(Redirected from Burmese boxing)

Lethwei (Burmese: လက်ဝှေ့; IPA: [lɛʔ.ʍḛ]) or Burmese boxing is a full contact combat sport from Myanmar that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques.[1] Lethwei is considered to be one of the most aggressive and brutal martial arts in the world, because the fighters fight bareknuckle with only the use of tape and gauze on their hands.[2] The use of fists, elbows, knees, and feet, but more surprisingly, the head makes it a very unusual martial art. Although disallowed in many combat sports, in Lethwei, the use of headbutt is encouraged. This is the reason it also known as "The Art of 9 Limbs".[3][4]

Tway Ma Shaung fighting Saw Shark in Myanmar.png
Also known asBurmese Boxing, Burmese Bare knuckle Boxing, Myanmar Traditional Boxing, Bando Kickboxing
Country of originMyanmar Myanmar
Famous practitionersKyar Ba Nyein, Dave Leduc, Too Too, Tun Tun Min, Saw Nga Man, Nilar Win, Tun Lwin Moe, Win Tun, Tway Ma Shaung, Lone Chaw, Shwe War Tun, Soe Lin Oo, U Bo Sein, Wan Chai

It is similar to related styles in other parts of the Indian cultural sphere, namely Muay Thai from Thailand, Pradal Serey from Cambodia, Muay Lao from Laos, Tomoi from Malaysia and Musti-yuddha from India.[5]


The late XIXth century match in Myanmar

Records exists of Lethwei matches dating back to the Pyu Empire in Myanmar. Lethwei, along with Bando and its armed sibling Banshay were successfully used by ancient Myanmar armies in many wars against neighboring countries.[6]

In ancient times, matches were held for entertainment and were popular with every strata of society. Participation was opened to any male, whether king or commoner. At that time, matches took place in sandpits instead of rings.[7] Boxers fought without protective equipment, only wrapping their hands in hemp or gauze. There were no draws and no point system—the fight went on until one of the participants was knocked out or could no longer continue. Back then, Burmese boxing champions would enter the ring and call for open challenges.[8]

Traditional matches include Flagship Tournament, which are still fought throughout Myanmar, especially during holidays or celebration festivals like Thingy an.[9][10][11]


Establishing rules and regulationsEdit

Kyar Ba Nyein, who participated in boxing at the 1952 Summer Olympics, pioneered modern Lethwei by setting in place modern rules and regulations.[12] He travelled around Myanmar, especially the Mon and Karen states, where many of the villagers were still actively practicing Lethwei. Kyar Ba Nyein brought them back to Mandalay and Yangon and, after training with them, encouraged them to compete in matches.[13]

The Myanmar government made some organizational changes to make Burmese boxing more marketable internationally.[14][15][16][17]

In 2016, a new promotion called World Lethwei Championship launched using a modified rule-set. Unlike traditional lethwei events, judges determine a winner if the fight ends without a knockout. There are also no injury time outs.

Attracting foreign fightersEdit

From 7 to 12 July 2001, twelve years after Burma changed it's name for Myanmar, the first international event took place in Yangon with professional fighters from the USA facing Burmese fighters under full traditional Lethwei rules.

The three American kickboxers were brought by the IKF and included Shannon Ritch, Albert Ramirez and Doug Evans. Ritch faced Ei Htee Kaw, Ramirez faced Saw Thei Myo, and Evans faced openweight Lethwei champion Wan Chai. All three Americans were knocked out in th A revenge match with American and European fighters was cancelled the last minute by Lethwei promoters and the military in 2003.

From 10 to 11 July 2004, the second event headlining foreigners took place with four Japanese fighters fighting against Burmese fighters. They were mixed martial arts fighters Akitoshi Tamura, Yoshitaro Niimi, Takeharu Yamamoto and Naruji Wakasugi. Tamura knocked out Aya Bo Sein in the second round and became the first foreigner to beat a Myanmar Lethwei practitioner in an official match. International matches continued with the exciting Cyrus Washington vs. Tun Tun Min trilogy.

