Kickers & kicking are an essential, irremovable part of Muay Thai. Whether sparring in the gym or fighting in the ring, you must know the basics of how to defend against kickers. . .
KEEPING UP WITH KICKERS: BASIC DEFENSE
If you don’t throw kicks, you don’t have good Muay Thai – period.
This is something that’s commonly understood among people who been in the sport for a while. This is also something that’s drilled subconsciously by coaches around the world – and for good reason: while elbows and clinching make Muay Thai its own unique sport, it’s really the powerful kicks that set it apart from other forms of striking.
It’s really impossible to think about Muay Thai without its signature roundhouse kicks. These kicks to the body are what score the most in a traditional setting. They are what people tend to work on first when they start training. So if you walk into a Muay Thai gym, expect to kick. A lot!
Also, when you start sparring, you’ll spar people with all different styles. You’ll see that certain people favor and use a particular asset more than others. This includes people who absolutely love to throw kicks upon kicks upon kicks. It’s interesting to note that when sparring in Thailand against the Thai fighters at each camp, something that holds true across the board is that most of them do not throw a lot of hands, but they always try to land a kick of some sort.
All of this now begs the question: “What do I do if I have to spar someone who almost exclusively kicks?”
BASIC DEFENSE AGAINST KICKERS
First and foremost, if you spar someone who likes to kick, don’t encourage them to kick more by allowing them to land every single one. If they find out that one can land with relative ease, expect more coming down the pipe.
Don’t use your arms to block (the damage will add up over time) but instead, your legs. Lift your leg to check their kicks with your shin. This is a good defense mechanism and what you should be working on first. If you have trouble blocking kicks, most other techniques will not work because you will probably be eating multiple kicks as you’re trying to nullify them.
Because kicks are the longest of the eight limbs, you want to close the distance between you and your sparring partner. Closing the distance forces them to have to create space for kicking.
CLOSING THE DISTANCE ON KICKERS
There are a few ways to close the space during sparring- using your hands and your clinch. Couple the blocking mentioned above with boxing in order to get in a closer range and end with a kick of some sort. If you’re looking to clinch, do make sure you are in a dominant position with your arms (with your arms more medial to theirs) and throw knees.
Do your best to stay in the shorter range to shut down their kicks. When they try to create the space, cut them off – for every step they take backwards, you take forwards. For every step they take to the side, you will perform the mirror image of it. The kicks from them will inevitably come, so it’s important that you continue blocking in order to discourage them from kicking.
The two methods mentioned above are either defensive or offensive. There is one more way to try to discourage your opponent from throwing his or her kicks.
DISRUPTING THE KICK WITH STRIKES
Instead of always having a back and forth exchange, you can strike at the same time they try to kick. When you see them step for the kick, punch them as they’re in the middle of throwing it. (Your left hook will work well if they’re throwing a left kick, and your right cross will go down the middle when they’re throwing a right kick).
Because of the range disparity, you do have to step into their kick in a way, but here’s the payoff: they will hesitate before throwing a kick because they don’t want to get punched in the face.
Another method that’s slightly more advanced is to teep them when they’re mid-kick. This will off-balance and keep them from landing that kick.
It’s true that without kicking, one’s Muay Thai game can never be complete. On the other hand, it’s also true that if you know how to shut down a kicker, you are one step closer to possessing “good Muay Thai.”
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.