It’s “the Art of Eight Limbs,” so why only focus on SIX of them? These are boxing techniques that work (and don’t work) for Muay Thai. . .
BOXING -> MUAY THAI: WHAT WORKS (AND DOESN’T)
As Muay Thai grows and the sport itself is forced to adapt to the current trends and fan base, more and more gyms are employing traditional Western boxing coaches to work with their fighters.
Muay Thai, “the Art of Eight Limbs,” is known for devastating kicks, elbows and clinching, but Muay Thai- centric boxing is largely unknown. Good news, though: many coaches and nak muay are catching on to the fact that having good hands is a complete game-changer, especially when fighting more traditional opponents.
It is an excellent idea to work on the hands more as a Muay Thai fighter. Traditional Muay Thai training has some gaps when it comes to teaching punching, so a young nak muay could benefit greatly from extra boxing work.
At the same time, not everything in Western boxing transitions over to Muay Thai well. The key differences between Muay Thai and Western boxing are the stance, foot movement and head movement, each due to the nature of its respective sport. In essence, Muay Thai involves more limbs, while boxing relies much more on speed.
BOXING -> MUAY THAI: WHAT DOESN’T WORK
The traditional boxing stance is narrow with the body turned more at an angle while the feet are further apart. Elbows are in, typically seen glued to the boxer’s rib cage. Sometimes a boxer may even have just one hand up for defense, relying on footwork and head movement to evade incoming attacks. Many boxers are “heavy” on their legs, sitting into their shots to generate more power in order to throw stronger punches.
Not all of this works for Muay Thai, though.
There is a time to sit into punches in Muay Thai – that’s when you have your opponent in a corner or against the ropes and you want to do some serious damage while you have them there. But holding the body at an angle is almost an invitation to get tripped. It just makes it too easy to get off-balanced.
With the elbows in, it’s impossible to throw elbow strikes and block effectively (without accidentally elbowing your own thigh).
Implementing a “one hand up” stance is also dangerous because getting kicked in the dropped arm could snap those easy-to-target bones. Being too heavy on your legs also means being slower to check kicks, making you an easy target for all sorts of kicks
BOXING FOR MUAY THAI & HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
While the boxing stance is not ideal or near efficient enough for Muay Thai, every nak muay should learn some boxing footwork and head movement drills.
Footwork allows you to move quicker and can confuse your opponent as to where you will stop and throw a strike. This is important in boxing, but one can argue it’s even more so when it comes to Muay Thai. There are more possible strikes from different angles (from 6 other limbs, to be exact).
As a gross simplification, if your opponent can’t see your feet (in their peripheral vision), many times they will get nervous because they don’t know exactly where you are in comparison to them. It’s this reason why (among many others) that a lot of orthodox fighters have a lot of trouble with southpaws. Certain movements they’re used to are completely mirrored and they’re not sure where to cue for the location of the southpaw’s feet.
Good footwork can get you out of a tricky situation, such as when you’re in a corner and need to get out, or if you’re up against someone who’s extremely aggressive and you just need to use more lateral and circular movements to evade them and strike back.
Head movement from Western boxing is also very useful when it comes to Muay Thai, but not all aspects of it. Learning to move your head makes you harder to hit. If your opponent finds it hard to land punches on you, you disrupt their planned strikes.
However, when moving your head, your hands must ALWAYS be up! Unless you’re Saenchai and have had over 300 fights and find every single person standing in front of you an easy fight, there is absolutely no need to try to look cool by moving your head around with your hands down.
In boxing, you just have to worry about the punches coming from your opponent, so you can afford to drop your hands and evade when you know a kick isn’t going to come from that angle. But the game changes as soon as kicks and knees are added in – drop your hands or bob and weave too low, and you’re asking for one in the face.
Different limbs = different angles = different distances.
All in all, boxing is a great addition to your Muay Thai training. Improved boxing skills is a great tool to have and punches are a great way to end a fight early.
But beware, because not everything transfers over from boxing to Muay Thai so seamlessly. Use only what works and disregard the rest. Integrate boxing into your game, and not the other way around.
BOXING FOR MUAY THAI
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.