Muay Boran vs Muay Thai: 8 Key Differences Explained (2023)

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Are you wondering about the differences between Muay Boran and Muay Thai?

In this article, we’ll examine the 8 key differences between Muay Boran and Muay Thai.

Muay Boran vs Muay Thai: 8 Key Differences

In short, the main differences between Muay Boran and Muay Thai are Muay Boran uses headbutts, joint locks, ground fighting, a wider and lower stance, and was learned by Thai warriors for warfare, whereas Muay Thai’s a combat sport developed in the 1930s with rules, protective equipment, and a taller and more narrow stance.

Listed, the 8 key differences between Muay Boran vs Muay Thai are:

  1. Umbrella Term vs Combat Sport: Muay Boran is an umbrella term for several Thai martial arts, whereas Muay Thai derived from Muay Boran and developed into a combat sport.
  2. Origins: Muay Boran translates to ancient boxing and originates in 13th century Thailand, whereas Muay Thai was developed in 1930s Thailand.
  3. Ways to Attack: Muay Boran incorporates headbutts, joint locks, many more standing grappling techniques, and ground fighting, on top of the eight limbs of striking used in Muay Thai.
  4. Stance: Muay Boran fighters stand wider and lower with their hands out in front, while Muay Thai fighters stand taller and narrower with their hands closer and either side of their head.
  5. Style of Fighting: Muay Boran fighters are defensively minded while also trying to defeat an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible, whereas Muay Thai fighters are more aggressive with techniques and offense as it helps them win via either knockout or judges’ decision.
  6. Rules: Muay Boran was learned for warfare so it has no rules, whereas Muay Thai developed from Muay Boran with the introduction of rules such as illegal strikes and no ground fighting.
  7. Attire and Equipment: Muay Boran fighters wear hemp rope around their hands, while Muay Thai fighters wear gloves over their hand wraps and also use gum shields and groin cups.
  8. Level of Skill and Self-Defense: Muay Boran was taught to warriors in the limited time before a war, whereas Muay Thai is an efficient and effective self-defense system perfected through repetition, sparring, and competition.

Let’s take a closer look at the key differences between Muay Boran vs Muay Thai.

1. Martial Art and Umbrella Term vs Combat Sport

While Muay Thai is definitely a martial art, its development into a popular combat sport is now how it’s viewed. Even in Thailand, most Muay Thai practitioners are fighters who compete in the combat sport of Muay Thai as a career to provide for their families.

Meanwhile, Muay Boran is the truest definition of martial art – a codified system of combat learned and practiced for warfare.

Muay Boran is also considered an umbrella term for many other types of Thai martial arts. These include:

  • Muay Thai – developed into a combat sport from Muay Boran in the 1930s
  • Muay Chaiya – named after the southern district of Chaiya, Muay Chaiya emphasizes defense via blocking and has an extensive wrestling and ground fighting system
  • Muay Lopburi – named after the central province of Lopburi, Muay Lopburi emphasizes uppercuts, fast footwork, unpredictability, and jumping attacks
  • Muay Korat – named after the eastern city of Khorat, Muay Korat emphasizes wide powerful punching, front kicks, and five variations of headbutts
  • Muay Thasao – named after the subdistrict of Tha Sao in northern Thailand, Muay Thasao emphasizes speed (especially with kicks), aggression, and defeating an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible

Within Muay Boran, these sub-styles have slightly differing characteristics, such as the location of birth, Wai Kru Ram Muay, fighting styles and techniques, and how they wrap their hands.

2. Origins

While both Muay Boran and Muay Thai originated in Thailand, Muay Boran is an ancient martial art that preceded Muay Thai. Translated, Muay Boran means “ancient boxing”. Muay Boran is much less commonly taught because Thailand is no longer at war and fighters prefer fighting Muay Thai as a career.

On the other hand, Muay Thais origins are in the 16th century, when under King Naresuan the Siamese army started learning it for warfare. In the 1930s, Muay Thai was then developed into the combat sport as it’s known today. Translated, Muay Thai means “Thai boxing”.

