Thousands of people turn to Muay Thai each year for self-defense – meaning the better you get at Muay Thai, the better equipped you’ll be to defend yourself. Here’s how you can get better at Muay Thai, faster.
In general, you can improve your Muay Thai with consistent weekly training 2-3 days a week, over 12-18 months. Start by video recording yourself in training or while shadowboxing to assess your skills, then drill your weaknesses, practice defense and offense, and monitor your progress.
Let’s break each of the 7 steps which you can use to improve your skills faster, and propel your Muay Thai game forward.
1. Get a Training Partner Outside of Class
When you start learning Muay Thai at your local gym you will be paired up with like-minded training partners who all share the same goal of learning Muay Thai.
The time you spend with your training partners each session is enough to begin learning the basics of Muay Thai – but if you want to improve your skills and progress faster, you will need to do some extra practice outside of class.
Your training partners are the perfect people to ask if they’re interested in doing that extra training with you.
Of course, one of the benefits of training in class is that you have all the equipment provided by the gym – however, a quick Amazon search shows that you can pick up some high quality Muay Thai pads for a very fair price.
In fact, you don’t even need Thai pads to be completely honest but they are a great option.
With your training partner, light touch sparring (or drilling one-for-one) is a great way of improving your Muay Thai.
Touch Sparring (Drilling)
This is where you stand within striking distance of your training partner and just gently land shots on their guard (hands up) and to their body and legs.
Mix it up, and you will soon get into the flow of things.
Just don’t kick each other so hard – if you need to, grab yourself a pair of shin guards to help avoid injury.
“For more on shin guards check out our other article: Muay Thai Shin Guards: Do You Need Them?“
The benefits of touch spar drilling vs the pads or bag work are:
- You get used to landing strikes at the correct distance
- You get comfortable with absorbing your opponent’s strikes
The use of shadowboxing is as old as martial arts themselves.
This is because shadowboxing is a great way of going through the motions of each technique in order to build muscle memory – meaning the motions of each technique start to become second nature to you.
It is important though, that when you’re doing your shadowboxing, you are performing each technique with the correct form.
When shadowboxing, it is better to slow everything down, take your time, and do each move perfectly.
“Practice makes permanent – but perfect practice makes perfect”
As you shadowbox, really visualize your opponent in front of you – and imagine what shots they are throwing at you, and how you’re responding to them.
Mix It Up
To get the best out of shadowboxing, try not to stay in one spot with your feet planted on the ground.
Move around, mix up your imagination of what shots are being thrown at you and your counter shots.
Visualize how you would react if it was all going wrong too – how you’d move your head, how you would move your feet, and how you would counter each of your opponent’s strikes.
By mixing up your shadowboxing, imagining yourself winning and defending – and not just aimlessly throwing punches and kicks into the air – you will begin to form habitual responses which you can use in real-life.
3. Practice Your Defense
There are many different types of defensive techniques in Muay Thai – for example, defending against punches, knees, elbows or kicks.
Some will require you to practice with your training partner, others you will be able to practice by yourself in your shadow boxing to improve your responsive reflexes.
Practice Punch & Elbow Defense
Punch and elbow defense can be practiced both with your training partner in your touch spar drilling, or by yourself in your shadow boxing.
Either way, practicing your punch and elbow defense will help improve your Muay Thai.
Muay Thai punch and elbow defense can be split into three main categories:
- Block/ guard with your hands up
- Slip the shot
Have your training partner throw their punches and elbows at about 40-50% power, and practice defending with your hands up to form a solid guard.
Try to notice where you’re leaving openings for your partner’s shots to sneak through – and close those gaps.
This sort of practice will also help give you confidence in your guard.
Practice the Slip
This can be done both with your training partner, and without.
Have your training partner throw straight punches straight down the centre line towards your head.
While still keeping your hands up to protect your chin – practice moving your head off of the centre line and just out of the way of the shot.
Mix it up with both the jab and the straight cross.
While shadowboxing, mix in some slips and visualize the straight shots being throw straight down the centre line.
Practice the Parry
Again, this can be done on your own during your shadowboxing but is best done with your training partner if possible.
As the straight shots come in on the centre line, use either your lead hand or your back hand to knock the shots off of the centre line, and out of range of their target.
When timed correctly, the parry is an effective way of avoiding your opponent’s punches.
Practice Kicking Defense
One thing which is almost guaranteed to improve your Muay Thai game, is your kicking defense.
Muay Thai kicking defense can be split into three main categories:
- Catch the kick
- Avoid the kick (both to the legs and head)
- Block the kick (known as checking the kick)
Catching the Kick
The best way to practice catching the kick is with your training partner.
However, if your training partner is unavailable, you can still practice going through the motions of this technique in your shadow boxing.
Imagine the kicks being thrown and how you would move out of range and catch the kick and how you will counter with your own strikes once you’ve caught it.
