View Full Version : Some questions on the Burmese martial arts.

03-05-2001, 05:21 AM
Anyone know anything about it or him ?

Ordered his seminar tapes today and do not live that far from him. His site is www.afs.f2s.com (http://www.afs.f2s.com) the stufflooks interesting enough and I am looking to get back into training.

Black Jack
03-05-2001, 05:52 AM
Mr. Dunlap is the real deal and a total gentleman.

I am undergoing a long distance relationship with Phil and his Kachin Tribal arts of bando and he is a first class kind of guy and has some serious NHB and street experiance under his belt.

If you are in his area you should go see him as Bando and Mr. Dunlap tribal system of bando is as hardcore as it gets and if you can get the hands on AFS class you will be hooked up with a total fighting system that has a teacher with "real life" experiance.

Bando is a brutal and very direct combatitve fighting system from Burma that has its elements incased in a varity (16) of animal spirits that showcase's the many fighting structures, techniques and body types that different fighters may fit into and due to its war based nature it stresses alot of close quarter combat and heavy body conditioning.

I have been looking for a Bando teacher of Mr. Dunlaps caliber for a very long time and I am honored to now be starting on this path with the right people.

He has long distance students that study with him as far Australia.

Go take a look and be respectfull as they train very hard and walk the talk.

I could go into a little more detail about Bando but if he is in your area go check him out as he is a true expert on the Burmese fighting arts and has fought in Lathawe (close to Thai boxing but much more brutal with headbutts, takedowns and no gloves), Thaing (total combat) and Naban (Burmese wrestling art that includes strikes in its aresnal).


03-05-2001, 08:24 PM
I spoke to him today for like half an hour seemed like a really cool guy. I have a private lesson with him next week and am psyched about it. The way he talks about fighting is a little intimidating.

MonkeySlap Too
03-05-2001, 09:02 PM
I just checked out his site. How does Kachin Bando differ (or similar to) the styles propogated by Dr. Gyi?

I am a big beleiver in luck. The more I work, the more luck I have.

Black Jack
03-05-2001, 11:04 PM

It is to early for me to put that down in certain words yet but I will e-mail you some stuff that you may find interesting.


03-07-2001, 07:29 PM
I have read the whole site and the forum it is pretty interesting. There are other groups of Bando? I thought I had heard about it concerning Ghurkas and the military but am not sure and can't find much on the net. It sounds like sick stuff

Black Jack
03-07-2001, 08:41 PM
Snake-Style if you would like please e-mail me off this post and we can talk about this in private and maybe I can help to answer some of your basic questions.



03-07-2001, 10:29 PM
I always heard Bando was a pacifist art. Supposedly it is more about healing than fighting.

Am I right?


"As we live a life of ease,
Everyone of us has all we need.
Sky of blue, and sea of green,
In our yellow submarine."
-the beatles

Black Jack
03-08-2001, 05:06 AM
Way off bro.

Its a brutal killing art that is all about taking out the attacker in as direct as manner as possible.

Pure combat art through and through and it has seen some gruesome war use in WWII by the Gurka's and the Jingapaw tribesmen.

What you may be thinking of is the Bando internal system which is simply translated as the "Monk" system which is alot like a yoga in apperance but it is also full of martial information such as a deep knowledge of stick grappling methods I believe.


03-08-2001, 03:44 PM
Dunno about anything else, but his Grapplers always do VERY well at tournaments. One of his guys had a long hard match with Jeff Monson, who is a grappling BEAST. He must be teaching something right.

03-08-2001, 09:32 PM
Black Jack you have mail

Neal this guys system is not for a pacifist unless they are a cannibal. It sounds really rough
if you read the stuff on stickgrappler's site it is over the edge.

Prankster I used to wrestle in high school and college not very good though and asked him about competition and he said he does not push competing but prepares guys and coaches them.

03-12-2001, 04:08 PM
I took the private yesterday and can't move today my body hurts in places I didn't know existed!!!

Phil really blew away my ideas of what fighting is all about.


03-20-2001, 06:59 PM
Black Jack

Never got an e-mail from you on the Bando info I am really curious about the different stuff and Phil doesn't say much about the other guy in the US.

Had my second lesson and got my ass beat up on bad.


03-20-2001, 07:45 PM
Very tactfull Black Jack. I think this says alot about about Dr.Gyi
www.pownetwork.org/phonies/phonies33.htm (http://www.pownetwork.org/phonies/phonies33.htm)

09-19-2003, 11:15 AM
Are the Burmese arts of Bando, Lethwei, Nabam, and Banshay different aspects of the same style, or are they each a separate art in and of themselves? Also, how dangerous is the sparring in these styles? What kind of injuries are common? Thanks in advance.

