Analysis

What Are the Styles in Muay Thai?

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Muay Thai, the art of eight limbs is a beautiful, brutal art. A fighting style where punches, kicks, knees and elbows clash bone on bone in the battle for glory in Thailand’s hectic stadiums. Once a way to keep warriors active in between campaigns, Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport, a sport with an extensive history both in Thailand and abroad. With so many fighters possessing different skill sets, body types and physical attributes, we began to see a variety of styles emerge. Here are the styles in Muay Thai.

Styles Makes Fights: The Muay Thai Styles

The idea that styles make fights has been around forever. From the gladiatorial days of ancient Rome to modern boxing, the intrigue of pitting certain styles against each other has been putting backsides in seats since the dawn of entertainment based combat. Muay Thai is no exception. The clear differences in styles have made legends in the sport, with fans knowing their unique skill sets as they bet their hard-earned baht in a bid to win big at the stadiums. Each gym has a different take on the sport, making Muay Thai a surprisingly varied and diverse art.

Muay Mat – The Puncher

One of the most devastating styles in Muay Thai, Muay Mat fighters are the heavy-handed knockout artists of the sport. Their boxing ability, combined with their chopping leg kicks is a Muay Mats’ bread and butter. Because punches don’t score highly under the Thai scoring system and leg kicks don’t fair much better, it creates an aggressive fighter; one looking for the finish before the final bell is rung. This need to secure victory via KO doesn’t mean they are mindless brawlers, as many are highly skilled and accomplished in Western boxing.

Their front foot pressure combined with heavy boxing and leg kicks has allowed many Muay Mats’ to transition over to kickboxing exceedingly well. It is commonly said that the Muay Mat is one of the most exciting styles in Muay Thai, due to the fast-paced violence they bring to the fight. This style is well suited to most body types, with the style well suited for shorter fighters in particular.

How Muay Mat Fighters Win:

As stated above, Muay Mat fighters usually don’t tend to score well under the Thai scoring system; only when visible impact and damage are apparent will they potentially get a win on the scorecards. Therefore, Muay Mat stylists must hunt for knockdowns and preferably KOs to secure victory. Utilizing a varied jab and investing in heavy punches will allow them to cause the most damage possible from the get-go.

Feinting and forward pressure will expose openings within an opponent’s defense, allowing their powerful punches to slip through the guard. Leg kicks and body punches will slow even the most fleet-footed of foes and may lead to a finish. Muay Mat fighters often use heavy punches to plant their overwhelmed opponent’s feet to land fight-ending leg kicks; without the fear of them checking.

Weaknesses of the Muay Mat:

Muay Mat specialists themselves are also susceptible to leg kicks, especially on the lead leg due to their forward pressure. Usually, the common way to beat a puncher is to be a better kicker, using the longer, more powerful limb to keep the power puncher at bay (watch Buakaw vs Mike Zambidis & Yodsanklai vs Marat Grigorian). Another tactic used by kickers is to target the arms of a puncher, as that will not only score slightly but slow down the punch speed and volume coming from the Muay Mat. Muay Mat fighters are most dangerous at mid/close ranges therefore clinching is often used to dampen the onslaught, whilst scoring highly with knees. However, most of these tactics require a skilled, tough individual, who won’t buckle to the pressure of the Muay Mat stylist.

Notable Muay Mat Fighters – Ramon Dekkers, Rodtang Jitmuangnon, Sagat Petchyindee, Wangchannoi Sor Palangchai, Anuwat Kaewsamrit, Kulabdam Sor Jor Piek-U-Thai, Veerapol Sahaprom and Samson Isaan. Samson Isaan was the reigning WBF Junior Bantamweight boxing champion with 38 title defenses to his name!

Muay Femur – The Technician

Considered the most beautiful style in Muay Thai, Muay Femurs encompass the beauty and technicality of Muay Thai, a stark contrast to the more brutal Muay Mat stylist. Their ability to control range and utilize all eight limbs make these technical masters a joy to watch in the ring. What sets them apart from most is their perfect balance between offence and defense, floating between the two to capitalize on their opponent at any given time. The trickiest of all styles, the Muay Femur excels at catching even the most aware fighters off guard with their unorthodox attacks.

