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Introductory pointers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muay_Thai
Muay Thai
(Thai: มวยไทย, RTGSmuai thai, pronounced [mūa̯j tʰāj] (About this soundlisten)) or literally Thai boxing is a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques.[1][2][3][4] This discipline is known as the “art of eight limbs” as it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins.[5] Muay Thai became widespread internationally in the late 20th to 21st century, when westernized practitioners from Thailand began competing in kickboxing, mixed rules matches, as well as matches under Muay Thai rules around the world. The professional league is governed by The Professional Boxing Association of Thailand (P.A.T) sanctioned by The Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT), and World Professional Muaythai Federation (WMF) overseas.

It is similar to related styles in other parts of the Indian cultural sphere, namely Lethwei in Myanmar, Pradal Serey in Cambodia, Muay Lao in Laos, and Tomoi in Malaysia.[6]

Techniques

 
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.

Punching (Chok)

English Thai Romanization IPA
Jab หมัดหน้า/หมัดแย็บ Mat na/Mat yaep [màt nâ]
Cross หมัดตรง Mat trong [màt troŋ]
Hook หมัดเหวี่ยงสั้น Mat wiang san [màt wìəŋ sân]
Overhand (boxing) หมัดเหวี่ยงยาว Mat wiang yao [màt wìəŋ jaːw]
Spinning Backfist หมัดเหวี่ยงกลับ Mat wiang klap [màt wìəŋ klàp]
Uppercut หมัดเสย/หมัดสอยดาว Mat soei/Mat soi dao [màt sɤ̌j], [màt sɔ̌j daːw]
Superman punch กระโดดชก Kradot chok [kradòːt tɕʰók]

The punch techniques in Muay Thai were originally quite limited, being crosses and a long (or lazy) circular strike made with a straight (but not locked) arm and landing with the heel of the palm. Cross-fertilization with Western boxing and western martial arts mean the full range of western boxing punches are now used: lead jab, straight/cross, hook, uppercut, shovel and corkscrew punches and overhands as well as hammer fists and back fists.

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.

Elbow (Sok)

The elbow can be used in several ways as a striking weapon: horizontal, diagonal-upwards, diagonal-downwards, uppercut, downward, backward-spinning and flying. From the side, it can be used as either a finishing move or as a way to cut the opponent’s eyebrow so that blood might block his vision. The diagonal elbows are faster than the other forms but are less powerful. The elbow strike is considered the most dangerous form of attack in the sport.

English Thai Romanization IPA
Elbow Slash ศอกตี (ศอกสับ) Sok ti [sɔ̀ːk tiː]
Horizontal Elbow ศอกตัด Sok tat [sɔ̀ːk tàt]
Uppercut Elbow ศอกงัด Sok ngat [sɔ̀ːk ŋát]
Forward Elbow Thrust ศอกพุ่ง Sok phung [sɔ̀ːk pʰûŋ]
Reverse Horizontal Elbow ศอกเหวี่ยงกลับ (ศอกกระทุ้ง) Sok wiang klap [sɔ̀ːk wìəŋ klàp]
Spinning Elbow ศอกกลับ Sok klap [sɔ̀ːk klàp]
Double Elbow Chop ศอกกลับคู่ Sok klap khu [sɔ̀ːk klàp kʰûː]
Mid-Air Elbow Strike กระโดดศอก Kradot sok [kradòːt sɔ̀ːk]

There is a distinct difference between a single elbow and a follow-up elbow. The single elbow is a move independent from any other, 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 be used to great effect as blocks or defenses against, for example, spring knees, side body knees, body kicks or punches. When well connected, an elbow strike can cause serious damage to the opponent, including cuts or even a knockout.

Kicking (Te)

 
Muay Thai boxer delivering a kick
English Thai Romanization IPA
Straight Kick เตะตรง Te trong [tèʔ troŋ]
Roundhouse Kick เตะตัด Te tat [tèʔ tàt]
Diagonal Kick เตะเฉียง Te chiang [tèʔ tɕʰǐəŋ]
Half-Shin, Half-Knee Kick เตะครึ่งแข้งครึ่งเข่า Te khrueng khaeng khrueng khao [tèʔ kʰrɯ̂ŋ kʰɛ̂ŋ kʰrɯ̂ŋ kʰàw]
Reverse Roundhouse Kick เตะกลับหลัง Te klap lang [tèʔ klàp lǎŋ]
Down Roundhouse Kick เตะกด Te kot [tèʔ kòt]
Axe Heel Kick เตะเข่า Te khao [tèʔ kʰàw]
Jump Kick กระโดดเตะ Kradot te [kradòːt tèʔ]
Step-Up Kick เขยิบเตะ Khayoep te [kʰa.jɤ̀p tèʔ]

The two most common kicks[12] in Muay Thai are known as the thip (literally “foot jab”) and the te chiang (kicking upwards in the shape of a triangle cutting under the arm and ribs), or roundhouse kick. The Thai roundhouse kick uses a rotational movement of the entire body and has been widely adopted by practitioners of other combat sports. It is done from a circular stance with the back leg just a little ways back (roughly shoulder width apart) in comparison to instinctive upper body fighting (boxing) where the legs must create a wider base. The roundhouse kick draws its power almost entirely from the rotational movement of the hips, counter-rotation of the shoulders and arms are also often used to add torque to the lower body and increase the power of the kick as well.[13]

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 the outside of his lower leg. 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. Shins are trained by repeatedly striking firm objects, such as pads or heavy bags.

Knee (Ti Khao)[14]

English Thai Romanization IPA
Straight Knee Strike เข่าตรง Khao trong [kʰàw troŋ]
Diagonal Knee Strike เข่าเฉียง Khao chiang [kʰàw tɕʰǐəŋ]
Curving Knee Strike เข่าโค้ง Khao khong [kʰàw kʰóːŋ]
Horizontal Knee Strike เข่าตัด Khao tat [kʰàw tàt]
Knee Slap เข่าตบ Khao top [kʰàw tòp]
Knee Bomb เข่ายาว Khao yao [kʰàw jaːw]
Flying Knee เข่าลอย Khao loi [kʰàw lɔːj]
Step-Up Knee Strike เข่าเหยียบ Khao yiap [kʰàw jìəp]
  • Khao dot [kʰàw dòːt] (Jumping knee strike) – the boxer jumps up on one leg and strikes with that leg’s knee.
  • 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 opponent’s 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.[citation needed] 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.

Foot-thrust (Thip)

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 with enough force to knock an opponent off balance.

English Thai Romanization IPA
Straight Foot-Thrust ถีบตรง Thip trong [tʰìːp troŋ]
Sideways Foot-Thrust ถีบข้าง Thip khang [tʰìːp kʰâːŋ]
Reverse Foot-Thrust ถีบกลับหลัง Thip klap lang [tʰìːp klàp lǎŋ]
Slapping Foot-Thrust ถีบตบ Thip top [tʰìːp tòp]
Jumping Foot-Thrust กระโดดถีบ Kradot thip [kradòːt tʰìːp]

Clinch and neck wrestling (Chap kho)

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 backward 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.[citation needed]

Defense against attacks

 
Praying before the match

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)
  • Parries – 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 backward 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 a 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).

Defenses in practice

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 (this block is known as a ‘check’). 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 often blocked with a motion sometimes 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 opponent’s 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.