Muay Thai: a combat sport that uses only 8 parts of your body

Find out how the national sport of Thailand can help you in self defense and also take your fitness level several notches higher

Boxing gloves

Muay Thai pronounced as ‘moy thai’ is a combination of martial arts and boxing. It was developed and used by the royal Thai family and the Thai army, but is now popular around the world.

Muay Thai is a close contact combat sport, requiring quick and efficient movements. It uses only eight parts of the body: elbow, fist, knee, head, shin, ankle, upper arm and forearms. The prime objective of this sport is to take on the opponent and disable him even if he is in close contact with you.

An important part of the game is the surprise element, which comes from the eye contact that has to be maintained with the opponent at all times. That ensures that your quarry does not anticipate the direction from which you will attack. This requires sharp focus and some guesswork.

Is it different from boxing?

Boxing does not involve as much close contact as Muay Thai and there is more leg movement in boxing.

Muay Thai, on the contrary, demands more flexibility because to attack from close contact, you need to be flexible and be able to grapple swiftly. In fact, grappling can continue for long, when in a contest. This needs sheer strength.

Though Muay Thai comes across as a gruelling sport, a lot of people are now taking it up for its health benefits:

  • Muay Thai helps tone your muscles. Since you are only using body strength, it gives your muscles a good workout, making them stronger and more supple. So if you’re not for heavy weight training and bulking of muscles, this is just the sport for you.
  • It improves flexibility and stamina exponentially. The rigorous practice of Muay Thai helps you build resilience of mind and body. You will find that you’re better capable to take on stress because you are now stronger from within.
  • It helps lose weight and keep you lean. You are constantly on the move, there’s lot of practice and you are using your entire body, which gives you an excellent work-out and burns calories.
  • It improves concentration, focus and reflexes. Muay Thai involves precision, focus and planning before you can execute your move and all this has to be done in seconds, before you get knocked down by your opponent.
  • It helps release pent up anger and stress. Muay Thai is particularly helpful in releasing suppressed emotions. The action of punching and kicking helps relieve frustration, leaving you feeling light and relaxed.
  • It tones your abs. The kicking and punching movements need you to engage your core. Hence, after regular practice of Muay Thai, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to notice firmer and better toned abs.
  • It strengthens your back. Your back muscles are engaged often and that helps relieve mild back pain.
  • Regular practice of this sport helps in improving your sense of balance. You become more aware of your feelings, impulses and reflexes.
  • Though you may take it up as a sport or for weight loss, the added advantage is that you learn a form of self defense that equips you to handle an emergency situation on your own, irrespective of your physical built or gender.

How is it different from other martial arts?

All forms of martial arts focus on katha—the series of warrior/dance movements. This demands a long learning curve. But in Muay Thai, even though it involves katha, the learning and preparation to become a warrior starts immediately. It is more practical than other martial arts. Nonetheless, every form of martial arts has its unique qualities.

All forms of martial arts focus on katha—the series of warrior/dance movements

The class module is such that it helps improve your focus and flexibility. Muay Thai is a tough sport, but it’s worth the challenges. It requires developing special skills, but it’s exciting and includes other forms of exercise such as power training, yoga, rope jumping and running. All this helps you prepare to punch and kick better.

Who can learn Muay Thai?

Anybody with a keen interest. Just like with any other sport or fitness activity, if you have any physical complaint, consult your physician before taking it up.

Is it a manly sport?

Muay Thai is being taken up by men and women, equally. Surprisingly, women are better at this sport because they are more committed. They may take longer to learn than men, but they learn it in more perfect form. Also, since it is a form of self-defence, it helps them protect themselves when they are on their own.

What are the chances of injury?

In Muay Thai, injury usually happens only in combat. In training, injuries may happen if there is no warm-up. But you are protected if you wear proper gloves, a shin guard and face guard [if you progress to actual punching]. Also, listening to the instructions carefully and following the rules of the sport also saves you from getting injured.

Why is it suddenly so popular?

It’s easy to learn, equips you to protect yourself and is generally a good skill to have. People always want newer ways of staying fit and this way is one of the best.


A version of this was first published in the March 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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