Principles of Muay Thai

Source: Muay Thai Institute of Rangsit, Thailand

Source: Muaythai Institute of Rangsit, Thailand


Walking around the lobby of the Muaythai Institute [MTI]  is an education unto itself. There are many photos, articles, and memorabilia–as well as a few educational placards. Over the office and weight room there are a series of old photos from an earlier era in the development of this martial art. Of course, Muaythai already had a long history before there were cameras around to document it. (As witnessed by the presence of boxing gloves in the photo above [and most of the other photos here.] Gloves were probably a relatively new addition from the previous rope hand-wraps at the time of many of these photographs.)


Yesterday, I noticed the following poster describing the principles of Muaythai:


Poster in the gym at the Muaythai Institute


As it’s difficult to read, I’ll paraphrase the contents:

First, the three principles of Muaythai:

1.) Feet apart

2.) Elbows close to the body

3.) Hands guard the head


Second, there are the five principles for professional Muaythai fighters:

1.) Use all Muaythai weapons [i.e. fists, feet, elbows, and knees.]

2.) Protect oneself completely.

3.) Be powerful.

4.) Tolerate (persevere) attacks.

5.) Be clever.


I started to think of these guidelines in terms of the concept of budō-kun, which are the guiding principles of a given school of martial arts or even a specific teacher. The budō-kun concept is seen in Japanese martial arts, and at first blush it seems quite different from the muaythai principles stated above. While budō-kun typically have a philosophical / moral bent, the Muaythai principles seem quite pragmatic.


However, one can see broader meanings in these simple statements.


1.) The admonition to use all Muaythai weapons can be seen as a suggestion to be flexible and adaptable, and not to latch onto a single approach. I find the talk in judō about “favorite” or “match-winning” techniques (tokui waza) to be intriguing. Historically,  martial artists seem to have avoided giving the impression that they had a favorite techniques. The logic behind this secretiveness can be described by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote: “If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.” Or, expanding further, if I know your feelings on a subject I can respond to them to my advantage.


2.) “Protecting oneself completely” can be seen as valuing one’s body over one’s ego. In Thaiboxing, as in almost all combative sports, one sees instances in which a fighter drops his guard to either encourage an attack or just to showboat for the audience. Sometimes this works out as desired, but often it results in the fighter waking up on his back.


3.) Be powerful seems self-evident, but incumbent in the statement is the need to train hard. One doesn’t become powerful without working hard to develop both form and fitness.


4.) Being able to tolerate being under attack is another point that may seem less than profound, but it speaks to the realization that both fitness and capacity to “take a licking and keep on ticking” matter. Sometimes the outcome hinges on the durability and resilience of a given fighter–much as we might like to think that technique always and everywhere trumps all.


5.) Being clever speaks to the creative element. One must be able to adjust to changing circumstances, and sometimes victory hinges on actions that are unconventional.


I’m curious about the interpretations of others on this subject.



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