In my last article, I talked about defensive skills that are essential to reaching a high level in Muay Thai. This article is going to talk about everyone’s favorite subject: offensive skills
At a certain degree, most experienced fighters have the ability to use all of the Muay Thai weapons. However, what separates the best fighters from the rest, is their ability to use these weapons at the right TIME.
Timing is everything in a good offense. You don’t have to throw special combinations to land strikes; you just have to throw your technique at the right time.
While beginners often try to kick as hard as they can, speed is far more important that power. A good fighter can easily evade someone who doesn’t throw their strikes with speed.
Two fighters may look the same when they are hitting pads, but the ring is where you will see which fighter possesses better timing.
This article is going to talk about specific skills that high-level fighters possess. These techniques are all advanced, so if you are a beginner focus on your fundamentals first. Don’t worry about trying to do advanced techniques until you have a good foundation to build on.
#1. The Immediate Response
The first thing you will notice whenever you spar a high-level fighter in Muay Thai is they have a quick trigger response every time you strike. If you land a kick or punch, they will immediately hit back.
This trigger response stems from the scoring system in Muay Thai. Fighters need to ensure that they do not let their opponent get free points from them. So if a fighter’s opponent lands a clean strike that scores, they will immediately respond with an attack to neutralize the points on the judge’s scorecards.
While some fighters let their opponent strike so they can hit back even harder, the immediate response is usually used after a missed block.
Fighters develop these instincts as young boys, and eventually, some become so good at trigger responses that it almost becomes impossible to land a strike without them scoring right away. You will notice this whenever you spar with a high-level Thai fighter; they will almost always score after you land a hit.
These triggered responses are within the flow of the offense. High-level fighters don’t use rehearsed combos. They only react to what their opponents give them.
It can be tough to block these trigger responses because after you strike, your defense is not set. Striking immediately takes advantage of your defense that has opened up to throw offense.
In this action sequence, Bangpleenoi responds with a quick trigger response after Sam-A kicks, which triggers another rapid response from Sam-A. This is a beautiful sequence that showcases what high-level Muay Thai looks like.
Here is Sam-A again showing a quick trigger response after he leans back and avoids a kick. He uses this moment as an opportunity to rush forward and strike his opponent.
How to Develop This Skill
To improve the trigger response, you need to work on countering right after your opponent lands a strike or misses. Drilling can help you develop this skill with a partner.
Here is a good drill you can work on with a partner to help you develop this technique. Once you get used to hitting after you get hit, you can then work on this in sparring. The only way you will improve the rapid fire response is by developing your natural reaction, so you don’t have to think about it.
#2. Blocking and Countering
Good Thai fighters are also excellent at blocking a strike and immediately responding with an aggressive technique.
This method is similar to the trigger response above, however, in this scenario, a fighter can block your initial strike, and respond with a quick trigger response. This is the perfect situation for a fighter because they prevent you from scoring and can score a point against you.
While blocking and countering after an attack sounds easy on paper, you have to practice this skill to develop it. A lot of people, including myself, can get lazy and just block strikes, without taking advantage of the openings that present themselves.
The following clip showcases a perfect block and counter sequence. Notice how Bangpleenoi blocks with his right leg and uses the same leg to throw a body kick before his opponent can reset his defense.
This sequence showcases Littewada going on the offense and blocking incoming strikes as his opponent is moving forward. Look at the control and precision he has throughout the clip.
How to Develop This Skill
Learning to counter after you successfully block an attack is important. It will allow you to score easy points against your opponent and teach you to react instead of standing still after you block.
The video below can help you develop better counters after you block. Start off going slow, and gradually increase the pace once you feel more comfortable going back and forth with your partner. Remember the key is to focus on developing your timing, not worry about trying to win in this drill.
#3. Catching Kicks and Countering
Similar to triggered responses and countering after you block, high-level fighters are also masters at catching kicks. Whenever there is a kick that they aren’t able to block, they will either throw an immediate attack or they will catch your kick to score points against you.
