The origin of Muay Thai has been traced back to Burma in the 16th century, but today Muay Thai is the national sport of modern Thailand. Literally translated to “Thai boxing” this art is commonly reffered to as “The Art of 8 Limbs” due to its use of punching, kicking, elbows, and knees (2 fists, 2 feet, 2 elbows, 2 knees = 8 limbs). Early on the art started as a method of combat taught to the military but later became a combative sport, using boxing shorts, gloves, and a ring similar to the more common sport of western boxing. Because Muay Thai has proven to be one of the most effective striking systems on the planet it is gaining popularity in the western world.
Because in the past kickboxing in America has had a somewhat obscure beginning, the overall understanding and support has been historically fractured and spotty. Competitive “American style” kick boxers have been almost entirely unknown with the rare exception of fighters like Benny “the Jet” Urquidez, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, and Chuck Norris. This “American style” of Kick Boxing began to peak in the 1970’s and was often adapted from more traditional forms of Martial Arts such as Karate, Kempo, or Taekwondo which lead to confusion as to exactly what this sport was. And to further the confusion in the 1980s, Karate school owner Billy Blanks began a national fad called Taebo, mixing Martial Arts moves with music and dance choreography targeting only those interested in the fitness aspects of Martial Arts. Because this “Cardio” style became so popular and was a standard class offered in almost every fitness gym in America the words “kick boxing” took on a meaning far different than its original implications.
Muay Thai can be called Kickboxing. But it is much much more than that. Now that Muay Thai is growing in America you will find that those interested in fitness can find a home in a Muay Thai school. Those interested in competition can also find opportunities readily available in a Muay Thai school. And those interested in the mental and spiritual aspects of traditional Martial Arts can find these things at a Muay Thai school.
We still frequently hear someone say “I’m going to 24 Hour Fitness to take a Kickboxing class”. And we can assume that means that they are going to have a fun fitness class. But if you hear someone say “I’m going to the Muay Thai gym” it means they are going to a place that will challenge their mind, body, and spirit. They are going to train with family. They are going to a place steeped with the culture and passion that has been passed on through the centuries by people who understand that Kickboxing is not simply fitness or entertainment…it is a way of life.
Author Ben Brown is the Head Coach at PHAS3 Martial Arts, a Muay Thai gym based in Santa Rosa, California.