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How Old Is Muay Thai? The Evolution Of Thai Boxing

Muay Thai, often referred to as “Thai boxing”, is a martial art that uses a combination of striking and clinching techniques. The martial arts is known as the “art of eight limbs” due to the combined use of punches, kicks, knees and elbows.

But, how old is Muay Thai?

The history of Muay Thai dates back approximately 400 years to the 16th century Siam kingdom as a peace-time martial art practised by soldiers. Over the past few centuries, Muay Thai has evolved into the popular combat sport it is today.

In this article, we answer the common question “how old is Muay Thai?” and discuss the development and key events in the martial arts history.

how old is muay thai

How Old Is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai can be traced back to at least the 16th century Siam kingdom as a peace-time martial art practised by the soldiers of King Naresuan.

The first documented exhibition of Muay Thai was reported by French diplomat Simon de la Loubère. He was sent by King Louis XIV in 1687 to the Kingdom of Siam and documented his work in the famous “Du Royaume de Siam“.

During the Burmese–Siamese War, Muay Boran was used as a hand to hand practical fighting technique during battles.

Over the years, Muay Thai developed into a popular combat sport in which fighters fought in front of spectators watching for entertainment. Muay Thai bouts gradually became an integral part of local celebrations and festivals. To this day, Muay Thai fights are still held at local festivals and celebrations at temples around Thailand.

The Evolution Of Modern Muay Thai

In this next section, we look at a timeline of the development of Muay Thai and how the martial art has evolved into the combat sport we know and love today.

1909-1910King Chulalongkorn formally established Muay Boran by rewarding the victors at the funeral fights for his son.

Many people claim this to be the date when Muay Thai was officially established.

1913: British boxing was introduced into the curriculum of the Suan Kulap College. The first reference of the use of the term “Muay Thai”.

1919: Muay Thai and British boxing were taught in the curriculum of the Suan Kulap College.

1921: The first permanent ring was erected in Siam at Suan Kulap College. The ring was used for both British boxing and Muay Thai as they were both taught in the curriculum.

1923: The first international Muay Thai stadium was built (Suan Sanuk Stadium). The ring held fights for both Muay Thai and international boxing events.

1925–1935: During the reign of King Rama VII, he pushed for codified rules for Muay Thai.

Some of the first Muay Thai rules introduced include:

  • Fighters began wearing groin guards and boxing gloves. Before the introduction of gloves, fighters wrapped their hands in rope-binding (khat chueak) that made their hands hardened and dangerous.
  • Similar to boxing, Muay Thai bouts took place over a set number of rounds.
  • Referees were introduced to ensure the safety of fighters.

Before this period, “Muay Thai” was known as “Muay Boran”. To this day, “Muay Boran” is still performed during exhibition events.

1939: Rajadanerm Boxing stadium opened. Along with Lumpinee Stadium, Rajadamnern is one of the two main Muay Thai stadiums in Thailand. The stadium features some of the best Muay Thai bouts in the world.

1954: Lumpinee opened its doors for the first time. Only the Rajadamnern Stadium championship belt rivals the prestige of holding the “Muay Thai Champion of Lumpinee”. Lumpinee boxing stadium is run by the Thai Army, with proceeds from the events going towards the armed services.


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The Golden Age Of Muay Thai

In the 1980s and 1990s, Muay Thai was at the height of its popularity.. During the golden era, elite Nak Muay fought for huge purses of up to 200,000 baht. The national stadiums were packed full of fans enjoying the action and gambling at the same time.

The golden age of Muay Thai featured the likes of Chamuakpetch Harpalang, Samart Payakaroon, Dieselnoi Chor Thanasukarn and Sagat Petchyindee.

The Future Of Muay Thai

Over the past decade, Muay Thai has exploded in popularity. There are multiple reasons for the growth of Muay Thai.

The first is the growth of the UFC. Whilst the UFC is known as the reason for the explosion of BJJ globally, it also helped increase the popularity of other martial arts around the world. The UFC educated many sports fans on Muay Thai and the differences between Muay Thai and Kickboxing.

The second is due to the technological advancements over the last 20 years. It’s now possible to follow your favourite fighters around the world, live-stream Muay Thai events, and research martial arts topics on websites such as the Fighters Vault.

Global martial arts organisations such as One FC, Bellator and Lion Fight are investing heavily in Muay Thai and landing lucrative sponsorships and TV deals. This is bringing both more money into the sport and increasing the awareness of Muay Thai.

If you asked a group of people 20 years ago what Muay Thai is, very few people would be able to tell you. These days it’s common for regular sports fans to discuss Muay Thai and MMA alongside traditional sports such as baseball and basketball.

With any luck, Muay Thai will continue to grow and increase in popularity in the future.

Conclusion: How old is Muay Thai?

When it comes to answering the question of “how old is Muay Thai?”, there are some key dates in the history of the sport. 

Muay Thai dates back to over 400 years, although it’s widely accepted that the sport was officially founded by king Chulalongkorn in 1909 – 1910.

Over the last few centuries, the art of eight limbs has evolved from the martial art practised by soldiers to the popular sport known today. Both the explosion of MMA and advances in technology have pushed Muay Thai onto the radar of sports fans in the world. To this day, the sport continues to grow, as live events are streamed around the world from organisations such as ONE FC and Lion Fight.

We hope we have helped you answer the question, “how old is Muay Thai?”.

Summary of the evolution of Muay Thai

  • 16th century: The martial art was practised during peacetime by the soldiers of King Naresuan.
  • 1868: Muay Thai progressed during the reign of King Chulalongkorn due to the king’s passion for the sport.
  • 1909-1910: King Chulalongkorn established Muay Boran by rewarding the victors of the funeral fights for his son.
  • 1921: The first permanent boxing ring was erected in Siam at Suan Kulap College.
  • 1923: The first international Muay Thai stadium was built (Suan Sanuk Stadium).
  • 1980s and 1990s: Muay Thai was at the height of its popularity.
  • 1993: The International Federation of Muaythai Amateur (IFMA) was founded.
  • 1995: The World Muaythai Council and World Muay Thai Federation were established.
  • 2006: Muay Thai was included in SportAccord with IFMA. The official name of Muay Thai was changed to “Muaythai” in following Olympic requirements.

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Gareth Davies

I'm a martial arts competitor and enthusiast. Over the last 15 years, I have trained and competed in several martial arts. I live in Manchester U.K working as a strength & conditioning coach when I'm not travelling and exploring martial arts around the world.
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