Muay Thai for Beginners

Table of Contents
1. Stance
2. Kicks
3. Punches
4. Basic Knees and Elbows
5. Clinching
6. Muay Thai Workout

1. Stance

No matter which guard you want to use, for all of them you need your hips to be facing forward, and your front foot to be at 45 degrees.

Stand on the balls of your feet. Keep your weight evenly distributed, and make sure you can easily lift your legs up, in case you need to check a kick. If your stance is wider, this will be much harder. This is why your front foot and hips should be facing your opponent, and your back foot should be at a 45 degree angle. That way you can easily lift your legs to defend either side of your body.

1.2. Long Guard

Made popular by Dieselnoi, it’s a good option for tall people, due to the longer reach it gives you. Extend both your hands forward with the palms facing your opponent. This guard has several advantages. A big one is the ability to keep your opponent at bay while you throw low kicks at him. The long guard also makes it easier to reach for your opponent’s guard, push it down, and follow up with punches, elbows and knees. 

Make sure to keep your shoulder up, so that you can protect yourself from outside hooks and overhands. 

Long Guard

1.3. Dutch Style Guard

This guard was made popular by Ramon Dekkers, and is very similar to the one used in kickboxing. Here, you need to keep your hands parallel to your body, with your elbows tucked in. Dutch style fighters prefer to stay at a medium range, and like to use a lot of punches, in addition to low kicks and roundhouses. If you come from a sport like boxing or kickboxing, or if you just like to stay in a mid- to long range, then the Dutch guard is a good option.

Dutch Guard

1.4. Muay Khao Guard

Translated from Thai, “Khao” means “knee”, and Muay Khao is a term used to refer to “knee fighters”. This guard is for fighters who like to get in close, so they can throw a lot of knees and elbows. In this guard, you have the fingers of your gloves touching your head, and your elbows facing out.

Initially, this seems very dangerous, as it leaves your ribs wide open. But that’s the idea – fighters who use this guard want to bait their opponents to kick them in the body. That way you can check kicks with your legs, and – more importantly – catch your opponent’s legs.

Still, this is not an easy strategy to execute, and I would not recommend it for beginner

2. Kicks

2.1. Thip (Push Kick)

  1. Lift your knee. Your leg needs to be bent.
  2. Extend your foot, and kick with your foot, toes facing upward. You can kick with the heel or with the balls of your foot
  3. Get your leg back to your guard
  4. If you’re kicking with your back foot, don’t step forward. After you kick, swing it back to its starting position
  5. During the kick, keep your guard up

2.2. Low Kick (Te Kha)

  1. Kick downwards with your back foot, at a 45 degree angle. Aim for the thigh
  2. While you’re kicking, pivot on your front foot so that your heel is facing your opponent
  3. Get your foot back to where it started
  4. Don’t drop your guard while doing the kick

2.3. Roundhouse (Te Tat)

  1. Kick sideways with your back foot. Aim for the body or thigh, and try to hit with your shin
  2. While you’re kicking, pivot on the balls of your front foot.
  3. Get your foot back to where it started. Either bounce off your target, or pivot your entire body 360 degrees
  4. Don’t drop your guard up while doing the kick

3. Punches

3.1. Jab (Mat Nueng)

The jab (or Mat Nueng) is a straight punch with your lead hand. It’s meant to set up your kicks and other, more powerful punches. Jabbing lets you test your opponent’s defense, and get a feel for how they react. Once you get a feel for how they typically react, you’ll have an easier time of setting up a more powerful punch or kick.

If you’re using the long guard, you won’t find opportunities to jab compared to the Dutch-style guard. This is because in the long guard your hands are already stretched out, and you don’t have the needed distance. Most people use low kicks to probe their opponent’s defense. And that’s an effective technique. But this is exactly why you shouldn’t underestimate the jab! When you’re in a long guard, there’s a very good chance your opponent won’t be expecting to be hit by your lead hand.


3.2. Cross (Mat Trong)

The cross (Mat Trong) is a straight punch with your back hand. It’s one of your strongest punches for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s thrown with your dominant hand. This makes it very easy to put a lot of power into it, because it’s the hand you’re most comfortable using.

The second reason is the leverage you can get by striking with your back hand. Compared to the jab, a cross lets you get your bodyweight behind your punch much more easily.

But unlike the jab, the cross is slower, and gives your opponent more time to react. This is why you should always set it up with other kicks and punches. A good combination is a left thip, right low kick, followed by a jab and a cross.

3.3. Hooks (Mat Wiang San)

  1. From your guard, throw a curved punch with your lead hand, palm down. Your elbow and forearm need to be parallel to the ground
  2. At the same time, rotate your lead hip, and the toes of your lead foot.
    1. Alternatively, you can pivot on your lead foot, in order to get more power into the punch
  3. Retract your arm to your guard
    1. If you’re hitting a heavy bag, bounce your hand back to your guard
    2. If you’re shadow boxing, use the momentum of your strike to swing your hand back to your guard
  4. Keep your back hand up

Left hooks can target several areas that can lead to a knockout: the side of the chin, and the liver. It, along with the right hook, is one of your best options when it comes to body shots.

When you’re in punching range, body shots in general are also a very potent weapon. They can knock the wind out of your opponent, which can make him unable to continue the fight. Combine them with some well-timed low kicks, and you can become a very dangerous close distance fighter.