How Muay Femur Fighters Win:

Able to use any weapon at a high level, Muay Femurs’ understand the game better than most. Their ability to spot weaknesses to exploit, whilst neutralizing their opponent’s strengths is what makes the Muay Femur so successful. As stated before their balanced approach to Muay Thai means they are rarely out of range to capitalize on a mistake or opening. They win by outwitting their opponent with their high fight IQ, often countering and scoring with all aspects of Muay Thai.

However, they will not shy away from finishing a fight if the opportunity arises, using their sniper-like precision to finish the job. Despite popular belief that Muay Thai fighters aren’t defensively savvy, the Muay Femur is incredibly skilled at evasion and footwork (just see Lerdsila for example), often using their movement to avoid damage and control the fight.

Weaknesses of the Muay Femur:

There aren’t many weaknesses to exploit against the Muay Femur. It is hard to find a technical advantage over a tactical mastermind, therefore you must look to more physical means to win the fight. Often, the Muay Femur isn’t the most athletic fighter, potentially why they chose to use brain over brawn. Therefore, imposing your athleticism may be the only way to overpower such a tricky opponent. Besides overpowering the opponent, being another technical fighter could lead to a favourable chess match.

Notable Muay Femur Fighters – Saenchai, Nong-O Gaiyanghadao, Samart Payakaroon, Somrak Khamsing, Karuhat Sor Supawan, Tawanchai, Kaonar, Pakorn PKSaenchaiGym, Jonathan Haggerty and many more are all tactical geniuses.

Muay Tae – The Kicker

Another fan favorite style in Muay Thai, the kicking specialist is a high scoring aggressive combatant, who uses the longest, most powerful weapon to devastating use. The kick scores highly in Muay Thai, with head kicks being the top scorer and body kicks being close behind. Preferring to target the body and arms of the opponent, the Muay Tae fighter will use the strong shin bone to tenderize the opponent’s body. Due to their preferred weapon being mid/long-range the kicker can be any size and is often powerfully built.

How Muay Tae Fighters Win:

They use their kicks like baseball bats, aiming to damage the body and arms primarily. This repetitive approach programs the opponent to defend certain kicks in the same place, allowing the Muay Tae fighter to bring the kick up top to finish the fight. A strong teep (front push kick)  is a useful weapon of the Muay Tae stylist, forcing the opponent into the perfect kicking range.

Muay Tae fighters aren’t always on the offence though, as they can be very devastating counter strikers as well. Their ability to time low kicks and body kicks to counter punches can be thoroughly demoralizing to a Muay Mat specialist, and can earn a finish if timed well. It is truly one of the most powerful styles in Muay Thai.

Weaknesses of the Muay Tae:

To beat a Muay Tae you must try to smother the kicker, closing in to eradicate their preferred range. Good kick defense with a solid check will help defend against kicks, whilst allowing you to close distance effectively. Besides fighting on the inside, catching and sweeping could put a kicker off throwing their chosen weapon. However, you have to be sure you can secure the leg without taking unjustified damage.

Clinching is also a great way to keep the distance close and smother their kicks. Alternatively, if you have good timing staying out of range and utilizing angles to score attacks, then retreating quickly is also a good way of avoiding damage.

Notable Muay Tae Fighters – Yodsanklai, Buakaw, Singdam, Pud Pat Noy, Kaensak Sor Ploenchit, Apidej Sit Hirun, Kaew Fairtex, Pairot Wor Wolapon and Samkor Kiatmontep are all devastating kickers.

Muay Khao – Knee Fighter

The Muay Khao stylist has been a dominant force on the Muay Thai scene for a very long time. These aggressive specialists use the knee strike as their primary weapon of choice. These brutalizing knees when combined with a solid clinch can make for one of the most difficult and feared styles to face in the ring (The great Dieselnoi retired because no one wanted to face him; he was 6-foot-3 inches tall at 135lbs!). Typically, almost all Muay Khao fighters are tall, which is interesting due to how close-ranged they prefer to fight.

How Muay Khao Fighters Win:

Muay Khao are smothering fighters with elite gas tanks. Currently the clinch is king in Muay Thai, therefore the Muay Khao style is a great point scorer. The Muay Khao will constantly move forward, using their long limbs to tie up their opponents into their elite clinch. When you are in their grasp they will swing their powerful knees to the body and head, using their height to find dominant positions in the clinch. Therefore, it is clear to see why they tend to be taller than their fellow nak Muays, but prefer to stay close; a foreign concept in other striking arts such as boxing.

