Muay Thai: What Does It Teach You?

What Does Muay Thai Teach You

In 2006, I walked into my first Muay Thai class without really knowing what I was going to be taught. If you’re about to do the same, here’s what you can expect to learn.

In Muay Thai you will learn the clinch, and a variety of striking techniques using 2 fists and elbows, and 2 knees and shins. Muay Thai teaches you how to, punch with boxing techniques, use elbow and kneeing strikes, kick to the legs, body, and head, and how to trip and strike from the clinch.

The rest of this article will give you an in-depth look at what you can expect to learn from Muay Thai, including:

  • The techniques used in Muay Thai
  • Muay Thai’s use of grappling
  • Learning Muay Thai for self-defense

Let’s break it down.

Muay Thai: The Art of 8 Limbs

Whether you’re learning Muay Thai for self-defense or just for health and fitness, the techniques you’ll learn will be the same.

Muay Thai teaches a variety of striking techniques using both the arms and legs – with each limb having 2 weapons – both your arms with a fist and an elbow each, and both your legs with a knee and a shin each – giving Muay Thai its popular name: The Art of 8 Limbs.

  • 2 Fists
  • 2 Elbows
  • 2 Knees
  • 2 Shins for kicking

Muay Thai also has an armoury of weapons to unleash at close range from within the clinch too, meaning the distance between you and an opponent does not hinder Muay Thai’s effectiveness – you will be taught how to use a variety of weapons at any range.

Punches & Elbows

Much like in traditional western Boxing, Muay Thai teaches you how to punch with a variety of Boxing techniques.

But what makes Muay Thai unique is it’s use of elbow attacks – which can be used in a variety of ways, from step-in elbows, hook elbows, and spinning back elbows.

When you start doing Muay Thai, you will learn:

Muay Thai Punches
  • Jab One of the most important techniques for both Muay Thai and Boxing is the jab. It can be used from both long and mid-range to either initiate an attack or keep your opponent away. The jab is thrown with your lead hand (nearest your opponent).
  • Cross Sometimes referred to as the power shot, the cross normally follows the lead hand jab and is intended to cause more damage with a heavy impact. The cross is thrown with your back hand (furthest from your opponent).
  • Hook Depending on your stance, the left and right hook punches can either be thrown with your left lead hand, or your right back hand. Your lead hook generally follows up the straight cross to make the one-two-three combination – with the lead hook being third. Hooks are thrown parallel to the grown.
  • Upper Cut Much like with hooks, both upper cuts are thrown with either your lead or back hand. Upper cuts are thrown vertically from the ground and up towards the sky – the intended target is usually for under your opponent’s chin.
  • Straight Elbow The straight elbow is like the jab for elbows and is thrown with the point of the elbow directly towards your opponent – either when stepping in, or from within the clinch.
  • Hook Elbow Using the point/ forearm in a slicing motion, the hook elbow is thrown in a similar way to hook punches and can be used both from striking range, and from within the clinch.
  • Spinning Back Elbow Thrown from a variety of angles, the spinning back elbow can come from both within striking range and the clinch. Another common set up you’re likely to be taught in Muay Thai, is to throw a spinning back elbow after catching one of your opponent’s kicks.
  • Combinations Acombination is when you combine several strikes together in quick succession. The most common combination is the jab-cross-lead hook, referred to as the one-two-three – with the jab being first, the cross second, and the lead hook third. In Muay Thai though, you’ll be taught a selection of combinations including punches, elbows, knees, and kicks.

Knees & Kicks

Muay Thai is famous worldwide for its use of powerful knees and kicks, which you will spend much of your training learning to do correctly.

In full Muay Thai rules, both knees and kicks are allowed to the legs, body, and head – therefore, you will be taught how to effectively use each technique.

When you start doing Muay Thai, you will learn:

Muay Thai Kicks
  • Roundhouse Kick One of the most common kicks in Muay Thai, is the roundhouse kick which can be thrown from either the front or rear leg. The roundhouse kick is where the leg is used to rotate around in a swinging motion – aiming to strike with your lower shin.
  • Push Kick (Teep) You will learn the straight push kick – known as the Teep – which is commonly used in Muay Thai to either defend against your opponent from moving forward or to attack as you close the distance and push your opponent off balance.
  • Spinning Back Kick Although used less in Muay Thai, the spinning back kick is still allowed and may be taught at your school. The technique generates maximum power and velocity by spinning the whole body through an entire rotation before throwing the kick.
Muay Thai Knees
  • Knees At close range, you will be taught how to use knees to strike a variety of targets. In Muay Thai, knees can be thrown from a standing position or as a jumping technique to use momentum and generate maximum power and impact.

Defending Strikes

As you would expect from a truly effective martial art, Muay Thai doesn’t just teach you how to attack with strikes of your own – it also teaches you how to defend against strikes from your opponent.

