Mar 5, 2022
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Muay Thai History

Extensive background history of the roughest and toughest contact sports by Diane Dupre Salewski.

Short of spitting, butting and biting, a Thaiboxer can and does attack his opponent in every view imaginable. Due to its inhibited rules, Muay Thai has become recognized as the world’s most brutal and violent contact sport, it makes kickboxing look like light contact. In fact, a few days after The Fighter’s Thailand correspondent saw her first Thai boxing bout, three people were killed in the same ring. The blunt facts prove it’s a sport for only the most intrepid warriors.
In the last twenty years, professional Muay Thai bouts in Thailand have undergone major changes due to commercialism and/or improved techniques, depending on whom you ask: Oldtimers believe the sport is not the same these days, that, believe it or not, today’s fighters are softer and more money-oriented. Proponents maintain that modern equipment and safety standards have enhanced the art. Whatever the case, worldwide interest in Muay Thai (also called Thaiboxing) is approaching an all-time high. Simultaneously, the belief that Muay Thai is superior to every other martial art is spreading as foreigners learn more about this no-holds-barred art. Called the “Science of the Eight Limbs,” Muay Thai allows participants to use their knees as weapons.

Chalermpong Cheosaku

Chalermpong Cheosakul, manager of Bangkok’s Rajadamnern Stadium

Thai kickboxing was adopted as Thailand’s national sport during the Ayudhya period (1350-1767) when King Naresuan gained his freedom by winning a match against his Burmese captors. Until the glove was adopted in 1929, boxers wrapped their hands in hemp, adding bits of ground glass if both parties agreed. Triangular-shaped pillows have been replaced by jock straps. Boxers wear trunks instead of a panung (cloth wrapped loosely around the hips and tied in the back.) Bouts no longer last the time it takes for a pierced coconut to sink in a barrel, with a drum to sound the rest period. Today each of the five rounds lasts three minutes with two-minute rest periods in between.

Elbows, Knees and Leg Kicks
One fan complained that some fighters use their hands less often because spectators’ response is negligible and, therefore, the judges’ points are lower. However, Patrick Cusick, editor of Championship Thai Boxing magazine, states,”Many Thai boxers go on to the international circuit. They are using a lot more punches than they were before.”
An elbow attack draws blood quickly and is the most dangerous weapon in close quarters. Cusick feels that the injuries from elbow jabs are rare simply because a prepared fighter knows how to defend against them. Some boxers hesitate to use the elbow too often. They feel that if they draw too much blood, the other camp owners will stop requesting them. A knee attack requires power from the entire body to twist the opponent into the correct position and put him off balance. The actual knee jab requires relatively little strength and is also effective in close quarters. A hit with the front of the knee hurts the opponent more and makes a characteristic smacking sound. A high kick with the foot requires considerable strength and stamina, especially in the fourth and fifth rounds. If a fighter can knock his opponent to the floor, he scores crowd response, points, and extra money in addition to the chance of a knockout.
In the West there has been a raging debate over the years about the danger – or lack of it of using leg kicks. Leg kicks are used and regularly defended by two major pro kickboxing sanctioning bodies: the World Karate Association (WKA) based in Westminster, California and the Karate International Council of Kickboxing (KICK) based on St. Louis, Missouri. However, two other major Western sanctioning bodies, the International Sport Karate Association (ISKA), based in Denver, Colorado and the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO), based in Milan, Italy do not permit leg kicks in the competitions they sanction.

Patrick Cusick

Patrick Cusick, editor of Championship Thai Boxing magazine.

