5 things you need to know about the ‘Art of 9 limbs’, Lethwei

Most of you would have heard of Muay Thai (Thai boxing) or as it’s also known, the ‘Art of 8 limbs’. Lethwei is a level up on that. It’s the Art of 9 limbs. 

Lethwei, or Burmese bareknuckle boxing, is one of the most powerful and punishing martial arts in the world. Practiced by the Burmese people for around a thousand years now, Lethwei initially took form – like many other martial arts in the region – as a means to defend oneself in the battlefield.

Over time, it developed into an important sport for the country of Myanmar and is often practiced for entertainment and as the symbol of Burmese manhood and pride.

Here are some facts about this grand martial art form that you absolutely need to know.

#5 Headbutts are allowed

The reason behind calling Lethwei the Art of 9 limbs has to do with it incorporating the 8 limbs that Muay Thai uses for striking (feet, knees, elbows and fists) and the head as the ninth.

The head is one of the hardest bones in the body and using it as a weapon is practiced to devastating effect in Lethwei.

It’s also what makes Lethwei one of the most brutal martial arts in the world and its competitors uber-tough individuals.

#4 They don’t use gloves

(Photo Credits: Thut Ti Gym)

Lethwei fighters do not use gloves. They usually wrap their hands with thin gauze and tape it up.

Generally, conventional combat sports wisdom states that bareknuckle boxers do not throw as many strikes as they have mininal protection on their knuckles.

But that’s a theory that Lethwei proves wrong emphatically. In fact, the lack of gloves mean that cuts open up easier on fighters’ faces and they risk breaking their hands, but that doesn’t stop them from throwing a considerable volume of strikes.

#3 It was fought in Sandpits

If you listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast, the UFC commentator often times cites how he feels the cage plays a major role in the techniques used in the fight – from limiting space for footwork, to directly affecting wrestling and grappling outcomes.

One of the remedies he advocates is to have the fighters fight in open spaces without concrete boundaries, like traditional martial art contests did. Lethwei was once fought in such open sandpit arenas too.

However, over time, in a bid to make the sport more palatable to the world, organizers decided to introduce boxing rings as the place of contest instead of the sandpit.

#2 The incorporate a dance in their pre fight ritual

Similar to the Maori Haka, they Lethwei Yay is a ceremonial dance that signifies that the fighter is ready for battle.

Coupled with Lekka Moun, a taunt which involves the fighter slapping one arm across his triceps with the other, the Lethwei Yay is performed before by the fighters before a fight kicks off.

Fighters also use the Lekka Moun during fights to taunt their opponents, especially if they want them to press the action.

#1 It is scored a draw if there isn’t a knockout

(Photo Credits: Fightland Vice)

Lethwei bouts in the early days didn’t comprise of judging or rounds. Two fighters went hammer and tongs at it until one was knocked unconscious or withdrew due to injury.

Today however, there have been rules implemented to a certain degree as Lethwei fights take place over five 3-minute rounds with 2 minute breaks in between them. If neither fighter has been knocked unconscious within the time limit, the fight is declared a draw.

There is also another curious rule in Lethwei that allows a hurt fighter’s team to call for a 2 minute timeout if the fighter is unable to answer the 8 count. What is generally considered a stoppage in boxing or in MMA is basically a continuance in Lethwei, before the fight continues.

Just in case you needed it put into perspective how tough it is to compete in the sport.