09-25-2003, 12:18 PM

chen zhen
09-25-2003, 12:25 PM
Sorry that no-one has answered, but I dont think that many people have experience with it.
try to do a search on the main board, I know a thread was made about it some time ago.


09-26-2003, 10:55 AM
I've not studied bando myself, but I've known people who have. As I understand it (big disclaimer), various skills were taught under the blanket name "bando." Some people in the club I visited did lots of weapons forms. Others specialized in the kickboxing elements. So I believe that lethwei and the other specialized areas are taught as components of the overall bando.

But don't quote me on that.

Stuart B.

Former castleva
09-26-2003, 11:35 AM
I confess that I´m probably just shifting the weight,but this forum seems like a reasonable place to go ask;

11-20-2003, 04:27 PM
So whats the deal with it? anyone hear train it? I watched some of the thaing.net fights, nasty stuff.

11-23-2003, 07:24 PM
Really, no one has anything...jeeze, i guess its not that popular then eh.

Maybe someone can answer this, did/does muy thai used to/still have bear knuckle fights, as bando seems to, as a regular occurence?

12-07-2003, 11:40 AM
muay thai is a ring sport. I'm sure any bare knuckle fights in some shady bar would be considered low level.

12-07-2003, 12:32 PM
It's not a "popular" style, in some sense, because there's an edict against commercial bando schools. You don't see them. People who teach bando do so as a hobby. Not a job. Making schools more a rarity.

There is one near here, mind you. Mr. John Collins, if memory serves.

Stuart B.

12-07-2003, 01:26 PM
thaing.net is as good as you'll get

12-12-2003, 06:15 AM
ahh thanks

apoweyn, can you explain a little more on the edict against commercial bando schools?

muchas gracias

12-23-2003, 05:15 AM
I know that there used to be or may still be a bando full contact tournament. Some of my older classmates went around 90 or 91 and won the tournament cup. I thought bando was burmese, more or less the same as thai boxing but with weapons training and some military training also, but I'm probably wrong.

01-08-2004, 11:44 PM
yeah, it's burmese and some aspects of it bare similarity to muay thai. I've got an old issue of IK from around 1994 that has a write up about it.

golden arhat
07-11-2007, 12:28 AM

07-11-2007, 04:38 AM
Watch the other video of the Burmese boxer vs. Japanese boxer.

Beautiful ending! :eek:

07-11-2007, 07:59 AM
the question people have had for years is which came first, bando or thai boxing. Since the records were lost, nobody knows for certain.

Mas Judt
07-11-2007, 08:32 AM
The history is very intertwined with different empires spreading over the areas now defined as 'Burma' and 'Thailand.' Kinda hard to determine the whole 'first' thing.

A buddy of mine went to a Muay boran camp in Thailand, then crossed over to Burma and fought in Burma. As he put it 'Those cats are good.'

07-11-2007, 08:41 AM
yeah, cambodia, vietnam, thailand, laos... all very intertwined.

Black Jack II
07-11-2007, 08:46 AM
Don't forget to add Golden Village Boxing to that list of what came when and what came where.


07-11-2007, 08:47 AM

Darn kids...

07-11-2007, 10:33 AM
that sh*t is hardcore.


waiting for knifefighter to com in and say it isnt crap cause they dont fight on the ground.

07-11-2007, 10:35 AM
that sh*t is hardcore.


waiting for knifefighter to com in and say it isnt crap cause they dont fight on the ground.

I think that Bando has some GnP...

07-11-2007, 01:32 PM
that sh*t is hardcore.


waiting for knifefighter to com in and say it isnt crap cause they dont fight on the ground.

that isn't at all his style, he appreciates anything that is REAL...

07-11-2007, 01:34 PM
that sh*t is hardcore.


waiting for knifefighter to com in and say it isnt crap cause they dont fight on the ground.

he wouldn't say that because they fight with decent level of contact.

Shaolin Wookie
07-11-2007, 01:43 PM
Anyone have info on the structure of the art? There's a guy that teaches it at Georgia State Univ. where I'm going to grad school....taught it since '73. I'm gonna try and take it, once they announce the schedule. I heard it's mostly muay thai/kickboxing oriented, and they train it like that. But I also read that once they teach beginners all the basics, punching, kicking, and drills, there's some forms associated with it.....

Anyone know anything about that? I'll ask when I get contact info for the guy, once the schedule's posted. Just wanna see if any of you know.