In Thailand there is some dispute about the lethality of leg kicks. Cusick feels that Muay Thai boxers undergo enough training so that 1) they condition their legs and can withstand leg blows; and 2) they learn to defend against them. Yet Anton Perera, a sports writer and editor in Bangkok for more than 24 years, observes, “Any blow delivered properly with the foot to a vital part of the body has to be dangerous. [One fighter] could drum his left leg into a ribcage like a jockey using a whip on a horse. I always considered that a lethal sort of weapon.”
On several occasions in the last decade, farangs [foreigners] from different countries have come here to challenge Muay Thai fighters. They have stopped coming, however, because the fights ended so quickly and they invariably lost. One essential reason for this is that the Thai fighter is not confined to rigid techniques and thus can improvise in any fighting situation. Challengers from other martial arts do not have a chance against Muay Thai because, as Cusick says, “Number one, their bodies aren’t conditioned to be able to withstand the leg kicks of the Thais. Secondly, they’ve got no defense against our knee and elbow. And thirdly, they’re using static fighting styles that don’t measure up to the natural flow of the Thai boxer.
“There’s no rigid discipline [in Muay Thai] saying that you must throw a punch in a certain way,” Cusick points out. It’s based on a battlefield technique that’s been proven in close combat for hundreds of years, and it’s natural flow gives it a greater superiority over the rigid, static approaches of kung-fu and karate.” Although it is not uncommon to see four-year-olds feinting punches and kicks, Muay Thai fighters do not start serious training until they are ten to twelve years old. They jump rope, punch and kick for two or more hours a day, depending on which camp they join. Exercises are timed, and the last 30 seconds of each exercise period are signaled so the boys can work at maximum speed before resting. Boys live on site at private camps, which provide everything they need. At public camps, like the one under the sponsorship of the Royal Thai Air Force Commander, the boys go to the gym to exercise each day. If earnest, no one is denied a chance to learn Muay Thai. A boy might start fighting in the ring after three to six months, but the bouts between younger boys are initially limited to international style. As with international boxing, fighters are matched by weight divisions; in Muay Thai the standard heavyweight division is about 60 kilograms or 132 pounds.

Peter Cunningham

Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham is one of few Americans to have fought Thais successfully.

Money and Mortality
Stadium owners pay the contenders for partaking in a fight. Business sponsors offer bonuses, so much money for an injury, so much for a knockdown or special kick, and so much for a knockout. In addition, classic Muay Thai, such as an elbow knockout, warrants a bonus of perhaps 20 percent of the purse. For example, if a fighter earns 100,000 Baht (U.S. $4,000.00), he will receive 120,000 Baht (U.S. $4,800.00) if he knocks out his opponent with a classic kick to the head. Half of his winnings goes to his camp. A boxer might also take a small percentage if his owner wins a bet with the other fighter’s owner.
Major stadiums provide a doctor on the premises; fighters in camps or smaller rings must get to the nearest hospital after an injury. Within a one-year period in the late 1960s, six boxers died. During a three-month period in early 1971 , three boxers died after being knocked down. In one case, two boxers died one in the ring and his opponent in the hospital the next day. According to Hardy Stockmann, author of Thai Boxing, Dr. Supraketa Charutual published a medical report stating that there was one death in 1,500 bouts due to acute sub-dural hemorrhage. That’s about one death every three to four months.
Sportswriter Perera witnessed two fatal injuries. “I was absolutely stupefied when I saw a boxer being kicked in the ribs. It must have been 12 blows within 30 seconds. And he collapsed in a heap.” The doctor stopped the bout, but the fighter died on the way to the hospital. One of his broken ribs had pierced his lung.
In the second incident, the fighter, says Perera, “lasted all of five rounds [until] the last minute of the fifth round when an elbow hit him in the forehead. It was an absolutely stunning blow; it took him completely by surprise, and blood gushed from a deep wound …” Both the mat and Mr. Perera, who wore a white suit, were soaked in blood. That fighter died soon after, perhaps from being left unattended at the hospital more so than from his injuries. Some people believe deaths will increase as farangs [foreigners], who weigh more than the average Thai, join the boxing circuit. Others say that weight will not affect the injury or death rate as long as the participants are fully prepared for the game.

