According to definition by Encyclopedia Britannica, “Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practiced for a number of reasons such as self-defense; military and law enforcement applications; competition; physical, mental and spiritual development; and entertainment or the preservation of a nation’s intangible cultural heritage.”
Some common forms of martial arts include Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and Karate. So is Muay Thai a form of martial arts?
Even though there is a lack of traditional uniform (called a “gi”), Muay Thai is martial art with roots in military applications during the 12th-18th centuries. Muay Thai is practiced today mainly for competition, as well as a preservation of Thailand’s heritage having been designated as a national sport and a cultural martial art.
The Martial Arts Spirit of Muay Thai
Muay Thai is deeply rooted in tradition and culture. It has a very distinctive cultural identity compared to other combat sports. You can see that in the traditional headgear (Mongkhon) worn by fighters, the pre-fight ritual dance (Wai Kru Ram Muay) and the Thai classical music accompanying the fight (Sarama).
Muay Thai practice has spread to countries all around the world, especially during the last couple of decades. The majority of people who train Muay Thai do it for fitness (physical development), self-defense or recreational purposes.
In Thailand, Muay Thai remains primarily a competitive combat sport and way out of poverty for the local people. Established fighters can earn around 7000 dollars per fight and more when they are invited to fight on big promotions overseas.
However, most fighters live month-to-month, making significantly lesser with not a lot of job prospects after they retire from fighting. Even so, they continue to fight the good fight throughout their lives.
An aspect of Muay Thai not often seen in other fight sports is the respect and sportsmanship displayed by the athletes. The fighters show respect for their opponents regardless of the results.
Many fierce rivals in the ring are often friends in real life. They can often be seen in amiable exchanges backstage before and after their fight. This is the true spirit of martial arts often not seen in combat sports in the West (think UFC) and values of martial arts to pass down the generations.