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The Thais originally lived in south-west China. As from the ninth century groups of Thais migrated to the area now known as north-west Thailand. The occupation of land, which continued up to the thirteenth century, did not constitute a short and violent conquest, it was rather a slow process. Some sources claim that Muay Thai developed as a form of self-defence during that time period, as there existed a particular desire for safety. 1220 two Thai princes started a revolution and drove the Khmer in Sukhothai out of the country. The legendary Indratitya ascended the throne as the first Sukhothai ruler in 1238.

Under the reign of his successors the first Thai Empire was established in the area of today’s Thailand. Ram Khamheng, the third king of the Sukhothai dynasty, is considered to be the conqueror who extended the Thai rule in the direction of Laos and Burma.

For the defence of the Land King Ram Khamheng called on good Muay Thai instructors from a number of villages and converted Muay Thai to a regulated system which then served as a training programme for soldiers.

In 1350 Prince U Thongs, titled Rama Thiboldi I, established the Kingdom and Capital of the same name, Ayuthaya. By 1438 the former Sukhothai provinces were entirely integrated. Until 1569 Ayuthaya had been able to resist Burmese ambitions on hegemony. Many are of the opinion that the Army  - strengthened by Muay Thai  - played an important role during that period and that there would possibly be no Thailand today had the Thais not known how to defend themselves.

1569 the Capital Ayuthaya was taken by Burma and annexed as Burmese province. An initially submissive vassal by the name of Mahathamaratcha was made the king.

In his son, the Thai Prince Narasuen the Great who had been held hostage in Burma and managed to flee, the country received a saviour. After many battles he drove the Burmese out of the country and followed his father on the throne in 1592. He defeated the Burmese successor to the throne during a duel in 1592, in which context Muay Thai was first mentioned in a historical document. The fight became known as the victory of Nong Saray. Due to the loss of their leader the Burmese finally had to leave the country.

Until the seventeenth century prosperity and peace prevailed. First contacts to the West were made. After repeated difficulties King Phra Phetraja (1688 to 1703) ended these contacts by driving the Europeans out of the country.

His successor, Phra Chao Sua (King Tiger), is known for his knowledge of Muay Thai and test fights, but also for his excessive life style which led to his death in 1709.

As a young man he trained Muay Thai in the royal palace and travelled to many camps in order to learn their special techniques. Following his ascension to the throne he had fights arranged in the palace arena, after which he employed fighters of his liking as his bodyguards. He changed his appearance, so not to be identified, and participated in Muay Thai contests during village festivities. On one particular day of a festival he is said to have beaten three successive fighters.

Ayathuya, one of the most thriving towns in the East, was conquered and demolished by the Burmese in 1767. The town was burnt to the ground. Nearly  all official archives were lost, which is why many details of Thai history and the history of Muay Thai remain somewhat vague.

Many Thais were taken hostage for the King of Burma and had to work for him. The hostages had to build a temple for the King. According to the legend the King then asked during the opening ceremony which Thai wanted to fight Burma. Nai Kha Nom Tom volunteered and defeated ten Burmese in succession on 17 March 1770. After his victories the Burmese King granted him one wish. He wanted to return to Thailand. 17 March is now celebrated as Muay Thai Day.

The lower-rank commander Phaya Tak (Taksin) succeeded in escaping from Burmese captivity. He reformed dispersed army units and began to conquer the country back from the Burmese. By 1769 the Thailand territory of the Ayathuya period was basically reunited with the seat of government in Thonburi. His officer Phraya Chakri took over from Taksin in 1781, as Taksin had become insane. Phraya Chakri ascended the throne as Rama I after the execution of Taksin in 1782. He moved the Capital and seat of government from Thonburi to Bangkok. He was the first ruler of the Chakri dynasty, which governs Thailand until today. Thailand mainly owes her independence and the survival as a nation in view of French and British colonisation efforts to two great rulers: King Mongkut (Rama IV) and King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).

A pronounced feeling of national identity developed under the reign of these two Kings. The people of Thailand take pride in their nearly uninterrupted independence, their tradition and culture, which also includes Muay Thai. The governments attempt to maintain and protect all these values.

Above all the political ups and downs due to a variety of ruling powers the King serves as a symbol for the solidarity of all Thais. On account of his untiring personal efforts today’s King, Bhumipol (Rama IX), attained a stable monarchy. The King enjoys the full respect from all parts of society and he is very popular among the people.

The Thais call their country Muang Thai, Land of the Thais or of the Free People. Thus, in 1939, Thailand became the official name of the  country which the Europeans used to call Siam.

In the entire Thai history freedom and independence played a very important role. Although Muay Thai has lost its significance as a form of defence due to the introduction of modern arms in the nineteenth and twentieth century, it continues in representing a vital part of Thai history.

This is possibly one of the reasons why so many Thais share such passion for Muay Thai as a sport.

( The Muay Thai History published is an excerpt out of the book “Muay Thai - Sport and Selfdefense” by Christoph Delp. )

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