Even spectators are not guaranteed safety. One woman remembers reading of grenades thrown into a stadium on several occasions in the 1970s. According to Perera, “Stadiums in Thailand over the years have been known to collapse, especially when they are built for a particular occasion. In fact, we had a world title bout in Korat one year and there they built a number of bleachers and temporary stands around the makeshift ring in the open air. Even before the fight began, a part of the stands collapsed. There were no deaths, but about 40 or 50 people were injured.” Astonishingly, the fight still went on.
At 9:30p.m. on March 4, 1988, a man shot at camp owner Chaiwat Palangwattanakij, who died at 2:00 a.m. four days later. His bodyguards returned fire, seriously injuring the gunman. Two spectators were killed in the crossfire and several others were injured in the stampede to clear the stadium. Since then, metal detectors have been in-stalled. However, there are so many bouts scheduled every hour of every day that there is not enough personnel to guarantee complete security.
All fighters suffer cuts, broken noses or shortness of breath after a kick in the gut, but modern fighters are better prepared. Somnuk Luangprasert, manager of the Royal Thai Air Force Commander’s camp, says today’s boxers eat well, take vitamins and train with better equipment. And more importantly, today’s referees call a technical knockout in a more timely manner to avoid the major injuries and deaths that plagued Muay Thai not so long ago. Another factor keeps the statistics low. As editor Cusick puts it, “One of the advantages of Thai boxing is that they go for five rounds and when a knockout does occur, it’s very quick and sudden. It’s not that long, slow battering of ten to fifteen rounds you’ll find in international boxing.

Gambling Pros and Cons
Gambling is against the law in Thailand, but Muay Thai is an exception. Organizers of matches must obtain a gambling license from the Ministry of the Interior and must pay a fee for every program because it is considered gambling. Bets are exchanged as fighters finish a bout or deliver a resounding kick. It is not unusual to see a fan approach a fighter during the rest period to offer a portion of his winnings if the fighter prevails. Cusick, an Aussie, feels that “gambling is as natural to the Thais as going out in Australia and having a beer in a hotel.” Some people are sure that the March 4, 1988 shooting was a direct result of gambling. Says Perera, “In situations where you make bets and you either don’t pay up or you don’t receive [payment], the people involved take it on themselves to mete out punishment to their tormentors. Gambling always breeds violence and there have been more than a few [such] cases.”
About one-and-a-half years ago, someone threw a grenade into the ring while a fight was in progress. According to Perera. “It obviously came rom the gambling fraternity. Most boxers stop entering matches in their mid- to late-twenties. Former fighters may have quit due to injuries, but today’s fighters usually quit for other reasons. For example, they reach a plateau and become bored. Or there are fewer requests for their services, perhaps because they get married. Thais believe a woman saps a man’s strength. thus making a fighter less able to perform at maximum ability. Where do retired fighters go? Other than the usual number who stick around the ring as trainers and so on, many of them return to their simple country life as farmers, to work the land that they bought with their prize money.

Trong Trithara

Trong Trithara (seated, front left) with students of the Midwest Muay Thai Academy, Springfield, Montana.

If someone wants to see the only real “full-contact” martial art they should come to Bangkok and spend an evening in one of the stadiums. Fight tickets range from 70 baht (U.S. $2.80) to 1,200 baht (U.S. $48.00). Contrary to popular belief every other martial art, by comparison it’s a semi-contact art. Perhaps one enlightened observer put it best: New Jersey’s Dr. Eddie Andujar. American kickboxing’s original welterweight world champion, said matching Western kickboxers with Muay Thai fighters “is like putting a basketball player in a football game.” As the world becomes aware of the superiority and potential of Muay Thai, people will come to see that it is, in fact, the king of martial arts.

