Lethwei vs Muay Thai Compared (With Table)

Lethwei is also known as Burmese bare-knuckle boxing and was developed before Muay Thai. Besides their similar origins in South East Asia and the history of battlefield combat arts, there are many differences between Lethwei and Muay Thai.

We have summarized the differences and similarities between Lethwei and Muay Thai in the following table:-

Item Lethwei Muay Thai
Origin Period 2nd Century  16th Century
Origin of Country Myanmar Thailand
Headbutting Allowed Not Allowed
Gear Bare Knuckles Thick Boxing Gloves
Popularity Less Well-Known Widely Known
Judging A simple rule of Knock Out within 5 rounds to prevent injuries Focus on Points and Kicking
Weight Distribution Distribute on Back Leg to be light on the front leg Evenly Distributed
Other Names Arts of 9 Limbs (Legs, Hands, Knees, Elbows, Headbutts) Art of 8 Limbs (Legs, Hands, Knees, Elbows but no Headbutts)
Original Purpose Battlefield Combat Arts Battlefield Combat Arts

The Origin of Lethwei vs Origin of Muay Thai

Both muay Thai and Lethwei developed from battlefield combat arts. In Thailand or ancient Siam warriors trained in Krabi krabong which included weapons as well as hand-hand.

  • The earliest record of Lethwei traced its way back to the Pyu Empire where the warriors used early versions of the Lethwei. They used it in battles against other countries. 
  • Muay Thai is said to have originated in the early tribal migration from the South of China to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. It is said that one of the tribes known as the Siamese fought fiercely for their survival as they moved south and had fights with other tribes on their way.

Lethwei and Muay Thai are also known as the Art of 9 Limbs and Art of 8 Limbs respectively

  • Lethwei is known as the ‘Art of 9 Limbs' due to the use of the eight limbs (Legs, Hands, Knees, elbows) and headbutts.
  • Meanwhile, Muay Thai is known as the ‘Art of 8 Limbs' due to the use of the eight limbs (Legs, Hands, Knees, elbows) and headbutts that are disallowed.

Competition Format of Lethwei vs Competition Format of Muay Thai

Muay Thai is very similar to Lethwei in so many ways but there are notable differences

The equipment gear and fighting

  • For many Burmese, the addition of boxing gloves meant that Muay Thai has become the more easy route for foreign fighters to take. With the boxing glove, Muay Thai focuses on kicking and roundhouse.
  • Lethwei appears to take all the good elements of Muay Thai and combined them with bare-knuckle boxing and headbutts. It has been deemed by many as the most violent combat sport on the planet, yet only now is beginning to gain momentum on the world stage. 

Lethwei fights are known for their brutality, which for some makes it quite unpalatable. However with growing interest and a steady stream of fighters from outside Myanmar showing a keen interest and knack for the sport. It may not be too long before we do see Lethwei finally go more mainstream with more focus on safety.

Modernization of Lethwei for the modern-day competition included establishing rules, the modern-day ring, referee, and judges which have been used since 1953.

  • In 2016, Myanmar's first international promotion called World Lethwei Championship or WLC launched its events using the modern Lethwei rules In 2019, the WLC marked history by broadcasting the first Lethwei event internationally.
  • In 2017, Muaythai was included in the Olympics World Games. Muay Thai was shortened to MuayThai as it was deemed invalid by the global SportAccord to have a country (i.e. Thai) in its name.

Dave Leduc, aka. “The Nomad" spoke to Muay Thai Guy on LethWei

The transition to Lethwei was very natural. I was born and trained to fight in that style, from the physical to the mental aspect. After winning a spot on the Tiger Muaythai sponsored fighters team in early 2016, I went a full year dominating the Phuket Muay Thai circuit. Then I got a call to make my debut fight in the Lethwei World Championship against the undefeated 75 kg champion (36-0).

Lethwei Weight Distribution?

In addition to the stance and movement, these fighters tend to distribute most of their weight towards the back leg so they can be light on their front leg.

How do Lethwei fighters use headbutt attacks?

Lethwei fighters commonly set up their headbutt attacks with punching combinations as they shorten the distance between themselves and the opponent.

Sky Hoon. About
Martial Art Fan
He started his love on martial arts by watching MMA and Angela Lee. He then started this blog to learn more about the different martial arts.
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