MMA Pioneer Series: Nai Khanom Tom

This one is a little less about pioneering MMA, and a little more about appreciating the history behind the styles that make up MMA....

Without question, one of the most potent and aggressive styles commonly incorporated into mixed martial arts is known simply as Muay Thai.  This devastating striking art, born in ancient Thailand, has long been revered by practitioners, and feared by opponents.

In its current form, Muay Thai or the "Art of Eight Limbs," utilizes 8 points of attack (shins, knees, hands, and elbows) to inflict damage to an opposing force.  To gain a deeper appreciation for the effectiveness of this art, one need only look to modern day Muay Thai wrecking machines such as Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua, Jose Aldo, and Thiago Alves.

While each of the above warriors brings great honor and fame to this ancient art, there is one name, above all others that even they pay unwavering homage to.  A legendary warrior, commonly known as "The Father of Muay Thai."  His name is Nai Khanom Tom (also known as Nai Khanom D’tom or Nai Khamontom).


Nai Khanom Tom via

Nai was born in 1750, at Ban Khum village, Ayudhaya (or Ayutthaya) Thailand.  Born during the reign of the King Pra Chow Tai Sa (a time of continuous war with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma), Nai’s early years were torn by war.  As a boy, Nai’s parents Kern and Ei sent him to live with local monks at the Pekka Temple to study Buddhism and religious rituals.    At the age of 10, Nai’s parents were killed by invading forces and he was forced to become a ward of the temple.  Shortly thereafter, as a form of spiritual enlightenment, Nai began to study Muay Boran with his fellow monks. 



Muay Boran or "Ancient Boxing" is the forerunner of modern Muay Thai.  It is often seen as a much more vicious style, due to its origins prior to modern rules.  Similar in its points of attack, Muay Boran was known as "9 Weapons," as it also made use of the head as a striking tool in addition to the shins, knees, elbows, and hands.




In 1767, the city of Ayudhaya fell to invading Burmese forces.  Burmese troops rounded up thousands of Thais and took them to Burma as prisoners of war.   Among the prisoners were Nai and a large number of Thai boxers, who were subsequently taken to the city of Ava then later to the city of Ungwa.


In 1774, the Burmese King Hsinbyushin (also known as King Mangra), "Lord of the White Elephants," visited the city of Rangoon.  King Hsinbyushin decided to organize a seven-day/seven-night religious festival in honor of the Pagoda where the Buddha's relics were housed.  The festivities included many forms of entertainment, such as the costume plays, comedies and farces, and sword-fighting matches.  It is said; that on the first day of the festival, a Burmese nobleman commented to the King:  "Muay Thai is very skillful."  King Mangra then decided he wanted to see how Muay Boran (Muay Thai) would compare to the Burmese art Lethwei (a combination of boxing arts from India and China, incorporating punches, kicks, elbows and knee attacks, head-butts, raking knuckle strikes, and take downs).


Nai was selected to represent Muay Thai against the Burmese champion.  A boxing ring was set up in front of the King’s throne and the combatants entered.  Nai then performed a traditional Wai Khru pre-fight dance, to pay his respects to his teachers and ancestors.  Making his way slowly around the courtyard, dancing in a slow ritualistic fashion, Nai amazed and confused the Burmese fighter and the spectators.  The Burmese fighter looked on timidly, fearing that Nai Khanom Tom was cursing him with evil spirits before their match.







When the fight began, Nai rushed his opponent, using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees to pummel his opponent until he collapsed.  The referee, however, judged that the knockout was not valid as the Burmese fighter had been distracted by Nai’s Wai Khru dance.


King Mangra then challenged Nai Khanom Tom to fight nine other Burmese champions to prove himself and the art of Muay Thai.   Nai agreed…  One by one, Nai Khanom Tom fought and defeated them all, one after the other, with no rest periods in between.


His tenth and final opponent was a great boxing instructor from Ya Kai City, who was in Rangoon to enjoy the festivities.   He was no match for Nai and was soon so mangled by Nai Khanom Tom's kicks that no one dared to challenge him further.

King Mangra was so impressed that he allegedly remarked, "Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom.  Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents.  But his Lord was incompetent and lost the country to the enemy.  If he would have been any good, there was no way the City of Ayudhaya would ever have fallen."



King Mangra was so enthralled by Nai’s performance, that he granted Nai Khanom Tom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives.  Without hesitation, Nai said he would take the wives, "because money was easier to find. "  So King Mangra awarded him two Burmese girls from the Mon tribe.  Nai Khamon Tom took his lovely wives to Thailand, where he lived with them until the end of his life. 


He is considered the first Thai boxer to have imprinted the art of Thai boxing with dignity, and who gave it such a reputation beyond Thailand's borders that his triumph remains engraved in the history of Burma until this day.

His legendary feat is celebrated every March 17th as Boxer's Day or National Muay Thai Day.






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