Avoid the Kick
Avoiding the kick in Muay Thai can be done both for leg kicks, and head kicks.
Both defensive techniques can be practiced either with your training partner, or on your own as part of your shadowboxing.
In Muay Thai it is best to distribute your weight more to your back foot, keeping your front foot light on the ground and ready to be lifted into action.
This is for a number of reasons, one of which is to be able to quickly move your entire front leg back – and out of range of your opponent’s leg kicks.
For example, as your opponent aims a leg kick at your lead leg thigh, you quickly shift your weight back and move your lead leg back – making them miss completely – and then reset your stance with your lead leg back out in front.
To avoid the head kick in Muay Thai, a common technique used is to arch back from the hips – meaning your head is moved just out of range.
When you’re practicing this technique, pay attention to how far you’re arching back – is it enough to avoid the kick and make it miss?
Take it slow, drill it first in your shadowboxing, then once you’re comfortable with it, ask your training partner to throw their kick and practice arching back to move your head out of range.
Check the Kick
With so many kicks being targeted at your legs in Muay Thai, it is essential to become comfortable at checking the kick.
This is where you rise your knee up to absorb your opponent’s kick into your shin instead of your soft thigh muscle – it still hurts, but its better than on the thigh.
If you’re drilling kick checks with your training partner, you will need shin guards.
Don’t buy the wrong shin guards – check out our article about the importance of shin guards in Muay Thai. In this article you will discover:
- the different types of shin guards
- how they protect you
- and the best pair to buy
As you’re moving around in your shadowboxing, mix in some kick checks as you imagine your opponent throwing kicks of their own – and how you will defend against them.
4. Video Record Yourself
Whether you’re drilling with your training partner, or just shadowboxing on your own – one of the best ways to get better at Muay Thai, is to pull out your phone and video record yourself.
By recording yourself and reviewing the footage, you are able to make an honest assessment of your skills.
Prop your phone up somewhere that you can get yourself in the full frame, and get to training.
Mix up the angles, face your camera head on and side on – this way you can see your techniques from all angles.
Once you have some footage of yourself, play it back at normal speed, and in slow-motion.
By reviewing the footage of yourself you are able to see where you are making some mistakes in your techniques, or where you may be leaving openings for your opponent to sneak their shots in.
Be honest with yourself and what you’re seeing on the footage, where do you need to improve? Where are you doing well?
Then make a note of your weakest areas, jump on YouTube for some tutorials, then drill your weakest areas.
5. Drill Your Weaknesses
From the footage of yourself on your phone, you should be able to clearly see where you need to improve.
Now instead of just practicing anything with your training partner or in your shadowboxing – drill the things you know you need to improve.
Maybe you need to drill more head movement? Practicing slipping your opponent’s jab-cross.
Maybe you need to work on your kicking and kneeing techniques?
Whatever it is, drill your weaknesses until you start to see real improvements in those areas.
Keep video recording yourself too, this way you’ll be able to see the improvements you’re making over time.
6. Practice for Reps & Time
Training for reps, means training for repetitions – meaning repeating a technique again and again, until it starts to become instinctual.
Let’s say for example, you want to improve your high kick technique – set a goal of how many you want to drill – then drill your high kick until you hit your goal.
Imagine how good your high kick would be if you had drilled it with the perfect form, for 1,000+ times?
As the famous Bruce Lee quote goes:
“I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks – but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”Bruce Lee
The same principle works for practicing for time, instead of reps.
You chose a goal, let’s say 100 hours of shadowboxing or pad work or bag work – now you set out to smash that goal.
Whether you’re practicing for a number of repetitions or a number of hours – you will need to monitor your progress – which in itself, has some big benefits as listed below.
7. Monitor Your Progress
I have personally found that I can stick to something for longer if I can clearly see the progress I have made over time.
And as it turns out, this is actually something that psychologists have studied and proven to be true.
The American Psychological Association did an experiment in which they tested over 19,000 people while they were working towards a goal.
The experiment was designed to see if participants could improve their results just by continually monitoring their progress.
By the end of the experiment, the American Psychological Association said that monitoring your progress towards achieving a goal helps keep you motivated, and therefore increases your chances of success.
“When you’re trying to achieve a goal, the more you monitor your progress, the greater likelihood that you will succeed”The American Psychological Association
Tracking Sheet The best way to monitor your progress is by using a simple tracking sheet that you can make on Excel like this:
Whether you’re monitoring hours trained, or reps completed, mark them off on your tracking sheet with a green highlighter as you complete them.
I have found this to be a great way to keep motivated when you begin to see loads of green highlighter on your sheet – and this technique can be used for any goal you’re working towards – including getting better at Muay Thai.
Discover more about Muay Thai in our other articles:
- Muay Thai Shin Guards: Do You Need Them? – Including the best shin guards you can buy