There are two types of people who train Muay Thai: Those that go through the motions without any thought and people that train with intent to improve.

If you are training Muay Thai purely because of the fitness, social or health benefits, as soon as you learn to kick and punch you probably stopped caring about technique. As long as you can get your heart rate up, that’s all that matters.

However, if you take Muay Thai seriously, then you understand that mastery of the technique is a reflection of your skill level and commitment to improvement.

One of the first techniques you learn in Muay Thai is the body kick, but it is the hardest to master because your entire body is in motion when you throw a kick.

While you can isolate a Boxing jab or cross and break it down slowly, it is hard to isolate a kick because it requires so many moving parts working together simultaneously to execute.

The complexity of a movement plays an important role in how difficult it is to learn a new technique. This means it is easier to teach a beginner how to jab, than it is to teach someone to throw a kick correctly. This is why Muay Thai body kicks are so difficult to learn and can take years to master.

Defining Muay Thai Perfection

If we want to develop correct Muay Thai technique, we first have to define what perfect technique is. Does someone who has been training Muay Thai for 3 months have the same mastery of the body kick as a seasoned fighter?

The answer to the question is no.

Even though you can learn how to kick with good technique, there are small nuances that allow fighters to achieve more speed, power, and accuracy that cannot be simply taught with a movement.

Levels of Muay Thai Proficiency

Just because someone can execute a technique correctly, does not make them a master at that technique. To master any technique, it requires years of dedication practicing the right technique over and over to understand the small nuances that separate good from perfect technique

The following are the five levels of technique proficiency.

  1. Bad Technique – If you have already developed bad habits, you are already behind the eight ball compared to beginners
  2. Novice – Zero to little Muay Thai experience (No Established Bad Habits)
  3. Intermediate – Can perform technique Proficiently, still need work
  4. Advanced – Proficient in the Movement (fine tune details)
  5. Mastery – Spent Countless hours Perfecting Technique (Beautiful technique)

As you can see from this list, having previous Martial art experience other than Boxing (because Muay Thai punches are the same as boxing) is especially bad for mastering the Muay Thai kick. It is better to start from scratch, than to have a bad habit already starting to form.

Learning the Correct Technique

Dr. Richard Schmidt wrote in his book Motor Learning and Performance, that it takes 300-500 repetitions to learn a new motor pattern. And if someone has a bad habit already established it takes 3000-5000 repetitions to correct that bad habit.

The implications of this are huge.

This means that if you have bad habits already formed, it will take you 10x longer to correct your technique than someone who is learning from scratch.

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This is why training at a good Muay Thai gym is so important for beginners.

Obviously, someone who has learned how to kick at a Kickboxing gym for six months, won’t have the same number of neuron connections as someone who has trained Taekwondo their whole life. Even though both students might kick incorrectly, the Taekwondo student is going to take much longer (3000-5000 repetitions) to reform the old habit.

It is important to note that 300-500 correct repetitions, doesn’t make you a master at a technique, but it will move you into the intermediate category of being able to do a basic technique correct, with plenty of room to improve.

It Takes Countless Hours to Master a Technique

The best way to start correcting your habits is to get a coach (one that knows how proper Muay Thai) to give instant feedback after your perform a technique. Once you can learn the proper movement, you need to work on repeating that movement correctly every time.

If it takes 300-500 perfect repetitions to learn a new motor pattern, it takes tens of thousands of perfect repetitions to reach an advanced level and hundreds of thousands of repetition to master a technique.

If you think of how many kicks are typical Muay Thai fighter in Thailand performs every day, it would range from 300-1000 kicks depending on how intense the fighter was training. Multiply the number of daily kicks into an entire year and you can see why a typical Muay Thai fighter is so good at throwing body kicks.

The next time you wonder why young Thai fighters in Thailand are able to become so good, so fast, just think about how much volume the put into their training.

Beware of your Technique Breaking Down

One of the best ways to form bad habits is to train when you are too tired and your technique starts to break down. I see this all the time when trainers make students throw 10-30 kicks in a row, when they can’t even throw a single kick with correct technique.

When you perform a technique, make sure that every strike is correct. Once you reach a point where you can execute a perfect kick under severe fatigue, that is when you can push yourself to the extreme and you won’t affect your technique.

Spar after You Have Mastered the Basics

Sparring when you haven’t formed good technique is another way to ingrain bad habits. Because sparring is a fast environment that can cause you to become reactive and jerky, it is easy to forget technique when someone is attacking you.

It should be noted that you can work on specific techniques in a controlled sparring environment. For example, you can do sparring drills with a partner that can help you solidify your technique.

Real sparring, however, is detrimental to developing of good technique. Any bad habits you have, will come back the moment you try to spar because your brain will trigger whatever habit you have ingrained.

This is why professional athletes always change their form in the off-season, when they have enough time to learn a new habit. If they try to change something in the middle of the season, they will keep reverting to an old habit because of the pressure of competition.

Be Careful of Paralysis by Analysis

Some people end up causing more problems to their technique because they are over analyzing every aspect. If you are working on your Muay Thai kick, focus on a few key phrases to prevent your mind from over thinking. For example, “Hip Drive,” “Arm Swing,” and “Re-balance.” Use specific key words to emphasize the key elements of the movement to make it as simple as possible.

Relearning is How You Constantly Improve

One of the hardest things to do when you have been training for a long time is to accept that you need to make corrections. You need to have the humility to understand that you aren’t perfect and there are things that you can learn.

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If you consider yourself a master of Muay Thai, you will be unwilling to admit that you have things you can improve on. I see this all the time with students who come to Thailand and get corrected by a Thai trainer. You will often see them brush off the advice, saying, “I know, I know,” while five seconds later they are making the same mistakes.

Having an ego will prevent you from improving because you will be less likely to admit there are areas that you can improve. If you take a humble mindset and believe you are a life long student of the game, you will continue to improve no matter how long you have been training.

Remember the following

  1. Learn the Correct Technique – First and foremost you should always try to learn the right technique at the start because it can take thousands of repetitions to undo a bad habit in Muay Thai.
  2. Find a Trainer to Give You Feedback – You need to know what it feels like to perform a technique correctly (private lessons are best)
  3. Practice the correct Technique Repeatedly- Whether you are learning a new technique or relearning an old technique, practice the right way to develop permanent changes.
  4. Always be critiquing your Technique – Don’t rely on your coach to tell you when something goes wrong.
  5. Focus on Quality over Quantity – Practice perfectly rather than rapidly. Don’t worry about doing 30 kicks until you can do a single correct kick.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to developing perfect Muay Thai technique, you need a good trainer to help give you constant feedback. Getting constant feedback to ensure that you are performing a technique correctly is the only way you can learn to throw the right way.

This is why I always recommend people do private lessons in Thailand (it costs $20 an hour) because it can accelerate your learning and is the fastest way to correct bad habits.

Once you have learned how to throw a technique the correct way, it is essential that you work on repeating that technique perfectly. This means when you are too fatigued and your technique starts to break down, you stop and do something else.

While you might never be able to achieve perfection in Muay Thai, the act of chasing perfection will make you strive to be the best you can be. Always try to be better than you were yesterday.

Good luck.