The Muay Thai used in warfare may have been considered Muay Boran, but in the 16th century and beyond many of the Muay Boran techniques deemed useless on the battlefield were removed, and a more streamlined style of fighting what we now call Muay Thai became more common.

Not only by armies on the battlefield but Muay Thai was used by smaller tribes when fighting for survival.

3. Ways To Attack

Muay Thai is known as the art of eight limbs because fighters can attack with kicks, knees, elbows, and punches. They can also standing grapple (known as the Muay Thai clinch) where fighters strike each other, look to control the opponent, and also sweep them to the ground.

Muay Thai fighters aren’t allowed to throw with the hip or the shoulder and they can’t sweep or trip with the back of the leg. 

They’re also not allowed to attack or manipulate the opponent’s joints, and fighting on the ground is prohibited. Once a fighter is knocked or swept to the ground, the referee halts the action until said fighter is back to their feet.

On the other hand, Muay Boran can be considered the art of nine limbs as practitioners are taught to also use headbutts, much like in lethwei.

Headbutts were often used when warriors were engaged in a clinch, and less commonly to deliver an unexpected diving headbutt to the stomach known as a Ruesee Mud Sra.

Muay Boran also includes more deadly striking techniques which target the joints to decapacitate an opponent, every trip and throw is allowed, joint locks are allowed, and ground fighting is also taught.

Muay Boran also includes illegal techniques in Muay Thai such as groin strikes and strikes to the back of the head.

4. Stance

Muay Boran fighters stand fairly wide and bend their knees for a lower stance. This allows them to be more explosive in and out of range to avoid attacks (especially groin strikes), being grabbed, and delivering their own powerful strikes.

This lower stance also gives them more stability and a lower center of gravity which makes it better for defending takedowns and throws if grappling is initiated.

They also have their hands centered and in front of their head as this gives them better vision to see strikes. It also means they can easily extend them as a defensive frame or grab the opponent and use throws or joint lock techniques.

The front hand is further out at chin height to protect the head, while the rear hand is slightly lower to cover the body.

On the other hand, Muay Thai fighters stand tall in a narrow stance square on to their opponent. Their feet are shoulder-width apart with the front foot facing forward and the back leg at a 45-degree angle.

This allows them to fire nontelegraphed kicks from either leg as they can easily lift each leg. Standing narrow allows fighters to remain light on their front leg and easily shift weight to evade and check an opponent’s kicks.

Standing tall also allows fighters to clinch their opponent and use downward pressure with their weight. 

Muay Thai fighters have their hands on either side of their head around head height in order to block powerful strikes to the head. Their elbows are tucked so they can block strikes to the body and have better balance when throwing kicks.

The Muay Stance is this way because the fighting is heavily influenced by the scoring system, which scores properly executed, cleanly landing, and powerful striking which is seen to affect an opponent by damaging or breaking their posture. This is why Muay Thai is kicking-heavy as it’s the most powerful strike.

5. Style of Fighting

Muay Boran was developed for warriors to use against multiple enemies as self-defense on the battlefield if they were to lose their main weapons. Because of this, Muay Boran techniques aim to defeat an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Muay Boran includes deadly striking techniques which target the joints to decapacitate an opponent, as well as incorporates more flashy techniques such as flying elbows and knees because of the power they can generate and the unpredictability of such techniques in a warzone.

Using such flashy techniques isn’t as dangerous as they are in Muay Thai because Muay Boran fighters can transition to grappling techniques such as trips and throws and also continue fighting on the ground.

Some of the best deadly techniques are catching the leg and elbowing the knee or just above it to break the knee (Hak Nguang Aiyara), as well as intercepting an opponent’s punch and elbowing the shoulder joint to dislocate it (breaking the wing). Both of these are illegal techniques in Muay Thai.

They even defend by deflecting strikes with the intention of breaking the fists of an opponent or parrying one arm to counterstrike or initiate a grapple. It also has ground fighting where joint locks are allowed and more grappling techniques such as throws and trips are used.

Muay Boran also has a much greater focus on defense and countering, so fighters move more with better footwork and angles. This makes sense as incorrect and rushed techniques often meant death.

