A fighter punching a heavy bag in a training camp in Thailand.
A fighter before a round.
Like most competitive full contact fighting sports, muay Thai has a heavy focus on body conditioning. Muay Thai is specifically designed to promote the level of fitness and toughness required for ring competition. Training regimens include many staples of combat sport conditioning such as running, shadowboxing, rope jumping, body weight resistance exercises, medicine ball exercises, abdominal exercises, and in some cases weight training. Thai boxers rely heavily on kicks utilizing the shin bone. As such, practitioners of muay Thai will repeatedly hit hard objects with their shins, conditioning it, hardening the bone through a process called cortical remodeling. Muay Thai exponents typically apply Namman Muay liberally before and after their intense training sessions.
Training that is specific to a Thai fighter includes training with coaches on Thai pads, focus mitts, heavy bag, and sparring. The daily training includes many rounds (3-5 minute periods broken up by a short rest, often 1–2 minutes) of these various methods of practice. Thai pad training is a cornerstone of muay Thai conditioning which involves practicing punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes with a trainer wearing thick pads which cover the forearms and hands. These special pads (often referred to as thai pads) are used to absorb the impact of the fighter’s strikes and allow the fighter to react to the attacks of the pad holder in a live situation. The trainer will often also wear a belly pad around the abdominal area so that the fighter can attack with straight kicks or knees to the body at anytime during the round.
Focus mitts are specific to training a fighter’s hand speed, punch combinations, timing, punching power, defense, and counter-punching and may also be used to practice elbow strikes. Heavy bag training is a conditioning and power exercise that reinforces the techniques practiced on the pads. Sparring is a means to test technique, skills, range, strategy, and timing against a partner. Sparring is often a light to medium contact exercise because competitive fighters on a full schedule are not advised to risk injury by sparring hard. Specific tactics and strategies can be trained with sparring including in close fighting, clinching and kneeing only, cutting off the ring, or using reach and distance to keep an aggressive fighter away.
Due to the rigorous training regimen (some Thai boxers fight almost every other week) professional boxers in Thailand have relatively short careers in the ring. Many retire from competition to begin instructing the next generation of Thai fighters. Most professional Thai boxers come from the lower economic backgrounds, and the fight money (after the other parties get their cut) is sought as means of support for the fighters and their families. Very few higher economic strata Thais join the professional muay Thai ranks; they usually either do not practice the sport or practice it only as amateur muay Thai boxers.
Muay Thai is practiced in many different countries and there are different rules depending on which country the fight is in and under what organization the fight is arranged. The following is a link to the rules section of the Sports Authority of Thailand.
A popular rule that many organizations use is the banning of elbow strikes, as often Muay Thai rules are often similar to those of kickboxing. Many believe this is because of the cuts they leave.
Use in other combat sports
Mixed martial arts
Muay Thai, like boxing and various forms of kickboxing, is recognized as a very effective striking base within MMA, and is very widely practiced among mixed martial artists. Fighters (some of whom have won titles) such as Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, Thiago Silva, Gina Carano and Cristiane Santos employ a broad range of tactics borne of muay Thai. Countless other mixed martial artists have trained in the art, and it is often taught at MMA gyms as is BJJ and Wrestling.
Many techniques associated with muay Thai are often seen in MMA, such as punches, elbows, clinch fighting, leg kicks and knees.
In popular culture
Main article: Muay Thai in popular culture
Interest in Muay Thai has risen in the past decade, due to the popularity of martial arts in film and television. The most notable practitioner of Muay Thai is Tony Jaa, who is best known for his roles in Tom-Yum-Goong and the Ong Bak films, all released in the 2000s. One of the first western films that included Muay Thai was Kickboxer (1989), which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme. Chocolate (2008), starring Yanin Vismitananda, is another action movie that featured a combination of muay Thai and Chinese martial arts, demonstrating the system's increasingly broad appeal.
Muay Thai has been represented in many fighting video games as well. Sagat and Adon from Street Fighter, Joe Higashi, King, and Hwa Jai from King of Fighters, Zack from Dead or Alive, Bruce Irvin and Bryan Fury from Tekken, Brad Burns from Virtua Fighter, and Jax Briggs from Mortal Kombat, are all exponents of muay Thai.
Another reference to muay Thai is its use in the anime/manga, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple. Apachai Hopachai, one of the Masters of Ryozanpaku is called, in episode 48, "The Death God of the Muay Thai Underworld"; he is also shown to have difficulty controlling his power as well. This stems from his lifelong exposure to ruthless opponents in death-match fights.
Most recently muay Thai has seen an influx in onscreen exposure with the likes of The Contender Asia (2006) and The Challenger Muay Thai (2011), which was shown on AXN in Asia and aired worldwide in 2012.