Much of the early history of Muay Thai was lost when the Burmese army destroyed Ayuddhaya, as the archives of Thai history were lost. Most of what is known about the origins of Thai boxers comes from Burmese accounts of warfare between Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Thailand during the 15th and 16th centuries. All sources agree that Muay Thai began as a close combat battlefield fighting skill … more deadly than the weapons it replaced.
There are two main theories as to where Muay Thai came from. One theory is that the art developed as the Thai people moved down from China and struggled for land. The second theory, while controversial, has archaeological evidence and considerable academic backing and says that the Thai people were already in Thailand and that Muay Thai developed to defend the land and its people from constant threats of invasion. What is not disputed is that Muay Thai was an essential part of Thai culture right from its dawn and in Thailand it is the sport of kings.
The nation was at peace during Prachao Sua's reign, so to keep the army busy, he ordered them to train in Muay Thai. Muay Thai then became the favorite sport and pastime with people from every walk of life. Each village staged its own prize fights and had its champions. In addition to a contest of local pride, every Muay Thai bout was bet upon. The betting tradition has continued and today large sums are wagered on the outcome of fights.
It wasn't until the reign of King Rama VI (1910-1925) that a standard ring surrounded by ropes came into use, as did time keeping by the clock. Before this period, any available space of the right size was used for the bouts. Time was kept by floating a pierced coconut shell on water. When the coconut piece sank, a drum signaled the end of the round.
Muay Thai was a part of school curriculum until the 1920's. It was withdrawn because there were concerns that the injury rate was too high. However, Muay Thai continued to be practiced in gyms and clubs. The 1930's saw the most radical change in Muay Thai. It was codified and today's rules and regulations were introduced. Rope bindings of the arms and hands were replaced with gloves. Thai fighters have always worn groin guards, originally made from sea shells or tree bark. They were replaced by a triangular shaped pillow and later a groin box.
Stadiums like Rajdamnern and Lumpinee were established during the reign of Rama VII before World War II. They gradually disappeared during the war but reappeared soon afterwards. Fights were then broadcast in full color on Thailand television. Today fights dominate televised sports are broadcast free to millions of Muay Thai fans throughout Thailand on all stations - four nights a week. Thai Boxing has also become popular outside of Thailand with enthusiasts and practitioners around the world.