In 2016, after having previously fought to an explosive draw, Dave Leduc and Tun Tun Min rematched at the Air KBZ Aung Lan Championship in Yangon, Myanmar. The rematch was sweetened by an added bonus: ownership of the Lethwei Openweight World Championship Belt.[18] Leduc became the first non-Burmese fighter to win the Lethwei Golden Belt and become Lethwei world champion after defeating Tun Tun Min in the second round.[19][20]

Following his win, Leduc said in an interview ″I have so much vision for this sport. I see Lethwei doing the same for Myanmar as what Muay Thai has done for Thailand."[21]

On April 18, 2017, for his second title defense,[22] Dave Leduc faced Turkish Australian fighter Adem Yilmaz[23] in Tokyo, Japan in traditional Lethwei rules[21] for the first Lethwei World title fight headlining two non-burmese in the sport's history. For the occasion, the Ambassador of Myanmar to Japan was present at the event held in the Korakuen Hall.[24]


Aside from punches, kicks, elbows and knee attacks, Burmese fighters also make use of head-butts, raking knuckle strikes and take downs.

Headbutt (Gowl Tite)Edit

English Burmese Romanization IPA
Thrusting Head Butt ထိုးခေါင်းတိုက် Htoe Gowl Tite
Upward Head butt ခေါင်းပင့်တိုက် Gowl Pint Tite
Side Head Butt ခေါင်းရိုက် Gowl yite
Head Butt from the clinch ချုပ်ခေါင်းရိုက် Choke Gowl Yite
Flying Head Butt ခုန်ခေါင်းတိုက် Khnoe Gowl Tite
Shooting / Rushing Head Butt ခေါင်းဆောင့်တိုက် Gowl Sount Tite
Downward Head Butt ခေါင်းစိုက်တိုက် Gowl Site Tite

Punching (Let Thee)Edit

English Burmese Romanization IPA
Jab ထောက်လက်သီး Htouk Let Thee
Cross ဖြောင့်လက်သီး Fyount Let Thee
Uppercut ပင့်လက်သီး Pint Let Thee
Hook ဝိုက်လက်သီး Wide Let Thee
Overhand (boxing) စိုက်လက်သီး Site Let Thee
Backfist တွက်လက်သီး Twet Let Thee
Spinning Backfist လက်ပြန်ရိုက် Let Pyan Yite
Hammer fist ပင့်လက်သီး Pint Let Thee
Superman punch လက်သီးပျံ / ခုန်ထိုး လက်သီး Let Thee Pyan / Khone Htoe Let Thee

Elbow (Tel Daung)Edit

The elbow can be used in several ways as a striking weapon: horizontal, diagonal-upwards, diagonal-downwards, uppercut, downward, backward-spinning and flying. They can be used as either a finishing move or as a way to cut the opponent's eyebrow to draw blood.

English Burmese Romanization IPA
Horizontal Elbow ဝိုက်တံတောင် Wide Tel Daung
Upward Elbow ပင့်တံတောင် Pint Tel Daung
Downward Elbow ထောင်းတံတောင် Htoung Tel Daung
Jumping Downward Elbow တံတောင် ခုန်ထောင်း Tel Daung Khone Htoung
Elbow Thrust ထိုးတံတောင် Htoe Tel Daung
Reverse Horizontal Elbow တွက်တံတောင် Twet Tel Daung
Flying Elbow တံတောင်ပျံ Tel Daung Pyan
Spinning Elbow ပတ်တံတောင် / ခါးလှည့်တံတောင် Pat Tel Daung / Khar Hlet Tel Daung

Elbows can be used to great effect as blocks or defenses against, for example, spring knees, side body knees, body kicks or punches. When well connected, an elbow strike can cause serious damage to the opponent, including cuts or even a knockout.