For the past 63 years, foreign martial artists have challenged Muay Thai fighters in the ring. Almost invariably, the Thai boxers won, and in many cases utterly destroyed their opponents with leg kicks, knees and/or elbows. These matches have been a case of mixing apples and oranges and wondering why the taste is so bitter. Here’s why. For decades Thai boxers have knocked the hell out of fighters from other countries. Some enthusiasts claim that farangs (foreigners) rarely contact Thai authorities anymore for permission to fight in Thailand or to have Muay Thai fighters sent to another country. They argue that Thai boxers are better, that farangs cannot handle the sport. Ohers say the problem lies in the fact that contenders thus far have been mismatched, that promoters have focused on matching a Muay Thai fighter with a farang whose forte is another martial art, somewhat like mixing apples and oranges and wondering why the juice is so bitter. Says Australian Patrick Cusick, editor of Bangkok’s Thai Championship Boxing magazine and a practitioner of the art himself, little overseas martial artists have stopped coming over here. The Thais won’t let them go into the ring [anymore] because the fights are over so quickly. For a while there was some talk about [other] martial arts being able to compete with Thai boxing. So about 10 years ago, for a span of about five years. there was this inundation of martial artists coming to Thailand. But most of them wouldn’t get past the first round because; number one, their bodies weren’t conditioned to be able to withstand the leg kicks of the Thais; secondly, they had no defense against knees and elbows; and thirdly, they used the static fighting styles that do not measure up to the natural flow of the Thai boxer.”

Muay Thai’s Global Expansion
Has the farang’s taste for Muay Thai died along with his apparent inability to handle this ancient martial art? Quite the opposite. A revival of interest in Muay Thai has blossomed to the point that Muay Thai training camps can be found today in almost every part of the world. But this time the farangs are taking the time to properly learn the art of Muay Thai. Although there are some who have inflated their credentials, qualified instructors abound.
Chalermpong Cheosakul, manager of Bangkok’s prestigious Rajadamnern Stadium, has visited one of the West’s most active and legitimate camps: Thorn Harinck’s Chakuriki Dojo in Amsterdam, Holland. Harinck. a no-nonsense Dutchman. runs a spartan gym with between 40 and 50 Thai boxers. Three of them, Saskia Van Ryswyk, Branko Cikatic and Gilbert Ballantine are world champions and nine others are Dutch and European champions. Due to Harrinck’s involvement and influence, Amsterdam has become the Muay Thai mecca of Europe. Harrinck visits Bangkok from time to time to recruit Muay Thai boxers to help train his fighters. Numerous other legitimate Thai boxers have migrated to other countries to teach their art (see accompanying story: “How Muay Thai Moved West“). Such global expansion is continuing. Sakat Petchjindee, a Bangkok champion, recently moved to Sydney, Australia to be a trainer. “What is happening now,” explains Cusick.” is that all the people who have gone as far as they can go [in martial arts] have looked at Muay Thai and sated, “This is really worthwhile … this is a superior martial art.”
As for the global revival of interest, he adds that martial artists are talking about it. That’s what’s creating the enthusiasm and the interest in Muay Thai. According to Cusick, a current Western martial arts champion recently visited Bangkok and said that Muay Thai is superior for three reasons: 1) the conditioning, 2) the undeniable extra weapons knees and elbows of the Thai boxer and 3) their ability to switch off the pain aspects that Western fighters lack.

One Farang Who Succeeded
Dave Kvalheim. the only farang in the 1970s to train in Thailand and maintain a successful fight record, 25-10, has strong opinions about martial artists contending with Muay Thai boxers. “in martial arts,” he says, “there’s so much hype about the hitting blows that they have. What people don’t realize is that the human body can take a lot more damage if its trained and conditioned properly. Kvalheim says that because other martial artists believe their punches kill, they pull back. They don’t throw their full power into it. We punch through, with every punch. We don’t have the psychological block that causes us to pull at the last instant.” Another advantage of Muay Thai is that fighters are always changing and upgrading the art. Many Thai boxers convert to international or western-style boxing and then return to Muay Thai. Kvalheim feels that people are going to discover that – Thai boxing is such a dynamic sport that they’re going to be able to bring a lot of these techniques from international boxing and meld them within Thai boxing techniques – and it’s going to be even more dynamic, more effective …

Dale Kvalheim

Dale Kvalheim, one of few westerners who have fought successfully in Thailand.

