MUAY BORAN – TRADITIONAL THAI BOXING
by Arjarn Karen Moore
The recent release of the martial arts movie “Ong Bak – The Thai Warrior” has generated a huge upsurge in interest in the traditional martial arts of Thailand, particularly the empty-hand system of Muay Kaacheurk (Chao Cherk) /Muay Boran. In one particular scene from the movie, there is a mammoth of a man whom nobody can beat. Up steps the Thai warrior and using traditional Muay Thai defeats him hands down. None other than Arjarn Yodthong from the world famous Sityodthong Camp in Pattaya, Thailand plays the cigarette vendor in this scene. Arjarn Yodthong’s character in the movie is particularly well versed in the traditional arts naming every technique used by the warrior in defeating his opponent.
In fact the interest in traditional Muay Thai in the UK goes back much further than this. In 1994, over a decade ago, Arjarn Tony Moore in traditional dress appeared on the cover of a rival magazine performing the technique “Yok Kao Pra Sumer” which is where the boxer springs into the air stepping on to the opponent’s thigh and delivering a stunning round kick to the opponent’s head.
Finding the correct information on this subject is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. The confusion arises from the fact that some techniques have the same name but differ somewhat from camp to camp and region to region. It is also believed that some camps used subterfuge during a bout by changing the names of the techniques around to confuse the opponent; in effect creating a code to make the opponent expect one technique only to be struck with something completely different.
Many of the original records from Thailand regarding this fascinating subject were destroyed in the sacking of Ayuddhaya in 1767 and others lost in the mists of time. The late Arjarn Samai Messamarn from the Buddhai Swan Institute in Thailand was able to make a study of the Thai empty hand system using the scant resources available in Thailand. This research also took him to Burma where he was able to gain access to historical records on the subject of the Siamese systems of warfare.
Using this information and the painstaking research done within Thailand, Arjarn Samai was able to document and confirm 60 Awudt Muay Boran techniques and fighting methods. Only two records of the techniques, hand-painted on parchment now exist. Arjarn Samai’s son, Arjarn Werayut Messamarn recently visited England bringing with him one of these unique documents.
Using modern technology it was possible to reconstruct a more practical document that can now be used to teach the techniques. This syllabus is a legacy handed down from Arjarn Samai. It remains the property of the instructors of Buddhai Swan and in fact there are only two instructors in Europe authorized to teach the syllabus, Arjarn Tony Moore and his senior student Kru Carl Johnson. It is truly apt therefore that the Thai tradition of handing the knowledge down through the generations continues with the syllabus passing from Arjarn Samai, to his son Arjarn Werayut and then on to his son’s student Arjarn Tony Moore to finally reach the next generation of teacher, Kru Carl Johnson.
To clarify or to confuse that is the question?
Let’s take the technique “Hak Kor Erawan” translated Breaking Erawan’s Neck (Note: Erawan was the Lord Indra’s elephant steed but in this case the technique refers to the false Erawan – see “The Ramakien, The Thai Ramayana” Naga Books ISBN 974-7315-57-2).
Now to add to your confusion, we have another technique “HANUMAN TAWAI WEN” translated Hanuman presents the ring:
Technique 6 (Buddhai Swan) – The boxer grabs the opponent’s neck twisting him from side to side, and then throwing a knee to the opponent’s body, finally the boxer will push the opponent away finishing with a high kick to the opponent’s neck. (Pictures below).
To clarify, the name given to the technique usually refers to an action within that technique, not necessarily the whole technique or even the end result but for instance the action of breaking (hak) the neck (kor) in Hak Kor Erawan or the action of presenting or offering something up in Hanuman Tawai Wen.
From the 60 major techniques in the Buddhai Swan syllabus there are other minor techniques plus many different variations and additional moves that can follow on from the main techniques. A good example of this is the technique “GAA JIK KAI” translated Crow pecks the egg which is basically fast jabs to the opponent’s face but from the jab one could choose any technique e.g. round kick (daet), front kick (teep), right uppercut (uppercut kwaa) or many others.
Besides the Buddhai Swan techniques, we have uncovered at least another 60 different techniques from various sources including Arjarn Yodthong from the Sityodthong Camp, Arjarn Panya Kraitus author of the book “Muay Thai Most Distinguished Art of Fighting”, the late Khun Bunyuen Suvanatdha former head of the Amateur Muay Thai Association of Thailand and Kru Lang of the Sitpralang Camp in Ayuddhaya.
The discovery of Muay Boran in the West has taken us on a journey back through time. The modern sport of Muay Thai has been established here for nearly 30 years, we are now moving backwards and have discovered the time before sport when contests were fought for honour or freedom. It is merely a blink of the eye in time before we reach our final destination and find the mother of the Thai martial arts – Krabi Krabong.
Special thanks go to the Buddhai Swan Samnak Daab Sri Ayuddhaya and the Buddhai Swan Institute UK for all their help and assistance with this article and to Kru Carl Johnson, Kru Joel Borders and Andrew Quinn who worked tirelessly throughout a hot afternoon to make sure the techniques for the photographs were perfect.