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Thai kickboxing, which is known as Muay Thai in the Thai language, is a martial art form that evolved in ancient Thailand. Influenced by other Asian martial arts, it was meant to give soldiers an advantage in unarmed combat, especially if they happened to lose their weapons on the battlefield. The modern form of Muay Thai kickboxing has been strongly influenced by western boxing, and has in turn influenced many types of kickboxing sports.
Known as "the science of the eight limbs," Thai kickboxing can be an extreme martial art, employing fists, elbows, knees and feet; modern rules disallow targeting the head and the groin. Fighters use various punch techniques like hook, jab, swing, uppercut, and backfist, and various kick types like the teep or jab kick, the low kick and the roundhouse or turning kick. A kickboxer can use his or her elbows to land hooks or uppercuts, and the knees can be used to deliver powerful thrusts, particularly when the opponents are grappling together.
Muay Thai is, however, not just about effective fighting, but also about developing mental and physical resilience. The sport builds stamina, gets the body in shape and boosts the immune system. As it emphasizes qualities like self-discipline, self-awareness and self-confidence, it is helpful in reducing stress and in dealing with anger management issues.
The martial art, once exclusive to soldiers, gained popularity as a spectator sport in Thailand during the Sukothai era between 1238 and 1377. Training camps sprang up around the country, with students living with their teachers and adopting the school name as their surname. There were different regional versions of Thai kickboxing, each having separate fighting strategies. Martial arts competitions between rival camps were held during religions festivals and other public occasions, and kickbox champions were much revered by the nobility; at the then Thai capital, Ayutthaya, the King had an elite personal guard division made up of Muay Thai fighters.
In the earlier days, Thai kickboxing had few or no rules. Fighters did not have to be in the same weight category, could target the head and groin areas, and fought bare-fisted on an earthen ground, straight on usually until knockout. Later, contest rounds were introduced, and the practice of Muay Kaad Chuek became common; in this, fighters bound their fists with hemp ropes to both protect their hands as well as to give the fists additional strength. Hemp bound fists could inflict considerable damage and, in the 1920s, led to the death of a kickboxer in the ring. After that, the use of Western boxing gloves for fighting as well as the use of some body protectors became prevalent.
It was also in the late 1920s that the sport became more organized, with codified rules, weight divisions and a ranking system. Thai kickboxing came to be known by the name Muay Thai in this period. Training regimens for fighters were developed, boxing rings were constructed and matches were refereed. The sport was taken up in many Western countries, and this eventually led to the formation of the Muay Thai World Championship.