Muay Boran – Traditional Siamese martial art

August 24, 2018

Muay Boran is a name for the traditional unarmed martial art from Thailand. The first set of rules for this martial art was set in the 1930s.

Despite it has similar strikes and techniques like Muay Thai, its primary goal was the defense of a population during wars. Today, the main difference between Muay Boran and Muay Thai is limitations. Muay Boran fighters don’t carry gloves. Instead of it, they are allowed to carry hand wraps or hemp ropes, depending on the competition or demonstration. Headbutts are allowed too.

Muay Boran is an excellent martial art to watch. It is similar to muay thai, with more brutal arsenal of kicks, elbows, punches, and knees. Gladiators of modern age fight here – even headbutts are allowed!

The History of Muay Boran

The history of Muay Boran

There was the war between the Kingdom of Burma and Ayutthaya (the Siamese Kingdom, which is today called Thailand) during the late 18th century. One of the most famous Thai boxers of all times, Nai Khanomtom, was captured and held in Burma. The Burmese king wanted to see how the Burmese fighters will demolish Thai fighters, so he organized a tournament. However, Nai demolished man after man. After defeating nine opponent with his devastating kicks, the king ordered Burmese champion to enter the ring with Nai. However, Nai knocked him out cold. After this victory, nobody dares to enter the ring with Khanomtom.

The Burmese king was so impressed and he decided to let Nai Khanomtom walk as a free man. After this fight, there were many styles over Thailand that were developed, and one of them is called Muay Boran.

This martial art was first created as a self-defense martial art which should be used for military purposes. Later, ground techniques, grappling technique, and deadly techniques were added later. Unlike Muay Thai, which only has a sports fight where only stand up strikes are allowed, Muay Boran has fewer limitations.

Professional Muay Boran Kaad Chuek in Rama 6th era

Professional Muay Boran Kaad Chuek in Rama 6th era

Muay Boran became the part of Thai culture and competitions started to take place. Competitors from various parts of Thailand were testing their strength. Earlier, the fighters were wrapping their hands with hemp rope. It was protecting fists from injuries, but a fighter had more chances of cutting their opponents. The best fighters became members of King’s Royal Guard. When the sport was modernized during the 1930s, many Muay Boran fighters stopped competing. Boxing gloves, boxing rings, and referees were added, but this martial art was declined as an Olympic sport.

The differences between Muay Boran and Muay Thai

While Muay Thai is known as “the science of eight limbs”, Muay Boran means “nine weapons”, when translated from Thai. In Muay Thai, kicks, knees, punches and elbows are allowed. It means you have eight striking surfaces – left knee, left shin, right knee, right shin, right hand, left hand, right elbow and left elbow. In Muay Boran, the head is also a striking surface. Headbutts are allowed to the opponent’s head or body. Despite this rule is prohibited in almost every martial art, these techniques can easily break teeth or nose from the close range. The most attractive knockouts in Muay Boran, alongside spinning back elbow and kicks, are definitively clinching headbutts.

#1 - Stances

There is the difference between stances. While in Muay Thai you mostly bounce and your weight is on the back foot, Muay Boran fighters usually have a guard which is more similar to wing chun or even traditional karate. Hands usually aren’t as high as in Muay Thai, and the back is less curved. The guard in Muay Boran covers the centerline. In Muay Thai, the hands are placed wider from your head. Optionally, one hand may stand outline. In Muay Boran, both arms defend the center. The protection of the center might be more suitable for the street fight. Hands usually stand higher. While the legs are not too much apart in Muay Thai stance, Muay Boran stance requires legs to be wider apart.

Muay Boran fighters use more ducking and slipping than Muay Thai fighters. It is taught that Muay Boran guard is more suitable for a street fight than Muay Thai stance, cause you have more chances to perform a sprawl and prevent takedown attempt. Also, your knees are a bit more flexed and closer to the ground, which provides more opportunities to perform a knee counter when your opponent performs a takedown attempt.

#2 - Attacks

Muay Boran is known to have the attacks against the limbs. Muay Thai requires attacks with your limbs. It means Muay Boran is more defensive fighting style.

Flying knees and flying elbows in Muay Boran is unrealistic. It is very hard to use it in the real fight, but it looks better in the demonstration. On the other hand, Muay Thai flying knees and elbows are more suitable for sports fight. It is believed Muay Boran’s elbows and knees are stronger, but you definitively need more time to apply it. Unfortunately, when the real fight occurs, time is not your ally.

Muay Boran - Mae Mai (Master Tricks) Techniques

Muay Boran - Mae Mai (Master Tricks) Techniques

Muay Boran fighters should have better chances of defending in the street. While in Muay Thai the fighter usually trains his shins to become strong like a rock, Muay Boran fighters usually train and punch bag and focusing mitts with their bare hands. Hand wraps only serve to protect wrists and fists from fractures and open wounds. If you train with gloves, you will get used to Muay Thai fight, a sports fight. But Muay Boran training session has two advantages – headbutts and tougher fists. If a bully attacks in the street, someone who trained Muay Boran will have more weapons in his arsenal due to more liberal rules.

#3 - Gears

Modern Muay Boran competitions are held with hand wraps. The fighters who want to demonstrate the traditional style fights still use hemp ropes and perform a traditional dancing ritual before the fight. Traditional fighting is mostly available in the form of demonstration due to very dangerous techniques. There are few Muay Boran techniques that can even kill the opponent if performed properly.

Here is an example of Muay Boran fight – the differences are obvious.

Muay Boran basic techniques and movements

Here is an outstanding video which shows the basics and the most dangerous techniques of this martial art.