Kicking (Kan)Edit

English Burmese Romanization IPA
Roundhouse Kick ခြေဝိုက်ကန် / ဝိုက်ခတ် Chay Wide Kan / Wide Khat
Spinning back Kick နောက်ပေါက်ကန် Nout Pouk Kan
Outside low kick အပြင်ခတ် Al Pyin Khat
Inside low kick အတွင်းခတ် Al Twin Khat
Hook kick ချိတ်ကန် Chate Kan
Side kick ခြေစောင်းကန် Chay zoung Kan
Axe Kick ခုတ်ကန် / ပုဆိန်ပေါက်ကန် Khote Kan / Pal Sain Pouk Kan
Jump round Kick ခုန်ဝိုက်ခတ် Khone Wide Kan
Step-Up Kick ပေါင်နင်းကန် Pound Nin Kan

Knee (Doo)Edit

English Burmese Romanization IPA
Straight Knee Strike တဲ့ထိုးဒူး Delt Htoe Doo
Spear Knee လှံစိုက်ဒူ Hlan Site Doo
Side Knee Strike ဝိုက်ဒူး Wide Doo
Upward Knee ပင့်ဒူး Pint Doo
Downward Knee ခုတ်ဒူး Khote Doo
Knee Slap ရိုက်ဒူး Yite Doo
Double Flying Knee / Elephant Tusks flying Knee စုံဒူးပျံ / ဆင်စွယ်ဒူးပျံ Sone Doo Pyan / Sin Swal Doo Pyan
Jumping Knee ခုန်ဒူး Khone Doo
Step-Up Knee Strike ပေါင်နင်းဒူး Pound Nin Doo


The foot-thrust is one of the techniques in Lethwei. It is used as a defensive technique to control distance or block attacks and as a way to set up attack. Foot-thrusts should be thrown quickly but with enough force to knock an opponent off balance.

English Burmese Romanization IPA
Push Kick နင်းခြေ / တားခြေ Nin Chay / Tar Chay
Toe Push Kick ခြေဦးထိုးကန် Chay Oo Htoe Kan
Jumping Push Kick ခုန်ဆောင့်ကန် Khone Sount Kan

Note - The Myanglish spelling and phonetics based spelling are two different things. The words used are phonetics based words which are more friendly and easy to pronounce for non-Myanmar speaking people. The phonetics wording is provided by Liger Paing from United Myanmar Bando Nation.

Traditional gestureEdit

Lekkha mounEdit

Dave Leduc challenging his opponent with the lekkha Moun in a Lethwei fight in Tokyo, Japan.

The lekkha moun is the traditional gesture performed by Lethwei fighters to challenge their opponent with courage and respect. The lekkha moun is done by clapping 3 times with right palm to the triangle shaped hole formed while bending the left arm. The clapping hand must be in form of a cup, while the left hand must be placed under the right armpit. The lekkha moun is done at the beginning of the lethwei yay and can also be done while fighting.

This invitation to fight is inspired from the birds of prey, like the eagle, as they flap their wings when flying and hunting.

Lethwei yayEdit

The Lethwei yay could be described as a fight dance. It is done before the fight and as a victory dance after the fight. The lekkha moun is usually confused with the lethwei yay, but the lekkha moun is performed alongside with Lethwei yay.


Yoe yar rulesEdit

Yoe Yar comes from the Burmese "Myanma Yoe yar Latway", which means "Myanmar Traditional Boxing". Yoe Yar rules are still used in Myanmar and by ILJF in Japan.[25]


  • 5 rounds of 3 minutes
  • 2 minutes rest

Permitted techniques

  • Head butts
  • All punches
  • All elbow strikes
  • All knee strikes
  • All kicks
  • Extensive clinching
  • Sweeps and throws

The use of the feet, hands, knees, elbows and head is permitted.

Bloody Lethwei hand wraps

Fighting attire

The Burmese bareknuckle boxing rules prohibits the use of gloves.