07-11-2007, 01:49 PM
I put up a thread elsewhere to see if we can get Phil Dunlap's attention, when it comest to Burmese martial arts, he's the guy to talk to

07-11-2007, 01:50 PM
I have never trained bando, but from what I have heard of it, it is trained in similar fashion to muay thai and is divided the same as muay thai (muay thai has the sport, a traditional art and a weapons art) burmese arts have the same. perhaps the man in question knows both the sport and traditional systems, or maybe he is a traditional guy.

07-11-2007, 01:55 PM
isn't bando associated witht his guy? http://www.pownetwork.org/phonies/phonies33.htm

07-11-2007, 02:07 PM
like any tradition, it has frauds and it has others, Phil is 100% legit, let's hope he posts bere

07-11-2007, 07:34 PM
yeah great contact yada yada. but there is no rolling around on the ground in the competition video of burma vs japan. so its not real enough for him. :rolleyes:

07-11-2007, 08:33 PM
I hope I can clarify some of the info here.

Bando is actually a term that popped up during the Japanese occupation and is most readily associated with the ABA in the United States headed by Muang Gyi the individual in the POW link and the NBA started around the Japanese occupation in Burma. The Georgia State program is from the ABA line. I really don't want to get involved in the Gyi controversy as I am not involved in the ABA.

I represesnt the Kachin style of Thaing also known as HKYEN

Lethwei also called Burmese Boxing or Myanmar Traditional boxing is the Kickboxing and the rules are as follows.

This is an a government release on the modern rules of Burmese Boxing

This is the official Government approved History of Burmese Boxing Myanma Traditional Boxing as Practiced in the Government Sactioned Golden Belt Tounements.

Myanma traditional boxing (Myanma Letwhave) had developed since many years ago. It is the national art of self-defence which stimulates hereditary courage and the national spirit. As all the Myanmar nationals can hold, boxing matches in every region in Myanmar, the traditional boxing becomes the national art of Self-defence. It is the heritage not only owned by one national but by all the nationals of Myanmar.

Myanma traditional boxing is the high standard of fighting art without weapons. The traditional boxing match is man to man fighting. Thus, it is regarded as mannliness. In an ancient saying, if a man has no tatto marks, he is regarded as womanish. So also, if a man does not know the traditional boxing, he is regarded as a sissy. At the time of ancient Myanmar kings, traditonal boxing matches were held in grand scale. (Pagan, Nagayone Myanma encyclopaedia, No-12, Page from 175 tp 179). The pictures of a man standing on his head, wrestlers and dancers can be found on the wall of a cave mear Bagan. The picture of the two wrestlers are vivid. Both are stout and they look real sportsmen. It is assumed that Boxing might develop in the Bagan era.

During the era of Inwa, the two boxers, Augnsegon Thangarazar and Shangyi fought in the boxing match. The former killed the latter with his right hand. Long long ago, the militant soldiers who know the military strategy were trained the art of boxing, Some historians said that at the time of Thibaw, the last King of Konebaung dynasty, good boxers are put in the royal list as " Letwhave Taw Thut".

The boxers of prewar period could break bamboo poles with their fists. And they were able to hit certain mark on the face. They could fight tirelessly from sunrise to sunset to get high reward to get the champion's flag (Alan Lu Pwe).

After the indenpendence in postwar period, Myanma traditional boxing revived as the national heritage. The Boxers, mostly farmers, kept the Myanma traditional boxing alive.
Twenty of Myanmar top boxers were sent to Thailand in 1955 and to China in 1960 to partictpage in the boxing matches hold there. Said U Bo Sein who had been to China. Boxing matches are being held at the time of the Shwedagon Pagoda festivals, indenpendence days and Farmers's days. So that Myanmar nationals can deeply enjoy them.

In the past, the boxing matches were held on the ground of about 24 feet wide. The groud was covered with sand or husks of paddy. Nowadays, the boxers fight in the ring which is 20 feet wide. They wear only short pants and the top is tied by longyiof triangle shape. Their hands are bandaged. There are two references ( Ko Wyne Daing) in the ring and three judges on the bench (Khone Daing). Myanmar traditional music is being played while they are fighting.

Various spirits are worshipped before the match is started for the successful ending.
Myanma traditional boxing is an art of fighting and self-defence. When a boxer fights his opponent he can tactfully use his feet, hands, knees, elbows and head. (Nine Big Weapons). Therefore, the famous old boxers said that there were nine entering hits and nine defending. They said that fists were to blow, elbows to make a side thrust, head to hit, feet, knees and forearms to strike.

