Lethwei or Lethawae also known as Burmese Boxing and Myanma Traditional Boxing and the Kachin variant Htwi hkyen may well be the most brutal and exciting form of kickboxing the world has ever seen . Lethwei is in many ways similar to it's younger sibling Muay Thai from neighboring Thailand. If Thai Boxing is the science of 8 limbs than Lethwei is the science of 9 limbs due to the allowance of head butts. There are records recording Lethwei style matches dating back to the Pyu empire in Burma.
Participants fight without gloves only wrapping their hands in hemp or gauze cloth , rules are similar to Muay Thai but allow and encourage all manner of takedowns along with head butts. Traditionally held outdoors in sandpits instead of rings but in modern times are now held in rings . Popular technique in Lethwei include leg kicks, knees, elbows, head butts., raking knuckle strikes and ballistic takedowns.
Matches traditionally would go until a fighter can no longer continue. If a knockout occurs the boxer is revived and has the option of continuing as a result defense, conditioning and learning to absorb punishment are very important. Burmese boxers spend a great deal of time preparing the body to absorb impact and conditioning their weapons to dish it out. Matches today are carried out in both the traditional manner and a more modern offshoot started in 1996 the Myanma Traditional boxing. The modern style has changed to make the contests more of an organized sport under the governments organization. The goal seems to be to make it a more marketable sport.
Many of the ethnic groups within Burma have their own variant of the indigenous martial arts giving them sometimes distinctly different styles of Lethwei that make for exciting action packed matches.
The Kachin variant of Lethwei is referred to as soft (relaxed) there is very little wasted motion or effort. Lethwei matches usually start in long range with kicks to the legs and raking punches to the face in an effort to draw blood as matches continue the fighters end up in the in the clinch and the primary weapons used are standing grappling with various takedowns and sweeps along with the preferred finishing weapons of head-butts, elbows and knees. The Kachin Practitioner generally prefers to fight from the clinch and tends not to fall after missing with a long distance strike opting to follow low line kicks and raking punches into close range.
If the sport is viewed in the context of preparing one for battle you can see that it not only teaches timing, distance and movement but also the ability to absorb and deliver punishment thereby winning a war of attrition. The goal is not so much the winning and losing but fighting hard and learning lessons
This is the official Government approved History of Burmese Boxing Myanma Traditional Boxing as Practiced in the Government Sactioned Golden Belt Tounements.
Myanmar Traditional Boxing Myanma Lethwei
Myanma traditional boxing (Myanma Letwhave) had developed since many years ago. It is
the national art of self-defence which stimulates hereditary courage and the national spirit. As all the Myanmar nationals can hold, boxing matches in every region in Myanmar, the traditional boxing
becomes the national art of Self-defence. It is the heritage not only owned by one national but by all the nationals of Myanmar.
Myanma traditional boxing is the high standard of fighting art without weapons. The traditional boxing match is man
to man fighting. Thus, it is regarded as mannliness. In an ancient saying, if a man has no tatto marks, he is regarded as womanish. So also, if a man does not know the traditional boxing, he is
regarded as a sissy. At the time of ancient Myanmar kings, traditonal boxing matches were held in grand scale. (Pagan, Nagayone Myanma encyclopaedia, No-12, Page from 175 tp 179). The pictures of a
man standing on his head, wrestlers and dancers can be found on the wall of a cave mear Bagan. The picture of the two wrestlers are vivid. Both are stout and they look real sportsmen. It is assumed
that Boxing might develop in the Bagan era.
During the era of Inwa, the two boxers, Augnsegon Thangarazar and Shangyi fought in the boxing match. The former
killed the latter with his right hand. Long long ago, the militant soldiers who know the military strategy were trained the art of boxing, Some historians said that at the time of Thibaw, the last
King of Konebaung dynasty, good boxers are put in the royal list as " Letwhave Taw Thut".
The boxers of prewar period could break bamboo poles with their fists. And they were able to hit certain mark on the face. They could fight tirelessly from sunrise to sunset to get high reward to get the champion's flag (Alan Lu Pwe).
After the indenpendence in postwar period, Myanma traditional boxing revived as the national heritage. The Boxers,
mostly farmers, kept the Myanma traditional boxing alive.
Twenty of Myanmar top boxers were sent to Thailand in 1955 and to China in 1960 to partictpage in the boxing matches hold there. Said U Bo Sein who had been to China. Boxing matches are being held at the time of the Shwedagon Pagoda festivals, indenpendence days and Farmers's days. So that Myanmar nationals can deeply enjoy them.
In the past, the boxing matches were held on the ground of about 24 feet wide. The groud was covered with sand or husks of paddy. Nowadays, the boxers fight in the ring which is 20 feet wide. They wear only short pants and the top is tied by longyiof triangle shape. Their hands are bandaged. There are two references ( Ko Wyne Daing) in the ring and three judges on the bench (Khone Daing). Myanmar traditional music is being played while they are fighting.
Various spirits are worshipped before the match is started for the successful ending.
Myanma traditional boxing is an art of fighting and self-defence. When a boxer fights his opponent he can tactfully use his feet, hands, knees, elbows and head. (Nine Big Weapons). Therefore, the famous old boxers said that there were nine entering hits and nine defending. They said that fists were to blow, elbows to make a side thrust, head to hit, feet, knees and forearms to strike.
Nowadays, three kinds of Myanma traditional boxing matches are generally held according to the size and types of the festivals. They are--
1. GYAR PWE (Interim boxing match)
2. ALAN LU PWE (Boxing match to get champion's belt)
3. SEIN KHAW PWE (Boxing match of challenge)
Thus, by preserving and practising Myanma traditional boxing, patriotism and union spirit are strengthened and uplifted. Besides, there are many advantages to be developed which are good character, health and fitness, selt-confidence, safety at work, defence of the country and Myanmar young people's love for their country.
The rules of boxing matches
The rules and regulations of Myanma traditional boxing matches varied in accord with different regions long ago. But at present the rules and regulations observed and practised by the boxers are the same through out Myanmar.
Now, Myanma traditional boxing matches are held as " Gyar Pwe" (interim Boxing match), "Alan Lu Pwe" (Boxing match to get champios's belt and " Sein Khaw Pwe" (Boxing match of challenge) according to the size of the festivals. The competitors must strictly follow the rules and regulations mentioned below:-
1. The competitors must have medical checked up and those medically unfit will not be admitted.
2. They have to dress neatly and their hair and nails have to be cut.
They have to get on the stage from the prescribed corner in prescribed manner.
3. There must not be any hard things under the banages and in the socks. If these are found, the boxer will be expelled and action will be taken against him.
4. Oil must not be used on the Body more than necessary and chilli style ointment must
not be used.
5. At the begining of the match, every competitor has to demonstrate his style of fighting.
6. He can worship according to his faith but it must not be against the national culture.
7. Team leaders or trainers and judges must arrange the competitors to be matched so that they cannot be wounded.
8. The two competitors must not right each other until the ring referees them to do so.
9. They must stop fighting if the referees shout "halt" or show with hand or foot.
10. If a boxer falls down while fighting, he must be lying flat on the floor.
11. The boxers must not scrach, bite, pull the hair and kick the balls of each other.
12. If they are holding each other for a long time, the referees must stop the match.
13. If one of the two boxers steps back and gives up, the match must be stopped.
14. If one boxer falls and ligs flat on the floor, he must not be attacked. If he is attacked, the attacker will lose the match.
15. If the two boxers are pretending to fight, the referees must stop the match and take action against them.
16. If the referees and judges ask one of the boxers to give up the fight, he must willingly accept it.
17. Boxers must compete according to three conditions that is one will lose because of fear, (Give up the match, because of injury, because of inability to fight any more.)
18. Refrees and judges must laid down the number of rounds.
19. Boxers must not sleep, look back and run round in the ring. If the does not pay
attention to the frequent warnings of the refrees and judges, he will be declared as a loser.
20. In the interim matches (Gyar Pwe), the boxers must compete three rounds with three minutes in one round, If there is no winner and loser, the match will end in a draw. If one boxer falls down, referees will take care of him for two minutes. After that he becomes the loser.
21. In the matches to get the champion's belt (Alan Lu Pwe), the boxers must compete on three conditions, Kyauk Shone (lose because of fear), Kwe Shone (Lose because of injury) and Thet Lone Shone (because of inability to fight any more). If there is no winner or loser, the match must be continued another thirty minutes. If one of the boxers has injury cut and bleeds, it must be approved by the doctor he cannot continue to fight.
22. If one boxer falls down in the Alan Lu Pwe, the referee will take care of him. But if he falls down and can't to get up after three calls for challenge, he will be declared.
23. In 5 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers must compete five rounds by three minutes fight and three minutes rest. They are allowed to extend the rest time to six minutes only once during first 3 rounds. If one boxer is wounded during first 3 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and the decision of the referees and the competition jury.
24. In 7 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers must compete seven rounds by three minutes fight and three minutes rest. They allow to extend the rest for six minutes once in first 6 rounds. If
one boxer is wounded during first 6 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and the decision of the referees and competition jury.
25. In 10 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers must compete ten rounds with three minutes fight and three minutes rest, They are allowed to entend the rest time for six minutes twice in first 7 rounds, If one boxer is wounded during first 7 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and decision of referees and competition jury.
26. In 12 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers with 3 minutes fight and 3 minutes rest must compete twelve rounds. They are allowed to extend the rest time to six minutes 3 times in first 8
rounds. If one boxer is wounded during first 8 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and the decision of the referees and the competition jury.
In the traditional Myanmar Boxing, the boxers can use tactfully and skillfully their feet, hands, knees, elbows and head in fight.
Nevertheless, the boxers must observe the rules and regulation laid down by the Myanma Traditonal Boxing Federation and boxing matches are being held in accord with our tradition.