Don’t Be an Automaton
Muay Thai has been dead since Jean-Claude Van Damme did the first split in Kickboxer. In fact, as soon as Westerners got their hands on it, kickboxing in its purest form was dead.
By the time Super Street Fighter came out with that abomination of a character, Adon, it was already long gone. All of Muay Thai’s crossover success was due to its foreignness to most martial artists at the time—especially, here, in the United States.
Before the rise of Muay Thai, the most popular martial art in the world was…. (dramatic pause)…. Tai Kwon Do.
As we well know, TKD focuses primarily on kicking the head—a target that is the most difficult to hit with the longest weapon.
This makes the head kick a high risk-versus-reward technique which is as beautiful as it is tempting. But without a proper setup with your hands, it’s not likely you will land the technique.
Enter, the leg kick. It destroys your opponent’s ability to maneuver and takes away their primary weapon: their legs.
There isn’t a great deal of lateral movement in the ”traditional’’ martial arts because Karate, Kung fu and TKD were designed for multiple attackers. Moving side to side would mean stumbling blindly into oncoming attacks.
This is why Muay Thai shines. It’s built for one-on-one combat and gives you access to all of these weapons—arms and legs.
But, is it really being used to its full potential? Is it truly the most effective way to approach striking?
There needs to be a revival of creativity in the Muay Thai community, or I fear that it will go the way of the dinosaurs. Or worse… share the same fate as Tai Kwon Do.
Ask yourself, is Muay Thai as prevalent as it once was when it swept MMA and became its go-to striking application in the late 90’s? If you look closely, most of your favorite fighters use techniques that don’t resemble Muay Thai at all.
1. Muay Thai Does Not Use More Than Three Strike Combinations
Combinations usually don’t exceed more than three moves in succession. This leads to a lot of pacing, standing still in front of your opponent, trading blows until someone gets dropped or cannot continue.
Where is the multi dimensional level changing? The whole thing is redundant, repetitive, uninspiring, and boring.
Dutch style kickboxing is the most diverse style of kickboxing, offensively speaking. Or at least it was until people started moving their feet.
The biggest issue Muay Thai has is its mobility. When Buakaw fought Nicky Holzken back in ’07 and ’09, Buakaw literally stood in front of him the whole fight and blasted him with his teep, slowly stealing Nicky’s energy.
Holzken had a very Dutch style posture. As he exposed his center line, he was susceptible to straight attacks below his line of sight. Had he used his now dominant head movement, footwork and jab he could have avoided those shots and created more opportunities for himself.
2. Muay Thai is Repetitive and Predictable
Muay Thai utilizes hundreds of kicks in its training process with the same direction and very little diversity. Not only is this a snooze fest, it also causes injury.
Repetitive movements in Muay Thai cause terrible wear and tear on your body. You can avoid and sometimes, depending on the severity of the damage, heal injuries if you simply diversify your training regiment.
Try different kicks, angles, postures, body language to constantly throw off your opponents.
More diversity means more options. Learning how to fight southpaw changed my perception of fighting. I have more ways to blend my favorite techniques together and still be creatively effective. The goal is to be balanced and strong in every direction. Don’t become a Muay Thai robot!
3. There is Non-Existent Head Movement
Head movement is almost completely neglected in Muay Thai. The most prevalent reason being that if you drop your head too low than you may eat a bad kick.
This is false. In fact, the elite have successfully used head movement to gather momentum and positioning during their strikes. Take for example, Gokhan Saki vs Daniel Ghita for at Glory Istanbul.
Saki executes amazing angles while absolutely dismembering Ghita with beautiful, diverse combinations created by angling himself between Ghita’s stationary guard—size difference be damned. (Not to mention you are much more susceptible to getting cut by vicious elbows…)
4. The Footwork is Abysmal
We are all familiar with the Muay Thai foot tap. It’s commonly used to get a reaction out of your opponent—usually to get him to bring up his lead leg for a check. The problem with this is that you have to be standing still to execute this maneuver, which makes you a sitting duck for people with superior boxing who can keep you in punch range.
Superior footwork and movement means superior positioning. Superior positioning means more leverage and power with less risk and more reward.
Tyrone Spong is the perfect example. He is excellent at creating angles by shifting his feet while striking which gives him maximum leverage against his opponent’s stationary guard. Sometimes he switches from orthodox to southpaw mid combination to exploit outside foot dominance and contain his opponent’s offense.
Why don’t we see more of these brilliant stratagems across the world?
Muay Thai isn’t without its absolute strengths. The clinch is an art within itself, however it truly shines when combined with other “lost” standing grapple arts.
For example, Joseph Sampeiri, leader of the Renzo Gracie Academy’s Muay Thai Program in NYC, has a superior clinch game and strategy that is actually a derivative from his Judo background. Also see Phil Nurse of The WAT, Georges St-Pierre, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones and Frankie Edgar. All are legends that excel at bridging the gap between striking and clinch range.
If Muay Thai is to evolve and grow there must be more diversity and strategy in its training. Most of your favorite fighters have skills and techniques that come from other styles.
Saenchai, for example, is a virtuoso artist when it comes to combat because he exploits the weakness and patterns of traditional Muay Thai combatants.
He makes Muay Thai superstars look average at best because he can see through their entire thought process and read their intentions before they even set—excuse me, if he lets you set your feet to strike. Fighters like him can scout your intentions easily because Thai fighters usually answer defensively with the same set patterns.
Martial arts is a journey of self discovery and mastery. In order to improve on your individual skill set, you must challenge yourself by constantly taking yourself out of your comfort zone and learn new things.
Muay Thai by itself may have huge holes in its core foundation, but you should not.
When you are loyal to tradition for the sake of maintaining its “purity” you don’t experience the full spectrum of personal growth.
You are not your gym. You are not your style. You are not your training gear.
Every time you step into a ring or cage you should be representing yourself as an individual. Who you surround yourself with will eventually affect you as well. Your teammates should consist of a cohesive network of open-minded badasses.
Avoid automatons blindly following a predictable curriculum. You must be constantly feeding off of one another, improving and adding to each others’ skill-sets and expanding each others’ palettes.
Steel forever sharpening steel.
- Sean "Muay Thai Guy" Fagan owns & operates the largest online Muay Thai community and the #1 training resource for nak muay of all levels.