Orthodox Vs Southpaw: What You Need To Know

Orthodox Vs Southpaw: What You Need To Know
Muay Thai Thursday

When one begins Muay Thai, the very first thing taught is stance. Right-handed people will generally adopt the orthodox stance (right hand and foot in the rear, with left hand and foot leading in front.). Conversely, left-handed people tend to adopt an opposite stance, with their right hand and foot leading instead. 

With more right-handed than left-handed people, there are more orthodox than southpaw fighters; thus, southpaws are more accustomed to facing opponents of an opposite stance. This tends to be an advantage for left-handed fighters. With the proper knowledge, though, an orthodox fighter can effectively negate this “advantage”.


Tactics: The Golden Rule

muay thai calf kick

In Muay Thai, you are taught to always stay clear of an opponent’s dominant, or power, side. In an orthodox vs orthodox match, this means circling or moving to the right. Doing so will indeed reduce the danger coming from your opponent’s power side. However, while doing this, you don’t present or threaten much danger yourself unless you get a sharp angle. This is not the case with orthodox vs southpaw. Here’s an example:

You are orthodox facing a southpaw. Their lead foot (weak side) is directly in front of yours, while their rear foot (strong side) is off to the right. Thus, as you move to the left (outside), taking your targets off centerline from their power shots, you also position yourself so that your power shots (right punches, kicks, knees) line up directly with their centerline. The same applies to southpaws, only they are moving to the right and not the left to get to the outside.

And so the battle of lead foot dominance begins. Whoever can more effectively keep their foot on the outside will be able to land more meaningful shots while reducing chances of receiving them. Understanding and mastering this is the first crucial step in learning how to combat someone of the opposite stance. 


Hand Fighting (Lead Hand Control)

Another vital element to the orthodox vs southpaw scenario is hand fighting. This is where each fighter uses their lead hand to paw, pin, and frame off their opponent’s lead hand. To merely circle to the outside with a stagnant guard is not advisable. This gives your opponent space to throw their lead hook and other lead-hand strikes, which will prevent you from getting off an offensive and establishing lead foot dominance.

The key in the lead hand battle is to get your hand on top of your opponents. By doing this, you can essentially shut down their lead hand, which will allow you to circle out with more efficiency. And by keeping an active lead hand – constantly pawing out and receiving tactile feedback from your opponent’s lead hand – you can find and establish your range safely and effectively. This also has the effect of turning the lead hand of your opponent into a fulcrum of sorts, from which you can post, pivot, and move off.


Hand Traps

The act of hand fighting involves some interesting opportunities; hand traps are one of these. As you and your opponent constantly extend your lead arm to establish hand control, you both will be leaving your face exposed. If you’ve established lead hand control (hand on top), you can use that hand to parry your opponent’s downward and come over the top with a hook or jab.

When you begin to hand fight and apply pressure on your opponent’s lead hand, they will likely do the same. If you time it right, you can apply pressure, baiting them to extend, and when they do, capitalize on the opening by pulling your hand back quickly and coming around with a left hook.

Always keep in mind that your opponent can and, likely, will attempt to utilize these same tactics just mentioned. Everything that applies to you, the orthodox, applies to your adversary, the southpaw. It’s essential to be mindful of this. 


Power Side Strikes


A​ southpaw’s most effective strikes are going to be their left (power side) cross, roundhouse, and knee. Conversely, the most effective strikes for an orthodox will be those coming from the right (power side). Familiarizing yourself with open and closed stances will help you better understand why that is.


Closed Stance

When people of the same stance meet, they are fighting in a closed stance. Think of the opponents here as two matching puzzle pieces. When they are directly in front of one another, and they both step forward, their bodies will align snugly, with little to no gap as they are chest to chest.


Open Stance

This is not the case with an open stance. When two opposite-stance fighters meet, were they to stand directly in front of each other and step forward, they’d be shoulder to shoulder (not chest to chest). Thus, the puzzle pieces do not match and, as a result, there is a large gap between each opponent’s rear foot. This stance leaves our head and body in a much more vulnerable position to rear side strikes.