Nowadays, three kinds of Myanma traditional boxing matches are generally held according to the size and types of the festivals. They are--
1. GYAR PWE (Interim boxing match)
2. ALAN LU PWE (Boxing match to get champion's belt)
3. SEIN KHAW PWE (Boxing match of challenge)
Thus, by preserving and practising Myanma traditional boxing, patriotism and union spirit are strengthened and uplifted. Besides, there are many advantages to be developed which are good character, health and fitness, selt-confidence, safety at work, defence of the country and Myanmar young people's love for their country.

07-11-2007, 08:34 PM
The rules of boxing matches

The rules and regulations of Myanma traditional boxing matches varied in accord with different regions long ago. But at present the rules and regulations observed and practised by the boxers are the same through out Myanmar.
Now, Myanma traditional boxing matches are held as " Gyar Pwe" (interim Boxing match), "Alan Lu Pwe" (Boxing match to get champios's belt and " Sein Khaw Pwe" (Boxing match of challenge) according to the size of the festivals. The competitors must strictly follow the rules and regulations mentioned below:-
1. The competitors must have medical checked up and those medically unfit will not be admitted.

2. They have to dress neatly and their hair and nails have to be cut.
They have to get on the stage from the prescribed corner in prescribed manner.

3. There must not be any hard things under the banages and in the socks. If these are found, the boxer will be expelled and action will be taken against him.

4. Oil must not be used on the Body more than necessary and chilli style ointment must
not be used.

5. At the begining of the match, every competitor has to demonstrate his style of fighting.

6. He can worship according to his faith but it must not be against the national culture.

7. Team leaders or trainers and judges must arrange the competitors to be matched so that they cannot be wounded.

8. The two competitors must not right each other until the ring referees them to do so.

9. They must stop fighting if the referees shout "halt" or show with hand or foot.

10. If a boxer falls down while fighting, he must be lying flat on the floor.

11. The boxers must not scrach, bite, pull the hair and kick the balls of each other.

12. If they are holding each other for a long time, the referees must stop the match.

13. If one of the two boxers steps back and gives up, the match must be stopped.

14. If one boxer falls and ligs flat on the floor, he must not be attacked. If he is attacked, the attacker will lose the match.

15. If the two boxers are pretending to fight, the referees must stop the match and take action against them.

16. If the referees and judges ask one of the boxers to give up the fight, he must willingly accept it.

17. Boxers must compete according to three conditions that is one will lose because of fear, (Give up the match, because of injury, because of inability to fight any more.)

18. Refrees and judges must laid down the number of rounds.

19. Boxers must not sleep, look back and run round in the ring. If the does not pay
attention to the frequent warnings of the refrees and judges, he will be declared as a loser.

20. In the interim matches (Gyar Pwe), the boxers must compete three rounds with three minutes in one round, If there is no winner and loser, the match will end in a draw. If one boxer falls down, referees will take care of him for two minutes. After that he becomes the loser.

21. In the matches to get the champion's belt (Alan Lu Pwe), the boxers must compete on three conditions, Kyauk Shone (lose because of fear), Kwe Shone (Lose because of injury) and Thet Lone Shone (because of inability to fight any more). If there is no winner or loser, the match must be continued another thirty minutes. If one of the boxers has injury cut and bleeds, it must be approved by the doctor he cannot continue to fight.

22. If one boxer falls down in the Alan Lu Pwe, the referee will take care of him. But if he falls down and can't to get up after three calls for challenge, he will be declared.

23. In 5 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers must compete five rounds by three minutes fight and three minutes rest. They are allowed to extend the rest time to six minutes only once during first 3 rounds. If one boxer is wounded during first 3 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and the decision of the referees and the competition jury.

24. In 7 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers must compete seven rounds by three minutes fight and three minutes rest. They allow to extend the rest for six minutes once in first 6 rounds. If one boxer is wounded during first 6 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and the decision of the referees and competition jury.

25. In 10 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers must compete ten rounds with three minutes fight and three minutes rest, They are allowed to entend the rest time for six minutes twice in first 7 rounds, If one boxer is wounded during first 7 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and decision of referees and competition jury.

26. In 12 rounds match Sein Khaw Pwe, the boxers with 3 minutes fight and 3 minutes rest must compete twelve rounds. They are allowed to extend the rest time to six minutes 3 times in first 8 rounds. If one boxer is wounded during first 8 rounds, he can win the match with the approval of the doctor and the decision of the referees and the competition jury.

In the traditional Myanmar Boxing, the boxers can use tactfully and skillfully their feet, hands, knees, elbows and head in fight.

