Muay Thai is a battlefield and ring proven martial art style from Thailand. It has been practiced for centuries by kings, soldiers, and common folk alike. Known for its simplicity and direct, devastating techniques “Thai Boxing” builds highly fit and tough athletes who can use many weapons to win a fight. It is a combat sport that is celebrated around the world that also allows one to develop a formidable foundation for self-defense. This blog post will give you a thorough introduction to the “Art of 8 Limbs”.
This guide is for complete beginners and for those who seek additional information regarding the art of Muay Thai. The reader will be introduced to the style’s history, its training strategies, and practical descriptions and visual representations of a wide range of Muay Thai techniques. I also provide an overview of the innovative GMAU Online Muay Thai program. You will note references to our Muay Thai program throughout this post. If you’d like more information about how this program came about and what it took to get it online, check out this blog post.
” There are many reasons that drive us to train and each motive is valid because the martial arts journey is, stated simply: highly personal. “
We all begin martial arts training for a variety of reasons, but one thing we share in common is that there is something we wish to achieve. The broadly held assumption that people who train in the martial arts do so because they like to fight or want to be able to defend themselves is naively misinformed. There are many reasons that drive us to train and each motive is valid because the martial arts journey is, stated simply: highly personal. Some train because they enjoy learning something new, want to compete, wish to make social connections, or for “self-improvement”. There are a myriad of other reasons; a complete list is unattainable.
Common Martial Arts Training Motivations:
” The common ‘key to success’ found in the GMAU Discussion Board and confirmed in interviews with our students is simply setting a time to train and committing to that protected time. “
General Tips For Success:
Muay Thai (also known as the “Art of 8 Limbs”) is a versatile system that includes short, medium, and long-range techniques like kicks, punches, elbows, and knees along with clinches, sweeps and throws. It is the national sport of Thailand and Muay Thai techniques are commonly incorporated into the arsenal of MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters. Muay Thai is great for developing cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, endurance, balance, as well as sport and self-defense skills.
Some of the history of Muay Thai (a.k.a. “Thai Boxing”) has been lost to time and not all sources tell the same story. What all sources agree on is that Muay Thai began as a close combat battlefield fighting skill. Further, there are two main theories about its development. One theory says that the art developed as the Thai people moved down from China and struggled for land. The other theory says that Muay Thai was developed by existing indigenous peoples to defend their land from invasion threats.
Muay Thai is a modern integration of traditional Regional Muays: Muay Chaiya, Muay Korat, Muay Tarsao, Muay Jearng are all based an older fighting method called Muay Boran. Krabi Krabong (a weapons-based martial art originating in Thailand, was used by the Siamese military and soldiers on the battlefield) was an important influence on Muay Boran and thus Muay Thai. Movements from Krabi Krabong and Muay Boran can be seen in the Wai Khru (a ritual “dance”, performed before a fight, in which students pay respects to their teachers).
Thai Kings have always been fans of Muay Thai as indicated by records that date back to as early as the 11th century. Over the centuries, various kings have contributed to promoting or maintaining the prominence of Muay Thai as the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand. Some of the legendary champions of Muay Thai have been kings. The most famous of these was the “Tiger King” Phra Chao Sri Sanpetch VIII, the 29th King of Krung Sri Ayutthaya (a Siamese kingdom that existed from 1350 to 1767). During the reign of the Tiger King, Muay Thai was in a “golden age” largely due to the King’s interest and support. Every soldier trained in the art; being a good Muay Thai fighter was a way to military advancement. Thai Boxing has long been a favorite sport and pastime of the Thai people. Historical sources confirm that people from all walks of life trained: rich, poor, young and old all participated. Even today, every village (or region) has prize fighters and champions.
Fortunately, Muay Thai requires a minimal amount of equipment making it relatively cheap regarding up front “start up” costs. Below is a list of recommended essentials for those new to the sport or who are complete beginners.
To get started with training, you only need a comfortable pair of athletic shorts to practice Muay Thai. You can use any type of shorts you use for other physical activities: basic gym shorts, running shorts, boxing shorts, wrestling or grappling style shorts or even MMA style spandex short. However, serious Muay Thai practitioners will invest in shorts specifically designed for this type of training. Muay Thai shorts are similar to boxing shorts with the comfortable large elastic waist. The traditional Muay Thai shorts are shorter in length and have a wider leg cut, allowing for more hip and leg movement (e.g., high kicks) not required in Western boxing.