Catching your opponent’s kick is effective at off balancing them, making them more vulnerable to attack. Good fighters are able to defend after they attack, which can prevent a trigger response from landing. Catching a kick can offset a good defense by putting them in the defensive as you either sweep them or rush forward for an attack.
After you catch your opponent’s kick, there are many techniques you can use that include sweeping them to the ground, throwing a counter kick, or rushing in with punches or a flying knee.
This video showcases Bangpleenoi catching his opponent’s kick and rushing forward with a flying knee.
Here is another beautiful demonstration of Bangpleenoi and his opponent catching each other’s kick and exchanging blows.
How to Develop This Skill
One of the reasons Thai fighters are so good at catching kicks is because they practice it from an early age. With a partner, you can work on catching and releasing each other kicks to help you develop the right timing.
You don’t want to create a bad habit of always trying to grab a kick, but if you can’t block an incoming attack, catching the leg is your last option. This gives you the opportunity to throw your opponent off balance when you strike.
#4. Controlling the Distance of the Fight
When it comes to winning, learning how to control the distance against your opponent is everything. If you can dictate where the fight goes, it will help you fight to your advantage and avoid your weaknesses. Skilled fighters have the ability to control the range of the fight and put the fight where they want to.
A fighter like Saenchai is incredible at controlling the distance. His footwork and timing allows him to move in and out of striking range, making it very difficult to hit him.
Controlling the distance doesn’t mean staying out of range, it means being in the right range to allow you to counter off your opponents strikes and misses. If you are too far away, you won’t be able to exploit any of your opponents openings.
Whether you are an aggressive fighter who likes to move forward or a skilled fighter who wants to counter, you need to understand how to put the fight in the right distance. Some fighters need to be in close range to be effective, while other fighters prefer to be slightly out of range so they can be more evasive.
Learning how to control the distance is an important skill that requires years of sparring and competition against various opponents.
You might know how to control the distance against a skilled fighter, but what happens when you face someone who is always charging forward? Do you know how to handle him and neutralize that aggression?
Learning the right distance is a skill that all of the best fighters have. By controlling the distance, you will be able to dictate the pace of the fight.
In the following sequence, Bangpleenoi is controlling his opponent who is trying to enter the clinch. He doesn’t allow his opponent to gain position, and immediately grabs control when he is in close range.
In this sequence, Littewada controls his incoming opponent and quickly neutralizes him by tying him up in the clinch. This is an effective way to separate and gain distance.
How to Develop This Skill
Learning to control the distance requires a lot of sparring in the ring, where you get to move around. Sparring in the ring is something that everyone should make a habit of practicing because you will also learn how to fight with your back to the ropes and with your opponent’s back to the ropes.
Ring skill is something that is developed naturally in Thailand because these fighters have hundreds of fights.
#5. Exploding on Offense
All of the best fighters can go from 0 to 100 mph in a split second. One moment your opponent may be rocking back and forth in a steady pace, then suddenly BAM, he explodes at you with a one-two body kick combination out of nowhere.
The ability to explode out of nowhere is how the best fighters can land devastating blows. During these tense moments, your guard has to be strong on defense and ready to react, to ensure you don’t get caught with a devastating strike.
The explosion comes from a combination of speed and power behind your strikes.
The key to bursting out on offense is to be able to go at a relaxed pace, to an intense pace at the flip of a dime. Fighters who fight hard the entire fight, don’t have the same element of surprise that relaxed fighters have.
In addition to being able to land a quick strike against your opponent, exploding on offense can also allow you to gain a psychological edge. If your opponent knows you are capable of throwing bursts of punches and kicks, that will keep them on edge. That is why it is important to be calm and relax when you fight, so when you attack it changes the pace from slow to very intense.
Here is an example of Bangpleenoi going from a relaxed mode to rushing forward with a big left hook that lands on target. He uses the low kick to distract his opponent and finishes with the left hook.
