Though most associate Muay Thai with the use of elbows and knees, a wide range of techniques are available to fighters for various situations, enabling different types of offensive and defensive combinations. The basics of the art revolve around punching, kicking, elbowing and kneeing for striking, mixed with a limited amount of grappling, or “clinching”. The basic techniques for each are outlined below.
This is the first thing that should be learned by any new practitioner. Stance should be upright and side-on your opponent, while shifting body-weight between the balls of the feet for balance. The head should be slightly inclined down, with the chin pointed inside the shoulders. Eyes should focus on the opponents’ torso to follow their movement, while forearms and shoulders should be raised for protection. The elbows should be close to the body to respond to strikes. Hands should form loose fists and be held at eye-level. Feet should be a half-step forward apart; if you are right-handed, your left foot should be forward, with knees slightly bent for balance.
Basic Punching Techniques
This is the most basic punch in Muay Thai and is generally the first strike you will learn. It can be used to attack an opponent, or defensively to disrupt an attack.
The cross is a powerful strike that takes slightly longer to perfect, and is often used in combination with the jab. Along with the hook and the uppercut, this punch can easily knock an opponent unconscious.
This is generally the most well-known punch, even outside fighting circles. It can be delivered at a greater distance than the hook, which is usually a close-in punch. Once mastered, and properly delivered, this is generally a knock-out strike.
Basic Kicking Techniques
The most common kick in Muay Thai is the body kick and is the first you will be taught. The body kick is a powerful strike that can have wind or finish on an opponent if it lands.
This kick is used to disable or limit an opponents’ movement by striking the legs. If the kicks are strong enough and connect well, they can end the fight. It is incorporated into the end of many basic and advanced Muay Thai combinations.
This kick requires a lot of flexibility in order to raise the kicking leg to head height and has the disadvantage that an opponent simply needs to move back to avoid it, leaving you potentially off-balance. It is, however, a fundamental and potentially very useful movement.
The teep is a kick that is used like a jab. Like the jab punch, it can be used both offensively and defensively to push an opponent back and disrupt an attack. There are different variations depending on the angle and placement of the foot when striking. A rear teep is delivered from the rear foot and delivers more power, while a side teep, using the side of the foot, can be used when your opponent is further away.
Basic Knee Techniques
The straight knee is utilised when a fighter comes to the opponent to break their guard and attack. It requires timing and good judgement to sue effectively. If the knee falls short, the fighter is left in an exposed position, directly in front of their opponent.
As the name suggests, this knee is delivered at a diagonal angle, usually toward the side. It is a very common knee strike in Muay Thai and, as a result, one of the first knee movements taught.
The side knee is an effective point scoring tactic. It is generally employed when the opponent is “clinched”, or grabbed, either behind the neck or below the arms and directed at ribs. If a jump is incorporated to switch the move to a flying knee, the chest can be struck. It also allow s the move to be easily adapted by shorter fighters against taller opponents. As with the low kick, delivered effectively to the opponents legs, this strike can inflict pain and potentially end the fight.
As with the side knee, the curving knee is delivered from one of the clinch positions. Rather than following a straight path, the knee is brought up and around the body, building momentum before striking an opponents’ side. While this is a potent strike, it should be noted that while clinched, moving up onto one leg to deliver this strike can leave you vulnerable to a counter strike or being thrown.
Basic Elbow Strikes
As the name suggests, the horizontal elbow is thrown horizontally at an opponent, typically targeting the head, though if opportunity arises, it can prove effective on the chest area as well. The elbow is usually aimed at the chin area to deliver a knockout, or the temple on the side of the head. The strike allows a tremendous amount of force to be delivered, due to the momentum of the body driving the elbow.
This technique generally targets an opponents’ guard, with the goal of breaking through it to strike the head area. It is harder to see coming, and as a result it is more difficult to block that the horizontal elbow.
Forward Elbow Thrust
The forward elbow thrust is intended to use the point of the elbow to slash and cut at an opponent. Like the Uppercut elbow, the forward thrust elbow is a technique that is designed to pierce through their defence, and is particularly useful for breaking through very tight guards. Due to the ferocity of the strike, it is extremely useful when used correctly by a fighter.
This elbow will likely cut an opponents’ face if landed correctly, hence its’ name. It is designed to break through a guard and, with repeated strikes delivered well, it can end the fight. It is not uncommon for a fighter who has been struck by a slashing elbow to require stitches after the fight.
