A Beginner´s Guide to Muay Thai

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Muay Thai

Sawadee Krap/Ka

Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is the national sport of Thailand and fast gaining popularity in Western Countries. The sport has evolved taking in western influences and slowly the ancient art of Muay Boran has been diluted to the Muay Thai of today. In its sport form it is still a martial art to be reckoned with involving long hours of training to improve skill, strength, stamina and flexibility. The emphasis is on repeatedly practising a technique to try to attain perfection of execution. It is a no nonsense martial art that is functional and graceful when its moves are executed correctly.

For the Thai people it takes almost a religious significance as fighters like to wear amulets, charms or blessed cloth on the upper arm as bands (Prajiad) or around the waist (Takrut) and the sacred headband (Mongkol) blessed by a Buddhist monk. This is designed to invite holy spirits into your body so as to take on a divine force. The soul is emptied to allow the holy spirits to take control of the body. Some boxers practice the kah-tah (religious verse) as they believe that it will give them supernatural powers.

The pre-fight ritual of Wai Kru Ram Muay is almost as important to the Thai people as the fight itself. Wai Kru Ram Muay is used to concentrate the mind, warm up the body, intimidate opponents but in a respectful way and pay homage to the teacher , colleagues, trainers, family and others who may have helped  the fighter to get to the ring. The music or Sarama gives the fight a feeling and atmosphere unrivalled by any other Martial Art. The fighters move in sync with the music and seem to have some mystic connection to it. 

Muay Thai is not so much a martial art but more like a way of life. There are no belts or grading system although some gyms use different coloured prajiads like the well known belt system from other martial arts but i believe this is not in keeping with the spirit of Muay Thai . There are no pretenses in Muay Thai. Knowing what level you are at makes no sense since Muay Thai has no defined levels. Some people might think it a motivational tool but the joy is in the learning itself not in the attainment of some 'Level'.  It takes years upon years of training to achieve some sort of skill in the sport. Control, Discipline and above all Respect are traits essential in a Muay Thai student. Once a student embraces Muay Thai as a way of life, these personality traits should become part of him/her automatically providing they have the correct attitude and sincerity. The aim is to have the quality of ´Jai Yen´ or ´Cool Heart´ and any attitude like anger, for example, that antagonises or leads to confrontation is frowned upon in Thai Society.

Korp Koon.

Brands

The wonderful art of Muay Thai hails from ´The Land of Smiles´ hence it is no surprise that the best equipment also comes from Thailand. The most well-known brands are as follows:
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1. Twins

Twins are the biggest brand both in Thailand and over here in Europe because of the quality of their product and the reasonable price they charge for a high end item compared to some other competitors. Twins also own the ´King´ Brand, not to be confused with ´Top King´ and produce some good products under that brand name.
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2. Fairtex

Fairtex are as big as Twins in terms of the quality but some users argue are THE best equipment manufacturer and when you see/use their products, it is not hard to see why. However, Fairtex products are very expensive and that is where it struggles to compete with Twins who have nearly the same quality but not the hefty price tag.
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3. Windy

Windy are the oldest brand out of all the one´s listed in this review. Windy products are also very high quality but a lot of their sizes run small hence they are preferred by small sized men. It is also popular with a lot of women for the same reason. 
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4. Top King

Top King produces a high quality product very similar to Twins. However, Top King find it hard to dent a customer base on whom Twins have a monopoly. However, people who train using Top King Products swear by their durability and functionality.  If you can find any of their products at a reasonable price grab it without question.
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5. Sandee

Sandee is the 2nd oldest brand in Thailand. It mainly caters to the home market in Thailand but is slowly gaining popularity in the west due to their reasonable priced products with good quality although cannot be put in the Twins / Fairtex bracket. Since a lot of Twins and Fairtex products are out of the reach of people with financial constraints it is growing in popularity.
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6. Raja

