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Let Wei, The Most Brutal Form Of Combat, Is Back!

Let Wei, also known as Burmese boxing or traditional Fenma boxing, is a violent martial art that has recently been “discovered” by muay Thai fanatics. Sharing a common past with muay boran and pradal serey, Burmese warriors practiced Let Wei from the 12th century but little was known about it until a few years ago. Myanmar’s fifty years of self-segregation has kept this ancient indigenous type of combat hidden from martial arts practitioners. It ranged from battlefields to games held in round sand pits during temple fairs or important events patronized by Burmese kings, similar to those organized in ancient Siam.

All fights used to be “until the end”, with no time limit, often ending with one winner and an unknown loser. Boxers have been specifically trained to endure pain and to attack even after being twisted and revived several times during the game. Bottom buttons, gouging and biting were also allowed. Thus, many fights resulted in the death of one competitor.

Let Wei, also known as Burmese boxing or traditional Fenma boxing, is a violent martial art that has recently been “discovered” by muay Thai fanatics. Sharing a common past with muay boran and sera prada, Burmese warriors practiced Let Wei from the 12th century but little was known about it until a few years ago. Myanmar’s fifty years of self-segregation has kept this ancient indigenous type of combat hidden from martial arts practitioners. It ranged from battlefields to games held in round sand pits during temple fairs or important events patronized by Burmese kings, similar to those organized in ancient Siam. The famous story of Nai Kanomthom comes from those times. Later (early 20th century), basic wooden rings were built on the grounds of the temple or royal palace.

All fights used to be “until the end”, with no time limit, often ending with one winner and an unknown loser. Boxers have been specifically trained to endure pain and to attack even after being twisted and revived several times during the game. Bottom buttons, gouging and biting were also allowed. Thus, many fights resulted in the death of one competitor.

Myanma Traditional Boxing, founded in 1996 with government support to promote Let Wei as a native sport, defined as the Thais did with muay thai, the rules, categories and techniques allowed in the ring. Today fights on right rings are 5 rounds of 3 minutes each. Boxers still fight without gloves, using only cotton or elastic wristbands. Rules are now very similar to muay thai but still allow the use of foundations, hurling and powerful reduction. Hitting an opponent while falling down is also allowed (this was usually allowed in muay thai too). Angles and knees are the weapons of choice for all fighters, used with full function with no protection. I personally saw a couple of teeth flying out of a person’s mouth in Yangon after your powerful back angle hit him. Impressively, the referee allowed him to continue the fight even though he was bleeding profusely, barely able to stand and the beat was clearly spaced.

From an audience standpoint, Let Wei is brutally fast-paced, relaxed and violent. Both fighters often attack at the same time, hitting each other with powerful combinations of pounds, angles and kicks; the focus does not seem to be on defending themselves against the powerful blows of the rivals but on attacking all the time.

Let ‘s Wei fights are not “clean”, in terms of techniques, but they appear to be much more exciting than most muay thai Lumpini fights, which look static, almost dull. In Let Wei combat you will see plenty of knees flying, pulling down and all sorts of tricks involving angles. And all those ugly muay boran movements are no longer allowed in Thailand. Unfortunately, the fights can only be seen in Yangon at weekends and during festival events. Moving around Myanmar is not easy (compared to Thailand) and such events are not as tourist-oriented as in Bangkok.

A beautiful opportunity to see something very similar to Burmese boxing falls every year in April, during the Songkran festivals shared by all Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia. In the Thai town of Mae Sot, on a ring close to the border, Burmese fighters meet their Siamese counterparts for boxing tournaments of ancient style (without gloves, old rules). The rivalry between the two old enemies comes alive every year and there is a huge boom in the promise going on around the ring. This event is recaptured in the Thai film “Ong Bak” (2004), a budget film made in Thailand that has created a great interest and demand for muay boran.

While the well – known champions of Let Wei are actively fighting in Myanmar, due to the brutality of certain techniques and the travel restrictions of the Myanmar government on its citizens, they are not allowed to compete in Thailand or anywhere else outside their country.

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