Muay Boran, also known as ancient boxing in English, is the term used to describe the various styles of Thai martial arts before everything was modernized in the early 20th century, which introduced rules, western boxing rings, equipment and so on to the martial art.
Basically, it’s the older version of Muay Thai, before it was toned down for its apparent violence. Still, it’s not just a “more violent” version of Muay Thai, as some people see it.
The two combat sports are actually quite different, namely in the following ways:
- In Muay Boran, the guard covers the centerline. This means that one hand is placed in front of the other, with both fists aligned to the center. This is unlike in boxing, or Muay Thai, where the guard is to the outside of one’s hand. If we were to speculate, the centerline guard may have been so as to help make better contact with incoming limbs, making the transition to grappling much easier. Others also say that the centerline guard allows fighters to protect against fatal attacks much more efficiently.
- In Muay Boran, the basic stance is lower and much wider than that in Muay Thai. This is mainly for added protection from lethal blows. For example, the groin is much harder to hit in such a stance. However, it’s worth noting that the stance leaves you much more open to kicks and sweeps.
- Nine versus eight. Muay Thai utilizes the legs, knees, elbows and fists, for a total of eight weapons. Muay Boran uses nine, which includes all 8 that Muay Thai uses, and the addition of the head butt. The head butt change came with the introduction of rules in the early 20th century, possibly to make the sport safer for the combatants.
- Flashy moves. While flying knees and elbows are also used in Muay Thai, they’re relatively rare as they are not easy to land and exposes the fighter to fatal rebuttals. However, in Muay Boran, they’re very common, and you’ll often see practitioners throwing them almost as often as they would punches. Many believe this is the result of the sport being utilized more for actual combat centuries ago, which somewhat forced fighters to try to throw high-risk, high-reward strikes to end battles much more quickly
- Muay Boran fighters way back then also competed against each other, with their own set of rules and rounds. Hitting the groin, eye-gouging, hitting a fallen opponent, and grappling or hair-pulling were not allowed. However, as mentioned earlier, headbutting was allowed, as well as that of all forms of trips, throws, tackles and wrestling takedowns.
Muay Boran truly is a deadlier and more dangerous version of Muay Thai. There is even speculation that Muay Thai was born out of the high death rates of Thai boxers many years ago. Apparently, some of Muay Boran’s techniques were so deadly and led to so many deaths that they finally had to “tone it down”.
There you have it. The key differences between Muay Thai and Muay Boran.
If you’re a practitioner of Muay Thai, it would be wise to take up a class or two in Muay Boran, if only for the sake of learning what Muay Thai was like way before it became what it is today.