Kvalheim’s friend, Jason Webster, is a good fighter, but he lost a match last January because his teacher taught him only classical Muay Thai. Webster did not learn defenses against modern knee attacks. “In the old days,” says Kvalheim “the opponents didn’t grasp each other by the neck and pull the head into the knees.” Today, of course they do, and Webster lost because of a knee to the head.
For farangs interested in learning Muay Thai Kvalheim suggests, when they’re working out, they have to learn what their pain threshold is. They have to learn to build their shins up to the point where there is no pain. It’s a matter of ignoring all pain. They have to learn the Thai conditioning methods and the Thai techniques, especially the knees and elbows vs. They have to learn to compete against those techniques because the are the most dangerus in the Thai arsenal. The rest generally can be blocked pretty easily because they have to travel a long distance. They are powerful, but they are easy to negate.
As for the Thai warm-up ritual (the wai-khruu) Cusick says, “For a foreigner who doesn’t want to or doesn’t believe in the ritual, there’s no point in doing it. Kvalheim disagrees. He maintains that every pro athlete has his own method to get psyched up before a competition and if the farang is going to compete in Thailand the wai khruu ceremony is important. It means a lot to the Thais and audience support can strengthen a fighter’s endurance.

Pros and Cons About Foreign Fighters
Cusick voices many fans’ attitudes about farangs challenging Thai fighters. “They’re not prepared to put the hours and hours and days and months and years of dedication into it like the Thais do. So ho can the expect to really compete when their bodies haven’t been conditioned, their bones aren’t as hard and their muscles’ endurance and intensity aren’t as strong?”
In contrast, Cheosakul, one of the founding members o the World Muay Thai Association (WMTA), feels that a farang can gain an advantage over a Thai fighter despite the Thai’s lifelong contact with the sport. “Once they begin training,” he says, “they train very, very hard. Over here (in Bangkok) some people somewhat neglect their training because they believe they’ve been brought up with Muay Thai. Except, when they get in the ring and start losing, then the realize what they have been doing is wrong.”. According to Cheosakul, if a farang takes up Muay Thai it is because he is deadly serious about it, and this can give him an edge. True to its reputation of being dynamic, Muay Thai is constantly being revised to fit into modern times. With farang boxers and other martial artists learning Muay Thai and adding their own techniques, the art will continue to improve and become even more effective. Enthusiasts welcome the newcomers believing that they can help Muay Thai remain a truly stable champion in this ever-changing world. The word IS out. and non-Thais are joining in.

Muay Thai in the US
For some 18 years, Muay Thai proponents have campaigned for Western acceptance of their art against stiff opposition. Veteran Thai boxers claim that the sport, because of an undeserved reputation for extreme brutality, is In danger of being banned In the U.S. before it ever gets off the ground. Contrary to popular Western belief, they say it is not a “death sport.” Other experts contend it is this same brutality which makes Muay Thai the perfect self-defense art for America’s mean streets. Today, with eight Thai boxing factions in the U.S., each of which is struggling to promote its own particular vision of Muay Thai as art or sport, they could be undermining it themselves. The lack of unity and singleminded purpose is making progress almost impossible. Here’s the story of Muay Thai in America, who’s behind it, where it’s been, where it is at, and where it’s going.

