Muay Thai Techniques

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In it’s original form, Muay Thai consisted of an arsenal of nine weapons – the head, fists, elbows, knees and feet – known collectively as na-wa arwud. Although in modern Muay Thai, both amateur and proffesional, using to headbutt an opponent is no longer allowed. Muay Thai is unique in the way it uses all parts of the body, including the elbows and knees, for both training and competitions.

To strike and bind the opponent for both offensive and defensive purposes, small amounts of stand-up grappling are used: the clinch. Formal Muay Thai techniques are divided into two groups: Mae Mai or major techniques and Luk Mai or minor techniques.

Muay Thai is often a fighting art of attrition, where opponents exchange blows with one another. This is certainly the case with traditional stylists in Thailand, but is a less popular form of fighting in the contemporary world fighting circuit.

With the success of Muay Thai in mixed martial arts fighting, it has become the de facto martial art of choice for competitive stand-up fighters.

As a result, it has evolved and incorporated much more powerful hand striking techniques used in western style boxing and the Thai style of exchanging blow for blow is no longer favorable. Note: when Muay Thai fighters compete against fighters of other styles (and if the rules permit it), they almost invariably emphasize elbow (sok) and knee (kao) techniques to gain a distinct advantage in fighting.

Almost all techniques in Muay Thai use the entire body movement, rotating the hip with each kick, punch, and block. The rotation of the hips in Muay Thai techniques, and intensive focus on “core muscles” (such as abdominal muscles and surrounding muscles) is very distinctive and is what sets Muay Thai apart from other styles of martial arts.

Punching techniques (Chok): The Punch techniques in Muay Thai were originally quite simple being crosses and a long (or lazy) cicular strike made with a straight (but not locked) arm and landing with the heel of the palm. Cross-fertilization with Western boxing and western martial artists mean the full range of western boxing punche are now used (jab, straight right/cross, hook, uppercut, shovel and corkscrew punches plus overhand or bolo punches)

Muay Thai judge score punching techniques less highly than other strikes as they are generally less powerful than knee strikes or kicks and the fists are padded by gloves (while knees, elbows, shins, and feet are not), As a tactic, body punching is used less in Muay Thai than other martial arts to avoid exposing the attacker’s head to counter strikes from knees or elbows.

Elbow techniques (dhee sork): The elbow can be used in seven ways: horizontal, diagonal-upwards, diagonal-downwards, uppercut, downward, backward-spinning and flying. From the side it can be used as either a finishing move or as a way to cut the opponent’s eyebrow so that blood might block his vision.

The blood also raises the opponent’s awareness of being hurt which could affect his performance. This is the most common way of using the elbow. The diagonal elbows are faster than the other forms, but are less powerful. The uppercut and flying elbows are the most powerful, but are slower and easier to avoid or block. The downward elbow is usually used as a finishing move.

There is also a distinct difference between a single elbow and a follow-up elbow. The single elbow is an elbow move independent from any other move, whereas a follow-up elbow is the second strike from the same arm, being a hook first with an elbow follow-up. Such elbows, and most other elbows, are used when the distance between fighters becomes too small and there is too little space to throw a hook at the opponent’s head.

Kicking techniques (dhe): The two most common kicks in Muay Thai are known as the teep (literally “foot jab,”), and the TAE(kick)chieng (kicking upwards in the shape of a triangle cutting under the arm and ribs) or angle kick. The Muay Thai angle kick has been widely adopted by fighters from other martial arts. The angle kick uses a rotational movement of the entire body. The angle kick is superficially similar to a karate roundhouse kick, but omits the rotation of the lower leg from the knee used in other striking martial arts like Karate or Taekwondo. The angle kick draws it’s power entirely from the rotational movement of the body. Many Muay Thai fighters use a counter rotation of the arms to intensify the power of this kick.

A Thai fighter uses this to his advantage, and if a round house kick is attempted by the opponent the fighter will block with his shin. Thai boxers are trained to always connect with the shin. While sensitive in an unconditioned practitioner, the shin is the strongest part of the leg for experienced Muay Thai fighters. The foot contains many fine bones and is much weaker. A fighter may end up hurting himself if he tries to attack with his foot.

Muay Thai also includes other varieties of kicking, such as the axe kick, side kick or spinning back kick etc. These kicks, depending on the fighter are utilized as to the preference of the fighter. It is worth noting that a side kick is performed differently in Muay Thai than the traditional side kick of other martial arts. In Muay Thai, a side kick is executed by first raising the knee of the leg that is going to kick in order to convince the opponent that the executor is going to perform a teep or front kick. The hips are then shifted to the side to the more traditional side kick position for the kick itself. The “fake-out” always precedes the kick in Muay Thai technique.

