Lethwei, formerly known as Burmese Bareknuckle Boxing, leaves a long-lasting impression on any spectator who witnesses the sport.
Because the martial art is so exciting and filled with Asian tradition, Lethwei’s influence has found a permanent home in ONE Championship.
Many Gold Belt Champions – including Mite Yine, Ye Thway Ne, and Tha Pyay Nyo – have applied their world-class skills to mixed martial arts competition and experienced success. That trend could continue well into the future.
Here is what separates “The Sport Of Warriors” from other martial arts like kickboxing and Muay Thai.
Long And Rich History
Lethwei dates back to ancient times when martial arts was used to protect and defend Myanmar’s borders.
Traditional Lethwei bouts took place without a scoring system, and a match would go on until an athlete surrendered, was knocked out, or could not continue due to injury.
During the early days of Lethwei, athleticism and technique became important, and toughness and perseverance were celebrated.
Over the years, despite the many ups and downs the sport faced, it has managed to survive with the help of passionate fans and athletes who have carried on the tradition.
Phoe “Bushido” Thaw is one of those athletes. The Yangon-based featherweight has incorporated Lethwei training into his mixed martial arts blend and because of that, he has compiled an 8-2 professional record in ONE Championship.
Rules Of Lethwei
In traditional Lethwei bouts, a combatant can only win by knockout or the match will be considered a draw. But if an athlete gets knocked out, he or she can call for a special two-minute recovery period and still rally back for a victory.
Nowadays, rules and regulations exist to protect the athletes and boost the entertainment value of Lethwei.
Lethwei practitioners wear mouthguards and groin protectors. However, instead of wearing gloves, only tape and gauze protect their hands during competition.
Athletes can use headbutts, punches, elbows, knees, kicks, clinching, sweeps, and throws to win a match, which takes place over three-to-five rounds.
If a knockout does not happen during the bout, then the judges will declare a winner.
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While Muay Thai is known as “the art of eight limbs,” Lethwei is known as “the art of nine limbs.” It adds one important attack – the headbutt, known as hkaung tike.
Lethwei athletes use three main types of headbutts. A headbutt from the clinch is called a choke hkaung tike, a rushing headbutt is known as the hkaung sount tike, and the flying headbutt is called a hkun hkaung tike.
Because athletes do not want to inflict any damage to themselves, headbutts require a great deal of technique and skill to master.
Lethwei practitioners make sure they use the strongest parts of their heads to inflict as much damage as possible while also protecting themselves.
Headbutts can turn a match around in the blink of an eye. This is why Lethwei warriors are held in high regard and rightly feared as opponents.
Even though headbutts are allowed in Lethwei, they are banned from most other combat sports – including mixed martial arts, kickboxing, and Muay Thai.
Lekkha Moun And Lethwei Yay
Even though Lethwei warriors are known for their aggressiveness and grit in the Circle, they are also recognized for their kindness outside of it.
Lethwei is full of traditions that are meant to show respect to their opponents.
One of the most well-known Lethwei traditions is Lekkha Moun. Athletes perform the gesture by bending their left arm and placing it in their right armpit. They then cup their right hand and clap their left arm three times.
The Lekkha Moun is inspired by the flapping wings of a bird, and it is used to respectfully challenge an opponent. This gesture is usually done before the match starts, but it can also be used during the bout.
A warrior dance called the Lethwei Yay usually accompanies the Lekkha Moun. The dance is commonly performed before a contest, but also afterward as a celebration.
The Lekkha Moun and Lethwei Yay share similarities to Thailand’s Wai Kru and Cambodia’s Kun Kru, but it is unique to Myanmar.