Thailand is renowned for its fearsome fighters. Kickboxing insiders often refer to muay Thai as the king of the ring because of its devastating shin kicks, elbow strikes and knee thrusts. Those familiar with the history of warfare have an equally lofty opinion of krabi krabong, the Thai art of weaponry. In the Thai language, krabi refers to “short sword,” and krabong translates as “long staff.” The meaning is concealed but clever: Regardless of the dimensions of the weapon, krabi krabong teaches you to attack or defend effectively by developing your ability to use fundamental movements and strategies. Whether armed with a stick, a blade or nothing at all, you have viable options and familiar answers.
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In the United States, one of the Thai weapon art’s foremost experts is Black Belt Hall of Fame member Dan Inosanto. He studied under several masters, including Col. Nattapong Buayam.
KRABI KRABONG VIDEO Col. Nattapong Buayam Demonstrates Krabi Krabong Double-Sword Action for Black Belt MagazineThe Colonel's Pedigree and Expertise A former Thai special-forces instructor, Col. Nattapong Buayam is no stranger to physical aggression and combat. Well-versed in modern Thai boxing and muay boran — the bare-knuckle father of muay Thai — the colonel has a special affinity for krabi krabong. “In battle, in close-combat warfare, you are usually not fighting barehanded,” he says. “You have a rifle, bayonet, knife or some other implement. If you’re fighting barehanded, that’s a last resort. So an effective soldier should know how to use almost anything as a means of securing victory.” That’s where krabi krabong comes in, teaching a variety of weapons — including the dagger, short sword, long sword, halberd, spear and mae sok, a tonfa-like device. The daab song mue, or double swords, are the trademark weapons of the system and often the first ones learned. (See the video above!) The training forces you to develop coordination with both hands, which facilitates the delivery of powerful attacks and a strong defense using either side. “Krabi krabong is very old — from the days when the Thai people went to war all the time,” explains Col. Nattapong, as he’s known. “If one of your hands or arms gets cut, you still have to fight your way through the battle. So being able to use both of your hands and both sides of your body is a must with krabi krabong training.” The Marriage of Krabi Krabong and Muay Boran Because of that openness to using the entirety of the body while wielding a weapon, it makes perfect sense to develop maximum familiarity with the techniques of muay boran. Muay boran is known for its brutal strikes, many of which were banned in modern competition until the advent of no-holds-barred matches.
MUAY BORAN VIDEO Col. Nattapong Buayam and Dr. Mark Cheng Demonstrate Muay Boran for Black Belt MagazineDuring my studies with Col. Nattapong, he taught muay boran techniques during our “rest” periods. This allowed my hands to take a short break from the hours of gripping and swinging the swords. Starting with defenses against punches, we progressed into attacks and counters using the whole body, centering on wickedly painful punches, elbows, knees and kicks. After combining them with deft footwork, I found myself able to dart into striking range, even when facing an armed opponent. A truth of training: Knowing how to use a weapon helps you understand how to avoid suffering the punishment of that weapon.
About the Author: Dr. Mark Cheng, Senior RKC, is a contributing editor to Black Belt magazine and the co-author of Hwa Rang Do: Defend, Take Down, Submit with hwa rang do grandmaster Taejoon Lee. For more information about Cheng, visit Dr. Mark Cheng’s Facebook page!