Muay Thai in New York and the “Martial Arts” Exception

July 7, 2011

As set forth in my earlier post, for the first time this Friday, July 8, my friends at Madison Square Garden (in association with TaKe On Productions– and sanctioned by the WKA) are holding a muay thai event at the Beacon Theater, Battle at the Beacon.

This will be (as far as I know) the biggest muay thai event in New York to date with 17 scheduled bouts (both professional and amateur) held in a legendary venue. I am really looking forward to a night of exciting and competitive bouts.

In response to my earlier post about the event, I received questions from readers about why muay thai events are taking place in New York despite the so-called ban on “combative sports.”  Here is the explanation.

If you follow this blog you should be aware that in 1997 Governor Pataki signed a bill into law that made “combative sports” illegal in the Empire State.  Specifically, in 1997, chapter 912 of the laws of 1920, which relates to allowing and regulating boxing, sparring and wrestling matches, was amended with the addition of a new Section 5-a to specifically prohibit “combative sports.”

For the history leading up to the purported ban on combative sports please see this article I wrote last year.

Section 5-a(1) purports to define “combative sports” as follows:

§ 5-a. Combative sports. 1. A “combative sport” shall mean any professional match or exhibition other than boxing, sparring, wrestling or martial arts wherein the contestants deliver, or are not forbidden by the applicable rules thereof from delivering kicks, punches or blows of any kind to the body of an opponent or opponents.  For the purposes of this section, the term “martial arts” shall include any professional match or exhibition sanctioned by any of the following organizations:  U.S. Judo Association, U.S. Judo, Inc., U.S. Judo Federation, U.S. Tae Kwon Do Union, North American Sport Karate Association, U.S.A. Karate Foundation, U.S. Karate, Inc., World Karate Association, Professional Karate Association, Karate International, International Kenpo Association, or World Wide Kenpo Association.

Section 5-a(1) also authorizes the New York State Athletic Commission to “promulgate regulations which would establish a process to allow for the inclusion or removal of martial arts organizations from the above list” and provides certain factors that the NYSAC should consider in doing so.  The NYSAC has never promulgated these regulations, but is now in the process of doing so.  I am currently reviewing and commenting on the proposed regulations — comments that I will submit to the Office of General Counsel for the New York Secretary of State.

Section 5-a(2) provides the purported ban as follows:

No combative sport shall be conducted, held or given within the state of New York, and no licenses may be approved by the commission for such matches or exhibitions.

Section 5-a(3) then explains certain penalties that will attach if a person knowingly “advances or profits from a combative sport activity.”

The “muay thai exception” focuses on the definition of “martial arts” in Section 5-a(1).  As you can see, “martial arts,” are by definition not a “combative sport” and not subject to the ban.

In order to qualify as a “martial art,” a “professional match or exhibition” must be “sanctioned by” one of the enumerated organizations on the list.

Presently, to my knowledge, the only organization on the 1997 statutory list that is sanctioning muay thai in New York is the World Kickboxing Association, which is sanctioning the event at the Beacon on Friday night.

The WKA has promulgated both amateur and professional rules.

For ticket information and to learn more about the Battle at the Beacon, please click here.

Hope to see you there.

Fight Lawyer

Justin Klein is an attorney at Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke LLP in New York City where he concentrates his practice in commercial litigation and represents clients in the fight industry.  He regularly addresses current legal issues that pertain to combat sports, including efforts to legalize MMA in New York, at his Fight Lawyer website.  He is a licensed boxing manager with the New York State Athletic Commission as well as the founder and Chairman of the Board of the New York Mixed Martial Arts Initiative, a non-profit organization that gives inner city youth the opportunity to experience the emotional and physical benefits of martial arts training.  Justin lives in New York City where he trains in jiu jitsu and boxing.

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2 Responses to “Muay Thai in New York and the “Martial Arts” Exception”

  1. jim genia on July 8th, 2011 5:09 AM

    Curiously, the WKA sanctions MMA – both pro and amateur – in other states. I’ve asked Brian Crenshaw (the WKA big cheese) about his willingness to handle MMA in New York and he’s always seemed to have a wait-and-see attitude about it.

  2. Justin Klein on July 8th, 2011 1:34 PM

    Indeed it does. The proposed regs to add and remove orgs makes it less likely in my view….See you tonight at the Beacon.

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