Exclusive interview with Grand Master Phaosawath Saengsawan.
by Marco De Cesaris

Surprising interview with Grand Master Paosawath, university professor, trainer of professional champions and technical soul of the Association of Thai Martial Arts.
Exclusive from Thailand:
As everyone knows, Muay Thai Boran, or ancient Thai fighting, is comprised of a technical profile from various traditional components derived, in their majority, from classical regional styles, such as Muay Chaiyuth, Muay Korat, Muay Lopburi, and the styles denominated “thematic,” like the techniques of Hanuman White Monkey. Apart from understanding the different stylistic bases, the practitioner will always have to re-direct, in the correct learning process, the teachings of the Khru to the fundamental principles of the Art, which bring together in one thread an enormous technical martial heritage. The red thread that can “sew” together all the technical elements of the various styles—in some cases very distinct—is the collection of principles enclosed in the forms of Mae Mai and Look Mai Muay Thai, the true fundamentals of the stylistic apparatus of Muay Thai Boran.
The correct and coherent codifying of the Mae Mai and the Look Mai, done in recent times, has not proven a simple task, not even for the experts in the mother country, and the creation of a team of experts, wanted and created ad hoc by the Thai Minister of Education through the same Cultural Commission was necessary. Undoubtedly, the principle architect of the correct codifying of these important traditional combat techniques—named director of the commission by the authorities of the Ministry due to his unquestionable competence, is the Grand Master Paosawath Saengsawan (known by his friends as Kru Pho). Evasive and not wont to seek out cameras, Master Paosawath is a kind of technical manual and a living history, the only person in Thailand who unites the historic knowledge of a university professor and the practical ability of a great trainer of professional fighters. Already professor of martial traditions at the University of Chulalongkorn—and currently of Rajabat—he worked seriously to codify, in accord with a rational and comprehensible system (especially for the “farang”, that is, those who are not of Thai origin), the techniques of Mae Mai and Look Mai from the various Muay styles, and are now incorporated in the technical programs of the Association of Thai Martial Arts (AITMA) and the International Muay Boran Academy (IMBA).
To that end, after numerous study meetings—in which it was possible for the technicians of the academy to train and exchange opinions and specific points of view with the Master—the Master very much liked the focus of the IMBA in facing a difficult theme like the empty hand Thai combat techniques, half way between Western pragmatism and Asian tradition. The crown of all of that work has been his last supervision of the development of the technical updating of the Academy’s programs (in line with the official programs of the AITMA, which he himself directs from the technical point of view), in this way offering an ulterior guarantee of seriousness to the IMBA, especially at this time of great international expansion.
During the last meeting with the Master, we had the opportunity of hearing his clear and straightforward opinions with respect to the current situation of Thai Martial Arts in the mother country and in the world, opinions that we share exclusively with the readers of Budo International, and that will amaze a lot of people.
1. “Muay Boran doesn’t exist!”
That’s a very strong affirmation, don’t you think? The truth is, the Master, with this provocation, wants us to understand how in recent years some people have erroneously perceived a similarity and parallelism between Thai Boxing and Muay Boran; while Thai Boxing is a uniform sports disciple, codified in recent times and with almost identical characteristics independently of where it is practiced (various areas of Thailand and also in foreign countries), Muay Boran never existed in the past as a single technical corpus and it can’t be defined as a separate disciple. In reality, Muay Boran, as it is known today in the West, is a reconstruction realized in Europe (before in the heart of the IAMTF, and afterward at the IMBA and AITMA), thanks especially to the work of Master Woody and Grand Master Paosawath himself, re-uniting the various original stylistic currents. These days, to practice Muay Boran correctly, of course under the guidance of an IMBA or AITMA qualified khru, means to study the modernizing done by the experts of these organizations of the classic Siamese styles.
2. “Without the sub-division in styles, one cannot talk about traditional technique.”
As we have already said, originally in Thailand, MUAY and the interpretations of the Siamese Martial Arts corresponded to the places of origin of the strongest and most skilled fighters: coming from the sub-division of soft and hard styles, Muay Kiao and Muay Lak, three main stylistic currents were structured, Muay Chaiya, Muay Korat, and Muay Lopburi, and each one had basic techniques (from the guard positions to the Mae Mai) and the nuances of combat that were very distinct among them. In Thailand, no one practices “Muay Thai Boran” tout court, but the few who interest themselves in the ancient Arts train, for example, Muay Chaiya, that is, a specific style. The summary of the true original styles—the Master concludes—that we have done for the Westerners (IMBA) has been re-baptized Muay Thai Boran, although one could have used many other names from the Thai language (Sillapa Muay Thai, Mai Muay Thai, Muay Kard Chieuk, etc.), and later utilized from 1995 until today.
3. “These days in Thailand, a Muay Thai Master doesn’t know more than 10% of the traditional techniques.”
With the fashion of ancestral combat that rules today, many Thai trainers are improvising techniques of traditional fighting: in reality—according to the Master—their knowledge is limited to a mere 10% of the technical heritage of the old systems of combat. Furthermore, given that today there is only one text available on the market that deals with the themes relative to Boran combat (written by Khru Pho), almost everyone gets information and knowledge from that recognized source, many times erroneously interpreting actions and principles of the Mae Mai and the Look Muay Thai (basic technique and accessories), subsequently impoverishing the knowledge and the correct diffusion of Muay and creating confusion in the students who often can’t distinguish between an archaic technique and a modern one.
4. “Anyone who doesn’t train according to the methods of Muay Thai in parallel with the practice of traditional technique, will never achieve the desired results.”
It is not enough to practice the forms and to study the techniques with a conforming partner, though of course that is the first step in order to dominate the complex movements of the traditional styles. The experience that allows one to apply the movements in combat (Len Chern and Chap Ko) and to apply the specific strikes with full power, together with the active and passive conditioning, is the condition necessary to learn the techniques studied with the khru. To ignore the technological progresses of recent years that now make up a part of the practice of Muay (from the use of the various pads to the introduction of the protection for giving and receiving strikes) doesn’t mean to respect tradition: preserving the ancient techniques because they are still efficient today, practicing them and totally exploiting modern technology perfectly fits into the principles of adaptation and development typical of the Muay tradition, which have converted this Martial Art into a marvelous discipline that today is respected and practiced all over the world.