Nevertheless, the boxers must observe the rules and regulation laid down by the Myanma Traditonal Boxing Federation and boxing matches are being held in accord with our tradition.

07-11-2007, 08:48 PM
If anyone has any questions just fire away. I will add more later in the meantime here are a few Burma vs Thailand Lethwai matches.

s93079986.onlinehome.us/Burma vs Thailand Ma Kine Yin Kyo Burma (red) vs. Thai(dark shorts).wmv

s93079986.onlinehome.us/Burma vs Thailand Sau The Myo Burma(red) vs. Thai(black).wmv

s93079986.onlinehome.us/Burma vs Thailand Shwe Wa Tun Burma (red) vs. Thai(blue).wmv

s93079986.onlinehome.us/Burma vs Thailand Thu Rya Year Aung Darker skin Burma vs light Thai.wmv

s93079986.onlinehome.us/Burma vs Thailand Wan Chai-Burma (gold) vs. Thai(blue).wmv

07-11-2007, 09:42 PM

welcome to the board. thanks for the info. i dont have any questions off hand. but i hope other do.

07-12-2007, 12:30 AM
Very good fights. Both styles look very similar. The kicks and clinch technique look almost the same, although the Burmese fighters seemed to focus more on punches to the head than the Muay Thai fighters did, and the Burmese fighters looked like they stood turned at an angle (like Western boxing), while Muay Thai stance is more square. I'm guessing the Burmese fighting style emphasizes punches to the head because they are so much more devastating without gloves.

It is a little bit interesting that in all five selected videos the Burmese fighter beat the Thai fighter. Is this promotional material for Myanmar? :p The Burmese fighters seemed tougher (took strikes better) and in better condition than their Thai opponents, except in one case (the "gold shorts" fight). The Burmese fighter won that match by TKO from what looked like might have been damage caused by a high push kick ("teep") to the head early on in the fight that got worse after landing some elbow strikes to the Thai fighter's head. If the doctor hadn't called that one, it looked like the Thai fighter stood a good chance (it looked like the fight was turning in his favor).

Thanks for posting those. Good stuff.

Ben Gash
07-12-2007, 04:12 AM
Nice training, I liked it.

07-12-2007, 07:28 AM
The Thais have a yearly event in Northern Thais were the put burmes refugees in against Thai boxers and beat them up to celebrate driving the Burmese out of the country.

The Myanmar Government issued an invitation to the thai government on several occasion to select a team and send them to fight actual Lethwei fighters.

I am in the process right now of getting all the recent international finvitation fights up held in Myanmar since 2001. The Japanese have actually fared better than most

07-12-2007, 07:58 AM

Thanks for sharing the info. Much appreciated.

07-12-2007, 10:22 AM
ditto. great info!

07-12-2007, 01:45 PM
The Thais have a yearly event in Northern Thais were the put burmes refugees in against Thai boxers and beat them up to celebrate driving the Burmese out of the country.

Man, that is messed up. I would love to see the justice that would be served if one day one of those Burmese refugees turned out to be a Lethwei fighter. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against either the Burmese or the Thai people. But this kind of fixed match is indicative of when some cruel dude gets put in charge of a "cultural event".

The Myanmar Government issued an invitation to the thai government on several occasion to select a team and send them to fight actual Lethwei fighters.

Deafening silence from the Thai government, I'm sure.

I am in the process right now of getting all the recent international finvitation fights up held in Myanmar since 2001. The Japanese have actually fared better than most

I would like to see those when you have compiled them.

Again, thanks for posting this stuff.

07-12-2007, 02:30 PM
yeah, cambodia, vietnam, thailand, laos... all very intertwined.

I remember seeing an article somewhere (sorry i cant remember its been a couple years) where, I believe, Cambodia had found some ancient cave depictions of ancient martial arts that predated anything thailand had ever produced.

some claim that the modern sport of thai boxing has its original roots in cambodia.

but, meh, im not really to interested but I DO remember reading that. somewhere....:o

07-12-2007, 04:23 PM
I remember seeing an article somewhere (sorry i cant remember its been a couple years) where, I believe, Cambodia had found some ancient cave depictions of ancient martial arts that predated anything thailand had ever produced.

some claim that the modern sport of thai boxing has its original roots in cambodia.

but, meh, im not really to interested but I DO remember reading that. somewhere....:o

It's not a very relevant argument nowadays because the modern borders between Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam were drawn so recently. These countries (especially Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia) have so much overlap in culture that it isn't really meaningful to say that one art originated in just one of those countries.