Mixing It Up

As noted, when facing someone of an opposite stance, your (and their) power strikes will be doubly effective. Rather than go head-hunting, though, it’d be most prudent to change levels with your strikes, be it the rear cross, roundhouse, or knee. Shots to the body can be especially effective in the open stance. The body is a large target, and here, it is even more exposed. 

Though your opponent’s lead leg will seem like a promising target to blast with a rear leg kick, you must be wary. Depending on how bladed your opponent is, you could be directly kicking their knee. If that’s the case, you can opt for a lead pendulum leg kick, targeting the outside of their lead leg. 

With both you and your opponent’s lead legs being so close, using the lead leg teep to your opponent’s front leg or hip can be a safe and quick way to disrupt the rhythm and set up other strikes.


Southpaw Disadvantage?

The liver shot is an especially devastating strike. With the liver being located on the right side of the ribcage, and with southpaws leading with their right foot, orthodox fighters have a prime target. Due to this positioning, a southpaw’s liver is very close to an orthodox fighter’s lead hand. With this shortened distance, it will be significantly easier to land shots at such a target.


Breaking The Rules (And Patterns)

T​here’s a reason there’s a host of unwritten rules in Muay Thai, such as never crossing your feet, keeping your hands up, circling away from the power side, etc. In general, following such rules will keep you much safer than not. 

However, with a big part of fighting being pattern recognition, by sticking with these rules too strictly and robotically, you can become predictable. And though generalities can be helpful, it’s wise to remember that each fight is circumstantial. Following a set of rules in one context can produce good results; in another, it can do the opposite.

Being able to set patterns, then break them, is a great skill. The most dangerous shots are the ones your opponent doesn’t see coming. Here are three examples to take advantage of breaking the mold.


Circling Out Before Cutting In

muay thai cross combo

As mentioned, it is a solid tactic to establish outside foot control. A southpaw, though, having faced many orthodox opponents, will likely be ready for this. Thus, a great strategy would be to establish this tactic (circling to the outside), then abruptly cutting to the inside instead. This can produce quite a surprise. Of course, by angling off to the left (inside) you will be moving toward their power side. The timing here is critical.


Throw Heavy Lead-Side Attacks

Also emphasized here is the fact that in orthodox vs southpaw, the power strikes coming from the rear will be go-to techniques. So, by switching it up and going heavy with lead-side attacks, we can disrupt this patterning and stir confusion.


Take Their Back Leg

The lead leg of a southpaw opponent, as we noted, is an especially viable target. With it being low-hanging fruit, though, they’ve likely had to defend that leg many, many times. Thus, their defense is bound to be very solid for that side. So mix it up! 

Instead of going for the easy target, aim for the back leg. They will be much less ready – and conditioned – for such a strike. Again, doing this requires you to angle off to the left (toward their power). But, as the phrase goes, “with great risk comes great reward.”

B​y being conscious of your fixed patterns and habits, and your opponent’s, you can begin to leverage and exploit them in both domains of offense and defense. In other words, by breaking predictability, you become more dangerous and harder to pattern, time, and score on.


Understanding And Implementation

It can be helpful to realize that a southpaw’s “advantage” is not as concrete as it may seem. When people of opposite stances face off, they are merely mirroring each other in an open stance. The same techniques, footwork, and tricks that a southpaw may use are available for the orthodox fighter to use in the same way. Knowing this helps demystify the subject.


The Benefits

sagetdao southpaw

There are numerous benefits in not only learning how to compete against a southpaw but as a southpaw too. Being able to switch stances, whether you are orthodox or southpaw, provides one with a whole new array of possibilities. The creativity you get from the new angles, openings, and tactics of a switched stance give you double the tools.

Switching can also confuse and momentarily disorient an opponent. In sum, it will make you a more unpredictable and more competent martial artist. Of course, one’s defense in an opposite stance will be weaker than their natural stance. Playing around at long range in a switched stance, then going back to your dominant stance when mid to short range, is thus a good compromise. The longer a strike must travel, the easier it is to see and defend (and vice versa). 

Whether you’re an orthodox or southpaw, it’s essential to understand your opponent, starting from their stance. 


Muay Thai Training Series: Orthodox Vs Southpaw

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