Muay Thai training involves extensive heavy bag and pad striking. To protect the skin on your hands and to prevent wrist sprains, it is recommended that you use hand and wrist wraps.
Boxing gloves serve to not only protect your hands against heavy bag training, they will also protect your training partners during sparring. As a reference point, 16 oz gloves are standard for most adults.
Another piece of essential gear is shin guards. Shin guards protect your shins and the top of your feet when kicking the bag or when sparring.
The heavy bag is probably the most basic piece of training equipment for boxers, kickboxers and muay thai athletes. Heavy bag practice improves footwork and movement and provides a safe target for practicing punches, kicks, elbows and knees. Because the heavy bag moves around (especially a hanging bag) it also simulates sparring opponent movement. A hanging heavy bag or standing heavy bag will be your most expensive start up purchase, but it is not difficult to find a great deal on used bags nor is it uncommon to find one for free.
The best defense is to not be where your opponent is striking. The slip ball is a great tool to use for practicing slipping, the bob & weave, and other types of evasive movement. You can easily make a slip ball by haniging a tennis ball, wiffle ball, or other similar object on the end of a string that is hung from above.
In addition to the essential gear listed above, there are many other useful options to make your training more enjoyable and to further enhance your skills. Below is a list of some specific items to consider as you expand your equipment stash. For a more in-depth discussion of gear and equipment, check out this blog post.
Boxing headgear is a padded helmet, worn on the head by those training in combat sports. When worn during sparring, headgear protects against cuts, scrapes, and the jarring experienced when struck.
A mouth guard is important to protect from tooth chipping and to reduce the risk of concussion during sparring sessions.
The speed bag is fantastic for developing speed, accuracy and hand-eye coordination.
The double-ended bag or reflex bag is a great training tool to further develop hand speed and punch accuracy. As the heavy bag swings and provides a simulation of a moving opponent so do these bags. However, with these smaller tools you can adjust the support system tension to create faster reactions to your strikes which will require you to react faster (as compared to a large heavy bag) when the bag rebounds.
There are many other optional pieces of equipment that can enhance your training. Here are a few examples: reflex ball, Body Opponent Bag (B.O.B.), focus mitts, belly pads thigh pads, kick shields, striking pads, uppercut/hook bags. Some of these are used for practicing specific techniques and some are used to protect training partners. Any considerations beyond the essentials listed above become more personalized in nature, perhaps enhancing a particular strength or skill you have.
As stated above, Muay Thai is a combat sport that originates from much older battle arts and today is the Thai national sport. In Muay Thai, competitors fight in a stance similar Western Boxing (typically more squared off with the opponent), but elbows, knees and kicks strikes are allowed. An important aspect of this fighting style is the clinch (standing grappling). A major difference between Muay Thai and kickboxing is that the former allows fighters to use their knees and elbows.
Another important difference between Muay Thai and boxing/kickboxing is that the former permits a clinch. This means that a fighter can wrap their hands around the back of an opponent’s neck or head. With a clinch locked in, a Muay Thai fighter can deliver knees and elbows to targets from multiple angles. In Muay Thai an opponent can be thrown to the ground or tripped from the clinch as well. Lastly, Muay Thai rules allow kicks to the legs. Kicks can be aimed at the calf of an opponent, to the side of their knee or into the thigh. The common response to such kicks is to “check” them, which means turning one’s shin into the kick to block it.
The fundamental square stance is forward-facing with hands held straight with the fingertips above or just below forehead and forearms pointing towards opponent with elbows pointed out slightly, and hips facing forward. This stance is allows you to throw lead and rear kicks, check kicks, and also throw elbows and knees.
The long guard is an effective defensive guard against punches and opponents pressing you to get inside and clinch. The lead arm can be used as an attacking weapon in the long guard to disrupt your opponents attacks as well as a distance finder. Notice Nick’s feet: he is ready to move in any direction, as the fight dictates.