The same arguments are made over the traditional dance, music, artwork, dress, languages, cuisines, etc. of the countries in the region. At one time the people of Southeast Asia were ruled by a collection of independent, often warring kingdoms that fought and conquered one another back and forth for hundreds of years. The resulting intermixture of ethnicities and culture blurs many distinctions. Most claims of "this art originated in this country and should be recognized for that" are academic.

* EDIT *

Is it any wonder why they came up with such effective fighting systems?

07-16-2007, 10:51 AM
Burmese claims · Pyu City-states (100 BC-840 AD). Mon Kingdoms (9th-11th, 13th-16th, 18th c.) Pagan Kingdom (849-1287) All have recordes documenting Kickboxing and Martial arts

Cambodian or Khmer claim carvings at Angkor Wat built in the early 12 century ad. is the first record

Thai claim based on oaral history to Ayutthaya Kingdom (1350-1767) and even the Sokothai Kingdom (1200)," claiming the Burmese destroyed the records in the sacking of Ayutthaya

My feeling is that the Mon spread the art to both the Thai and Khmer in the early 1200's. The civilizations of Burma are actually much older than the other 2 .

Whatever the truth is credit the Thais for making the sprots popular intrnationall as the Cambodians were busy killing themselves and the Burmese were trying to head for the stone ages

08-08-2009, 09:07 AM

08-01-2014, 11:12 AM
The Vanishing Flame: Born Warriors (Mynamar/Burma) Promo Trailer and Outtakes 1-5

Vincent Giordano has released the promo trailer as well as 5 outtakes to his upcoming "Born Warriors" DVD which covers Burmese Lethwei (bareknuckle boxing).



Kellen Bassette
08-01-2014, 01:00 PM

08-04-2014, 05:23 PM
Most excellent. Thanks for sharing. Gets the fire up and inspiration to train harder.

08-07-2014, 08:09 AM
Most excellent. Thanks for sharing. Gets the fire up and inspiration to train harder.

You are welcome. Mos def on the inspiration!

09-18-2014, 09:33 AM
...but our thread here has been going since 2007. :cool:

More pix if you follow the link.

Punches, headbutts, knockouts: Asia's 'new' martial arts sensation (http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/17/travel/myanmar-lethwei-boxing/)
By Justin Calderon, for CNN
updated 10:00 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014

At Thut Ti Gym, the setting is typical of the improvised simplicity familiar across Myanmar.

Ignored for decades, Myanmar's traditional boxing form of Lethwei is experiencing a revival
Former champ now teaches foreign investment bankers and local celebs
Lethwei fighters use punches, throws, choking and head butts
In its traditional form, Lethwei is fought with bare knuckles bound by cloth

(CNN) -- It's been more than 20 years since he fought in a sandpit, but Lone Chaw still recalls the dusty village lots of his youth, unmarked except for footprints stained by sweat and blood.

Stamping about in a ritual known as "lat kha maung," he slaps his open palms against his elbows, imitating the wings of a fighting ****, as if attempting to summon its spirit.

Lat kha maung is performed before the matches as a kind of ritual that originated in farming villages.

This is the way of Lethwei -- Myanmar's traditional form of boxing.

Hidden from the rest of the world for decades, the sport, like Myanmar itself, is experiencing a revival and rediscovery both at home and abroad.

In August, the Woodlands Sports Hall in Singapore hosted an international bare-knuckled Lethwei challenger fight.

Similar events in Bangkok have helped usher in a new era for Lethwei.

Fighters turned trainers

Once derided as a sport fit for only rugged brutes -- Lone Chaw required eight stitches in his face after a fight at age 17 -- Lethwei is finding new respect at the Thut Ti Lethwei Burmese Boxing Gym in Yangon.

Here, Lone Chaw teaches introductory lessons to a stratum of society distinctly different from the fierce yet humble fighters he grew up facing in the Ayeyarwady Delta region.

His students are local doctors, foreign investment bankers and even Myanmar celebrities, including advertisement pinup Wutt Hmone Shwe Yi.

"Two years ago, foreigners began coming here," says Win Zin Oo, founder and director of the gym. "Today the Lethwei classes are, on average, half foreign and half local."

Weekend classes can attract up to 10 students, he says.

The boxing club is especially proud of having trained a headline-making Lethwei fighter from the UK, "Mr. Hammer" Sean Bardoe.

During a fight in 2013, Bardoe, 44, displayed a "mental and physical toughness," according to Mr. Win, that won over the crowd and landed him a draw in the ring.

Speed and agility come later. Lessons first create strong wrists and proper stances.

But those interested in taking up the sport don't have to have professional aspirations.

