Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Muay Thai gaining Ground

Muay thai gaining ground in India
Aby Jose
The martial art with a 1000-year-old history is gradually gaining popularity across the globe, thanks to the effective blending of western elements, especially punching techniques from boxing.

Can you imagine a martial sport which has in its store all the explosiveness of boxing, taekwondo, wrestling and yet is different from all of them. Muay thai, the national game of Thailand, is a hyper-modified form of kick boxing where below the belt blows are the norm rather than aberrations and almost every part of the body can be attacked.
The martial art with a 1000-year-old history is gradually gaining popularity across the globe, thanks to the effective blending of western elements, especially punching techniques from boxing. India certainly is not an exception and the country recently hosted Asian Muay thai Championship in Bangalore. More than 20 states are members of Muay Thai India (MTI) with Manipur and Chattisgarh producing the highest number of athletes.
Unique aspect
A close look at the sport confirms that the increasing popularity owes to a unique aspect of the sport. “What makes muay thai special is that it is a full-contact sport to the farthest extent. The use of knees and elbows differentiates it from other semi-contact sports,” explains Santipharp Intaraphartn, president of Federation of Amateur Muay Thai Asia (FAMA).
The swift acrobatic offensive moves and equally quick defensive reflexes are virtually breathtaking, so are the techniques employed. Generally, kicks are used for ribs, chest and face while punches target face, ribs and stomach. Knee kick and elbow kick add versatility to the attack but the intelligent utilisation of proper throwing technique lends a highly appealing, dramatic ingredient to the sport.
Intaraphartn recalls an incident when a few muay thai competitors were called to North Korea earlier this year to lock horns with kick boxers and he says, muay thai fighters stamped their authority with ease.
Inevitably, the physique of a muay thai athlete has to be very strong and more importantly, supple. Theoretical aspect also forms a vital part of the culturally-rooted contact sport. “Theory forms a strong basis to muay thai. For senior category, there is a 30-month diploma course with four exams a year,” explains Abid Ali, president, MTI.
Expansion plans
MTI is mulling over the expansion of the sport which its aficionados claim to be the undisputed ‘king of the ring.’ Shabbir Ahmed, muay thai coach from Karnataka, whose disciples Kritika M Jois and Akshitha M Gowda won gold medals in the recently held Asian Championship, says free coaching camps are the right way to promote the game, particularly among teenagers.
“ Like any other martial art, muay thai helps to keep the body in good shape. Besides a learner of muay thai naturally attains tremendous concentration power and this can be used for the betterment of academic interests as well,” points out Ahmed.
“Indian Olympic Association has already recognised the sport and in the coming Asian Indoor Asian Games at Macau, each team can send competitors for five weight categories out of the total nine categories in the fray,” says Ali.
Applying science
Even as the sport makes rapid strides up the ladder in the international sporting arena, efforts are on for the application of science for the development of protective guards without sacrificing the traditional inputs. The enchanting music and corresponding ritual in the form of dance and prayer by the fighter before each bout is one such umbilical link to the sport’s rich history.
“Research is on for the improvement of equipment whether it is headgear or any other protective gear,” says Ali.
Despite the rapidly changing face of the sport, sponsorship is far from desired levels and only more awareness about the game can spur a drastic turnaround. “In Thailand, muay thai is a sport where lot of money is involved and television too has propelled its growth. This trend is slowly catching up in other south east Asian countries as well. India definitely is a place with high potential, where the game can be nurtured to a bigger level. Hopefully, things will change in India in the next five years or so,” feels Intaraphartn.

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