#1 - MoveMents

The basic footwork in Muay Boran looks more like a dance. Hands are up but the elbows are not tucked to the chest. Hands stand high, but elbows are wide. When you move forward or backward, it looks like you are sneaking. Also, a fighter who goes forward or backward performs a movement with his arms in a similar manner a referee shows substitution in basketball. Rear hand is usually a bit lower than the front hand. Knees are flexed, while the rear leg is on the tips of your toes. The front leg stands on the whole foot. The same movement with the arms remains when you move to the side.

Tiger step is one of the basic moves. When you stand in guard, you perform the step forward and assume the stance. When you move forward, your leg goes slightly above the ground. Moving backward? All you need to do is pulling your leg down the ground. The rear leg becomes your leading leg as you perform the tiger step.

Stalk step is basically similar to the tiger step, with one difference – the knee lifts to the level of the stomach and it nearly touches your elbow. During stalk step, your spine remains flat. You are changing the guard every single time you make a step.

#2 - Punches

The right cross is very similar to the Muay Thai right cross, but the stance is deeper and it is more similar to the karate punch. Your left hand blocks the opponent’s punch. When you perform a front uppercut, the only pure difference is leaning to the side (for example, you lean a bit more to the left for the left uppercut). An uppercut which is used in Muay Boran is longer and it is more effective from half-distance than clinching. Hooks are very similar to Muay Thai hooks.

Muay Boran Punch

There is a punch which reminds on the hook, but it is performed with the upper part of the hand. Your other hand remains on the chin, preventing the attack. When you perform an overhand right, there is a significant difference from Muay Thai overhand right. While in Muay Thai you don’t need to sway backward, Muay Boran overhand right requires swaying backward as much as you can. It is a great choice if you need to counter the opponent. When you perform this technique, your elbow goes higher than the level of your head and you lean slightly to the left. When the strike is finished, the weight is transferred to the front foot.

#3 - Kicks

When it comes to the choice of the kicks, the diagonal kick is a bit different. There is no knee flexion at all. All you need to do is lifting your leg off the floor and kick the opponent with your shin. Low kick has a similarity with Muay Thai style, with one difference. When you try for a right low kick, you must lift your left leg slightly off the floor, land on the floor explosively and rotate your left foot counterclockwise to improve the power of the strike. High roundhouse kick is not done of the knee, but in the same way as a diagonal kick. There is also a spinning back kick in Muay Boran. It is pretty much similar to Muay Thai style. Teep kick is similar.

Muay Boran Kicks

#4 - ELBOWs

Elbow strikes are similar to the Muay Thai style, especially the spinning back elbow. The only difference between Muay Thai and Muay Boran elbows is the depth of the stance. Muay Boran elbows are performed off the deeper stance, with legs more apart.

Elbow skull crusher is more a demonstration technique. It is a protective sign of Muay Boran. You run onto your opponent, placing the left leg on his thigh and right leg on his shoulder. You simply demolish his skull with the elbow from above. This technique is known as 12-6 elbow and it is strictly prohibited in MMA ground fighting.

Muay Boran - Jak Narai

Jak Narai

#5 - Knees

When it comes to knee strikes, there are a front knee, side knee, and a flying knee. Front knees and side knees can be performed of clinching too. The flying knee can be done when the opponent is on distance. You don’t switch legs while performing flying knee. In Muay Thai, you can also switch your legs in the air to improve the height of your jump. All of the attacks are very brutal, especially off the clinch.

There is one knee technique which is also specific for Muay Boran, and it is called a step-up knee strike. Just like flying knee in Muay Thai, step-up knee strike requires you to put the leg on the opponent’s knee. It is good as a demonstration technique, but almost impossible in the real fight. It can be modified to flying knee strike with some training. In the case of switching flying knee strike, you will need to rotate your knee to the inside. When you are in the air, explosively rotate to the other side. This will enable the better height of your knee and stronger strike.

Muay Boran also has many very brutal self-defense techniques. Not only these techniques can harm the opponent heavily, but they can also kill him. Muay Boran strikes are not too fast. But their main feature is power and brutality. Every single Muay Boran strike is designed to be very strong and to harm the opponent. A true master of this martial art can disable the opponent in less than 3 seconds, no matter how big he is.

#6 - Equipment

During early stages of Muay Boran, fighters used to have a hemp rope only. The four knots which were created at the end of the rope were designed to cut the opponent. You will need a sharp knife so you can cut the required length. Wrapping between the fingers strengthens your wrist and decreases the chance of injury. When the rope is wrapped five or more times around the arm, the fighter starts wrapping the forearm. In the end, your hand should be wrapped tight, nearly until the half of your forearm. Here is an outstanding tutorial which shows the wrapping of hemp rope.

Modern fights require the use of mouthpiece and groin guard. Muay Boran fighters who compete in the various styles of Muay Thai use only hand wraps without gloves. Hemp rope is a traditional way to fight. However, its ability to cut the opponent makes this martial art extremely brutal due to the huge number of injuries. However, it will protect your hands and wrists. A classic Muay Boran style fight reminds on the standup fight of brutal MMA beginnings, with few exceptions – groin kicks or punches are not allowed and hemp rope has to be wrapped. Bitting is prohibited, just as putting the fingers in the opponent’s eyes.

Muay Thai hand wraps

Muay Thai hand wraps

Famous practitioners

The most famous practitioners are Tony Jaa and Glenn Quave.

Tony Jaa has many famous movies under his belt. The most known are Ong Bak series, Fast and Furious 7, Triple Threat, The Bodyguard… In the early years of his career, he was one of the best stunt doubles, especially in the movie Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

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