However, if faced with an equally tall opponent the Muay Khao will disbalance their opponent with a sweep bringing their head lower for the knee. Muay Khao fighters can fight at range too, as they will use their flexibility to land long knees at punching range.

Weaknesses of the Muay Khao:

Movement is key against a Muay Khao fighter, who will excel at close/mid-range. Therefore, a simple jab and teep kick will be useful for keeping the lanky Muay Khao at bay. However, defense is only one aspect of the fight game. To be offensive parries and pivots are great ways to set up angles against the pressuring Muay Khao. Once those angles are created, boxing can be used to inflict damage and will likely get through the long guard often used by Muay Khao. A long uppercut is a great weapon against the long guard, as the long guard is mostly used to defend against hooks and overhands; it is completely open underneath. However, Muay Khao are often tough as nails, therefore perseverance is required when facing one of the most dominant styles in Muay Thai.

Notable Muay Khao Fighters: Dieselnoi, Lamnammoon Sor Sumalee, Saen Parunchai, Langsuan Panyuthapum, and Yodwicha all used their knees to dominate in Muay Thai.

Minor Styles:

Muay Bouk (The Pressure Fighter) – Not to be confused with the Muay Mat, Muay Bouk fighters are the tanks of Muay Thai. Willing to take a shot and return fire with every weapon in Muay Thai. These relentless fighters have a one-track destructive mindset, which is to get in close and break the opponent. Whereas Muay Mats’ are skilled boxers, the Muay Bouk tends to use everything that is allowed. High-level endurance is needed for this particular style.

To beat a Muay Bouk an effective teep is required. Along with the teep, the same basic principles for fighting Muay Mat still apply. Some famous Muay Bouk are: Liam Harrison, Orono Por Muang Ubon, Jacob Smith and Sangtiennoi Sor Rungroj. 

Muay Sok (The Elbow Fighter) – One of the most brutal (and bloodiest) fighting styles in Muay Thai, is the Muay Sok. Muay Sok excel in that mid-region, between punch range and clinch range. The clinch is a good place to score elbows, however, it can also be used to muffle the full impact if faced with an elite clincher. Therefore, sticking just outside the clinch allows the Muay Sok to create enough distance to cause the most damage.

Hand fighting is a staple for Muay Sok, using this tool will help get past even the tightest of guards. Muay Sok are tough individuals as their style often leaves them open for punches, therefore a solid long guard and parries are necessary for mitigating some incoming artillery. Elbows score high in Muay Thai and cuts often end fights, therefore Muay Sok can be considered a high risk, high reward style. They have a huge arsenal of elbows at their disposal, one for every angle imaginable. Some famous Muay Sok are: Muangthai, Nathan Corbett and Yodkhunpon Sittraiphum.

Muay Plum (The Clinch Specialist) – Masters of all aspects of the Muay Thai clinch, Muay Plum fighters will knee, sweep and throw their way to victory. These are the close range specialist who love to grapple. They tend to be very strong individuals with an expert knowledge of the intricate Thai clinch and they will focus their entire game around this particular aspect of Muay Thai. As stated before knees and elbows score highly, therefore the Muay Plum is one of the highest-scoring styles in Muay Thai.

Petchboonchu FA Group is a fantastic example of a high-level clinch master. Petchboonchu is also considered a Muay Khao due to his dangerous knees. Not every style has to fit a particular archetype, some are a blend of styles whereas others may be the true definition of a particular style.

Foreign Influence

During the 80s & 90s, an influx of foreign interest in Muay Thai occurred, with many martial artists from around the world wishing to test their own fighting styles against the art of eight limbs. Whilst many foreigners were able to gain victory over Thais, Muay Thai still proved to be the most effective striking art.

With that said, many foreign Nak Muay decided to keep aspects of their previous martial art, creating a fusion of sorts. With influences from western boxing, kickboxing, karate etc. Muay Thai was forced to adapt to these foreign martial arts, with some borrowing aspects of these styles. Whilst in modern times it is rare to see a Thai use anything but traditional Muay Thai, you will still see fighters of other nationalities using a fusion of styles.

Main Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Life long martial artist and fan of combat sports, currently competing as an amateur Muay Thai fighter. Besides fighting, I love travelling the world and writing.

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