Muay Thai match in Bangkok, Thailand.
Formal muay Thai techniques are divided into two groups: mae mai or major techniques and luk mai or minor techniques. Muay Thai is often a fighting art of attrition, where opponents exchange blows with one another. This is certainly the case with traditional stylists in Thailand, but is a less popular form of fighting in the contemporary world fighting circuit where the Thai style of exchanging blow for blow is no longer favorable. Almost all techniques in muay Thai use the entire body movement, rotating the hip with each kick, punch, elbow and block.
As a tactic, body punching is used less in muay Thai than most other striking combat sports to avoid exposing the attacker's head to counter strikes from knees or elbows. To utilize the range of targeting points, in keeping with the center line theory, the fighter can use either the Western or Thai stance which allows for either long range or short range attacks to be undertaken effectively without compromising guard.
There is also a distinct difference between a single elbow and a follow-up elbow. The single elbow is an elbow move independent from any other move, whereas a follow-up elbow is the second strike from the same arm, being a hook or straight punch first with an elbow follow-up. Such elbows, and most other elbow strikes, are used when the distance between fighters becomes too small and there is too little space to throw a hook at the opponent's head. Elbows can also be utilized to great effect as blocks or defenses against, for example, spring knees, side body knees, body kicks or punches.
Muay Thai boxer delivering a kick
If a roundhouse kick is attempted by the opponent, the Thai boxer will normally check the kick, that is he will block the kick with his own shin. Thai boxers are trained to always connect with the shin. The foot contains many fine bones and is much weaker. A fighter may end up hurting himself if he tries to strike with his foot or instep.
Muay Thai also includes other varieties of kicking such as the side kick and spinning back kick. These kicks are used in bouts only by few fighters.
Knee (Ti khao)
Khao loi (Flying knee strike) – the boxer takes a step(s), jumps forward and off one leg and strikes with that leg's knee.
Khao thon [kʰàw tʰoːn] (Straight knee strike) – the boxer simply thrusts it forward but not upwards, unless he is holding an opponents head down in a clinch and intend to knee upwards into the face. According to one written source, this technique is somewhat more recent than khao dot or khao loi. Supposedly, when the Thai boxers fought with rope-bound hands rather than the modern boxing gloves, this particular technique was subject to potentially vicious cutting, slicing and sawing by an alert opponent who would block it or deflect it with the sharp "rope-glove" edges which are sometimes dipped in water to make the rope much stronger. This explanation also holds true for some of the following knee strikes below as well.
The foot-thrust or literally "foot jab" is one of the techniques in muay Thai. It is mainly used as a defensive technique to control distance or block attacks. Foot-thrusts should be thrown quickly but yet with enough force to knock an opponent off balance.
In Western boxing the two fighters are separated when they clinch; in muay Thai, however, they are not. It is often in the clinch where knee and elbow techniques are used. To strike and bind the opponent for both offensive and defensive purposes, small amounts of stand-up grappling are used in the clinch. The front clinch should be performed with the palm of one hand on the back of the other. There are three reasons why the fingers must not be intertwined. 1) In the ring fighters are wearing boxing gloves and cannot intertwine their fingers. 2) The Thai front clinch involves pressing the head of the opponent downwards, which is easier if the hands are locked behind the back of the head instead of behind the neck. Furthermore the arms should be putting as much pressure on the neck as possible. 3) A fighter may incur an injury to one or more fingers if they are intertwined, and it becomes more difficult to release the grip in order to quickly elbow the opponent's head.
A correct clinch also involves the fighter's forearms pressing against the opponent's collar bone while the hands are around the opponent's head rather than the opponent's neck. The general way to get out of a clinch is to push the opponent's head backwards or elbow them, as the clinch requires both participants to be very close to one another. Additionally, the non-dominant clincher can try to "swim" their arm underneath and inside the opponent's clinch, establishing the previously non-dominant clincher as the dominant clincher.
Muay Thai has several other variants of the clinch or chap kho [tɕàp kʰɔː], including:
arm clinch: One or both hands controls the inside of the defender's arm(s) and where the second hand if free is in the front clinch position. This clinch is used to briefly control the opponent before applying a knee strike or throw
side clinch: One arm passes around the front of the defender with the attacker's shoulder pressed into the defender's arm pit and the other arm passing round the back which allows the attacker to apply knee strikes to the defender's back or to throw the defender readily.
low clinch: Both controlling arms pass under the defender's arms, which is generally used by the shorter of two opponents.
swan-neck: One hand around the rear of the neck is used to briefly clinch an opponent before a strike.
Defense against attacks
Defenses in muay Thai are categorized in six groups:
Blocking – defender's hard blocks to stop a strike in its path so preventing it reaching its target (e.g. the shin block described in more detail below)
Redirection – defender's soft parries to change the direction of a strike (e.g. a downwards tap to a jab) so that it misses the target
Avoidance – moving a body part out of the way or range of a strike so the defender remains in range for a counter-strike. For example, the defender moves their front leg backwards to avoid the attacker's low kick, then immediately counters with a roundhouse kick. Or the defender might lay their head back from the attacker's high roundhouse kick then counter-attack with a side kick.
Evasion – moving the body out of the way or range of a strike so the defender has to move close again to counter-attack, e.g. defender jumping laterally or back from attacker's kicks
Disruption – Pre-empting an attack e.g. with defender using disruptive techniques like jab, foot-thrust or low roundhouse kick, generally called a "leg kick"(to the outside or inside of the attacker's front leg, just above the knee) as the attacker attempts to close distance
Anticipation – Defender catching a strike (e.g. catching an roundhouse kick to the body) or countering it before it lands (e.g. defender's low kick to the supporting leg below as the attacker initiates a high roundhouse kick).
Punches and kicks
Defensively, the concept of "wall of defense" is used, in which shoulders, arms and legs are used to hinder the attacker from successfully executing techniques. Blocking is a critical element in muay Thai and compounds the level of conditioning a successful practitioner must possess. Low and mid body roundhouse kicks are normally blocked with the upper portion of a raised shin. High body strikes are blocked ideally with the forearms and shoulder together, or if enough time is allowed for a parry, the glove (elusively), elbow, or shin will be used. Midsection roundhouse kicks can also be caught/trapped, allowing for a sweep or counter-attack to the remaining leg of the opponent. Punches are blocked with an ordinary boxing guard and techniques similar, if not identical, to basic boxing technique. A common means of blocking a punch is using the hand on the same side as the oncoming punch. For example, if an orthodox fighter throws a jab (being the left hand), the defender will make a slight tap to redirect the punch's angle with the right hand. The deflection is always as small and precise as possible to avoid unnecessary energy expenditure and return the hand to the guard as quickly as possible. Hooks are most often blocked with a motion most often described as "combing the hair", that is, raising the elbow forward and effectively shielding the head with the forearm, flexed biceps and shoulder. More advanced muay Thai blocks are usually in the form of counter-strikes, using the opponents weight (as they strike) to amplify the damage that the countering opponent can deliver. This requires impeccable timing and thus can generally only be learned by many repetitions.