Unlike the Japanese, who marketed karate on the heels of World War II, or the Koreans, who followed on their coattails with_ the successfull launch of tae kwon do, the Thais got off to a slow and disorganized start. One of the first Thai-boxing schools to open in the U.S. was established in Los Angeles in 1972 by a Thai champion named Niyom Prasertsom and his student partner Tong Trithara, but within a year the studio closed its doors. “I didn’t work out,” Tong explains, “[because] we couldn’t get students.” Muay That instructor Chai Sirisute of Los Angeles began teaching in the U.S. at about the same time. He taught at several locations and was successful only on a small scale. The Asian martial arts gained terrific popularity in the early 1970s by riding high on the Bruce Lee phenomenon. Kung-fu and karate became household words while Thai boxing conversely, remained virtually unknown. The sport of Muay Thai made a controversial U.S debut in Los Angeles in 1977 when fullcontact karate king Benny Urquidez met Narongi Kiattibandit in a heated match that precipitated a riot. The next notable match would not occur until 1982, but in the meantime the martial arts community had “discovered” Thai boxing. Articles appeared in magazines, and some kickboxers began “borrowing” techniques from the Thai fighters. Sirisute advanced the Muay Thai art by way of seminars, traveling from state to state to teach, and opening satellite training centers. In 1982, his American Thai Boxing team traveled to Bangkok to participate in the World Freestyle Fighting Championships. Sirisute’s efforts did much to build excitement for the sport and to promote Thai-boxing as a martial art as well.

At What Price Victory?
Another fight card was held in Los Angeles in 1982. This time the fighters were permitted to use all of their weapons according to authentic Thaiboxing rules. Panmongkol Hor-Ma-Hachai, Rajadamnern’s bantam weight champion, fought L.T. Davis. Panmongkol hit the American in the face with his elbow drawing blood in the fifth round. Panmongkol won by TKO. Rachbur Petchyidee fought Japanese kickboxer ‘Hiroshi’ and won on points. Nong Kai Sor-Prapassorn was declared the winner against American lightweight champion David Johnston of Albuquerque, New Mexico,
In July 1984, a team of five Thai fighters came to Los Angeles to fight Americans under modified rules. The Thais won four out of five matches. Only Peter Cunningham prevailed against his Thai-trained adversary. Another riot ensued in the stands, a preposterous situation that was to be repeated yet a third time in a 1989 Thaiboxing event in Anaheim, California. Worse yet, the last one was broadcast on television several countries.
In.the “what would happen if” game of combat, the Muay fighters have always fared quite well. “What if a Muay Thai champ faced an American fullcontact karate champion? Usually the Muay Thai guy has prevailed. Even those, like Benny Urquidez, who have prevailed over the Thais give them tremendous credit for unparalelled tenacity and fortitude. But U.S. fullcontact karate organizers predict. that the toughness of Muay Thai competition – the thing about which its exponents boast the most – may very well prove to be its major pitfall in the United States.
By brutalizing their opponents the Thais have won the battles, but the knockouts and the bloody victories have served to increase their reputation of being uncivilized. The purpose of the U.S. bouts was to create interest in and excitement for the sport of Muay Thai in the United States, but the thrice repeated riots among its spectators have further undermined its effort. Blood in the ring and trouble in the stands have jointly created something of a dark cloud which now looms over the American-based Thai-Boxing camps.

Undeserved Reputation
“To me, Muay Thai is a sport. To the American people, it is brutal.” says Tong Trthara, now 37 old. He believes American who fight Thais are victims of the same sort of face-loss endured by European basketball players when matched against top-flight U.S. Olympic basketball teams. In short, he thinks that Americans get hurt and lose badly to Thais only because of inexperience and lack of knowhow. Tong Trithara now teaches Muay Thai in Springfield, Missouri. He directs the Midwest Muay Thai Academy and trains fighters for both international fights with full Muay Thai rules and domestic fights under the World Karate Association Association, WKA, banner or modified Thai rules.
He argues that Thai boxing, between experienced fighters. is less dangerous than Western boxing.” They call Muay Thai a deadly weapon,” he muses. “I think there’s more damage from (Western) boxing than from Thai boxing. Western-style boxers hit in the head a lot. The brain can’t be replaced. In Thai boxing you don’t get hit in the head too much except with the elbow, which is hard to get in anyway. The ribs and legs you an repair, the brain you can not.”
Billed by its promoters as “the worlds’ toughest contact sport,” Muay Thai is made to appear ruthless by virtue of its almost-anything-goes-rules. While its ardent supporters feel that extolling its ferocity is their number one promotional priority, many observers disagree.