Raja is the stand out brand in this list because of their extravagant and colourful designs; a Raja product is hard to miss. However, they are not just aesthetically pleasing but have products of quality to match the biggest brands. Often pricey, Raja is like a vintage wine. It gets people talking and you can´t wait to get a taste of it. A must buy if you get the chance.
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7. Boon

Boon is a very small outfit and their products are not the most pleasing to the eye. However, do not judge a book by its cover. Boon user´s fall in love with their products. There is no show, no pretentions, just a very good product. Hard to find but highly recommended.
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9. Yokkao

Yokkao is also one of the big brands although their products get a lot of exposure due to the fact that they have a lot of stars of Thai Boxing endorsing their product and they are involved in a lot of competitions. Yakkao is Big Business but their product does not quite match the Brands ambition. On par with Twins and Fairtex, it is a decent bit of gear and well worth buying.
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10. Thaismai

Thaismai is a brand that divide´s opinion. Some people claim that it is a low quality brand with products that don´t justify their price tag. Others believe them to be an affordable alternative to the bigger brands. Whatever, the case may be, I would still consider them if you are strapped for cash. Brands in Thailand are used by professional fighters and they only survive in the marketplace if their quality is good enough so Thaismai can´t be all that bad as some people claim.
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11. MTG (Muay Thai Gear) PRO

One of the newer brands in an industry saturated by well-established Thai boxing brands, MTG holds its own and has established an unbeatable reputation for quality, outstanding craftsmanship and innovative design across all of its ranges. I would recommend MTG products to anyone looking for top-notch Muay Thai gear at incredibly reasonable prices. MTG has ventured into the global market and has received rave reviews and much praise from Muay Thai enthusiasts for its outstanding assortment of bag and boxing gloves, mitts, t-shirts, shorts and various fight equipment.
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12. FBT PRO

Thailand's   leading   Sports Company, FBT supplies quality sports apparels and equipment at a reasonable price.  All FBT products are produced by hand by more than 2.5 thousand employees, and by careful and hard work, the resulting hardware is very high quality, durable, and more and more often purchased in the market. I guess the gripe people have with FBT as far as Muay Thai Equipment go is that they are not specialists since they produce sports products, training equipment and team apparel for many different kinds of sports. Although a general sports manufacturer there is no reason to believe that FBT are not passionate about producing quality training equipment for Muay Thai.

Family

It is worth knowing that Windy, Twins, Top King and even Raja are brands owned by members of the same family be it brothers, cousins etc. The original company was Windy and then the other brands grew out of it.

Equipment

A beginner normally initially needs:

1. 14, 12 or 10 Oz Gloves depending on the preference of weight although 12 and 14 are the most common for training. 10 Oz is mainly used in competition.

The room inside the gloves also increases i.e. the size of the hand compartment, the higher up the glove weight category you go. Make sure to get the right size as each Brand's small, medium and large are different for each weight of glove. One should ideally try different brand gloves and sizes on 1st before buying.

The glove needed will also depend on the person´s build e.g. a person of small  build with small hands  probably needs 10 Oz, medium build 12 or 14, and so on, all the way up to 20 Oz.

2. A decent pair of shorts and vest (if you like wearing one). The shorts should ideally have slits on the outside to allow the legs maximum freedom of movement (a lot of the Yakkao shorts have that feature) although any decent Muay Thai shorts should be okay.

3. Good pairs of hand wraps & ankle supports. Any of the brands listed above will do the job. Thai Boxers use 4.5m (180")and boxers use 3m (120") hand wraps normally. The latter should be all right for a beginner  if you don't want to stretch out your expensive gloves too much from the inside but intermediate/advanced should get 180" to protect their hands  adequately with more wrap material.

Once progress is made and bags are used more intensely and sparring is introduced into the routine, the learner will need:
4. Mouth Guard
5. Groin Guard
6. Knee and Elbow pads. (not always required)
7. 16 Oz Gloves for Sparring
8. Bag Gloves (not always needed)
9. Thigh Guard (not always required)
10. Head Guard (not always required)

11. A good pair of Shin Guards. Fairtex, Twins, Yokkao, Top King and Windy all make great shin guards depending on the level of protection required and what looks comfortable in terms of personal preference if buying online.

