Timothy Wheaton is a combat sports writer who covers MMA, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai. Tim is the authority on kickboxing and combat sports journalist who has covered K-1, PRIDE FC, UFC, GLORY Kickboxing, Bellator, ONE Championship, and plenty more.
Krabi Krabong is the deadliest martial art in Thailand. Unlike Muay Thai and Muay Boran, this is a combat system involving weapons. It is the martial art that entire armies were trained under, and the Thai military still uses it even to this day.
Kings, soldiers, and many others have practiced Krabi Krabong during their lifetime. Outside of Thailand, it may be hard to find training. Inside the nation, the military and police are still educated using the system. It has become a cornerstone of Thai tradition.
Throughout the centuries, Krabi Krabong has been used continuously on the battlefield and as a sport. Simply, this martial art is a weapons-based combat system created in Thailand. Its name is based on its most used weapons; the sword (Krabi) and the staff (Krabong).
Origins of Krabi Krabong
The ancient origins of Krabi Krabong are largely known. Most written sources regarding its history were destroyed when the invading Burmese army destroyed the city of Ayutthaya in 1767.
What we do know is that it has been taught to the armies of Thailand even when muskets replaced the sword under King Rama II in 1809. Additionally, it was taught at the legendary Buddhist temple Wat Phutthaisawan. Buddhist monks training armies in sword combat at a temple is like a scene straight out of Mortal Kombat.
It was not just sword combat. In addition to the martial arts taught, Buddhist traditions were also instilled. At Wat Phutthaisawan, students were sworn to uphold certain principles from the Phutthaisawan teachings. These were:
- Always Speak Truly
- Never Sacrifice a Life Unjustly.
- One Must Never Steal
- Avoid Alcohol
- Abstain from Reprehensible Sex
We know that Krabi Krabong also used the best moves from neighboring nations. Many of the specific techniques taught resemble similar methods utilized elsewhere. It is said that Krabi Krabong uses maneuvers from Indian Silambam, Indonesian sword fighting, Burmese Banshay, and Cambodian Kbach Kun Boran. The weapons used resemble comparable weapons developed in India and China during this era.
The Weapons of Krabi Krabong
Krabi Krabong is typically shown as being a dual-handed warfare utilizing a sword and short staff. While is this true, several weapons were taught under the Krabi Krabong martial art. These are:
- Krabi: Double-Edged Sword
- Daab: Single-Edged Sword
- Krabong : Wooden Staff
- Daab Song Mue: Dual Hand Swords
- Kean: Wooden Shield, Covers Arm
- Lob: Large Wooden Shield, Covers Body
- Phlong: Longer Wooden Staff
- Ngao: Wooden Staff with Blade
- Na Mai: Small Crossbows
- Mai Sok Kan: A Pair of Clubs Worn on Soldier’s Forearms
Krabi Krabong on the Battlefield
Krabi Krabong is feared due to its deadly usage by soldiers. Entire armies would have learned this martial art system. The nation of Thailand was invaded several times over the centuries, from the 13th century right up to World War II. The nation was never conquered by foreign invaders and is one of the few countries on earth that was never colonized.
Siamese general Phraya Phichai today has statues in his honor due to his service to his king due to his effectiveness in utilizing Krabi Krabong on the battlefield.
During this era, Siam [Thailand] was under the control of the Burmese empire, since the aforementioned fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. Burma simultaneously was being invaded by Qing Dynasty China on the other side of the nation. Burma moved its military to a new theatre to defend against the invaders, Phraya Phichai understood the possibility and collected an attacking force. This attacking army would have been taught Krabi Krabong, just like the rest of the Thai military.
In one famed battle, due to intense action, Phraya Phichai lost the usage of his Daab Song Mue (Dual Handed Swords), and one broke in half. However, due to his training in Krabi Krabong, the battle would be victorious. Ultimately, it achieved Thailand’s right to govern itself. This fighter was promoted to the king’s guard and is today known as ‘Phraya Phichai Dap Hak’ or ‘Phraya Phichai the Broken Sword.’