If a fighter does fall to the ground, Muay Boran teaches ground defense and getting back to the feet as quickly as possible. This is vital in a battle where a Muay Boran practitioner would have had multiple enemies around.

And while Muay Thai was also originally taught to warriors in the 16th century for use on the battlefield, modern Muay Thai as a combat sport has led to a different style of fighting.

Muay Thai fighters can win via the judges’ scorecards, which means they’re not always gunning for a knockout and are striking their opponent to hurt and slow them down. This can be described as points fighting and means Muay Thai is more tactical but not as deadly as Muay Boran.

Another difference is how Muay Thai fighters are scored for being aggressive with strikes and appearing to be the fighter dominating the action and controlling the ring.

This makes Muay Thai fighters much more aggressively minded overall as they know it looks good in the eyes of the judges and they don’t have to worry about death if they make a mistake defensively.

A great example is how Muay Thai fighters drop their hands when performing a roundhouse kick for greater balance and power, rather than having their hands high for blocking potential counters.

6. Rules

As Muay Thai is a combat sport, fighters must abide by the rules. This includes fighting by weight class, fighting three five-minute rounds, no headbutting, no groin strikes, no ground fighting, and competing inside a roped ring to name some of the most important rules.

On the other hand, Muay Boran isn’t limited by rules as its purpose was for life or death warfare.

7. Attire and Equipment

In Muay Boran, practitioners fight without gloves but wrap their hands in hemp rope known as Kard Chuek. This is why Muay Boran is sometimes referred to as Muay Kard Chuek, which translates to rope-bound boxing. This rope protected their hands and made their punches more likely to cut an enemy.

Some Muay Boran fighters also wrap their forearms with hemp rope to withstand powerful strikes when blocking, such as those from Muay Korat.

In Muay Thai, practitioners also wrap their hands with hemp rope but they use 8 to 10-oz gloves which have evenly distributed padding for blocking and striking, and easier opening and closing of the palm to allow fighters to catch leg kicks and initiate the Muay Thai clinch.

Muay Thai fighters also wear a Pra Jiad when fighting, the armband worn just above the bicep as a talisman for good luck and protection. Lastly, Muay Thai fighters also wear a gum shield and cup to protect the teeth and groin.

8. Level of Skill and Self-Defense

Warriors who learned Muay Boran for the battlefield trained as hard and as long as possible in the time they had before a war.

However, since Muay Thai was developed into a combat sport in the 1930s, Muay Thai fighters are much more highly skilled than Muay Boran fighters.

Muay Thai fighters train five or six days a week, every week, as they’re training to beat opponents who also train just as hard and put in as much time as they do. The constant high-level competition puts their skills to the test and further improves their skills and allows them to see where they need to improve.

In Thailand, Muay Thai fighters have to constantly upgrade their skills and continue fighting the best as a way to provide for their family. 

This way of life and focus sharpens their skillset more than Muay Boran warriors whose first line of defense was the use of weapons learned from Krabi-Krabong and eventually firearms from the early 17th century.

This also means Muay Thai is better than Muay Boran for self-defense, as Muay Thai fighters are constantly sparring which pressure tests their skills, and they’re also competing roughly once a month. This kind of dedication to the art means Muay Thai fighters are more than prepared for self-defense situations.

On the other hand, while Muay Boran’s fighting style and techniques are great for self-defense, Muay Boran was secondary to a main weapon and didn’t have the same level of consistent competition and sparring that Muay Thai does, meaning it’s much harder to replicate these skills in a self-defense situation.

Also, when sparring Muay Boran, it essentially becomes Muay Thai because dangerous techniques such as joint lock attacks and headbutts aren’t practiced on a sparring partner.


Overall, there are 8 key differences when concerning Muay Boran vs Muay Thai. These are Muay Boran as an umbrella term and Muay Thai as a combat sport, origins, ways to attack, stances, style of fighting, rules, attire and equipment, and the level of skill and self-defense abilities of each.

You may also be interested in the differences between Muay Thai and kickboxing.

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