"The workout for extreme pro fighters may not be appropriate for starters so we use a more simplified form for our students," says Mr. Win, who by day is the Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Director for World Vision, an American NGO.

Mr. Win (as he prefers to be called) is Mickey to Lone Chaw's Rocky.

He coached the Golden Belt freeweight champion until the fighter's retirement.

One of Mr. Win's fondest memories of coaching was Lone Chaw's first fight in Japan, 10 years ago.

Competing under Lethwei rules, a local jujitsu star went up against the then-29-year-old Lone Chaw.

Lone Chaw took him down in less than a minute, leaving the Nagasaki crowd astonished.

"They watched a country boy KO his opponent in the first round, unexpectedly," Mr. Win recalls with pride.

Fewer kicks, higher intensity

At Thut Ti Gym, Lone Chaw and Mr. Win now work as tag-team instructors, offering training sessions for 5,000 kyat ($5) per person.

The setting is typical of the improvised simplicity familiar across Myanmar.

An iron-wrought roof and plastic tarps are all that shield the gym from the elements.

Novices practice agility by bouncing on tires.

The modest ring vibrates with energy every Saturday, when practitioners spar.

Though it bears some resemblance to the Muay Thai practiced in neighboring Thailand, Lethwei is different in a number of ways.

"In Muay Thai, kicks and knee strikes prevail, but Lethwei fighters use more punches and fewer kicks," explains Mr. Win.

"Traditionally, Lethwei fighters don't fight with gloves, and we use a lot of other components such as throwing, choking and head butts. At a more elemental level, the momentum and fighting intensity are much faster."

Bare-knuckled fighting

Watching matches, that momentum becomes evident.

Advanced lessons: Grappling, choking, head butts.

Strikes are uncompromisingly fierce. Knockouts come quickly.

"There are no five or six rounds in Lethwei," says James Ko, a 30-year-old private equity professional from Hong Kong, now living in Yangon. "Fundamentally, it's a bare-knuckled sport.

"If you get close and elbow [your opponent] once, then you got him. It's really about that one blow."

In its traditional form, Lethwei is "fought with bare knuckles bound by cloth," says Mr. Win.

Boxing gloves are a recent development.

As part of its current revival and reform period, contemporary mixed martial arts matches incorporating Lethwei fighters tend to enforce the use of gloves.

"Myanmar Lethwei fighters never put on gloves until now," says Mr. Win.

Still, the old sandpit spirit perseveres.

Having previously trained under Muay Thai rules, James Ko has over the past year become one of the most dedicated foreign attendees at Thut Ti Gym.

Above all, he says he's learned that in Lethwei, self-defense is crucial.

"Before taking up Lethwei, I didn't realize I was so unprotected," says Ko. "If you wear a 14-ounce [boxing] glove, your chin is protected, but when you are in a Lethwei fight it's much easier [for your opponent] to make contact, so you must be more on guard."

It's a lesson an increasingly diverse array of students is learning in Yangon and across Asia.

Thut Ti Lethwei Burmese Boxing Gym, Kabaraye Pagoda Road, Yangon; +95 9 731 87441; about $5 per session (5,000 kyat)

In Asia since 2006, Justin Calderon's work has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek (Japan), CNN Travel, Global Post, Borneo Post and The Nation (Bangkok).

02-06-2020, 07:59 AM
La Raw and Myu Htoi spar at the home of trainer Yaw Sau

THIS MARTIAL ART KICKS FOR SURVIVAL (https://www.ozy.com/the-new-and-the-next/the-martial-art-kicking-for-survival-in-northern-myanmar/250805/)
By Emily Fishbein

Few martial arts have had to endure what kaphrek has had to — simply to stay alive.

At 5 am in the northern Myanmar town of Myitkyina, the road is still, a cool mist rising. The faint outline of a motorcycle appears, followed by another. Silently accelerating, they reach the outskirts of the capital of Kachin state and ascend a steep hill. The young men park their bikes, cast off their flip-flops and stretch, mountain views emerging as the sun rises.

Fewer than 20 of them all told, these are the remaining practitioners of kahprek, a martial art form unique to the country’s Kachin ethnic minority. The sport is named after an exploding mountain fruit; according to lead trainer Sharaw Seng Du La, “When someone touches our body, we must explode.”

Trainees on top of Jaw Bum tower near Myitkyina.

In contrast to the bloody lethwei — Burmese boxing — with its cheering crowds and cacophonous traditional music, during the nine-minute, three-round kahprek matches, the air is tense. The only sounds are the crisp rustle of black cotton pants, occasional slap of hand to arm and sharp draw of breath when a swift strike is delivered. Kicks and punches are relegated to the torso, a strike earning two points, a knockout ending a match.

