Muay Thai ropes are actually called “Kard Chuek” in Muay Boran and are traditionally made from hemp. They are wrapped around the hands, wrist and forearms not only to protect them from impact when blocking strikes but also to inflict damage on the opponent.
When the rope is wrapped tightly, the hand is compressed into a solid mass allowing you to hit as hard as you can without damaging your hand.
To inflict even more damage knots are tied into the rope and sit on the knuckles, the striking part of the fist. These act like ‘knuckle dusters’ and targeted towards the soft body parts of opponent: the eyes, the soft part between the ribs and shoulder joint.
The hemp rope used is quite course, so when you drag your punches down across your opponent’s face, it’s likely to cut into the soft flesh causing soft tissue injury in addition to the damage caused by the impact of the punch itself.
The is a special type of knot that’s used called Kon Hoi (meaning “bottom end of Sea Shells”). This is a protruding knot that can be built up to really stick out from the knuckles.
In addition, a plaited line can be weaved into the wrap down the outside of the length of the forearm. This is called a Khaeng Sing (meaning ‘Lion’s shin’). It provides additional cushioning when blocking as well as providing an edge to inflict injury when performing forearm smashes into your opponent.
The wearing of a ropes on the hands, wrists and forearms seems to be just limited to Thailand and is not found in the surrounding countries.
What is Muay Boran?
Muay Boran means ‘ ancient boxing’ and is a umbrella term for all boxing styles in Thailand prior to the introduction of modern rules in the 1930s.
Prior to the 1930s, there used to exist a number of different kickboxing styles in Thailand.
These fighting styles were promoted as part of the funeral ceremonies of King Chulalongkorn’s son in early 20th Century. Three fighters stood out and were rewarded by being tasked with promoting their fighting style.
- Daeng Thaiprasoet from the Northeast region
- Klueng Tosa-at from the Central region
- Prong Chamnongthong from the Southern region
From their efforts, three different styles of muay were developed : Lopburi, Khorat, and Chaiya. From these other styles were developed.
Fights originally took place in pits dug into the earth, and were brutal affairs often resulting in one of the fighters suffering a fatal injury.
In the 1930s, rules to govern how the fights were conducted were introduced. This included timed rounds and a boxing ring. Padded gloves were also introduced and replaced the ropes to try and reduce injury. It was from this more regulated fighting style that Muay Thai was born.
Kard Chuek wrapping styles
Each style of Muay Boran had its own way of rope tying for fighting.
Muay Korat comes from the Korat province in the North-East part of Thailand. It focuses on hard, powerful kicks and punches and is one of the “harder” Muay Thai styles.
For this reason, the ropes are wrapped up the forearms to help provide extra protection to block incoming strikes.
Muay Chaiya comes from the City of Chaiya in Southern Thailand. It’s a balanced style involving both offensive and defensive techniques. It includes throwing and grappling techniques not allowed in modern day Muay Thai.
In this style, the ropes are wrapped on the hands and just up to the the wrist. This leaves the forearms free to strike.
Muay Lopburi is from Thailand’s Central province of the same the name. This is a very aggressive style with fast close up punching techniques particularly effectively at short range and in the clinch.
The ropes are wrapped up to half way up the forearm. Fighters will also wrap some ropes around the ankles.
Muay Thasao originates from North Thailand and is predominantly a kicking style. It focuses on speed and incorporates quick stance changes, which provides a way to avoid low kicks.
The whole of the forearm is wrapped to provide protection when blocking kicks.
Modern Kard Chuek
Fighting when the hands are wrapped in rope still exists in Thailand.
Today, these matches follow the rules of Muay Thai and the ropes don’t have the cutting knots tied into them.
This is actually Thailand equivalent of bare knuckle boxing. However, it’s far more brutal because the ropes compress the fist into a club allowing you to hit as hard as you can without damaging your hand.
Here’s a modern day female Kard Chuek fight: