Because “the Art of Eight Limbs” gives its athletes so many offensive weapons, any Muay Thai fighter needs a strong defense.
Luckily, the amount of ways you can protect yourself matches the diversity of attacking with punches, kicks, elbows, and knees.
These are the key skills you need to master in our ultimate guide to Muay Thai defense to keep yourself safe from strikes in Muay Thai.
- Long Guard
The most basic form of defense in Muay Thai is to cover up and protect yourself.
If you protect your head with your gloves, you’ll be able to block or deflect most of the straight punches that get thrown your way.
With a few adjustments, you can also defend most bent-arm and body punches with your gloves and forearms, too.
You can even block body and head kicks with your forearms, but that’s something you should probably only do as a last resort. If a shin crashes into your defense at full power, your arms are going to be severely compromised.
A slightly more advanced defense against straight punches is to parry them.
A small movement with your hand can deflect a rival’s hand, which will keep you safe and leave them open to a quick counter.
You can also parry push kicks by scooping your opponent’s foot to the outside. That will leave them out of position, off-balance, and again, wide open to be countered.
Just don’t try to parry a roundhouse!
Another simple defensive approach is to get out of the way of a strike.
You can avoid most kicks and punches above the waist by slipping, rolling, or leaning back. It’s arguably a better method than blocking because you won’t absorb any impact, and you’ll move into a great position to counter.
Your timing will need to be on point, otherwise, you might move straight into a strike you were not expecting.
The ultimate safety-first approach is to use your footwork to step back and away from the oncoming offense.
However, it’s not something you want to make a habit of because you’ll move out of range to counter, and you don’t want to end up with your back against the ropes.
A side-step might be a better idea. You’ll slide away from danger and take an angle where you can cause serious damage.
Checking with your shins is the perfect way to block leg and body kick. It also allows you to stay in a position to counter immediately.
Clashing shins will hurt, but some hard work to condition your legs, and the numbing effect of adrenaline during a fight will soften the blow.
Plus, your opponent is going to feel the impact more than you. That will definitely make them think twice about kicking you again.
Many coaches argue it’s best to check with the opposite leg e.g. if an orthodox opponent switches and throws a left kick, you’d want to block with your right.
It’s not wrong to cross-block with your left leg, but it might not be as effective, and it will be more difficult to maintain a strong stance. If you want to do a cross-block, check out our video to learn how you can counter off a cross-block.
If you can get your timing right and catch a kick, you will be perfectly poised to make your opponent pay.
Grabbing your attacker’s leg after they commit to a strike means they’ll likely be off-balance and left in a very vulnerable position.
A quick punch with your free hand could catch them cold, or you can make the most of Muay Thai rules with a sweep or dump. Kicking your opponent’s standing leg out from underneath them can lead to some spectacular results.
Catching has its downsides – you’re likely to feel some of the impact and your timing has to be just right. But if you can gain the opportunity to launch a high-scoring, or even bout-ending, counter, your efforts will be worthwhile.
A fantastic defense against a strong puncher is the long guard.
Your outstretched arm acts as a barrier to keep your rival at bay, and you can use your shoulders to deflect any punches they try to sneak around or over your guard.
It can also act as an effective distraction to set up your own offense. A long rear knee from behind your guard could be an attack your opposite number doesn’t see coming.
It is important not to spend too much time in this position, however, as you’re not completely safe. A crafty boxer could land uppercuts, and strong kickers can strike below your barrier.
The old adage that the best form of defense is a strong offense certainly applies in Muay Thai.
An aggressive game plan will make sure you’re opponent is on the back foot and the number of ways they can attack is limited.
Well-timed attacks can also have a significantly disruptive effect. A fighter who is caught with a shot in the middle of a combo may have his rhythm broken. Similarly, their flow will be broken by a strong strike that affects their balance, stance, or equilibrium.
The most diverse defensive strike is probably the push kick. It can be used to stop an opponent from coming forward, or to push them back and give you room to breathe.
3 Muay Thai Defensive Pointers
Whichever way you decide to protect yourself, keep these principles in mind to make sure it’s as effective as possible.
- Don’t try to predict your opponent’s next move – If you try to stay one step ahead of the game, you could give your opponent a great opportunity to read you. For example, if you’re too quick to drop your hand for a catch, your head will be wide open to a right.
- Be quick to counter – Don’t wait around to attack once you have pulled off a successful defensive maneuver. Your window to strike back could be very small, so make the most of it to counter.
- You can’t defend everything – No matter how sharp your reflexes are, you won’t be able to stop every strike. You’ll be rough enough to absorb the odd strike, so don’t panic when one slips through. Focus on staying calm, and make sure when that haymaker comes, you’re ready for it.
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