Regardless of social position, many Thai people have practiced Muay Thai throughout their lives, if not as a combative skill, as a means of keeping supple and fit. It was part of the school curriculum until the 1920s and only withdrawn because it was thought that the injury rate was too high. Thais and countless foreigners the world over continued to practice Muay Thai in gyms, clubs and more recently - camps.
In ancient times, Siamese people believed in the power of incantations and protective amulets, the common belief was that everything was ruled and inhabited by unseen spirits. And that places were either blessed or cursed. Because of these beliefs, it was necessary to perform special rites before a fighter entered the ring, asking the spirits' permission to do so.
Even today, before entering the ring many fighters perform rituals. It is very much a matter of individual preference these days, with no prescribed rules. Some may kneel before the ring, others might pray with their khru muay (lit. boxing teacher) or perform a series of repetitive movements, such as touching the ring ropes 3 times and avoiding the bottom stair before taking the first step up to the ring.
Fighters always leap over the ropes into the ring, because the head is considered to be more important than the feet and therefore it has to stay always above the feet while entering the ring. Contestants will then go to the center and pay respect (panom muae wai) in all four directions to the spectators.
Nothing is as exciting for an aficionado than the roar of the crowd and the traditional music, played when fighters perform their 'Wai Khru', a respectful homage dance to their teachers. Bouts are of 5, three minute rounds with a two minute break between each round. Winners are determined by either by a KO or by points if the fight lasts all 5 rounds. Points are given for knock downs, take downs, blows (knee blows to the kidneys during a clinch are highly rated) and the execution of kicks. Kicks are more valued than punches. Typically a fighter who kicks more than their opponent will pile up more points.