Splash It All Over: The Story of Namman Muay Boxing Liniment

“Splash it all over” was the advertising slogan for Brut 33, an aftershave marketed for the sporting man of action and worn by the alpha male likes of Henry Cooper (boxing), Kevin Keegan (soccer), Wilt Chamberlain (basketball) and Joe Namath (gridiron football). As a sporting man of action myself, I wouldn’t recommend using Brut 33. It’s not known as a (legal) performance enhancer and it makes you whiff like a pimp’s murse.   

So forget the Pepé Le Pew like pong of Brut 33. The aftershave of choice for bona fide hard men and kickboxers is Namman Muay boxing liniment. Made famous by the eight-limbed art of Thai boxing, and endorsed by the superstar likes of Buakaw, it’s immediately recognized by its distinctive yellow color and heavy odor of eucalyptus and menthol.

Beyond the bloody floors of shantytown gyms and the wooden benches of dimly lit dressing rooms, Namman Muay is widely used by all sorts of normal, everyday folk. Athletes. Masseuses. Physiotherapists. The elderly. Anyone with pain issues in their muscles and joints. No wonder. Namman Muay isn’t snake oil; it’s the Full Monty. No other oil-based medicine, or analgesic cream on the market, activates your muscles for performance, or rejuvenates them post event, quite like Namman Muay. 

Photo via Facebook/BanchamekGym

Getting soaked and rubbed in Namman Muay by your corner is an integral part of the pre-fight ritual in competitive Thai boxing. The massage is a baptism of fire for the un-blooded pug. The burning heat that sears the pores of your skin; the pungent, alien smell that invades and occupies your sinuses; the cranky, stiff body that slowly becomes loose, nimble and ready to ruck like Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. Yes sir, make no mistake, Namman Muay and Thai style kicky boxy go hand-in-glove. But, like a great many other Thai boxers and martial artists out there, I’ve used this miracle product for years without knowing very much about it.

It was time to pick up some books without pictures and find out. Manufactured by Devakam Apothecary Hall in Thailand, Namman Muay hot oil has been setting limbs on fire for over half a century. The roots of this smelly, sticky, noxious, warming agent can be found in traditional Thai herbal medicine, where for years the recipe was used by few and only passed around boxing circles by word of mouth. It wasn’t until 1960, and the reign of Pon Kingpetch, Thailand’s first western style boxing champ, that Devakam’s miracle product would become a brand with mass appeal and global reach.

Here’s the strange back-story. Kingpetch the champ trained at a gym owned by a gentleman coach called Thongthos Intratat. A keen herbalist and practitioner of alternative medicine, Intratat was always looking for new spins on home grown Thai remedies to help his stable of fighters warm up and repair their aching muscles and joints.

Using the boxers of the gym as human test cases, Intratat discovered that a fighter lubed up on his home made Namman Muay oil was less injury prone and bashed up after contests. With a string of big-eyed investors and a modest injection of capital, Intratat formed Devakam, his own pharmaceutical company, and began to manufacture the first Namman Muay products. It’s now used by millions of people all over the world, and, like Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken, and Coca Cola, the original recipe is top secret, hush-hush and need-to-know.

But East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. Outside of Thailand, Namman Muay usually gets a stink-faced reception. Many farangs (foreigners of western origin) don’t particularly care for the funky smell of exotically named “hot rubs” from the Orient. Take the boss man of the MMA gym in Atlanta where I used to coach. He banned students, kickboxers and grapplers alike, from using Namman Muay and Tiger balm. The foreign, ether-like stench irritated his All-American sinuses and often sent him into dramatic conniptions worthy of a method actor on the New York stage. Yes, he may have had the look of a Greek hero, straight out of central casting for 300, but Namman Muay boxing liniment was the boss man’s Achilles Heel.

He wasn’t the only party in the history of my life to get rocked by a Namman Muay chemical and biological attack. I once made the mistake of wearing it on a trip to a high-end yoga joint in London’s Notting Hill. The teacher of the class, a control freak and part-time life coach, caught a whiff of yours truly at 50 paces and reeled in metrosexual shock. “Are you wearing Tiger Balm?” He asked, before telling me, and the rest of the class, that weird oils, and odd balms, are a big no-no for the proper yogi to be. I never wore it to a yoga class in Notting Hill again.

At home, off duty, the presence of Namman Muay next to the toothpaste and the hair gel on the bathroom shelf has long intrigued shapely suitors and would-be girlfriends. It isn’t aftershave. It isn’t Tiger Balm. It’s Namman Muay, Eau de toilette for kick fighters. “Oh,” said the future wife, at that time the perplexed girlfriend: “It’s surgical spirit with squiggly writing.” Yes dear, whatever you say, dear…

Recently, my beloved Namman Muay has been the subject of study and scrutiny. The International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) issued a caution about smearing a fighter’s face with Namman Muay (avoid contact with the eyes and open wounds). And concerns have been raised about the dangers of rubbing over-the-counter medicines containing methyl salicylate onto the skin. Namman Muay contains 31% methyl salicylate and users of the product are advised not to exceed 40% coverage of the human body. Oh dear. Perhaps it’s time to cut down on my units of herbal ethanol.

Too late! The unregulated and/or carcinogenic ingredients of this oil-based medicine from Thailand won’t put me off from using it anytime soon. Nothing provides soothing relief for bruised shins and sore hip-flexors quite like the deep heat of Namman Muay. Just don’t splash it all over. 


Check out these related stories:

Mind the Glap: One Man’s Love Affair with the Thai Spinning Elbow

Sangmanee: The Eight-Limbed Warrior of Bangkok

Beware of Muangthai: The Man with the Deadly Elbow