The clinch is applied by holding the opponent either around the neck or around the body, depending on the type of strikes you are trying to deliver or defend against. Shoulders, arms and legs are used to obstruct an opponents’ techniques. The clinch has been developed as a very successful move and has been adapted in Mixed Martial Arts.
This is the basic clinch involving both fighters locking their hands around the others head while standing facing each other. The goal is work their way to a dominant position to deliver a throw or strike.
This is similar to the front clinch, though with one fighter positioned to the side. It enabled the fighter at the side to grip the opponents back and deliver knee strikes. If this is done effectively enough for long enough, it can end the fight.
From the clinch position, throws are often employed to knock an opponent off balance or to the floor. To master either of these techniques, the fighter must have excellent balance and knowledge of the opponents movement and reactions.
This is the most basic form of defence and, as such, is one of the first skills taught. The process involves utilising the extremities of the body, such as the arm, to absorb an attack. This is designed to protect the body from a blunt force strike and resulting injury. Generally speaking, punches and elbows are blocked with hands, fists and forearms, while knee strikes and kicks are blocked with the shins. The leg can also be used effectively to block kicks, such as the low kick. As a rule, mid and high strikes are usually blocked with the forearm, knee or shin, while a roundhouse kick to the mid-section can be blocked/accepted by a rotating the torso so that the attackers leg connects with the more protected back of the rib cage. Blocking is a critical element in Muay Thai and its necessity makes physical condition all the more important.
Rather than simply blocking a strike and absorbing its force, it is possible to redirect the opponents’ momentum away from you. This is known as parrying and can enable a very effective defence that knocks the opponent off balance though the effects of their own momentum. Typically blocking techniques are mastered first, though parrying is still a fundamental defensive technique in Muay Thai.
Counters to the Overhand Right
The overhand right is a hugely popular Muay Thai strike, not only for its speed but the ease with which you can put massive amounts of power into it. Because of its popularity, it’s important to know a few effective counters to it. Once you master these techniques, they will be there in your arsenal for whenever you realise an opponent is using the overhand right over and over again. Land one of them, and your opponent won’t be swinging the overhand right much longer!
Long Guard and Knee
If you manage to stop your opponent’s overhand right with a long guard, it will often leve his defence wide open for a hard knee to the stomach or ribs. Though this has proved to be a highly effective counter, you should bear in mind that your opponent’s overhand right can still land, so you should try to keep your chin tucked in to avoid getting clipped there. If your opponent continues to throw overhand rights, it’s also possible to go into the clinch from a long guard, from which you can land some effective knees and elbows.
Step Back Pendulum Kick
This counter requires some keen anticipation and observation of your opponent’s entire body. As your opponent throws their arm out for an overhand right, an excellent counter attack is to step back and throw a left pendulum or roundhouse kick to the ribs. A well landed strike to the ribs should do some significant damage at any point in the match, but if you’re able to do this when they’re extended and vulnerable, it can easily drop them.
Body Cross, Head Hook
If your opponent is repeatedly using an overhead right, another good counter is to drop a level in order to get a straight strike to the body. This is a tough move to perfect, but extremely useful once you have it down. It not only puts you out of the way of the strike, but will also provide a decent opening for you to land a harrowing combination.
Counters to the Teep
Taking a powerful and practised teep straight to the sternum hurts a lot more than a lot of fighters let on. A well-landed teep not only gives you a huge distraction from the pain, but knocks the wind out of you and stops your forward momentum dead in its tracks. Because of these factors, getting used to the anticipation of a teep, along with being able to catch and counter it quickly and effectively, can be a great way to gain an advantage over your opponent and discourage them from teeping you again.
Catch and Hook
The catch and hook can be a tough to get accurate, but once mastered can stop almost any teep’s momentum. As the kick approaches, swing your lead hand underneath it, then grip the top of your opponent’s foot with your rear hand. As you drop their leg, turn your body slightly to get more of a swing on your hook. The moment you let go of your opponent’s foot, throw your hook straight at their jawline, landing on the chin if you can.
Catch and Sweep
This counter involves using the same hand to snatch your opponent’s teep. Once their strike has landed in a solid grip, pull your opponent’s whole leg towards your lead side, then as quickly as possible swing behind, and deliver a swift, hard sweep to their post leg.
Catch and Pull
This is a bit of a clumsy and unpredictable counter, but has certain advantages over other teep counters in terms of its potential speed. Simply grab your opponent’s teep like the start of the previously mentioned counters, then pull and lift to disrupt their balance and throw them to the ground.
