To Westerners, Thai martial arts is Thai kickboxing or, as it is more commonly known, muay Thai. However, muay Thai is technically not a martial art. Instead, it is a sport that’s been around since 1930. Its techniques are taken from the more lethal art of muay boran, which originated from the older fighting style of ling lom (air monkey) via the ancient mother art of krabi krabong (stick and sword fighting).
Thai fighting arts evolved because of the country’s historical conflicts with Burma. Muay Thai’s ancestral arts were first described in King Ramkamheng’s (1275-1317) Book of War Learning. In 1560, King Nareusan was captured by the Burmese. He was released when he defeated the top Burmese boxers. It was this event that brought about the birth of muay Thai. However, a similar story describes how Nai Khanom Tom took on 12 Burmese fighters while imprisoned in Burma and was released in 1560.
Although the ancient forms of muay Thai are Buddhist in nature, ling lom has its foundation in the Hindu legend of Ramayana, specifically the monkey god Hanuman, wherein the muay Thai fights traditionally re-enacted the battling gods.