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Early on, young muay thai fighters are taught a simple mantra: “Kick loses to punch; punch loses to knee; knee loses to elbow; elbow loses to kick.” Though it may sound straightforward, in practice, muay thai challenges fighters to strategize on the fly as they shift through stances in hopes of catching their opponent off guard. Whereas boxing focuses on two points of contact—the hands—and other martial arts incorporate four—the hands and feet—muay thai involves the elbows and knees for a dynamic style of combat known as “The Art of Eight Limbs.” As a result, fighters must train their entire bodies in order to both attack and defend against any of eight different attack points.
According to the World Muaythai Council, the sport’s largest sanctioning body, the roots of modern muay thai and its connection to Thai culture can be traced back centuries. King Naresuan practiced muay thai in the late 1500s, and he had every soldier train in the art. Prachao Sua, the Tiger King, loved the sport so much that he would enter village contests incognito and defeat local champions. The passion for muay thai in the monarchy and military disseminated throughout the country, and students young and old, from all walks of life, picked up the sport. Today, it remains one of the most beloved pastimes in Thailand, with thousands of fans packing stadiums in Bangkok and across the country to watch high-profile matches.