You can not separate the uniqueness of Thai culture from the special martial art of Muay Thai.
There are very few documents that exist to give a true and factual account of how Muay Thai developed several thousand years ago. Instead, the tradition of Muay Thai has been handed down verbally, which can challenge complete accuracy. However, we do know that the martial art began before the first capital town of Sukhothai was founded in the year of 1238. Also, most agree that the word Muay comes from the Sanskirt word Mavya, which means “pulling together” or “unity”.
Muay Thai is a practical fighting style that pulls together the whole body: the head and mind, fists, elbows, knees, and legs, as nine weapons. It was used on the battlefields at a time when hand-to-hand combat was the normal form of fighting. Each different community’s military would use Muay as their main way to protect themselves. The fighters would learn from one another, which explains why there are so many different techniques in the current-day sport of Muay Thai. The fighters also used Muay Thai as their entertainment and exercise, which is why all festivals in Thailand today include a Muay Thai tournament as part of the culture and entertainment.
There is a very deep link between Muay Thai and the temples of Buddhism. When Buddhism spread from India, it was embraced by the people of Thailand. The temples housed the community of Monks, which were usually retired soldiers and high-ranking officials, or men from nobility, who were educated and successful in their secular lives. They were the leaders of their villages. The local people would send their sons to live at the temple, and to learn not only religion, but to be fully educated in the martial arts by the Monks. It was from the Monks, with their military knowledge of strategy, sociology, and psychology, that the young boys learned the unique art of Muay Thai.
Muay Thai is considered to be one of the highest forms of martial arts and can not be separated from Thai culture. Even the king of Thailand, who is considered to have the status of a hero, to this day is very much involved with the sport. Legend holds that around 1350, when the capitol town was Ayutthaya, King Phrajaow Sua disguised himself as a local person and joined the other locals to practice Muay Thai. He wanted to observe for himself how the local people lived, which trained Muay Thai fighters he should chose for the military, and continued to establish his own skills in the sport. This is just one example of how through the years the different Kings of Thailand have been devoted to Muay Thai.
Now in the 21st Century, Muay Thai is not only the national sport of Thailand, but is gaining popularity throughout the world. It has developed into such a recognized sport that women and children are now also participating not only as fighters or for self-defense, but for exercise.
-Most information from: Muay Thai a Living Legacy by Kat Prayukvong and Lesley D. Junlakan