Lethwei is The Art of 9 Limbs

Lethwei is a combat sport that's as savagely beautiful as it is brutal. This ancient Burmese martial art has been practiced since the 12th century and is still popular today.

It hasn't become as popular as MMA, kickboxing, or Muay Thai and probably never will. You'll understand why, if you keep reading.

The basic rules of Lethwei are somewhat similar to other stand up combat sports such as Muay Thai and Kickboxing, except much less restrictive. Matches are fought without gloves, which emphasizes raw power and resilience.

Lethwei's roots are deeply embedded in Burmese culture, and it continues to gain international recognition for its unique ruleset and the tenacity of its fighters, who showcase an unforgiving, ancient martial tradition.

Burma's Traditional Bare Knuckle Fighting Art

The traditional bare knuckle fighting art of Myanmar (or Burma). It originated from ancient Burmese combat sports, but was heavily suppressed by British colonial authorities in 1930.

The Art of 9 Limbs has a storied history dating back over a millennium. Rooted in the nation's cultural fiber, Lethwei's origins intertwine with traditional festivals and ceremonies.

As a form of bare knuckle boxing, it evolved from a method of self-defense and military training. Historically, Lethwei matches were held to entertain royalty and demonstrate warriors' prowess.

Throughout Myanmar's complex history, Lethwei endured as a symbol of national identity and resilience. In the contemporary era, the sport expanded its reach beyond Myanmar's borders, gaining international acclaim for its unique brutality and unforgiving ruleset.

Lethwei's journey mirrors Myanmar's historical narrative, showcasing an enduring cultural legacy and the indomitable spirit of a martial tradition that continues to captivate audiences globally. After gaining their independence, there was a strong resurgence.

Today, the sport has been semi-popularized by world class fighters like Aung La N Sang and Dave Leduc.

5 Lethwei Fighters You've Never Heard Of

  1. Dave Leduc
  2. Tun Tun Min
  3. Saw Nga Man (retired)
  4. Soe Lin Oo
  5. Too Too

Dave Leduc

Dave Leduc is a prominent Canadian Lethwei fighter renowned for his dominance in the sport. Known as "The Nomad", he gained international recognition for winning the Openweight World Lethwei Championship. Leduc's skills and achievements contribute to his status as a leading figure in the world of Lethwei.

Tun Tun Min

Tun Tun Min is a notable Burmese Lethwei fighter celebrated for his skills in the sport. With a reputation for his aggressive fighting style, he has garnered recognition both domestically and internationally.

Tun Tun Min stands out as a prominent figure in the world of Lethwei, contributing to the sport's growing popularity.

Saw Nga Man

Saw Nga Man is a distinguished (now retired) Burmese Lethwei fighter, recognized for his prowess in the ring. Proving his tenacity and skill, Saw Nga Man made a strong impression in the hearts of fans, and helped contribute to the sport's reputation for intense and compelling competition.

Soe Lin Oo

Hailing from Myanmar, Soe Lin Oo is an impressive fighter who has garnered positive attention for his performances in the ring. Taking a skilled and strategic approach, Soe Lin Oo has made a name for himself in the world of Lethwei, demonstrating his dominance and contributing to the sport's appeal.

Too Too

Too Too is a highly respected Burmese fighter known for his achievements in the sport. His skills and dedication have contributed to his popularity within the Lethwei community.

Too Too's performances in the ring have solidified his status as a noteworthy figure in the world of brutal combat sports.

Watch some of his fights below to get a better idea of his style (and the sport):

What Are the Basic Rules of Lethwei?

The basic rules of Lethwei are similar, but not identical to other stand up combat sports such as Muay Thai and Kickboxing. While there are similarities, the Burmese boxing ruleset is much less restrictive.

For example, under the traditional ruleset, the point system does not exist. How is a winner decided? A fight only ends when someone is knocked out or injured so badly they cannot continue fighting. (Think doctor's stoppage.)

Under the traditional Lethwei ruleset, there are only 4 ways to win a fight. A fighter can win via:

  1. Knockout (KO)
  2. Technical Knock Out (TKO)
  3. Surrendered Opponent (they quit)
  4. Doctor's Stoppage (often related to excessive bleeding that can't be stopped)

The Point System Does Not Exist in Lethwei

There is no point system in Lethwei. The rules of Lethwei are much less strict than most other modern combat sports. A fight only ends when someone is knocked out, or injured so badly they cannot continue fighting.

Can You Headbutt in Lethwei?

Yes, headbutts are allowed in Lethwei, and they are a distinctive feature of the sport. The headbutt is the strike that sets Lethwei apart from many other striking arts.

Fighters can use their heads to strike their opponents, making it a more brutal and challenging form of combat. The headbutt adds an additional dimension to the fighting strategy and requires competitors to be skilled in both offense and defense, as well as maintaining a high level of situational awareness in the ring.

In Muay Thai, fighters can engage in the clinch. The clinch also exists in Lethwei, and the headbutt completely changes the dynamics of the clinch position.

Now, instead of mainly worrying about close range attacks like elbows and knees, you have to be prepared to defend against headbutts.

Here are all of the legal strikes you can use against your opponent during competition:

  • Headbutts
  • Punches
  • Kicks
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Clinching
  • Sweeps
  • Takedowns
  • Throws

Here, Lethwei champion Dave Leduc demonstrates a Lethwei takedown:

Rooted in Centuries of Brutality

Lethwei is a sport that has been around for centuries. If you watched the Dave Leduc video, you know why it's one of the most brutal martial arts in existence. (Including among non-competition martial arts John Wick uses in the popular movies.)

The absence of gloves and addition of the headbutt really amplifies the raw power exchanged in the ring. Resilience and toughness are equally (if not more) important than extremely high level technical skills.

The uncompromising nature of The Art of 9 Limbs puts fighters through extreme physical discomfort. This makes it a very primal, visceral, and demanding event for fighters and spectators alike.

Muay Thai On Steroids?

Lethwei has been described as "Muay Thai on steroids." Lethwei fights feature five rounds of 3 minutes each with 2 minutes of rest in between each round. If there's no winner after five rounds, the fight will be called a draw.

A draw is not a loss for either fighter, but is considered a win for both fighters. This is because (according to the ancient tradition) they have been able to demonstrate their skills and technique in front of the audience.

The heart they demonstrate during their fight is valued with a sense of reverence by both the audience and governing ruleset.

Burmese Boxing Is Brutal

Burmese boxing is beautifully brutal. While similar to Muay Thai, they are not the same. Professional Lethwei fights have less rules and more violence. Its fighters demand respect and are willing to fight (with their head) to earn it.