Benny Urquidez

Benny “The Jet” Urquidez was able to beat the Thai’s at their own game. He was so successful in the ring that a Japanese comic book was created in his honor. At his internationally acclaimed “Jet Center” he has trained many champions and contenders.

“It’s like promoting rugby versus American football and claiming the rugby players are ‘tougher,’ says the Professional Karate Association’s Joe Corley. “Sure, the rugby players are rough, but put them in an NFL football game and they won’t do so well. Likewise, force the Muay Thai fighters to kick strictly above the waist and they won’t do as well, either. There’s no questioning their toughness. But being tough is not enough. And I wonder if the American public really cares to watch people continually kick each other in the legs.” The viability of the leg kicks has been argued repeatedly in the United States for the past 15 years. The World Karate Association primarily because of its connections with Japan, has advocated leg kicks. KICK (Karate International Council of Kickboxing) has also incorporated leg kicks in its rules.
Meanwhile, the ISKA (International Sport Karate Association) and PKC (Professional Karate Commission) have followed PKA rules and prohibit kicks below the waist. “The controversy is culture-based,” says the PKC’s Glen Keeney. “We live in a country where clipping is not allowed in football; naturally, then, it’s tough to explain to spectators why we have athletes kicking each other in the knees. To me it just doesn’t make sense”. The Muay Thai promotions in the U.S. have reflected the best and the worst of the cultural differences. The avid Thai fans have become rowdy at more than ane event and riots have ensued. “That’s just not going to fly in the U.S.,” says the ISKA’s Mike Sawyer, who has been instrumental in the spread of pro karate around Europe. “European brawls in soccer stadiums don’t make for good press here in the U.S. Karate audiences here are reserved and well-behaved, and that’s an asset o our sport.”
It’s true that most blows banged between Thai boxers are body and leg shots. Yet American fighters consistently get knocked out by elbows and knees to the head. Muay Thai promoter Chan Chai operates the nation’s largest Thai-boxing school, the Muay Thai Academy of America in North Hollywood, California. Han Chai, who describes himself as a promoter, says American fighters get hurt because they don’t know bow to protect themselves from a knee to the face. “There is no way you can put your knee in a Thai fighter’s face, Chan insists. The way we fight we stand up. American people don’t know this: they try to work on the body like a boxer. That is why we can put the knee to their faces. They have to understand you must stand up to fight a Thai boxer. They don’t understand now.”

Gerard Finot

French Thaiboxer / trainer Gerard Finot (right) now based in Euclid, Ohio, demonstrates a knee technique.

French Thai boxer and trainer Gerard Finot, now based in Euclid, Ohio, puts it this way: “What people don’t understand is that with Thai boxing you cannot go to the body (with your fists), you cannot do rotative dodging (bobbing and weaving), the classical boxing rotation, because the Thai boxer will grab you by the neck and give you two knees. If you try a body shot, he will grab your neck and give you a knee to the head.” Therein lies much of the problem Americans who fight Thais typically use Western-style boxing and evasion techniques which incorporates lots of ducking. Boom! They get knocked out by a knee time after time. Finot agrees that the answer lies in education and proper training. “The important message to relay is that to every technique there is a counter-technique,” he states. All-out, unprotected. Thai boxing has little or no future as a sport in the United States. In order to gain any sort of acceptance, Muay Thai promoters must agree on a standardization of the training and a modification of the rules. They don’t however.

Nanfah Seharedecho

Nanfah Seharedecho, now of Los Angeles, is the top Thaiboxer based in the US in 1990.

This 3 part story was originally published in the February 1990 issue of The Fighter International magazine and its consecutive editions edited by John Corcoran. Photos: T. Cambre Pierce.

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