The step-and-drag is how we describe the basic Muay Thai footwork. To move this way, you step with the foot closest to the direction you want to move, then drag the other foot bag to a square stance. For example, if you want to move forward: step with the lead foot first [NOTE: in forward-backward movement, which foot moves first depends on if you are in an orthodox (left hand leading) or southpaw (right hand leading) stance] then drag the rear foot back to proper stance position. If you want to move to the right, step with the right foot [NOTE: with lateral movement it does not matter if you are in orthodox or southpaw orientation] then drag the left foot back to proper stance position. This stepping and dragging footwork technique ensures that your weight is balanced and you are always ready to attack or defend. This footwork also prevents you from walking or crossing your feet which can put you fall off balance or make you trip.
Kicking range is considered the first level of contact where you can utilize your longest weapons: your feet. Kicks can be classified as fundamental (basic), specialty or advanced. Obviously, the fundamentals are simpler and learned at early stages of training but they are the foundation of your skill set and should always be practiced and used in sparring or fighting.
As with every kick, all the power lies in your hips. When you twist your hip and thrust it forward as you kick, your body weight transfers into the kick, making it more powerful. Also, whipping your hand down as you turn your hip and kick will not only help you generate speed and power, it will also help you maintain balance.
The front teep kick can be thrown to the body (predominantly) or to the head. It is somewhat analogous to a straight punch, pushing your opponent away or delivering damage. Notice the lean back and hip extension.
The rear teep is a more powerful teep than the front teep, but it requires more time to throw the strike. While the front teep is a great technique to use for defense and offense, the rear teep is similar to the jumping teep. This teep generates more power than the front teep and will knock your opponent further back. Notice the lean back and hip extension.
The teep with the best speed-to-power ratio is the side teep. This version of the teep can be executed from the front or lead leg. Compared to the lead leg front teep, the side teep has more range potential due to the body mechanics in executing this teep. Notice how Nick rotates his lead foot heel and drives off the toes.
The Muay Thai roundhouse kick is a rotational kick. Thai fighters will use their shins rather than their feet to make contact (and inflict damage) on their opponents. Stepping out with your pivoting foot at a 45-degree angle helps you keep your balance as you throw that roundhouse kick. After you step your planted foot out, you must explode up onto the ball of your foot and remain on it throughout the duration of the kick. Exploding up instantly after you step in adds power to the kick. Being on the ball of your foot for the duration of the kick will allow you to rotate into the kick better as there is less surface friction with the ground, ensuring maximum speed and power. One of the best analogies refers to the roundhouse kick and baseball (specifically a baseball bat swing). The leg which is used to throw the roundhouse is the bat, of course, with the swinging movement and complete penetration of the target. Notice how Nick rotates his lead foot heel and drives off the toes.
Punching range is considered the second level of contact where you can utilize your next-longest weapons: your hands. Below you will find descriptions and images of basic punches used in Muay Thai.
The jab is executed with the weapon that is closest to the opponent (lead hand). The lead hand jab is not as powerful as a rear hand cross. This technique is a great tactic to use before executing a combination on your opponent. Notice how Nick pushes off his rear toes and rotates his hips, allowing the jab to be in proper alignment and to have “body sponsored” power.
The cross is a power punch. In Muay Thai it’s frequently used as knock out punch. Like the jab, it’s a punch you’ll use often; unlike the jab, it’s rarely used as a setup punch. A cross is generally thrown after the jab, or at the end of the combination. Because the cross is thrown from your rear (power) hand, it takes time for it to connect when compared with lead hand punches. Because the cross is such a powerful punch it can be used to knock out your opponent, or at the very least it will stun or hurt them. Notice the rear foot rotation which allows the upper body rotation that yield power and greater range of motion.
The hook can be one of the most effective punches to use in almost any situation. Start by launching your fist towards the target, keeping your elbow parallel to your cheekbone. Pay attention to your form and make sure you aren’t throwing the hook wide. Keep it nice and compact, and don’t forget to pivot to shift your weight and momentum behind the punch. Notice Nick’s front foot rotation which allows his upper body rotation that gives his hook power and greater range of motion.
To execute a knee technique, step forward on your front foot (or switch step to put your power side back) and fully extend your front leg to generate power into your hips. Pushing your hips forward will not only generate power into your knee but also help you cover more distance in the knee. Leaning your upper body back will help propel your hips forward to generate more power into the knee strike. Similar to a Muay Thai kick, where your kicking side arm swings across your body to generate forward moment, you should also swing your kneeing side arm across your body (or pull or your opponent if you are clinching) to bring your knee further forward and generate even more power.
