The Ayuddhaya Era
In the transition from the 14-1500's, Muay Thai was both a skill of great importance on the battle field, and the primary way national issues were decided. There is a story of two young princes who fought for the throne, after a looooong conflict, neither brother could get the upper hand to claim the throne, and so it was decided to be settles over a single combat battle. Each side could choose a champion boxer from their ranks who would fight until first blood was drawn. The winner inherits the kingdom. The bout was said to have lastest for several hours until Fang Ken's fighter was scratched on the foot, leaving a trickle of blood, therfore declaring Yi Kumkan the winner and new king!! This was the very beginning of fighting as a sport, outside the parameters of war.
King Naresuan and King Narai
King Naresuan was an avid lover of Muay Thai and earned himself a place in history through his efforts with the soldiers of Thailand. He recruited the men who whose homes had been destroyed and who had been beaten by Burmese warriors, to become scouts, and jungle warriors. This new form of warfare eventually led to Thailands leberation from the Burmese around 1600.
Immediately following King Naresuan was King Narai, also an avid lover of Muay Thai. It was he, in those first years of national freedom, that transformed the military combat martial art, into a sport. The basic principles that remain today, 400years later, were created in this era. The Mongkong (headband) and pa-pra-jiat (armband) were both introduced, and a ring was made by a rope on the ground, usually in a circular or square shape, to designate the 'fight area.'
The fighters hands and forearms were wrapped in a horse hide or a tough hemp rope, sometimes this 'glove' was then soaked in a starchy liqiud to keep it bound, and make a harder striking surface. Some villages used starched cotton strips mixed with glue and for some matches (on agreeance with both sides) sand or even ground glass particles were rubbed onto the fist area, for extra courseness. (because being hit in the face with plaster-like rock hard ropey fists, just wasn't tough enough!) These days we use 8-17oz padded gloves. 'Twins' is the major manufacturer in Thailand, and 'Punish' in Australia. Groin guards were crafted from tree bark or sea shells, and tied on with pieces of cloth. Fighters were not matched according to size, age or experience, and fights lasted as long as it took to decide a definite winner. Local champions would represent their village or city against others. Wealthy businessmen would also choose fighters and set up matches to settle disputes. Fight gambling was as popular in 1610 as was in 2010.
The Reign of King Pra Chao Sua; The "Tiger King"
Muay Thai reached new heights of popularity in the early 1700's, so much so that even royalty would compete. The King loved the sport so much that he made his two sons study the art of Muay Thai, and founded the Department of Royal Boxing, which had the resposibility of finding and recruiting worthy, strong men to train and then compete as entertainment for the royal court. They were also appointed as royal guards.
The King himself would go incognito to villages to compete in the bouts. According to legend, he defeated three local champions, namely Nai Klan Madthai (Killing Fists), Nai Yai Madklek (Fists of Iron), and Nai Lek Madnok (Strong Fists). The king was forced to disguise himself because the Thai people had such respect for their king no-ne would have fought him. His disguise, The Tiger King, was so good, he often left with the prize money, undetected.
Historical sources tell us that under The Tiger Kings reign, all sorts of people flocked to training camps, rich, poor, young and old, all signing up to be a part of the contests. As you will see in part 3, not much has changed in the world of Muay Thai since the 1700's. many of the rules and traditions are the same, just slightly modified and made 'safer.' The gambling however, is one thing that has not changed, if anything it has become more prolific!!