Here is a clip of Superlek exploding with a straight elbow against his opponent. Again, Superlek goes from being extremely calm to throwing a devastating elbow that lands on the money.
How to Develop This Skill
The key to exploding on offense is to stay completely relaxed before you strike. When you relax all of your muscles, it will allow your attacks to be more powerful because your punches and kicks will whip out, instead of being restricted by your tense arms.
Work on hitting the heavy bag and pads with explosive power from a calm state. Focus on controlling your breathing and moving back and forth in a calm manner, before you explode with a strike.
#6. Utilizing Feints on Offense
When you first start Muay Thai sparring, you can get away with throwing strikes without setting them up. As you progress and start facing better competition, you will start noticing that your opponents block most of your incoming hits.
At a high level, you need to set up your offense with feints to score. Unless you have lightning fast speed, you will need to try to trick your opponent and allow them to open their defense up for a quick strike.
Feints are the best way to create openings because you will force your opponent to react to your feint, which will allow you to throw another technique at them. Every high-level fighter is good at throwing feints in Muay Thai. They have the ability to set up their strikes and land them with precision.
While you may not always be able to land your hits after a fight, sometimes the ensuing flurry can result in a point or two scored. You don’t have to land every strike. You just need to make sure that you score more points than your opponent.
This video showcases a beautiful feint from Superbon that he uses to land a kick. Notice how fast he reacts to Bangpleenoi’s hesitation.
This clip showcases Sam-A setting up his left kick with a series of feints. Notice how it uses the feints to make it difficult to time the block on his kick. When he throws the kick, his opponent is unable to block it in time.
How to Develop This Skill
If you want to work on your feints, work on a single feint at a time and drill it in front of a mirror. Notice your footwork and try to sell the fake as a real strike. Sometimes the best way to fake someone is to throw an actual strike first, then throw the feint after. This will make them think you will strike again, which will cause their guard to tighten up, opening them up for another attack.
Once you work on your feints, you will need to start implementing them into sparring. Sparring is the only way you will truly know if you have good feints or not. If you aren’t able to fake people out in sparring, you probably need to work on selling your feints better.
This video showcases a few feints you can add to your game.
#7. Punches in Bunches
Another important skill that good fighters possess is the ability to chain together multiple strikes. While some fighters utilize rehearsed combinations that make them look like robots, high-level Thai fighters can put together strikes that flow, without having to think about them.
They have mastered the art of flowing punches and kicks together, without having to practice those combinations in training. Whenever you see fighters chaining together strikes, it makes it difficult for the defender because they have to block multiple strikes.
Throwing multiple strikes at an opponent makes it very difficult to defend all of the incoming strikes.
This clip showcases Sam-A exploding on offense and throwing multiple strikes that hurt his opponent. Notice how he doesn’t let off, he continues his attack until his opponent is finished.
This clip showcases Littewada exploding with a strong punch combination followed by a body kick. He is so fast and explosive it catches his opponent off guard.
How to Develop This Skill
Working on combinations on the heavy bag and pad work are the precursors to developing the ability to chain together strikes. Combinations teach your brain to throw strikes together, which eventually become natural after you practice it enough.
You don’t want to make a habit of becoming a robot with your punch and kick combinations. Utilize short burst combinations, don’t focus on long ones that you see taught in Muay Thai classes because they don’t work. Any strike combination longer than 3-4 hits is within the natural flow of the fight and not a set combination.
The shorter the combination burst, the harder it is to interrupt with a well-placed jab or teep.
Putting It all Together
Mastering Muay Thai is a process that takes a lifetime. No matter how many years you train, there is always something you can improve.
The moment you think you are good, is the moment you stop learning. No matter what level you are right now, there is always someone who is better than you.
The only person you should compete against is yourself. Strive to be a better version of yourself every time you show up at the gym, and you will make huge strides in your overall game.
The key is to focus on one thing at a time. One week you focus on working on your trigger response, while the next week you focus on your blocking. By working on a single aspect of your game every week, you will slowly add the tools to make you very dangerous offensively.