Ancient Thai boxing gains new life as fitness regime

Wed Aug 29, 2012 3:02am EDT
 
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Once the province of men in dark, smoky stadiums and shadowed by an image of violence, Thailand's ancient martial art of Muay Thai is being reborn - as a fitness regime.

Known as the country's national sport and said to be 2,000 years old, Muay Thai has seen a surge in popularity over the last five or so years, with gyms promptly taking advantage with state-of-the-art facilities mushrooming in Bangkok's most prestigious neighborhoods.

"Many Thais thought it was a violent sport so they were hesitant to send their kids to our school, but that's all changed thanks to international interest in the sport," said Phoemsakul Kesbumrung, general manager of Bangkok's Muay Thai Institute, which is dedicated to preserving the sport.

He should know. His school has grown from a handful of students in 1995 to 450 full-time students at present, with more signing up each year, and he has had to increase classes from 3 times-a-day, 6 days-a-week to 4 times-a-day, 7 days-a-week.

"Muay Thai isn't just about strength and lifting weights, it's also about training the mind to concentrate," he said.

"Muay Thai" simply means "Thai boxing." It is also known as "The Art of Eight Limbs" as hands, arms, elbows and knees are used extensively in this ancient sport that also mixes religious beliefs with traditional cultural practices.

Considered as much an artistic discipline as a sport, it includes a ceremony known as "Wai Kru" in which students pay respect to their teachers in a ritual that is considered an essential part of many ancient Thai disciplines including boxing, dance, Thai massage and astrology.

Foreign interest grew in the wake of films such as Tony Jaa's "Ong Bak" martial arts series, drawing a number of people to Thailand to pursue the sport.   Continued...

 
A trainer at the Muay Thai Institute shows some steps to children during training in Bangkok August 26, 2012. Once the province of men in dark, smoky stadiums and shadowed by an image of violence, Thailand's ancient martial art of Muay Thai is being reborn - as a fitness regime. Picture taken August 26, 2012. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang