Muay Thai is the most pure form of stand-up striking there is. It consists of all aspects of striking including punches, kicks, elbows and knees (hence the name art of the eight limbs), as well as utilising a clinch aspect. Muay Thai is without a doubt the most difficult striking art to master due to all of these elements, and elite fighters must be well-rounded, but can specialise in a particular style.
One key difference between Muay Thai and most other combat sports is the strong cultural influence. Whilst in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, fighters often compete in a gi (a robe-type uniform with a coloured belt to demonstrate ranking), Muay Thai has its own influences. For example, a Wai Khru is performed prior to the bout taking place (a ritual akin to a dance where fighters pay respect to their coaches/teachers) to music (music is also played during the bout, but the rhythm of this music changes as rounds progress). As well as this, cultural headware called a Mongkhon is worn upon entry to the ring and during the Wai Khru, but not during the fight. The Mongkhon is a symbol of power and provides protection to the fighter, and cannot touch the floor or even go near the ground, otherwise it will lose it’s power (hence why many Muay Thai fighters elect to jump over the ropes to enter the ring rather than go between them).
The typical Muay Thai stance differs to many other combat sports. Martial arts like karate or taekwondo often utilise a wide, side-on stance, or boxing often has a more side-on stance. In Muay Thai, this is a big no. Due to the devastating effects of leg kicks, Muay Thai fighters have a more square-on and narrow stance, with the front foot and knee facing slightly outward. This not only helps check kicks (by raising the shin to block the incoming attack), but also to pivot on the front foot and generate more power in the kick (this will be explained in more detail below).
Below is a breakdown of some of the basic techniques used in Muay Thai.
Arguably the most common technique and the easiest to learn is punches. Including straight shots, hooks, uppercuts and shots to the body, punches are just as dangerous as any other technique listed below. When timed well with good technique they can be devastating, and we have seen many power punchers over the years perform well in Muay Thai.
Another key staple of Muay Thai is kicks, most commonly a roundhouse. A clean Muay Thai kick to the body is one of the highest scoring techniques. The kick is performed by firstly taking a slight step out at a 45 degree angle, and then pivoting on the front foot, so the heel is facing your opponent. The knee and hip should be in line and parallel to the arm (which swings back to generate momentum when throwing a kick). Other kicking techniques include leg kicks, teeps (a push kick to the body) and spinning techniques (less commonly seen in Muay Thai.)
Knees can be thrown from either a clinch position (like a swing knee) or from punching range. The key thing to learn with knees is to knee through like a spear, rather than to knee upwards. This can be performed by coming up onto your toes, extending the hip and bringing the foot up as much as possible to accentuate the knee. Many fighters class themselves as Muay Khao fighters (clinch fighters) and specialise in overwhelming opponents with a high output and landing big knees to the body off of either leg.
Thrown typically from close range, elbows can cause serious damage and account for a large portion of stoppages in Muay Thai. Because of the slashing nature in which they are thrown, fighters will either aim for the eyes/eyebrows, mouth to cause cuts, or on the chin to land a knockout. There are several ways an elbow can be thrown, but a key principle throughout, much like punching is to turn the hip and extend to generate maximum power. You are looking to land with the very tip of the elbow to cause as much damage as possible.
What is your favourite technique to throw? Do you class yourself in a particular style of Muay Thai? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!