Nai Khanomtom

In the late eighteenth century, during one of the many wars between the Kingdom of Burma and the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya (in modern-day Thailand), a famed Thai boxer named Nai Khanomtom and several of his comrades were captured and held in Burma. After seven years of captivity, the Burmese king organized a festival. He wanted to see his Burmese boxers fared against the Thai boxers. Nai Khanomtom was chosen to represent the Thais against the Burmese champion. As is custom, Khanomtom opened the fight with his Wai Kru dance—this mystified the Burmese, who had never seen one before. He then brutally knocked out the Burmese champion. The Burmese thought the Wai Kru was some sort of black magic which had aided him, and the king ordered that he face more Burmese boxers. Man after man fell. The tenth Burmese boxer to face Khanomtom was a champion, but was mangled by Khanomtom’s kicks and was knocked out just as the previous nine had been. After seeing this, no Burmese fighter dared step into the ring with him. The Burmese king was impressed with Nai Khanomtom, and is believed to have said, “Every part of the Siamese is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. But his Lord was incompetent and lost the country to the enemy. If he had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen.” The Burmese king granted Nai Khanomtom his freedom along and his triumph is celebrated every year on March 17 in Thailand as National Muay Thai Day. However, the martial art that Khanomtom used was not called Muay Boran. There are several old styles that were developed in various regions of Thailand that are now lumped into the term Muay Boran (literally “Ancient Boxing”), such as Muay Chaiya, Muay Thasao, Muay Lopburi, and Muay Korat. But regardless on which regional variant it was, both have been driven to near-extinction due to the popularity of the stand up only ring sport we now know as Muay Thai (or, “Thai Boxing”).

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