but not much was known about it until a few years ago. Myanmar’s past sixty years of self-seclusion kave kept this native form of combat hidden away from the attention of martial arts practitioners. Similar to Muay Boran, it evolved from battlefields to sand pits fights held during religious festivals or national events patronized by Burmese kings. The tale of Nai Kanomthom comes from those times of war and peace between Myanmar and Ayuttaya. More recently, at the beginning of 20th century, rudimentary wooden rings were erected for these occasions.
The fights used to be “to the end”, which means no time limit, ending with a winner and an unconscious loser on the ground. Boxers were, and still are, trained to endure severe beatings and pain. The focus was to keep attacking, even after being repeatedly knocked down and revived. Head-butts, gouging and biting were also allowed in those times. Not surprisingly, many fights resulted in the sudden death of one contender.
The Myanma Traditional Boxing Association, founded in 1996 with government support, in an attempt to promote Let Wei as the national sport of Myanmar has set and defined rules, categories and techniques allowed in the ring. Now Let Wei fights have 5 rounds of 3 minutes each, on proper rings. Boxers still fight without gloves, using only elastic handwraps. Rules are roughly similar to Muay Thai’s but head-butts, wrestling and powerful take-downs are still allowed. It is still permitted to strike an opponent falling down (this used to be allowed in Muay Thai, too) if done before the referee’s intervention. Elbows and knees are the weapons of choice for Let Wei fighters, who often strike simoultaneously without any apparent concern for protecting themseves. I personally saw a few teeth flying off the ring after a powerful reverse-elbow hit a young fighter in the mouth. Amazingly, the referee allowed him to continue the fight even though he was bleeding profusely, could barely stand and was visibly spaced-out by the blow.
From a spectator point of view, Let Wei is ultra-fast, pretty messy and brutally violent. Fighters attack at the same time, hitting each other with powerful swings, attempting combinations of punches, elbows and kicks. There are no defenses and counter-attack moves: fighters endure the pain and keep going forward, attacking and punching, all the time. The visual effect is very similar to a cock fight. Click on the videos below to see Let Wei in action.
Let Wei is definitely not “clean”, in terms of techniques, styles and strategy, but is ten times more exciting than the majority of Lumpini’s Muay Thai fights, which in comparison appear static, almost dull. In a Let Wei fight you’ll see plenty of jump-flying knees, pull downs and all sort of tricks involving elbows. In a few words, you’ll see all those vicious moves not allowed anymore in Thailand, drowned in a mess of missed swings and fall downs. Unfortunately, these fights can only be viewed in Yangon on weekends and during festivities. It’s not easy to find them, as such events are not tourist-oriented like in Thailand and not all Burmese people are boxing fanatics like the Thais.
However, there are dozens of VCDs available for sale in specific shops in Yangon, made by the same crew who films the fights. The covers are also available as beautiful, large colorful posters of local champions and tournaments. They’ll surely look very cool on the wall of a Muay Thai school in the West.
Even though there are well known Let Wei champions actively fighting in Myanmar, due to the brutality of certain techniques and the Myanmar’s government travel restrictions on its citizens, they aren’t allow to compete neither in Thailand nor anywhere else outside their country.
The country’s best known fighter is already a sort of legend in its own time. His name is Lone Chow and he has even been in a movie about himself.
See Lone Chow in action here below:
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