March 17th is celebrated as “Boxers Day” or National Muay Thai Day in Thailand. This is a day that Nak Muays honor the memory and achievements of Nai Khanom Tom, the father of Muay Thai.
With a sport as old as Muay Thai, there have been many legends along the way, but none of them more celebrated or important as Nai Khanom Tom. The name is known by every Thai child and he is mentioned in nearly every book or publication about the sport. He is one of the greatest Muay Thai heroes.
In 1767 the Burmese invaded Siam (present day Thailand) and ransacked the capital city of Ayutthaya. Nai Khanom Tom was a warrior from Thailand’s ancient capital and was captured by the Burmese army. In 1774, the Burmese king, King Mangra, called for a festival to celebrate the victory over Thailand. The celebration included many sports and games, and enslaved Thai prisoners were ordered to fight Burmese warriors for his entertainment.
According to legend, when Nai Khanom Tom was brought to the courtyard to battle, he asked for a moment to prepare. He began to dance, waving his hands and arms in a ritualistic way that many today would recognize as the Wai Kru. His opponent was confused by the gesture and was frightened that he was being cursed by evil spirits. When asked to explain what he was doing, Nai Khanom Tom stated he was paying respects to his teacher, his art of Muay Thai, and his country.
The Burmese had their own martial art called Parma. But Parma relied heavily on the fists as its major weapon compared to Muay Thai, which also utilized elbows, knees, and kicks.
When the fight began, Nai Khanom Tom proceeded to pummel his opponent and scored a quick knockout, but the Burmese fighter cried foul and insisted the pre-fight dance distracted him. King Mangra ordered Nai Khanom Tom to face additional Burmese opponents, but Nai Khanom Tom defeated each one he was matched against until none were left. After defeating 10 Burmese warriors, King Mangra was extremely impressed with what he had seen. He declared, “Every part of the Thai is blessed with venom; even with his bare hands he can fell ten opponents” and he granted Nai Khanom Tom his freedom.
Nai Khanom Tom returned to Siam as a hero the Thais badly needed after the crushing defeat they had suffered at Ayutthaya.
Every year on March 17 the Thais celebrate the story of Nai Khanom Tom as “Boxers Day”. Every stadium in the country dedicates fights in his honor and the Nai Khanom Tom festival is held in the ancient capital city of Ayutthaya. Demonstrations are often held where fighters perform the Ram Muay/Wai Kru in his name and to pay respects for their teachers.
Every time you kick the bag, strike a Thai pad, or tie up in the clinch, you honor Nai Khanom Tom. Whether you know it or not.