Transitioing from Western Boxing to Muay Thai (diary entry)

shin block



Tonight my client began his new and first course in Muay Thai for Martial Arts Cross Training. Having just completed the Western Boxing course two days ago, his goal is to be competent in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. We looked at how Muay Thai resembles certain aspects of Western Boxing and yet differs from them in many ways.


Besides all the obvious elements found in Muay Thai such as the inclusion of kicks, knee strikes, elbow strikes, extended stand-up grappling and limited number of throws or sweeps, the approach is very different.


Footwork is less varied than Western Boxing as the range is much shorter in Muay Thai. The concept of attacking and retreating is virtually unheard of in traditional Muay Thai bouts. I emphasised this aspect straight away by reducing our training space. Nak Muays rock on their feet, creating a type of tempo which is different from what you see in virtually all other combat sports outside of Southeast Asia. Their basic and most common guard is the high guard, which is more popular these days in Western Boxing but still for only certain stylists. Their stance is square-on and shallow. Again, you will find styles such as the peek-a-boo using a square-on stance, but the Nak Muay will use a shallower stance. The shallower stance is to aid faster delivery of kicks off both legs and defending the low kicks with shin-check. Slipping, although seen and taught in Muay Thai, is usually substituted for various different covering defences such as the “Dracula Guard” or elbow blocks. The reason for this is because of the use of elbow strikes and also because the fight being at the aforementioned short range.


Nak muays are permitted to use all the punches found in Western with a few additions of their own, such as aerial punches. Their punches are used a lot more sparingly. The pawing jab might have a place, but after that all the punches are of the heavy variety. There is seldom much in the way of fast jabbing from different angles and few low jabs. Since at least the 1930s and the introduction of gloves, nak muays have used punches to set up other techniques.


Overall Muay Thai is a more aggressive yet a far more patient game than Western Boxing. Nak muays step forward and take ground a lot more than western boxers with far less desire to yield that ground.


With this all in mind, I began with adapting the Western Boxing punches to the new system being taught. We adopted the Thai stance and, once my client became comfortable with the rocking motion, began throwing and defending basic punches – jab/cross/hook. I introduced the different covering guards and blended them with punches and counter-punches, as I would have done with slips in Western Boxing. We also brought in a step to add more momentum to the hook.


Prior to covering kicks I did a series of dynamic stretching exercises and also advised on some good places to view static stretching routines that could be done after training.


Next we covered the teep (Thai front kick). Best described as the real jab in Muay Thai, the teep gauges distance, creates distance and sets up other techniques as well as a great way to stop an advancing opponent in their tracks. We trained front and the rarer rear leg teep, first to the thigh and then to the mid-section. This was quickly then integrated in simple punching combinations. I made a point about this being very important. A distinguishing feature about Southeast Asian Boxing styles and hybrid forms of kickboxing is the fact that the former trained their punches and kicks together from the point of origin. There should be a seamless transition in a combination between a punch and kick. The same applies to the knees and elbows. As a punch withdraws so the kick begins its journey to the target.


The round kick and the shin-kick came in next. This is really Muay Thai’s most famous kick. Using the shin as the striking area, using the rotation of the hips for delivery, this kick is thrown with what looks like total abandonment into targets.  In truth, there is a science to its delivery and nak muays are just as precise technicians as any other type of sports combatant. The round kicks find their way into virtually any target and convey a tremendous amount of force. The shin-check defence for the leg kick is a virtual kick to the oncoming weapon.


Photography by Charlotte Von Bulow-Quirk

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