“Muay Thai: The Most Distinguished Art of Fighting” by Panya Kraitus wrote:
“He was the commander in chief of the army who led the common people in bravely resisting the enemy without giving thought to the possibility of his own death. For the love of his country, he pushed fiercely forward in battle until his sword broke. Throwing it down he continued the fight with his fists, knees, and elbows. Because of his knowledge of Thai boxing, he came out of the battle alive and victorious.”
King Naresuan the Great also used Krabi Krabong when warring against Burma. He was organizing large military campaigns that were having a deadly effect on the ruling Burmese government, which held control over much of Thailand at the time.
Burma assembled its soldiers, in 1593, and undertook a tremendous battle that would ultimately end the war. In the iconic battle, Naresuan of Ayutthaya and Crown Prince Mingyi Swa, of Burma, would engage in a duel while riding the backs of elephants. Naresuan would use Krabi Krabong to win the combat. Due to this victory, Siam (Thailand) earned its sovereignty from Burma and Naresuan became the celebrated King of the nation.
Krabi Krabong as a Sport
The weapons-based martial art was not only used on the battlefield but was considered a sport as well. Fighters would engage in combat at festivals and celebrations in front of audiences.
Similar to Muay Thai, matches were fought between two fighters and would start with a Wai Kru, which is a ceremonial Buddhist prayer and dance. Winners are decided based on technique and stamina, as injuries would not automatically stop a match.
Karate has a Kata, which is a form of 102 different moves, which is often compared to a dance. Similarly, Krabi Koong has 108 different maneuvers which it teaches like a dance. These moves help fighters learn balance, grace, and forms of technique.
A modern-day Ajahn, Grandmaster of Krabi Krabong, discussed in an interview, a decade ago, comparing the differences in sport and battlefield Krabi Krabong. He explained:
“If you’re talking about the ancient sword fighting, that’s not how we practice today. For them, the sword fighting was life and death. They practice throughout their entire life as well. Every facet of their life revolved around the sword technique. The ancients engaged in massive sword battles, consisting of hundreds of fighters.
Today, we practice two forms (katas), and the fighters are already tired. If they tire so easily, they don’t know the real way. In the old days, fighters knew they would be cut, or die. So, they made their skin thick, and the swords slipped off on contact. Then they could do real battle quickly. Here we practice for art. But, in earlier times the practice had a purpose, war…
In ancient times, when an enemy appeared out of the blue, they had to face off and see whose style was superior… This is the real fighting. Today, fighting is all a big show. It’s not real, only exercise and theatre. We must attempt, now, to preserve the old sword fighting methods, not just make a show of it, but practice the real way. You must be serious and not slap each other with the blades like if it were a game. You must practice with all your heart and devote your time to it like it was your life, as the old practitioners did.“
Modern Day Krabi Krabong
Krabi Krabong is still taught in Thailand to soldiers and policemen as part of their training. Sport duels also still exist but are far less common than other Thai martial arts. If one is looking to learn Krabi Krabong, it is rare but schools can be found.
The Wat Phutthaisawan reportedly still teaches the martial art system to students. There are a few other institutes in Thailand, Europe, and the United States in which pupils can learn the weapon system.
Famous combat sports gym Tiger Muay Thai offers classes in the martial art system. Tiger Muay Thai has trained prominent fighters in both MMA and Muay Thai such as UFC Champions Alexander Volkanovski, Israel Adesanya, Petr Yan, and Valentina Shevchenko. At this Muay Thai gym, you can train sword and staff alongside a world champion MMA fighter.
The World Martial Arts Council Games in Bangkok annually will host Krabi Krabong matches. Athletes must wear protective gear and are fought with foam weapons rather than steel and wood.
Modern media has had some depictions of Krabi Krobing including the Tony Jaa 2005 movie The Protector, 2003’s Sema: The Warrior of Ayodhaya, 2001’s Legend of Suriyothai, and most famously in the 1974 James Bond flick The Man with the Golden Gun.
Krabi Krabong was used by militaries to repel attackers at the border of Thailand. It was famed for its deadly effectiveness. The form of combat is an ancient system of armed fighting shrouded in legend and utilized by generals, kings, and entire armies. It has earned the Thai nation its sovereignty. Many of the teachings of the armed martial art would also cross over and share similarities with Muay Boran and eventually Muay Thai. While rare, it can still be seen today in competition and in gyms.