Ways to set up the Low Kick
In Muay Thai, and several other combat sports, the low kick is an essential move for limiting your opponent’s movement and delivering significant damage fast enough to keep your defences up. If honed for long enough in terms of strength and accuracy, a few good low kicks has more than enough potential to end a fight. As you progress as a Nak Muay, it’s important to learn how to properly set up and deliver low kicks with least possible chance of being checked or parried.
Fake and Drag
This set-up starts with faking a low kick by turning your hips slightly and dragging your rear foot across the mat. Ideally, this will prompt your opponent to draw their leg up to try and check your incoming “attack”. Once you withdraw and they drop their foot back down, you throw the real kick. With any luck, your opponent would have relaxed the tension in their leg and will be completely unprepared for your strike.
This refers to using a long guard or stiff arm technique to stop your opponent’s momentum and drive them back. As they step back, pay close attention to the tension in their legs and where they’re leaning, then time your low kick to land as soon as they put their weight on one foot.
Clinch and Push
This set up takes a lot to think about in a short space of time, but is nonetheless effective if executed properly. While exiting cleanly from a clinch, shove your opponent back and land a low kick just as their foot makes contact with the floor again.
Kick Straight Through
This isn’t the tidiest way to set up a low kick, but can be very handy if both your and your opponent’s stamina is waning, and you need to end the match soon. This involves simply disregarding their check, and concentrating all of your power in a low kick fast and hard enough to break their block.
Shin-on-shin kicks are often ineffective, and if they land the wrong way can be extremely painful. The submarine kick slips neatly around this problem, by avoiding your opponent’s check and giving you a straight passage to kick your opponent’s back leg.
Fake and Sweep
This technique is effective but sneaky and underhand, and shouldn’t be used too many times in the course of a single match. Move to attack with a standard low kick, but hold your momentum back a little. If your opponent falls for this trick, swing swiftly behind them, sweeping out their legs and hopefully dropping them to the canvas.
Sometimes, standard punches are either inadequate or not damaging enough to get through your opponent’s blocking technique or stamina. Here are a few advanced punches which can help you get around this problem.
Spinning Back Fist
This technique has stemmed from the influence of several different martial arts, and is not commonly used in Muay Thai. This is somewhat due to the huge amount of practice it takes to perfect, coupled with its low speed compared to other Muay Thai striking techniques. Despite these perceived disadvantages, once honed enough the spinning back fist can end matches in an instant. This punch involves spinning on your heel, thereby rapidly building up momentum and focussing that energy into the heel of your fist.
This punch is a guaranteed crowd pleaser at major Muay Thai exhibitions, and is also a favourite among fighters for its deceptive effectiveness. This technique also takes a lot of practice to be able to use it effectively, and involves tempting your opponent with a fake punch in your rear hand, then following through with a right overhand.
Again, although standard kicking techniques are all valid and good, they are sometimes not enough to best a more technically proficient fighter. Below are some more damaging and unpredictable kicking styles which, when pulled off correctly, can swing many matches in your favour.
The straight kick, as the name would suggest, involves using the front lead leg to kick straight into an opponent’s face. This can prove especially useful as it is a good technique for breaking through an opponent’s guard. You should aim to land the straight kick on your opponent’s jaw, and if pulled off correctly can easily knock them unconscious. One well-known example of this is Victor Nagbe’s KO over Kem Sitsongpeenong, which was executed beautifully and broke straight through Kem’s guard.
Half Shin, Half Knee
Although this can prove to be a highly effective strike, it can only be utilized to its full potential when the opponent is in close proximity. When used properly this kick lands your shin and knee half-and-half on your opponent’s midsection. This can stop an advancing opponent dead, and can be used both as a defensive manoeuvre and to deal some damage.
The axe kick is a move that lifts your leg over the opponent’s head, then brings it down like an axe chopping wood. In order to use this technique in a sanctioned fight, you will have to incorporate a lot of flexibility training into your practice to gain the required height.
This flashy technique can be performed by jumping into the regular kick. This is extremely hard to practice and perfect, but can also be incredibly useful when your opponent is in retreat and you have to close ground. A well-executed jump kick can also shunt your opponent back several feet.
Step Up Kick
This move is more Muay Boran orientated, and involves leaping into the air and performing a swift, sharp pendulum kick in mid-air. You’re advised to approach this particular move with caution, as it has proven hard to control. Although many well-reputed gyms will teach the step up kick to their students, it is rarely seen in professional competition and depending on who you ask is not even a proper Muay Thai technique! This hasn’t stopped fighters using the step up to win many matches though.