The sport is being practised mainly within the territory of Thailand, although it also happens to appear outside of its native region.
The techniques of Krabi krabong have already been developed in antiquity by drawing from a variety of different sports. The way of getting around with the staff is almost identical to the one used in Chinese monkey style, while rotating a one-handed weapon together with walking around a circle came from the Indian kalaripayattu. However these are not the only sources of inspiration. It is clearly visible that a solid part of the sport has been developed under the influence of Indonesian Silat or Burmese Banshay.
Additionally, most likely in XVII century, the Thai adapted the sword fighting techniques. That is when the Ronin troop supported them in quelling the riot caused by death of one of the kings.
In 1767, Thailand (at that time called Siam) has been attacked by the Burmese, having their capital city Ayutthaya destroyed. It resulted in majority of the chronicles and other sources being destroyed, hence the limited knowledge of the development of Krabi krabong among other things. The techniques, however, were being passed orally, which allowed the tradition to remain intact.
There were a lot of temple schools run by Buddhist monks across the country where Krabi krabong originated. Principles of Buddhism were taught there, as well as a variety of common subjects, such as astrology. What is more, young men were introduced to secrets of sword fighting identified with Krabi krabong.
The sport has been used for fighting until the coronation of King Rama II (1809) who reorganized the army and equipped it with muskets. Nevertheless, the sport has not only remained, but also became a part of contemporary tradition of Thailand.
Interestingly, the very name of the sport was established in 1936, when Krabi krabong has been added to the curriculum of the local Academy of Physical Education.
Mural painting - Naresuan's krabi-krabong (right with) Mingyi Swa.
The duels are between two people inside the circle and are not limited in time. At the beginning, each participant acknowledges their mentor and takes part in a ritual dance to commemorate the old masters and honour the Gods who are believed to give them strength in return. The weapons used in the ritual were heavily ornamented and did not take part in the actual fight. What is more, the fight is usually accompanied by Thai music.
During the fight, participants use the following weapons:
1) Krabi – thin and sharp sword, reminiscent of saber; used for stabbing.
2) Krabong – 1,8 meter long straight staff, made of ebony or teak.
3) Na mai – small crossbow, used for fighting from a distance.
4) Kaen – rectangular shield covering the arm; can be used for attacking with the sharpened edge.
5) Daeng – longitudinal shield made of metal or leather, covers part of the body from arms to knees.
6) Lob – round shield made of wood, leather or metal; the shield is so big that it can cover the whole body; it also has sharpened edge, which can be used for attacking.
7) Daab – Sword heavier than krabi with a lot more sharpened blade, its handle is made of wood or bone; used for cutting or stabbing.
8) Ngao – Bladed staff, often used by the royal family; the blade could take shape of a knife, trident or even sword; used for stabbing, cutting or disarming the opponent.
9) Mae Sowk – two clubs made from teak or bone, with handles on the one side, and rope on the other, which allow participants to hold it on their forearms; used mainly for defence.
However the most commonly used weapons are two daab swords. Interestingly, participants are able to fight unarmed, using kicks, grips, throws or even hit the vulnerable spots. The loose of one sword, forces the participant into the unfair fight against the opponent with two swords.
The winner is decided on the basis of the skills and endurance of the participants and the fight ends upon declaring a winner. Wounds or injuries do not result in defeat.
Krabi krabong is still being practised today. On account of becoming a part of the Thai tradition, the fights are held during a variety of festivals or events across the country. Even though the police and army of Thailand are introduced to the Krabi krabong fighting style, very few schools include this sport in their curriculum. The most popular one is certainly Buddhai Swan Sword Fighting Institute in Nongkaem. It has been functioning for over 400 years, teaching the Thai as well as the foreign.
Krabi krabong is also taught in Sritairat located in Dhonburi suburbs, Muay Thai Sangha or Tiger Muay Thai. What is more, Germany also hosts a school that includes Krabi krabong in its curriculum, which is located in Dülmen, near Münster. England is also known to host such school.
These days, Krabi krabong is being supported by muay thai as well as muay boran. All three originated in Thailand and were inspiring each other, hence a lot of techniques used in one discipline appears in the other. The reasons for the diminishing popularity of Krabi krabong are unknown, but it is believed that it was caused by the multitude of weapons used and the lack of tournaments being held.
+44 7903 105561
Portland Mill, Brook Street Ease, Unit 1, 3rd Floor, Ashton-under-Lyne, OL6 7SX
ThaiAchira, school in Germany:
+49 176 50197067
Max Planck Str 8, 48249 Duelmen-Buldern
Tiger Muay Thai, school in Thailand:
+66 76 367 071
7/35 Moo 5, Soi Ta-ied
Buddhai Sawan Krabi-Krabong Association of The United States - http://www.vitaliccombatarts.com/krabikrabong/
Łukasz Ławniczak, Historyczne podstawy i ewolucja tajskich sztuk walki – muay thai i krabi-krabong (do XX w.), Gdańskie Studia Azji Wschodniej [Online], Zeszyt 3 (2013): 140-152, http://www.ejournals.eu/GSAW/2013/Zeszyt-3-2013/art/2622/ ;
Simon La Loubère, The Kingdom of Siam, Oxford University Press, 1986;
Robert Crego, Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th Centuries pg 32. Greenwood Press, 2003;
Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith (1981). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Kodansha International;
Por Kru Samai Mesamarn, Krabi Krabong: The Buddhai Sawan Path, DVD 2010;
Ajarn Foong Keodkeau, The Untold History of Krabi Karbong, 1984 (available: https://pahuyuth.com/en/daab/the-untold-history-of-krabi-krabong/);
Pedro Solana Villalobos, Krabi-Krabong: Thailand's Art of Weapons Fighting, Paladin Press, 2007;
Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, McBrewster John, Krabi Krabong, VDM Publishing, 2010;
Source of photos used in this article and gallery: