The Muay Thai body kick is one of the most challenging techniques to master. Because the Muay Thai kick incorporates the entire body into the motion, one mistake can throw off the technique.
For Thai fighters, the body kick is a basic technique that they master at a young age. It is the first technique that young Thai fighters learn the moment they step into the gym. After a few months of training, these young fighters can already kick with perfect technique.
Thai boys learn to perfect the kick by receiving direct feedback after every strike. Thai trainers correct new fighters the moment they make a mistake. This instant feedback loop ensures that Thai boys don’t have a chance to develop poor technique because their trainers won’t let them.
Here is what a beautiful Muay Thai Kick looks like.
Why Do Many Westerners Have Kicking Bad Technique?
Many foreigners don’t know how to throw a correct kick because of poor instruction from trainers. There are a lot of so-called “Muay Thai” trainers out there, who have no Muay Thai experience or a background in other martial arts besides Muay Thai.
Some people don’t realize that the Kickboxing roundhouse kick is different than the Muay Thai kick. Most people think that Kickboxers use the same kick as Muay Thai fighters, but they don’t. While the technique might look similar, the Muay Thai kick is far more devastating and generates more power.
MMA gyms are notoriously bad for teaching lousy technique, especially the ones that advertise Muay Thai classes. If you train at an MMA gym without an authentic Thai instructor, you are going to be learning bastardized Kickboxing.
Unlike Thailand, where Thai fighters are given one on one instruction the moment they step into a gym, many foreigners learn Muay Thai in a group environment. This means there is one instructor for every 30 students and students will end up holding pads for each other.
Not only are you learning how to kick from teachers who don’t teach correctly, but you are also likely to have other students holding your pads.
In addition to poor instruction, many students who train Muay Thai have a background in other martial arts. If you start off training Karate or Kickboxing, you are going to need to undo years of trained kicking habits. This is why it is so much easier to learn how to kick correctly if you start with a blank slate and haven’t been trained in other martial arts.
The last reason why the Muay Thai body kick is difficult is the complexity of the movement. If you are older and don’t have good hip flexibility, it is going to be difficult to learn how to turn your hips over correctly. That is why young students have a much easier time master the body kick, then people who start training at an older age.
What Makes the Muay Thai Body Kick Special
The body kick is the most powerful technique in Muay Thai. The force generated from the kick is enough to break bones if an opponent does not block the kick. An unblocked kicked that lands on the body, is one of the highest-scoring strikes in competition.
While Muay Thai fighters utilize the same punching techniques as Western boxers and have similar push kick technique to other styles like Karate, the body kick is the technique that sets Muay Thai apart from different striking arts.
Power for the kick is generated from the fighter’s hip rotation, arm swing, and speed of the kick. The combination of these three things enables Muay Thai fighters to have bone-breaking power behind their kicks. Instead of driving the kick to the target, the body kick is designed to go through an opponent.
Another thing that separates the Muay Thai body kick from other kicks is the use of the shin bone. While other styles often utilize the foot, Muay Thai fighters kick with their shin. While it takes a while for fighters to develop hardened shins, kicking with the shins allows for fighters to use their legs like baseball bats, breaking through their targets.
Lastly, the Muay Thai body kick is an explosive technique that requires fighters to remain balanced before and after the kick. Unlike other kicks, that fighters end up in off-balanced positions often with the back turned to their opponents (spinning back kicks, side kicks, etc.), in Muay Thai fighters can balance their kicks to stop on a dime. This is something that is unique to Muay Thai.
This video is a breakdown of the kick from the view of sports science.
Why Technique Matters
In Muay Thai, your technique is everything. When I had my first Muay Thai fight, my trainer told me that he didn’t care if I won or lost, he just wanted me to display good technique. He went on to say that if I won, without using the proper Muay Thai techniques he taught me, he would be angry.
It is common knowledge that Thai fighters would rather win a close fight with beautiful technique, then getting lucky with a sloppy win.
Muay Thai is a Martial ART. When you learn to understand the technique involved, watching two Thai warriors go to battle is always exciting. You can never truly understand how good fighters are until you learn to master those techniques yourself. That is why casual fans never appreciate technical fights that don’t feature knockouts or blood.
In addition to the art of Muay Thai, the proper technique ensures fighters can maintain balance and control. By learning to Kick correctly, you will learn to stay balanced before, during, and after your trike. This allows you to counter-attack when your opponent tries to take advantage of a miss.
Good technique will also impact your scoring. In Thailand, judges score clean kicks higher, over sloppy ones. If you display beautiful technique in the ring, you are going to be rewarded on the scorecards.
In addition to being balanced, the proper technique ensures you maximize the power in your kick. When you have adequate arm swing, hip rotation, and forward drive, your kick can have devastating power.
There is a reason why Muay Thai kicks are considered the most powerful kicks in the world. These kicks utilize the entire body to swing the leg at your opponent like a baseball bat. The better your technique, the more fluid and powerful your kick.
Keys to the Muay Thai Kick
Now that we have understood the Importance of technique, we can now discuss some of the fundamentals of the Muay Thai kick.
It is important to point out there will be a slight variations from fighter to fighter. Because Thai fighters have different body types and different trainers, you might notice slight variations among the kicks.
With that being said, there are some fundamentals that make a Muay Thai kick. The following are the core elements of the Muay Thai kick that you should incorporate into your game.
Turning the Hips
The biggest mistake people make when they kick is they don’t turn their hips. Without turning the hips, beginner kicks will often look like soccer ball kicks. Turning your hips when you kick has a few functions.
Firstly, turning your hips will help you drive your shin bone through your target. If you throw a kick upwards, the momentum of the kick will slide up your opponent’s body, instead of driving in. This will help you focus the impact point on a single target, causing much more damage.
Additionally, turning your hips also drives your leg forward, which generates more power. Not only are you focusing your power by turning your hip in, but it also helps create more power because of the momentum generated from the hip drive.
Using your hips is similar to boxing, and how you generate far more power in your hooks and punches when you turn your hips before your release the punch.
Swing Your Arms
The swing of your arm is going to help you generate that force into your kick. If you tried kicking without swinging your arm during the kick, it would be challenging to create power. Your power would probably decrease by 75% without proper arm swing.
The swing of your arm is going to help you turn those hips as you kick and allow your body to stay balanced at the same time.
One mistake some people make is not swinging their arm entirely, which can cause their hips to turn half over. If you have difficulty turning over your hips, try increasing the swing of your arms.
The contact point of your kick will be the lower half of your shin bone. If you hit the upper shinbone you are too close to your target, and if you hit your ankles you are too far. Kicking with your ankles can expose you to the risk of having your ankles broken.
The lower shin bone is strong and will be able to bear the full impact of a shin on shin collision. The reason the Muay Thai kick is compared to a baseball bat swing is that the shin bone is as hard as a bat. In fact, if you kicked a bat with your shin, the bat would break first.
When you first learn how to kick, instructors will teach you to take a slight step forward at an angle as you kick. While this is correct, the reality is that no opponent is stationary and your footwork will need to be adjusted depending on your opponent. If you have an opponent in close range, you will need to kick without stepping or if they are far you may need to take a full step forward.
To simplify your learning, focus on kicking from a set distance first (small step forward to an angle). Once you master that distance you can work on changing the ranges of your kicks depending on your opponent.
In addition to the position of your feet, you also want to push off your toes when you kick. If you are kicking with your right leg, your right leg with a push off the ground as your weight transfer to your front leg. When you push off your front leg, your calves will engage and you will be on the balls of your foot. This transfer of weight allows you to gain momentum and generate force moving towards your target.
As you kick, your lead foot will twist, as your hips turn for the kick. The twist motion on your front foot will help you generate more power into your kick.
As you kick, it is important to bring the weight of your body forward into the kick. If you lean back as you kick, you will take away some of the power from your kick. By rocking your body forward, you will have better posture during the kick and it will help you generate more power.
While you may have situations when you kick as you are retreating backward, it is essential to learn the basics by bringing your body weight forward.
As you kick, you want to look at your target. While you can get away with turning your head away, it is a bad habit that can put you at risk of a quick counter-attack.
In Muay Thai you never want to turn your head away from your opponent. Your eyes should always remain fixated on your opponent. If you can see a strike coming at you, you can block it. However, if you turn your head to your opponent, there is a brief moment when you lose sight of your target.
I’ve seen a video of Master Toddy teaching a fighter to turn his head to emphasize twisting the hips more towards the target. In my opinion, this is not a good drill. Every trainer I’ve ever worked with has corrected students who looked away when they kicked, regardless of whether or not they were working on power. Any drill that emphasizes a bad habit should not be taught because it is teaching students the incorrect movement.
This is an example of someone turning their head away from the target when they kick. Notice how the student is kicking without focusing on the pad holder. This is an example of someone forming a bad habit and not getting corrected.
Return Back to Starting Position
After you finish contacting your shin with the target, your leg should return back to your basic Muay Thai stance. If you stumble after you kick and are not able to balance after each kick, decrease your power, and focus on balance and control.
