Traditional Thai Boxing vs American Thai Boxing
Recently I have been asked several times if I teach “Traditional Thai Boxing” or “American Thai Boxing”. I have also seen advertisements stating that they teach Traditional Thai Boxing. I find this strange and peculiar. I use to never see that or be asked that, so the first time I was asked that I was thrown off. I find this recent development to be driven by humans need to divide, package, compartmentalize, and label everything. But what do people mean when they say “Traditional Thai Boxing” or “American Thai Boxing”?
One easy interpretation of this labeling is to distinguish between schools that just teach the fighting method, and schools that also teach and revere Thai customs, such as performing the Wai Kru (ceremonial dance) wearing the mongkhon (head covering) and wearing the pra jiads (arm bands). However, I don’t think this it at all. I think it goes deeper than this and refers to the actual fighting method itself. Afterall, nobody trains at a place because they say “I really like the armbands”.
What is the difference between the fighting style of “Traditional Thai Boxing” and “American Thai Boxing”? One difference is movement. Old School Thai Boxers tend to move around a lot less; and sometimes there is a battle of attrition and a contest to see who is tougher. New School Thai Boxers or “American Thai Boxers” tend to move around a lot more. The increased movement opens up shots and helps avoid getting hit. This is a method I prefer. I don’t know about you, but I would rather avoid getting hit. I am not fighting to prove who is tougher and who can take the most punishment. I am there to win. Another difference is that Old School Thai Boxers focus less on hands and tend to favor round kicks, knees, and elbows. New school Thai Boxers are also influenced by Western Boxing and they tend to throw a lot more punches, combinations, and use more head movement.
The incorporation of more footwork and more punches does not mean that New School Thai Boxing is somehow weaker or less pure. It simply means the art is evolving. This is a good thing. More movement means getting hit less; and better hands just means more tools in the toolbox to use to defeat your opponent. This does not mean that Old School Thai Boxers are not as good. At the end of the day it all depends on the individual, how good they are, and what kind of style they prefer and gravitate towards. I teach both old school and new school methods along with other striking arts such as Savate and Jeet Kune Do. This gives my students a lot of different perspectives. The student along with my guidance can decide what style works best for him or her. Each student can move and fight in a way that is unique to them.
The differences in the style between “Traditional Thai Boxing” and “American Thai Boxing” does not warrant separation, and clarification. The differences between them simply represent individual fighter preferences. All the key elements of Thai Boxing are still there such as: kicking with the shin and with a full rotation of the hip (and not with the foot and a snapping motion like Karate or Tae Kwon Do); Punching from the face (instead of from the hip again like Karate or Tae Kwon Do); the use of elbows and knees; and the use of the clinch. The interesting thing about this conversation is that it does bring up an interesting philosophical point. When does an art evolve to the point of becoming a whole new art? Almost all martial arts develop this way, like how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu evolved out of Judo. It is hard to pin point the exact moment in which that happens. But it has not happened to Thai Boxing. Thai Boxing is simply evolving and adding diversity to how the individual practitioners move and fight. No two Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters fight exactly the same way and neither does any two Thai Boxers, and they shouldn’t fight the same way. There should be and are multiple styles within the same style.