Muay Thai is a sport that is increasing in popularity over recent years, both as a result of its own merits and also because of its use within mixed martial arts, particularly the UFC. It can be argued that it is the ultimate stand-up striking sport, incorporating the use of shins, knees, fists, feet, and elbows, all to incapacitate your opponent. However, there is so much more to the sport than that. Muay Thai allows the practitioner to benefit from improved discipline, extremely good fitness levels, and an ability to overcome challenges and obstacles in life. Similarly to other sports, there is a strong emphasis on the mental as well as the physical.
Muay Thai is commonly known as the science of eight limbs because of its employment of punches, kicks, knees and elbows. It originated over a thousand years ago when Thai warriors were shown how to fight with different weapons, ranging from battle-axes, pikes, swords, knives and so forth. Warriors were trained without weapons and visualised and re-enacted the movements as if they possessed the weapon or their limbs replaced the weapon. For example, arms were the warrior’s swords, fists mirrored spears, elbows were their battle-axe, while their shinbone and feet represented pikes, and sometimes knives or battle-axes also.
Students are taught to respect their opponent, respect the ring, audience, and sport as a whole. This can be encapsulated in the “Wai Khru”, which a strange little dance that fighters do before a fight in order to pay homage to their coach, family, and friends. It may also symbolise gods/deities that fighters pay their respects to and ask for a safe fight. Fighters are taught this dance in their training camps and perform it as a show of respect for the sport and for the hard effort put in by their coaches. Some say it has relaxing effects on fighters before the fight itself.
However, this is not what initially got me interested in the sport, it was actually seeing it in action in Thailand around ten years ago when I was backpacking around South-East Asia. I saw multiple fights in my time in Thailand and really admired the physical finesse of the fighters and the ability to ward off opponents with powerful baseball-bat-type kicks, punches and knees. I was hooked! I had tried other martial arts in the past, but I had now found my niche. Elbows, punches, kicks and knees - sign me up!
The main categories of techniques could be classified as: punching, kicking, kneeing, elbowing, and clinch. Muay Thai boxing originally consisted of very minimal techniques but has since grown over the decades to include most of the same punches as boxing, such as jab, cross, uppercuts and hooks. In relation to kicking: you can teep, which is a front push kick; or you can do low, medium and high roundhouse kicks. These roundhouse kicks can incapacitate your opponent’s legs if done low, knock the wind out of their sail if done to the body, or can KO even the toughest opponent if made to the head/neck area. One notable difference between Muay Thai and other martial arts is that roundhouse kicks are done with your shin rather than your foot. You can generate way more power and do far more damage with your shin bone than your foot.
You may have seen many Muay Thai moves if you watch UFC or other MMA events as Muay Thai is typically known as the ultimate striking sport due to its effectiveness and power in its moves. There are many different variations of elbows, ranging from upwards, downwards, to the side, and even spinning back-elbows! All in a days’ work in a Thai gym! One important factor within Muay Thai is the ‘clinch’. Essentially, you wrap your hands around the back of your opponent’s neck and he does the same to you, and both of you try to dominate the other with leverage, throws, elbows, knees and even blocking their vision with your hands. The ‘clinch’ is nearly another sport unto itself with the amount of different variations, techniques and movements one can do in it.
Now I hope I haven’t scared you off by all the vicious-sounding moves that take place in Muay Thai, it is only as dangerous as you want it to be. If you want to fight professionally down the line, then you may get elbows and knees to the head, which is just a fact of Muay Thai! However, most people enjoy doing it for either self-defence reasons or for the intense fitness workout that it provides or for the sheer love of it as a sport. Most gyms will not require that you compete, but check out in advance as some gyms are specifically for training fighters. Go on now and give it a try!