The Siamese Science of Defense
Sometimes referred to as 'the martial arts', most Asiatic and Oriental cultures have their own froms of martial movements for both defensive and offensive actions. It is suggested that the martial arts stemmed from India and China before spreading to other East Asian countries. The subcontinent of India/Pakistan has had a long tradition of wrestling while China is noted for the discipline of Kung fu. In most cases, though not all, the teaching of 'martial arts' was shrouded in secrecy. One had to be accepted into a school before the Master would reveal his martial techniques and then one, in tum, was sworn to secrecy. Japanese samurai schools of old, teaching Kendo (swordsmanship) and Kyudo (archery) are examples of traditional secrecy and 'in house' training.
In Siam (the former name of Thailand), secrecy was not the case. The skills of defense and attack were for everyone (certainly every male). During the days of Ayutthaya and the Kingdom of Siam (see separate article), the Monarch did not have a standing army. In times of national emergency, the King had to call on his subjects to rally to the nation's defense. Frontiers were a lot more fluid in those days and Siam was constantly under attack especially from Burma. Accordingly, citizens of Siam had to know how to defend themselves or perhaps, be captured or perish on the field of combat.
Muay Thai (Thai style kick boxing), now a national sport, dates from those former times and is credited to King Naresuan, The Great, after he led his people from Burmese enslavement. The King swore 'never again' and thus a unique style of personal self-defense was developed. While Muay Thai is perhaps the best known it is not the only skill in the traditional Thai defense arsenal. Citizens were also trained in how to correctly and effectively handle weapons. Fighting with a single sword (Fun -Daab) can be traced back to the Sukhothai period while the skill of using a sword in each hand (Gum-Daab Song Mue) is even older. The Daab is a long handled sword with a curved blade. Basically, the technique was to slash and maim (or behead!) one's opponent rather than the run-through thrust of European style.
One of the purest Thai style martial skills (some insist even more pure than Muay Thai) is that of Grabee-Grabong which was developed when Ayutthaya was the capital city of Siam. This is fighting using a sword and a quarterstaff. The sword (Grabee) is straight bladed and slightly longer than normal and the quarterstaff made from sturdy rattan. Other weapons included the Grabong (a 50cms long cudgel or truncheon), and the slim Plong staff with a 200cms reach. While Nobles and those of military high rank wore personal body armor (usually from shaped leather), the soldiery used variously shaped shields flat, rectangular, elbow and circular made from a combination of thick leather, bamboo, wood and metal, with which to parry attacks from and opponent.
Nowadays, many of these traditional Thai fighting skills and weapons are retained as sports or for display purposes at cultural performances. Muay Thai kick boxing remains the most popular (witness T.V. coverage and the vast crowds at Bangkok's Lumpini Stadium) but many of the other martial skills can still be seen at special events and festivals. It is also interesting to note that the elite personal bodyguard of Thailand's Monarch, H.M. King Bhumibol, continues to receive training in the ancient defense craft of Grabee-Grabong not using toy swords or staves but the real shining, lethal thing! In Thailand, tradition lives long.
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