Techniques

Muay Thai is known as the art of 8 limbs i.e. hands, elbows, knees and feet/shins. Hands are used to throw punches like the Jab, Cross, Hook and Uppercut (different from a boxing uppercut). There are other variations like the jumping punch and spinning backhand punch. Also the punches can be thrown in different directions depending on the guard the opponent takes up.

Elbows are thrown in different directions and are mainly used during a clinch or close quarters combat. The spinning elbow and reverse elbow are other interesting variations to the main basic elbow techniques. 

Knees, like elbows, are also mainly used in the clinch and close quarters combat although the flying knee can be used from some distance. 

The Roundhouse is THE Muay Thai kick and has a very particular technique associated with it. Contact is made with the shin or instep of the kicking leg, there is no flexing of the knee joint, and the leg is kept slightly bent. The kicking foot can be extended or in its natural position when kicking as some trainers claim that the shin bone is harder when the foot is in a natural position. There is no snapping involved and a good follow through is very important and you should end up in the same position as where you started from (coming all the way round) when practising the kick without an opponent for proper technique. Sometimes you can stop midway and execute a reverse kick to surprise the opponent. The standing leg is kept straight with no or little bend if possible and you need to be on the ball of the standing foot.

The low roundhouse is particularly effective because it involves moving out at an angle which makes it hard for the opponent to adjust to that change and is also delivered from range which does not allow the opponent to get close. If executed correctly, this kick can become a major weapon.

The Teep or Thrust kick is used as a defensive weapon using the ball of the foot, an offensive weapon using the heel, including the side heel, and annoyingly painful when toes are dug into the opponent. The Teep is very effective in keeping rangy opponents at bay. It can also be delivered moving forwards or backwards.

The Clinch is the least talked about technique since it´s not so glamorous or dynamic as other Muay Thai techniques but many a good fighter have come undone in a fight they could have easily won had their clinch technique not let them down. The Clinch allows a fighter to manipulate the opponent by getting a good grip at the back of the neck at the base of the head and you can also dig the elbows into the opponent´s collarbone. The clinch gives the fighter a platform to perform various knees and elbow techniques on the opponent. Most importantly the constant grappling saps the opponent´s energy. This can be compounded by performing the various types of different throws that can be executed which can leave the opponent really exhausted and more susceptible to other devastating attacks.

A final point to make is that in Muay Thai it is emphasized that the body move as a unit i.e. no twisting of the body and no crossing of the legs.  The power comes from the balls of the feet and hips. 


Fighters

The fighters to watch in order to learn the techniques and/or for motivation are Buakaw Banchamek, Saenchai, Pakorn Sakyothin, Samart Payakaroon, Khamsing, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Yodsanklai, Paowarit Sasiprapa, Saiyok Pumpanmuang and Kaoklai Kaennorsing.

Muay Boran

Muay Boran, the self-defence art is the ancestor of Muay Thai, it´s sport version. Muay Boran schools are harder to find in the UK than Muay Thai as it is steeped in a lot of History and is seen as Thai Heritage so more difficult to import to our shores. Although some schools do exist here, the best way to learn is to travel to Thailand as ask around for a true master who normally lives in quiet villages away from the limelight of Muay Thai. The acceptance ceremony of a new student is called the ´Kheun Kru´ and every year a ceremony of respect to the teacher takes place once called the ´Yohk Kru´. The ceremony upon completion of training is called the ´Kronb Kru´. Also anyone interested will have to sift through a whole variety of regional styles and then make up their mind as to which one would interest them to learn. Muay Boran is an umbrella term which encompasses all these regional variations and styles of Muay including the weapons based art of Krabi Krabong. 