The straight (or spear) knee is a technique that is favored by many of the clinch fighters. This is the knee that can aggressively put your opponent in a defensive position while driving him back towards the ropes as you engage in the clinch. A well-timed forward knee can have devastating effects and even KO an opponent who is not prepared for the strike. Notice how Nick drives his body weight into the target, rising onto his toes.
The flare knee is delivered at a narrow angle to the opponent. The knee should be lifted to the height of the target then driven straight into the target. As the strike makes contact, drive the bony part of the knee into the opponents ribs (or thigh). Notice how Nick drives his body weight into the target, rising onto his toes.
Elbows are an effective short range weapon which are delivered mostly to the upper part of the body, above the neck. The primary target of the elbow are the temples, eyebrows, and the eyes. To form the elbow into a weapon, the elbow joint is flexed at the point of contact. The fingers straighten out as the elbow flexes as to expose the sharp edge of the elbow into the target.
The straight (Spear) elbow is delivered directly straight into the opponent (horizontally), often from the lead elbow. It can be done with more power if executed from the rear arm. It is a very dangerous strike because it’s trajectory travels directly to the target and is deceptively fast. At the point of contact, 100% of the weight of the body needs to be on the front foot, regardless of whether it’s on the ball of the foot or flat footed. Notice how Nick picks up his rear heel and squares his hips to the target to put body weight behind this strike.
The upward (vertical) elbow typically targets the opponent’s chin, chest and facial areas. To execute this elbow from the rear arm, the lead arm and shoulder pull back, driving the rear shoulder and elbow forward. Notice how Nick picks up his rear heel and squares his hips to the target to put body weight behind this strike.
The downward elbow strikes downward onto the opponents eyebrows, nose, or temples. This elbow derives its power from the feet pushing against the floor, the twist of the body, and fast rotation of shoulder to deliver the elbow from directly overhead. Notice the rear heel pivot and hip rotation which yields a stable body structure and allows body weight to drive the strike.
The best way to not be punched is to move yourself away from the threat. The punch slip is a prime example of how to do just that. It is an excellent defense against a straight punch (jab or cross). To do the slip, you simply move your head and upper body (laterally) to the left or right of a straight punch.
The bob & weave, also seen in other “standing” fighting styles, is a basic defense against round punches, especially the hook. To do the bob & weave, you duck under a hooking punch and reset yourself to a fighting stance where you can perform another defensive maneuver or execute a counter-strike, as necessary. Notice how Nick keeps his chin tucked and his guard high as a secondary line of protection.
Because Muay Thai incorporates kicking offensive techniques, you must know how to defend against them. There are multiple ways of doing this, including checking (directly blocking a kick), parrying (re-directing), and side-stepping (like slipping a punch). In Muay Thai fights you will commonly see a kick catch + punch counter defense. To do this you literally “catch” a kick (typically aimed at the body – e.g., roundhouse). By catching the kick you have control of the opponent and you can choose to throw them, sweep their leg, or counter-strike. In the example below you will see Nick catch (wrapping his arm over and pulling the leg into his body tightly) a kick while simultaneously side stepping (going “with” the kick, taking away some of its momentum) then countering with a straight punch (cross). Notice that he is still holding and controlling the leg when he executes the counter punch.
Below you can see Nick Vasallo and a student practicing The Distance Drill. In this drill, the goal is to maintain the same distance from your opponent by matching his or her forward/backward or side-to-side movement.
In the Low Kick Drill seen below, partners take turns blocking then executing low kicks. This is done slowly at first to develop good timing and technique and the pace increases over time. Notice they are wearing shin guards to protect themselves.
The GMAU Online Muay Thai program integrates theory into the curriculum. We don’t want you to just know HOW to do techniques, we want you to also critically consider WHY a particular technique is a good or bad option, given the circumstances. Therefore, at each level of training you will examine the pros and cons of various stances, punches/strikes, kicks, linear vs. circular vs. spinning attacks, etc. This is a unique feature of our curriculum you will not always find embedded within other programs.
Once you can successfully execute basic techniques, movements, and develop your rhythm, then you can consider sparring. While sparring will develop toughness, and sharpen your timing and technique, it can also create bad habits if you don’t have good fundamentals. Sparring is a training method that allows one to use everything they’ve learned against a real opponent. You will quickly learn what does and does not “work” through sparring. While you may be excited to try sparring, be patient and focus on drilling until you have good enough control and technique. Sparring is where you will find your own personal style. Our students in the GMAU Online Muay Thai program are introduced to sparring at Level 3 then work toward more vigorous sparring as they progress through Levels 4-6.