  • The fighters must only wear tape, gauze and electrical tape on their hands and feet.
  • The fighters shall wear only shorts, without a shirt or shoes.
  • The fighters must wear a groin protector.
  • The fighters must wear a gum shield.

The fighters are required to apply the wrapping in front of the fight officials, who will endorse the wraps.

The decision

In traditional Lethwei, there is no point system. The only way to win is by knockout or because of an injury and the inability to fight any more. At the end of the match if the two fighters are still standing, the fight is declare a draw.

  • The knock-out (KO) is when the opponent falls on the floors, leans unconscious on the ropes or if the fighter is unable to stand up or defend himself within 20 seconds (10 counts with 1 count every 2 seconds).
  • If there is a count, it must count at least up to 8.
  • When 3 counts are performed in a single round, the fight is terminated and scored as knock-out (count limit).
  • When 4 counts are performed during the entire duration of the fight, the match is terminated and scored as knock-out (count limit).
  • The technical knock-out (TKO) is when the fighter is in a position that can damage or severely harm him if the fight continues. The ring doctor is consulted and he is the one making that decision.
  • If there is no KO or TKO until the end of the last round, the fight is declared a draw.

The "injury" time-out

  • If a knockout happens, the fighter can take a special two minute time-out to recover and choose whether he wishes to continue the bout. He may do so only once in a fight.[26] The only win is by knockout; there is no point system. If neither fighter wins by knockout then the fight is declared a draw.[11]
  • The time-out can't be used in the final fifth round.
  • The use of the time-out is considered as 1 count.

The referee

There is one referee that oversees the fight. The referee has the power to:

  • End the fight if he considers one fighter to be significantly outclassed by his opponent.
  • Stop the fight and refer to the doctor if a fighter is heavily wounded.
  • Warn the fighters. He makes sure the fight proceeds fairly and in compliance with the rules.

Modern RulesEdit

In 1996, for the inaugural Golden Belt Championship, the two-minute recovery timeout was removed and judges were added ringside to score the fight. This tournament style ruleset help choose a winner to advance and prevented the outcome of a draw. The World Lethwei Championship is the biggest proponent of the modern rules in order to follow the international safety and regulation for combat sports.[25]


Each bout can be booked as a 3, 4 or 5 round fight with 3 minutes per round and a 2-minute break in between rounds. Championship bouts are 5 round fights with 3 minutes per round and a 2-minute break between rounds.


  • 5 rounds of 3 minutes
  • No injury timeout

Permitted techniques

  • Head butts
  • All punches
  • All elbow strikes
  • All knee strikes
  • All kicks
  • Extensive clinching
  • Sweeps and throws


In the event that a bout goes the distance, it will go to the judges decision. The 3 judges score the bout based on number of significant strikes per round, damage and blood. Fighters have a maximum of 3 knockdowns per round and 4 knockdowns in the entire fight before the fight is ruled a knockout.

Weight Classes

Weight class name Upper limit Gender
in pounds (lb) in kilograms (kg) in stone (st)
Light Flyweight 105 48 7.6 Female
Flyweight 112 51 8 Male / Female
Bantamweight 119 54 8.5 Male / Female
Featherweight 126 57 9 Male / Female
Lightweight 132 60 9.5 Male / Female
Light Welterweight 140 63.5 10 Male / Female
Welterweight 148 67 10.5 Male
Light Middleweight 157 71 11.1 Male
Middleweight 165 75 11.8 Male
Super Middleweight 174 79 12.4 Male
Cruiserweight 183 83 13 Male

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kyaw Zin Hlaing (1 September 2015). "Easy win for Lethwei fighters". Myanmar Times.
  2. ^ "Lethwei: The world's most brutal sport". Ugly Chicken. 4 October 2017.
  3. ^ Goyder, James (22 July 2015). "Inside a Burmese Lethwei Gym". Fightland Blog (Vice).
  4. ^ "Myanmese women show fighting spirit by embracing brutal martial art of Lethwei". South China Morning Post. 19 August 2015.
  5. ^ Wikipedia, Source (1 September 2013). "Combat Sports: Boxing, Taekwondo, Judo, Fencing, Sumo, Kendo, Grappling, Kickboxing, Savate, Boxing Training, Paralympic Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mi". General Books. Retrieved 5 April 2018 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ "Lethwei : Myanmar bare knuckle boxing". Full Contact Martial Arts. Archived from the original on February 12, 2017.
  7. ^ Giordano, Vincent. "Born Warriors: Fighting for Survival". 15 July 2015.
  8. ^ Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Volume 41. G. Bell and Sons. 1893. p. 151. At a Burmese boxing match a champion will jump into the ring and dance about, smacking his breast and arms and cracking his fingers, challenging all comers.
  9. ^ Giordano, Vincent. "Burmese Lethwei: The Tradition of Child Fighters". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  10. ^ "Women join in Myanmar's ferocious kickboxing". Bangkok Post. 1 April 2016.
  11. ^ a b Xegarra, Guillermo (June 7, 2016). "Born Warriors: Documentarian Vincent Giordano Interview Part 2".
  12. ^ "Kyar ba nyein". Scribd.com. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  13. ^ Giordano, Vincent. "Born Warriors Redux: A New Era Begins for an Ancient Sport". Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  14. ^ Goyder, James (17 December 2014). "The Burmese Kickboxing Style of Lethwei Expands Into Singapore". Vice Fightland).
  15. ^ Giordano, Vincent (13 August 2015). "Burmese Lethwei: Bare Knuckle Revival". Archived from the original on September 6, 2015.
  16. ^ Calderon, Justin (23 September 2014). "Punches, headbutts, knockouts: Asia's 'new' martial arts sensation". CNN.
  17. ^ Olavarria, Pedro (2 December 2014). "Bando: The style of Burmese Martial Arts". Vice Fightland.
  18. ^ "デーブ・レダックチャンピオン Dave Leduc Champion". The Weekly Fight Japan. 12 December 2016.
  19. ^ Kyaw Zin Hlaing (13 December 2016). "Myanmar's lethwei goliath toppled by Canadian 'Dave'". Myanmar Times.
  20. ^ Anthony Da Silva-Casimiro (20 December 2016). "Tout sauf de la chance pour Dave Leduc". La Revue. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018.
  21. ^ a b Eaton, Matt (18 April 2017). "Embracing tradition: The rise of LethweiI". The Fight Nation.
  22. ^ "Weigh ins for Lethwei in Japan 3 GRIT - 明日開催!第3回日本ラウェイ大会『ラウェイinジャパン 3 ~GRIT~』後楽園ホール大会!計量と公開記者会見終了". The Weekly Fight. 17 April 2017.
  23. ^ "4・18『Lethwei in Japan 3 ~GRIT~』全対戦7カード発表!ミャンマーvs.日本(4対4)vs.USA(2対2)にカナダの現ラウェイ王者が再参戦!相手は第1回大会参戦のオーストラリア選手! – 週刊ファイト". The Weekly Fight. 3 March 2017.
  24. ^ "Lethwei in Japan 3 GRIT" [Lethwei in Japan 3 GRIT is the third tournament is Japan]. Myanma Allin Daily (in Burmese). 21 April 2017.
  25. ^ a b Mark Schroeder (17 September 2019). "Introduction to Lethwei". The Fight Site.
  26. ^ Looi, Florence (8 September 2015). "Myanmar's Lethwei fighters bare their knuckles". Al Jazeera.

Further readingEdit

  • Maung Gyi, Burmese bando boxing, Ed. R.Maxwell, Baltimore, 1978
  • Zoran Rebac, Traditional Burmese boxing, Ed. Paladin Press, Boulder, 2003