Muay Boran is divided into 3 main sections or learning blocks:

1. Cherng Muay which is divided into 4 methods (4 Cherng) which contains the basic punches, elbows, knees and kicks including some basic attacking combos:

(a) Cherng Mad  15 Cherng (mainly Punching Techniques)
(b) Cherng Sok 24 Cherng (mainly Elbow Techniques)
(c) Cherng Khao 11 Cherng (mainly Knee Techniques)
(d) Cherng Thao 15 Cherng (mainly Leg Techniques)

2. Kon Muay which is divided into 5 methods.  Kon Muay deals with the art of the counter-attack (i.e. defend and attack at the same time, which is the most respected skill in a Muay Thai Fighter. A counter attacking fighter is the most popular type of fighter in the big stadiums of Thailand and punters like to bet on them out of pure admiration but also because they believe that that type of fighter is superior in skill & technique:

(a) Kon Muay - Kae Mad 29 Kon
(b) Kon Muay - Kae Thao 23 Kon
(c) Kon Muay - Kae Khao 3 Kon
(d) Kon Muay - Kae Sok 4 Kon
(e) Kon Muay - JuJom 23 Kom

3. Mae Mai Muay Thai (Master Tricks & Complimentary Tricks) with 15 Mai techniques. 

Muay Boran has many distinct regional styles that have evolved over time.

(1) Muay Thasao (North Thailand) – with emphasis on speed, especially swift kicks. This variation of Muay Boran was called "Ling Lom" or Windy Monkey.

(2)Muay Korat (East Thailand) – with a focus on power. 

(3) Muay Lopburi (Central Thailand) – stresses the use of crafty, technical movements. This variation favours straight punches and hooks.

 (4) Muay Chaiya (South Thailand) – emphasises the use of good posture and defence. This style favours elbow and knee strikes.

 Each style has its own strengths and a complete fighter is said to: "Punch Korat, Wit Lopburi, Posture Chaiya, Kick Thasao".

Muay Boran has also sometimes been called the Art of 9 Limbs because apart from Hands, Knees, Elbows and Shins/Feet some techniques also involve the use of the head. A lot of respected teachers of Muay Boran also like to instil in their students that the 9th limb i.e. the use of the head, does not just mean it´s physical use but also that a fighter must use his brain in a fight i.e. a thinking strategic fighter.

Instructional Dvd´s (in no particular order)


1. Muay Thai (5 DVD´s to collect by Christoph Delp)
2. Muay Thai- Saekson Janjira (4 to collect-Mechanics of Thailand's Muay Thai Vol 1 & 2/Drills/Special Training Drills)
3. Muay Thai Dynamite Vol 1 & 2 (Master Sken)
4. Muay Thai 1 & 2 (Master Sken)
5. Muay Thai Knockout (Master K) (Turtle Press)
6. Muay Thai Boxing by Vut Kamnark (Combat Sports Tapes) (Vols 1-4)
7. Training in Thailand with Lumpinee and Rajadamnoern Champions (Victory Belt Publishing Inc.)
8. Mastering the Devastating Elbows and Hands of Muay Thai (Malaipet Sitarvut)
9. Maximum Damage: The destructive kicks and knees of Muay Thai (Malaipet Sitarvut)
10. Toddy Muay Thai Training Series

Books (in no order of preference)

1. Muay Thai- The most distinguished art of fighting (Panya Kraitus)
2. Submissions, Breaks and Locks of Muay Thai and Muay Boran (Master Lee)
3. Thai Boxing Dynamite (Rebac Zoran)
4. Ultimate Muay Thai (Bob Spour)
5. Muay Thai: A Living Legacy (Kat Payukvong)
6. Muay Thai series of books by Christoph Delp
7. Muay Thai in Pictures (Sid Remmer)
8. Muay - Winning Strategy - Ultra Flexibility and Strength: Preparation for Life and Battle (Master Lee)
9. Muay - Supplementary Postures - Winning Strategy Sequel (Master Lee)
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