Muay Boran was virtually unknown outside Thailand until about fifteen years ago. Now, it’s popular im almost every country of the world, even the most remote Muay Boran is based of what is left of Pahuyuth, the bare-hands way of fighting of the Siamese army on battleground. Muay Boran is different from Muay Thai in terms of fighting styles and techniques. Practitioners also dress differently, imitating the “dress code” of mak muay of a by-gone era. The image that immediately one associates with ancient fighting is the hemp rompes wrapped around hands and forearms. This is why Thais call it muay kaat chueak or “bound-fist boxing”. Muay Boran (muay=boxing; boran=ancient) emphasizes powerful combinations of elbows and knees, derived from the need to break an opponents’ bones as quickly as possible as on a battlefield. Such techniques slowly vanished or were banned when Muay Thai turned into a sport.
As the interest for Muay Thai has been growing enormously in the past twenty years, ancestral styles of South East Asian martial arts have been sought and investigated by martial arts enthusiasts and MMA professionals, all looking for that ancient technique nobody else know. This quest for “secret” centuries-old techniques brought Muay Boran back from oblivion and some schools, often managed by old masters and their disciples.
But it was the Thai movie “Ong Bak” that boosted Muay Boran popularity to a new level, both in Thailand and abroad. Western devotees of Muay Thai discovered a new old martial art, very “cool” to demonstrate and allegedly much more lethal tham Muay Thai. And yje world discovered former-stuntman-turned-actor Panom, a.k.a. Tony Jaa, the Muay Boran warrior. The spectacular techniques shown by Panom were never seen before. For many it was love at first sight.
The surging demand for Muay Boran teachings became a lovely business opportunity. This prompted many existing Muay Thai camps to upgrade their trainings schedules,adding some old tricks, with various degrees of credibility..
- Tony Jaa in “Tom Yam Kung”
- “Muay Chaiya” (not starring Tony Jaa)
Muay Boran still doesn’t have any official tournament in Thailand and the many schools that teach it usually meet once a year in Ayuttaya, on the Nai Khanomthong Day, for a three day Muay Boran extravaganza. Muay Boran practitioners arrive from literally every country, from Uzbekistan to Paraguay, and attend demonstrations, seminars, colorful rituals and cultural displays. A beautiful occasion where the word pay homage to ancient warriors, past and present masters, and the Siamese art of fighting. Now Thai people are very proud of Muay Boran, which they refer to as an “art” not as a sport.
An interesting opportunity to see something more real and closer, in terms of atmosphere and violence, to ancient bare-hand fights occurs every year in April, during the Songkran (Buddhist New Year) festivities (13-16/4). A tthe border town of Mae Sot, in a ring located near the river that separates Thailand and Myanmar, Burmese fighters meet their Thai counterparts. In a steamy hot atmosphere, filled with national pride (Myanmar and Siam are ancestral foes), machismo, heavy drinking and betting and other illegal cross-borders activities, young fighters challenge each other in bare-hand fights, with almost no rules. If both contenders still stand at the end, the fight is considered a draw. Everything goes, including headbutts and attacking an opponent already fallen down. You won’t see any great technique implemented here but plenty of violent action, in and outside the ring.