Southeast Asian Martial Arts History
Southeast Asia generally encompasses Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Important martial arts that take their histories from the region are pentjak silat, arnis/escrima, kali, muay boran, krabi krabong, muay Thai and vovinam.
In the 1400s, two major silat martial arts arose out of Southeast Asia: Indonesia’s pentjak silat (created by Malay female Rama Sukana) and Malaysia’s bersilat. The snake-shaped bladed knife kris was an important weapon in pentjak silat. In A.D. 200, Malaysians introduced the kris to the Philippines, which was adopted by the Moro people. In the 1500s, the Moro people combined their kris skills with Spanish fencing and applied them to rattan sticks to create arnis/escrima. The bladed art of kali was eventually developed from these arts.
The most well-known martial art of the region is probably muay Thai, which began in 1930. It takes its origins from the more lethal muay boran, which in turn came from the stick-and-sword-fighting art of krabi krabong. In 1560, King Nareusan was captured by the Burmese. To obtain his release, he defeated the top Burmese boxers. This was the birth of muay boran. Most major Burmese martial arts—bando, banshei, lethwei, naban— arose between 1200 and 1300.
After the French conquered Vietnam, they outlawed martial arts. In 1912, Nguyen Loc started a martial arts movement that created today’s Vietnamese martial art known as vovinam Viet do dao.