The right hook is one of the hardest punches to land, and there are a couple of reasons for that. 

First, it comes off your back hand, which means it has more distance to travel. This is something it shares with all strikes you do with your back hand, but the right hook gives your opponent even more time to react. 

Because in addition to being thrown with the right hand, it also has a curved trajectory which makes it much easier to see. With a straight, it’s much harder to quickly gauge how close the punch is, because it’s moving directly at you. But a hook’s curved trajectory makes it much easier to see.

This is why it’s vital to combine it with other strikes. This could turn your right hook into a very potent finisher.

3.4. Uppercuts (Mat Soi Dao)

To get more power, you can crouch down a little, and dip the same side’s shoulder. Then, rise up as you throw the punch.

Uppercuts aren’t thrown as frequently as other types of punches. One of the reasons for this is the fact that your head is exposed while throwing them, unlike the jab and straight, where your head is protected by the shoulder of the punching arm.

But that is what makes uppercuts unexpected, and a great addition to any kickboxer’s arsenal. Left uppercuts are stronger than the jab, and can catch your opponent off-guard.

Right uppercuts can be devastating at close and mid-range, but should be used sparingly, because they leave your head open to a counter left hook. But in the right circumstances, they’re the perfect option for targeting the head or body.


4. The Basics of Knees and Elbows

4.1. Horizontal Elbow (Sok Tat) and Elbow Uppercut (Sok Ngat)

Throwing horizontal elbows and elbow uppercuts is just like throwing hooks and uppercuts – the only difference is that you’re throwing the “punch” with your elbow, rather than your hand. It’s important to keep your fingers extended while throwing an elbow. If you clench your palm into a fist, the muscles around your ulna tense up, and it pads out your arm. That way, if you miss and hit your opponent with your forearm, it won’t hurt him as much. So, keep your fingers extended to ensure the maximum amount of damage.

4.2. Straight Knee (Khao Trong)

  1. Hit upwards using your back knee. While your knee travels up, pivot on your lead leg.
  2. Simultaneously, pull down with your hands, and drive your pelvis forward

Throwing knees with the lead leg is similar – the only difference is that you need to pivot on your back foot.

If used correctly, knees can be very powerful. The key is to drive your pelvis forward when you strike. That way you can get your bodyweight behind your knee strikes. Pulling down with your arms gives you additional power, and can be useful in a clinch, if you’ve managed to get a hold of your opponent.

4.3. Knee Curve (Khao Khong)

  1. Lift your back knee to the outside of your body, and swing it horizontally to the inside.
  2. Keep your foot facing down, and hit with the side of the knee. Don’t pivot on your lead leg.
  3. Simultaneously, drive your pelvis forward, and pull horizontally with your hands. Pull in the opposite direction of the knee (i.e. if you’re kneeing to the left, pull to the right)

5. Clinching

Since this is a beginner’s guide, I won’t be going into the clinch. It’s an art in and of itself, and soon I plan to cover it in more detail.

For the most part, you need to keep your hips close to your opponent, so they don’t have the space to throw knees. Apart from that, it’s all about controlling your opponent’s weight, and finding the right moment to throw them.

6. Muay Thai Workout

Warmup – 10-15 Minutes

You can start off with some light stretching. Begin with the head and neck, and continue with your core, arms and legs. 

You can follow along with the video below:

Shadow Boxing – 10 Minutes

  • 60 seconds – Lead Thip, Rear Thip
  • 60 seconds – Lead Thip, Jab, Cross
  • 60 seconds – Roundhouse
  • 60 seconds – Back Knee, Front Elbow, Back Elbow
  • 60 seconds – Back Knee, step, Front Knee

Heavy Bag – 15-20 Minutes

  • 60 seconds – Lead Thip, Right Knee
  • 60 seconds – Back Thip, Left Knee
  • 60 seconds – Jab, Lead Thip, Roundhouse
  • 60 seconds – Roundhouse, Jab, Cross, Lead Elbow, Back Elbow
  • 60 seconds – Lead Hook, Cross, Back Low Kick
  • Do 3-4 reps

Focus Mitts – 10-15 Minutes

In addition to the drills you do on the heavy bag, you can try doing a Progressive Pyramid Combination:

  • 20 x Jab-Cross
  • 5 x Lead and Back Low Kicks
  • 4 x Lead and Back Low Kicks
  • 3 x Lead and Back Low Kicks
  • 2 x Lead and Back Low Kicks
  • 1 x Lead and Back Low Kicks
  • 20 x Lead and Back Elbows
  • 20 x Lead and Back Knees
  • Try doing 3-4 reps

Sparring – 3-10 Minutes

This really depends on your level. If it’s your first month or so, and you have no experience in martial arts, I suggest you skip this section entirely. 

Once you’re a bit more comfortable, you can start with some sparring drills, and gradually work your way up in speed and intensity. If you can’t do it under the supervision of a coach or more experienced fighter, then just stick to the more basic sparring drills. First, both of you throw only jabs and straights. Then, only throwing hooks. After that, only thips, only low kicks and roundhouses, etc.

In terms of how long you should do it for, again – it depends. If you’re just starting out, do it for about 3 to 5 minutes. As you get better, you can extend that to 3-minute rounds – 2, 3 or even more rounds, depending on how fast you’re progressing. In the beginning, hit lightly to make sure you don’t injure each other.

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