The Ratanakosin Era
The Reign of King Rama I
As with earlier kings, Rama I, was a Muay Thai enthusiast from a young age, training and travelling to watch and no doubt, bet, on matches throughout the kingdom. He was the first to introduce the idea of timed rounds. A hole would be pierced in a coconut and then placed in a barrel of water, when the coconut sank to the bottom, the round was over. No limits on how many rounds existed yet, the fights just continued until there was a definite winner.
There are two great legends that occured during this era, the first goes that around the fall of Ayutthaya Kingdom (the capital) in 1767, the invading Burmese warriors took thousands of Thai's back to their kingdom as prisoners, among them were many fighters.
In 1773, the King "Mangra" decided to host a week-long festival, called the Shwedagon Pagoda festival, in honour of the Buddha. The festivities would involve many forms of entertainment, including comedies, dress-ups, and sword-fighting. At some point, the king decided to compare the Burmese Lethwei (boxing) to Muay Boran (as it was called before Muay Thai). A young orphaned fighter, Nai Khanomtom was selected to fight the Burmese champion. Nai Khanomtom stepped out into the ring and began his Wai Kru, a traditional pre-fight dance honouring his teachers, ancestors and Gods, a tradition that remains today. The Burmese people were perplexed by this proceeding and thought it to be black magic. The beginning of the fight saw Nai Khanomtom charge out and pummel hi opponent with all weapons until he fell. The Burmese referee called it a no contest, claiming their fighter was too distracted by the dance, so he was offered the chance to fight 9 more champions, he agreed and fought them all, back to back without a rest. His last opponent was a well-known, powerful kickboxing teacher, who Khanomtom mangled with kicks and no one else dared to challenge him.
The King was so impressed that he coined the now famous phrase "Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom." King Mangra granted Nai Khanomtom's freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives, he chose the women, supposedly saying that money is easier to find. Variations of the story tell us that all the prisoners were released. More than 200 years on, this legendary fighter continues to epitomise the spirit of the sport, the essence that real power comes from inner strength and concentrated training, that although he was the underdog, he never gave up on life or fighting and so succeeded. This spirit continues to influence and inspire students right the way around the world. He is honoured every year on March 17th, as part of a National Boxing Day (National Muay Boran Day/National Nai Khanomtom Day) celebrations.
The second legend goes something like this......
Sometime in 1788, two french brothers came to Thailand in search of boxing competitions. One brother was a reknowned competitor and had fought in many countries throughout their travels, he wished to fight for a prize against a Thai.
The King consulted Pra Raja Wangbowon his head of royal boxing, and agreed on a bet of 4000Baht (50Changs) and decided the fight would be held at the Grand Palace. A ring was constructed specifically for the fight, 20m x 20m.
The French fighter got off to a good start, and it seemed like he was too strong for the smaller, nimbler Thai. Eventually he began to tire, and, seeing that he was in the verge of losing, his brother broke the rules by jumping into the ring to help. This caused a riot and a series of fights broke out between the travellers and the Thai guards and spectators. Disgraced by their actions, the brothers left the area hastily.