We live in a day and time where there are many options for products and services. Regarding pursuits like training in martial arts, one can now learn in person or online. Which is best for an individual depends on many factors. Below I have provided useful information to illustrate your options and (hopefully) help you make this important decision.
Selecting a place to train is one of the most important decisions you will make in your Muay Thai journey. If you end up choosing the wrong gym, you can end up learning a watered down version of Kickboxing with a few elements of Muay Thai added to it. By choosing a quality facility will be more likely to develop proper technique from the beginning, as opposed to learning from someone who is not truly invested in his or her students.
” In the martial arts, the relationship of Master and disciple is a peculiar one. At the beginning, we may find the training not alluring and exciting, but boring. We would be wise to remember that the beginning is but the foundation of what can become a great edifice. “
− Tri Thong Dang
Be sure to research the background of the instructor(s) who teach at the locations you found. Remember that just because a gym looks really nice doesn’t mean it’s a great place to train. Look for a gym that has staff with actual fight records or otherwise legitimate backgrounds. Lastly, don’t forget to look them up on sites like Yelp, peruse their websites and social media – and definitely talk to people who currently (or have in the past) trained there.
Unless you live in or near a larger city, it is not unusual to have great difficulty finding a place to train. Global Martial Arts University is a pioneer in quality online martial arts instruction, ranking and certification. With the innovative GMAU learning platform you can train wherever you want, across your favorite devices, at a time that works best with your schedule.
“It is impossible today to imagine the world without the Internet: it enables us to do things that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable, and reaches every facet of our lives.”
“ The participatory, communal nature of many social Internet applications and activities is aligned closely with the fundamental qualities of how humans learn, not least the practices of creating, sharing, collaborating, and critiquing. ”
“ The Internet isn’t just a powerful tool for communication. It’s arguably the most potent force for learning and innovation since the printing press. And it’s at the center of what is possibly the world’s mightiest struggle and greatest opportunity: How to re-imagine education and learning in a transformative era. ”
Source: Manuel Castells, David Gelernter, Juan Vázquez, Evgeni Morozov, Mikko Hyppönen, et al. (2014). Change: 19 Key Essays on How Internet Is Changing our Lives. Turner: Madrid, Spain.
In-person Muay Thai instruction can cost hundreds of dollars a month. With GMAU you will have everything you need to learn how to learn this amazing art for less than $20/month, you can save thousands on your personal martial arts journey! We custom tailor the learning process for you to be able to learn in the comfort of your own home. No more having to rush to get to a session or being one in a crowd. Your journey to Muay Thai mastery is yours and we focus on you by providing exclusive one-on-one instructor feedback.
Every GMAU program is instructed in an easy to follow format, showing multiple angles, and home training drills; all filmed in a studio in HD. With dozens of complete follow-along classes (which include a warm up, technique training, drills, conditioning, and stretching) you’ll never run out of material to study and apply in training. New training lessons and classes release every month. There is always something to do! New tools and features are regularly added to the GMAU Student Dashboard to make training at home more enjoyable and successful. GMAU students interact directly with our instructors whenever they need guidance. Our Student Locator Feature allows you to easily locate and connect with other GMAU students in your area. Once you’ve learned the rank requirements and logged enough hours, you can submit a video for progress checks or testing.
Goals are an important part of success in every life endeavor. They provide a sense of direction, motivation, a clear focus, and clarify importance. By setting personal goals, you are providing yourself with a clear direction and path to success. SMART is an acronym/mnemonic that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. A SMART goal incorporates all of these criteria to help focus your efforts and increase the chances of achieving that goal. Those who write out their goal(s) using the SMART method have clarity for what needs to be done and a direction to guide their efforts.
One of the biggest challenges many GMAU student face is finding training partner(s). The Student Locator Feature found in the GMAU Student Dashboard can be very helpful to overcome this obstacle. Our successful students have also recruited family and friends to help them drill techniques and film progress checks and testing videos. The common key to success found in the GMAU Discussion Board and confirmed in interviews with our students is simply setting a time to train and committing to that “protected time”. Just as you would show up to a brick and mortar school at a set time for class, so should you lock in a time for home training. The difference is that YOU set the time and day!