Muay Thai is all about balance throughout the technique. If you are out of control during the kick, it will cause you to be out of position after your kick lands.
By controlling your kick, you will be able to defend right after you strike and won’t be vulnerable to counter attacks. You can notice in the above GIF that Damien Alamos is able to maintain full balance even with Saenchai dodges his kick. That is because he is balanced and in control of the entire movement.
How to Improve Your Muay Thai Kick
The one mistake people make when they first try learning how to kick is they kick with full power right away. By focusing on kicking HARD, you are going to learn bad habits right away because you aren’t thinking about the individual components of the kick.
Even though it may be hard to take a step back and focus on your technique, it is essential to perfecting the technique. Adding power before you have mastered the technique will cause you to ingrain bad habits.
You want to try to eliminate any harmful habit before they form. This is where getting one on one training can benefit you the most. Doing a few privates at the beginning of your journey with a quality instructor can help you learn the fundamentals of the kick before you start working with other students.
While it is easy to get impatient and want to learn how to kick perfect right away, take your time and learn it the RIGHT way. Trust me, if you learn how to kick the right way, in the beginning, it will save you years of difficulty having to change your technique over and over
By slowing down your kick, you can break it down into steps. Once you focus on getting each step right, you can slowly increase your speed as you try putting it all together.
Beginner Tips for Improving Your Muay Thai Kick
This video provides a good overview of the Muay Thai kick and provides some good tips to help you with your kick. Ann is an extremely talented trainer who is used to teaching beginners how to kick. If you want to learn how to kick watch and learn.
Drill to Improve Hip Turn
The hip turn is one of the most difficult parts of kicking in Muay Thai. This drill with a partner can help you learn how to push forward your hips when you are kicking. By physically having someone push your hips forward, it will help you know the feeling of when your hip is activated during the kick.
Focusing on Arm Swing
This video focuses on your arm swing when you kick. By increasing your arm swing, it can help you turn over your hips and push them forward. A lot of beginners neglect the importance of arms swing during the kick.
Finding the Right Distance
This video focuses on finding the right distance when you kick. It talks about stepping forward when you kick against an opponent who is far away. This is more advanced, so if you are a beginner you should only focus on kicking from a set distance. Once you learn to kick correctly, you can worry about changing the distances of your attacks.
Catching and Exchanging Kicks
This drill requires you to catch your opponent’s kick and throw a kick right after. There are many benefits you gain from doing this drill, which include improving your kick, balance, reflexes, and defensive timing.
Use shin guards when you are doing this drill unless you are working with a partner that you know can control their kicks.
Rapid Fire Kicks
This drill requires you to focus on the balance after every kick. As you throw your first kick, your foot should bounce off the ground into the next kick. The bounce you get will help you generate momentum into your next kick. This is how you can string together multiple kicks using the same leg.
These kicking drills are good for balance, control, and stamina. By throwing multiple kicks, you learn to control your body after every kick. You cannot throw the kick with reckless abandon; you need to focus on transitioning from one kick to the next.
Hip flexibility is something that you have to develop over time. To do this, you need to get used to the feeling of turning over your hip every time you kick. Make an emphasis on the hip turn whenever you are trying to train your hips.
This video breaks down the most common mistakes you will make when you learn how to kick. Turning over your hip is the hardest thing to learn, especially if you start training Muay Thai as an adult.
Practice Makes Perfect
To perfect the Muay Thai kick you need to break it down into steps, then put it together. It is essential to understand the individual elements of the kick and then work on putting those elements together in a fluid motion. Thai fighters learn how to kick by kicking hundreds of thousands of times over and over.
In the course of one training session Thais will kick thousands of times over and over. This is how you will develop muscle memory and learn to kick without thinking.
Watch the videos above and see if you can find any drills or tips to help you improve your kick. Drilling is a great way to help you break down single elements of the kick, especially learning the hip turn.
The best way to learn how to kick is to have a trainer watch you as you perform a kick. Having someone give you direct feedback, can help you make adjustments on the fly. The key to developing a good Muay Thai kick is learning the RIGHT way first. By learning how to kick the right way, you will avoid developing bad habits in your kick.
If you want to learn Muay Thai, you are better off waiting until you visit Thailand, then training in a gym where you learn bad techniques. By focusing on technique and continually critiquing yourself, eventually, you will learn to kick correctly. Once you master the kick, repetition will allow it to become second nature as it all flows together seamlessly.
Remember that practicing the RIGHT technique over and over is the only way to improve. Practicing the wrong thing over and over will only make you really good at throwing an ugly looking kick. So learn the right movements first, then work on repeating that technique until it becomes second nature.