Established in 1976, kahprek attracted tens of thousands of followers across the state. Seng Du La, 42, estimates he alone has trained some 5,000 youth. But the long-running civil war between the Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Army — which seeks political autonomy for ethnic Kachin from the central government — meant the military viewed the martial art with suspicion. Close monitoring by intelligence and then a total ban from 2011 to 2017 led to a dramatic decline in numbers.


Today’s practitioners are fiercely fighting the odds to keep kahprek alive. They’re counting on legends, present Kachin icons and camaraderie to inspire a new generation. Trainers like Seng Du La — who also works in a jade mine — are juggling families and professional responsibilities while teaching young practitioners. And they’re maintaining a distance from the KIA. Assisting or promoting nonstate armed groups like the KIA can mean a prison sentence of up to three years.

“Kahprek is only fitness training,” says Lazing La Htoi, the 65-year-old founder of the martial art. He claims no responsibility for trainees who joined the KIA in the past. “Where [trainees] go doesn’t relate to me.”

That’s not how Myanmar’s military regime viewed the sport. Undercover intelligence joined kahprek training, says Lazing La Htoi, though he didn’t know it at the time, “When we met again, they greeted me: ‘Sir, don’t you remember us? We are from the military,’” he recalls. In 2003, he and two other trainers were detained, questioned and released without charge. “They thought kahprek was a kind of underground movement,” he says. The incident led him to hand over his role as lead trainer; he has kept a low profile since.

Despite these setbacks, kahprek training continued until 2011, when a 17-year cease-fire collapsed between the KIA and Myanmar military. Kahprek was banned — just as authoritarian regimes, from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the British in India, did with local martial arts they feared could emerge as symbols of resistance. “The government might have thought we were trying to revolt,” says Seng Du La.

Training at Kachin National Manau Park.

During the ban, kahprek all but vanished, a few practicing alone or at each other’s homes. The ban was lifted in 2017 by the current government effectively led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Though kahprek has struggled to regain its numbers, those who remain make up for their scarcity with dedication and grit.

They have role models too. Like many Kachin youth, Ndup Bumtsaw Naw, 16, dreams of following in the footsteps of international MMA fighter and Kachin sensation Aung La Nsang. “From kahprek, I feel more comfortable to initiate friendship,” says the shy but cheerful Bumtsaw Naw. “The trainers encourage us to be humble, sociable and to respect others.”

Bum Tsawnaw lives in a camp for those displaced by conflict. To reach training, he cycles 10 miles, returning along unlit roads. He says he is motivated by legends of kahprek masters who, it is said, could lift logs with the strength of five men and slice bamboo with an open palm.


While these characters may be larger-than-life, a real-life legend is kahprek’s first female practitioner, La Awn Seng Raw. When she joined in 1985, alongside 97 males, her parents banished her to sleeping outside their home. For conditioning, Seng Raw ran barefoot around her neighborhood before dawn and did push-ups on gravel, enduring biting red ants and furtive glances from fellow trainees, which she preempted by calling out, “‘Hey, you! Never say any loving words to me!’” She drove the message home when knocking out a male opponent with one kick.

Kahprek has five belt levels, upgrades attained through a grueling three-day exam. Seng Raw earned her green (third level) belt doing 200 push-ups and countless sit-ups that left her back covered in blisters. “My mentality was like that. I have an athlete’s mind; I never give up,” she says. For the highest level, red, the exam includes 500 clapping push-ups, 500 jumping squats and 3,000 sit-ups, as well as a nine-minute, three-round match, scored by a number of strikes to the torso. To date, seven people have earned a red belt, and Seng Du La is the only one since 2000.

Kahprek trainees show respect before starting practice at Kachin National Manau Park in Myitkyina.

Even with the ban lifted, joining the martial art is challenging for some. Shinggawn Myu Htoi, 23, began training in 2017 against the wishes of his parents, who feared kahprek would make him aggressive. Myu Htoi concluded that “kahprek makes me more ambitious; I have more of a dream.”

Seng Du La worries that, with a generation of trainees lost to the ban, kahprek will die out. Nonetheless, today’s trainees present a glimmer of hope for the sport’s continuation — a responsibility that is not lost on them. “Kahprek is part of [Kachin] cultural heritage,” says Bum Tsawnaw. “I want to prevent it from disappearing; I want to train the next generation.”

Emily Fishbein, OZY Author Contact Emily Fishbein
Fascinating story. I was completely unfamiliar with this style before.