|Country of origin||Thailand|
|Famous practitioners||Tony Jaa|
|Descendant arts||Muay Thai, Muay Lao|
Muay Boran (Thai: , RTGS: muai boran, pronounced [m?a?j b?:r?:n], lit. "ancient boxing") or originally Toi Muay (?) is an umbrella term for the unarmed martial arts of Thailand prior to the introduction of modern equipment and rules in the 1930s.
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 how his Burmese boxers would fare 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 with his triumph being 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").
In the early 20th century, one of King Chulalongkorn's sons passed away. He commanded his officers to gather fighters of exceptional skill to perform as part of the funeral ceremonies. Three fighters in particular stood out and were granted titles of muen as a means to promote the quality of muay, which had been diminishing at the time. The chosen fighters were from different parts of the country: Daeng Thaiprasoet from the Northeast region became Muen Changat Choengchok; Klueng Tosa-at from the Central region became Muen Muemaenmat; Prong Chamnongthong from the Southern region became Muen Muaymichue. Each name means and corresponds to a specific style of muay fighting: Changatchoengchok means "effective style of punching", Muemaenmat means "skillful punches", and Muaymichue translates to "muay with a reputation". From these grew a few different styles of muay: Lopburi, Khorat, and Chaiya, respectively. Additional varieties came to be later on, but these three styles were originally actualized under the Muay Boran umbrella.
Muay boran was originally developed for self-defense and also taught to the Thai military for use in warfare. Muay Boran originally is a martial art system which also has deadly techniques, grappling techniques and ground fighting techniques apart from its stand up techniques. This differs from modern-day Muay Thai, which consists only of stand up and is only a ring sport. Matches between practitioners of the art then began to be held. These soon became an integral part of Thai culture with fights being held at festivals and fighters from the different areas of Thailand testing their styles against each other. Fighters began to wrap their hands and forearms in hemp rope which not only protected their fists from injury but also made their strikes more likely to cut an opponent. Muay boran fighters were highly respected and the best were enlisted into the King's royal guard. During the 1920s-30s King Rama VII modernized the Thai martial arts competitions, introducing referees, boxing gloves, rounds and western boxing rings. Many of the traditional Muay Boran techniques were banned or were not practical with the addition of the new rules, and so muay boran went into decline.
Muay Thai was originally known simply as "muay". The addition of "Thai" was to differentiate the style from western boxing in the early 1900s. Muay "Boran" only recently became a term used to encompass the origins of Thai martial arts due to the historical writings of Khet Siyaphai. With the increasing popularity of Muay Thai in the last few decades, nationalistic supporters of Muay felt a need to establish a history of the martial art, resulting in a sometimes unfounded account of the background of Muay Thai and Muay Boran.