Knee techniques (dhee kao):

  • Kao Dode (Jumping knee strike) – the Thai boxer jumps up on one leg and strikes with that leg’s knee.
  • Kao Loi (Flying knee strike) – the Thai boxer takes step(s), jumps forward and off one leg and strikes with that leg’s knee.
  • Kao Tone (Straight knee strike) – the Thai boxer simply thrusts it forward (not upwards, unless he is holding an opponents head down in a clinch and intend to knee upwards into the face). According to one written source, this technique is somewhat more recent than Kao Dode or Kao Loi. Supposedly, when the Thai boxers fought with rope-bound hands rather than the modern boxing gloves, this particular technique was subject to potentially vicious cutting, slicing and sawing by an alert opponent who would block it or deflect it with the sharp “rope-glove” edges which are sometimes dipped in water to make the rope much stronger. This explanation also holds true for some of the following knee strikes below as well.
  • Kao Noi (Small knee strike) – the Thai boxer hits the inside upper thigh (above the knee) of the opponent when clinching. This technique is used to wear down the opponent or to counter the opponent’s knee strike or kick.

Foot-thrust techniques (teep): Foot-Thrusts also known as Push Kicks or literally “foot jabs” are one of the most common techniques used in Muay Thai. Teeps are different from any other Muay Thai technique in terms of objective to use. Foot-thrusts are mainly used as an offensive technique to block opponent’s attacks, get him off-balance and destroy opponent’s balance.

The clinch: In Western Boxing, the two fighters are separated when they clinch, in Muay Thai however, they are not. It is often in the clinch where knee techniques are used. The front clinch should be performed with the palm of one hand on the back of the other and not as shown in the picture.

There are three reasons why the fingers must not be intertwined. 1) In the ring fighters are wearing boxing gloves and cannot intertwine their fingers. 2) The Thai front clinch involves pressing the head of the opponent downwards, which is easier if the hands are locked behind the back of the head instead of behind the neck. Furthermore the arms should be putting as much pressure on the neck as possible. 3) You can injure your fingers if they are intertwined, and it is harder to release the grip if you want to elbow your opponent’s head quickly.

A correct clinch also involves your forearms pressing against the other fighter’s collar bone while your hands are around the opponent’s head rather than his neck. The general way to get out of a clinch (not the one pictured) is to push the opponents head backwards or elbow him, as the clinch requires both participants to be very close to one another. Additionally, the non-dominant clincher can try to “swim” his arm underneath and inside his opponent’s clinch, establishing him as the now dominant clincher.

Muay Thai has several other variants of the clinch, including:

  • arm clinch, where one or both hands controls the inside of the defender’s arm(s) and where the second hand if free isin the front clinch position, this clinch isused to briefly control the opponent beforeapplying a knee strike or throw
  • side clinch, one arm passing around the front of the defender with the attacker’s sholder pressed into the defender’s arm pit and the other arm passing round the back which allows the attacket to apply knee stikes to the defender’s back or to throw the defender readily
  • low clinch, with both controlling arms passing under the defender’s arms, which is generally used by the shorter of two opponents
  • swan-neck where one hand around the rear of the neck is used to briefly clinch (before a strike) an opponent.

Defence against attacks: Defences in Muay Thai are categorised in 6 groups:

  • Blocking – defender’s hard blocks to stop a strike in its path so preventing it reaching its target, (eg the Shin Block described in more detail below)
  • Redirection – defender’s soft parries to change the direction of a strike (eg a downwards tap to a jab) so that it misses the target
  • Avoidance – moving a body part out of the way or range of a strike so the defender remains in range for a counter-strike, eg defender moving the front leg backwards from the attacker’s low kick: then immediately counter-attacking with an angle kick: or defender laying the head back from the attacker’s high angle kick: then immediately counter-attacking with a side kick from the front leg:
  • Evasion – moving the body out of the way or range of a strike so the defnder has to move close again to counter-attack, eg defender jumping back from attacker’s kicks
  • Disruption – Pre-empting an attack. eg with defender using disruptive techniques like jab, teep or low angle kick (to the inside of the attacker’s front leg) as the attacker attempts to close distance
  • Anticipation – Defender catching a strike (eg catching an angle kick to the body) or countering it before it lands (eg defender’s low kick to the supporting leg below as the attacker iniates a high angle kick).

Defence against attacks — punches and kicks: Defensively, the concept of “wall of defence” is used, in which shoulders, arms and legs are used to hinder the attacker from successfully executing his techniques. Blocking is a critical element in Muay Thai and compounds the level of conditioning a successful practitioner must possess. Low and mid body roundhouse kicks are normally blocked with the upper portion of a raised shin. High body strikes are blocked with the forearm/glove, elbow/shin. Mid section roundhouse kicks can also be caught/trapped, allowing for a sweep or counter attack to the remaining leg of the opponent.

Punches are blocked with an ordinary boxing guard and techniques similar, if not identical, to basic boxing technique. A common means of blocking a punch is using the hand on the same side as the oncoming punch. For example, if an orthodox fighter throws a jab (being his left hand), the defender will make a slight tap to redirect the punch’s angle with his right hand.

The deflection is always as small and precise as possible to avoid unnecessary energy expenditure and return the hand to the guard as quickly as possible. Hooks are most often blocked with a motion most often described as “combing your hair,” raising the elbow forward and effectively shielding the head with the forearm, flexed bicep, and shoulder. More advanced Muay Thai blocks are usually counters, used to damage your opponent before he can attack again.