To do this, Muay Thai teaches you how to defend against punches with the same head movement used in western Boxing, including, the guard, slip, and parry.

As well as teaching you how to defend against knees, elbows and kicks.

When you start doing Muay Thai, you will learn:

  • Guard If you’ve ever watched a professional fight, you may have heard the fighter’s corner shouting “keep your hands up”. That is what the guard is, its all about keeping your chin tucked into your shoulder ad your hands glued to your chin to protect it from being caught with strikes.

To defend against the straight punches of your opponent – either the jab or the cross – you will be taught how to use the slip and the parry.

  • Slip When your opponent throws a straight punch to your head (jab or cross), they will be throwing it in a straight line, directly towards the target, this is known as ‘down the centre line’. The slip is where you’re taught how to move your head just off the centre line, and therefore just out of the way from your opponent’s punches. You will be taught how to time your slips correctly and how to slip off both to your left, and to your right.
  • Parry Again defending straight punches, but instead of moving your head to avoid the punch, with the parry you will be taught to use your hand from your guard to knock your opponent’s punches just off the centre line – and to miss your head.
Muay Thai Kick Defense

To defend against your opponent’s kicks – both to your head and legs – you will be taught how to avoid the kick and how to ‘check the kick’.

  • Avoid the kick There are two main ways you’ll be taught to avoid kicks. First, avoiding a head kick can be done by arching back from the hip in a ‘limbo’ type movement. This technique requires mobility and correct timing to be effective. Second, avoiding a leg kick to your lead leg can be done by shifting your wait onto your back foot and sliding your lead leg just out of range – again, you will be taught correct timing.
  • Check the kick In Muay Thai, one of the most common leg kicks is aimed at the soft muscle area of the thigh. To defend against this, you will be taught to ‘check the kick’. This is where you lift your knee up and absorb the strike into your shin rather than your thigh. The shin-on-shin impact hurts – but it is better than taking the shot to your thigh. During training proper protective shin guards are essential.

For an in-depth look at the importance of shin guards in Muay Thai – check out our article: Muay Thai Shin Guards: Do You Need Them.

The Clinch

There are three main ranges that Muay Thai can be effectively used – long range (punches and kicks), mid-range (punches, kicks and elbows), and close range. At close range the clinch can be used to open up a whole new range of techniques that you will be taught during your training.

The clinch is where you grab a hold of your opponent. The clinch can be used with a body lock or with two hands holding onto the back your opponent’s head – known as the Thai Clinch.

From within the clinch, strikes such as knees and elbows are used – as well as trips and throws.

When you start doing Muay Thai, you will learn:

  • Strikes from the clinch From within the clinch you will be taught a variety of strikes including, knees to the body and head – along with elbows and punches. Strikes from the clinch are what separates Muay Thai from many other forms of martial arts and can be extremely effective in both competitions or self-defense.
  • Trips & Throws Muay Thai teaches you how to use different trips and throws from the clinch which you learn to use to drop your opponent to the ground. However, Muay Thai does not teach wrestling or Judo style takedowns or ground grappling.

Does Muay Thai Teach Grappling?

When people think of Muay Thai, they just think of striking. But a lot of Muay Thai training happens from within the clinch, where both strikes, and some grappling is used.

Muay Thai teaches a small amount of grappling techniques from within the clinch, but they are limited to trips and sweeps in order to knock an opponent to the ground. Once on the ground, Muay Thai does not teach any ground grappling techniques.

Its important to note that Muay Thai is a striking martial art, and therefore it’s focus on grappling is very limited.

Some Muay Thai schools will focus on clinch-grappling more than others, so don’t be disappointed if you find that you’re not getting taught much (if any) clinch-grappling at your school.

I personally didn’t learn anything that I would consider as grappling in Muay Thai until I went to Thailand – where they taught us takedowns and trips from the clinch.

Grappling in Muay Thai is generally used in the clinch to off balance your opponent and set up a trip – or to kick out their supporting leg, therefore Muay Thai does not teach Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling type grappling.

Which is better – grappling or striking? To find out – check out our article: Grappling Vs Striking: Pros & Cons of Each

Does Muay Thai Teach Self-Defense?

Not only is Muay Thai a popular combat sport – Muay Thai is also great for leaning self-defense. This is because:

Muay Thai teaches you how to defend yourself using a wide variety of techniques including punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and the clinch. Meaning Muay Thai is great for self-defense from any range. Muay Thai also prepares you for real-life situations with hands-on training including, pad work, bag work, and sparring.

Unlike some other martial arts that don’t allow full-contact training until you’re at an advanced level, Muay Thai uses full-contact training from day one.

This training is perfect for replicating real-life situations and is much more effective for preparing you to defend yourself if you need to.

Muay Thai can prepare you for self-defense – check out our article to see how: Muay Thai for Self-Defense: 7 Key Benefits

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