One thing that separates experienced elite Thai fighters apart from Western fighters is their fluid rhythm in the ring. When you watch a skilled fighter, their offense flows effortlessly. Instead of trying to ‘Impose’ their will on their opponent, they take an adaptive approach that takes into account what their opponent is trying to do.
From their offensive strikes, defense, to counter attacks, everything they do flows within the natural pace of the fight. They go wherever the fight takes them. They don’t try to force set combinations or moves, they stay focused in the moment and only worry about what is in front of them.
Skilled fighters stay in rhythm the entire fight. When they strike, they explode from a relaxed state and quickly get back into their rhythm when they finish their strikes. This is how they are always able to maintain a state of readiness on defense.
They manoeuvre around the ring like dancers, controlling where the fight goes. If their offense isn’t working, they change strategies and try something else.
This is vastly different than non-Thai fighters.
When you watch people who have been trained outside of Thailand, they have completely different pace and rhythm. Their offense often consists of combinations and strikes that make them feel robotic when they fight. While there are exceptions to every rule, this is one thing that sets high-level Thais apart from the rest.
Developing a Fluid Offense In Training
You fight the way you train.
If you hit pads like a robot, you will fight like a robot. If you want to look natural in the ring, you better train the way you would fight.
When you watch a Thai fighter on pads, the pad work flows effortlessly from one strike to the next. Thai trainers don’t sit back calling out combinations; they make fighters flow through their offense from one sequence of attacks to the next.
It is during pad work that Thai fighters learn balance, control, and rhythm that allows them to reach a high level.
Due to the lack of trainers, most Western gyms require fellow students to hold pads for each other. This usually entails students learning a set series of strikes, and repeating it after the demonstration from the instructor.
Western instructors often come from Kickboxing backgrounds, which influence the way they teach.
Instead of calling out set combinations, Thai trainers teach students to react to the positioning of the pads. If the pads are in a position for you to kick, you kick. Combinations are often learned because of the pad holding and are not emphasized by the trainers (This depends on the trainer of course).
When you watch Kickboxers on pads, you’ll notice a lot more Boxing combinations which end with kicks. This is one of the fundamental principles of Kickboxing: Strike with the hands and follow with the kicks.
Since Kickboxers often emphasize more power shots and combinations, you can quickly identify fighters who have been brought up outside of Thailand vs. ones that have developed in Thailand (or through a Thai trainer).
When you see an elite Thai fighter chaining together a sequence of strikes, he is not rattling off a memorized combination. He is reacting to what is in front of him. While you might see some after fight breakdowns of these ‘combinations’, the reality is the fighter was just flowing in their offense.
Combinations Are Easily Disrupted
Have you ever tried using your ‘go to’ combinations against a skilled Thai fighter?
You probably noticed that the moment you start your combo, your opponent timed your strike and disrupted it with a teep, jab, or sweep of your front leg. You may have tried using your combination a few times, before realizing that you were being read like a book.
Skilled fighters will quickly disrupt your combinations.
This is one of the reasons why Thai fighters often throw a few strikes, rather than combinations. If you only rely on chaining together attacks to land your offense, you are missing a key component to Muay Thai: timing.
If you want to beat good fighters you need to develop an offense that doesn’t rely on combinations.
While combinations work against some fighters, good fighters will recognize what you are going to do before you even do it. As your opponents improve, you need to improve as well.
Timing is Everything in Muay Thai
If you only focus on rattling off combinations, you are missing the most important aspect of striking: TIMING
A skilled fighter can beat his opponent using a single left kick if he has good timing.
He doesn’t have to throw combinations to set up the kick. He can wait for the right moment and strike. Against skilled opponents, that fighter will need to use feints to disguise his attacks, but he still doesn’t need to use any combinations.
Landing clean strikes on your opponent are far more effective than throwing a bunch of combinations that are partially blocked.
One of the best low kickers in the game is English fighter, Liam Harrison. What makes Liam so good is that he doesn’t need to rattle off combinations to land strikes, he fires off his low kicks using good timing.
Timing is developed through countless hours of sparring with different types of opponents. It is not something that can be taught. You need to put in the work in sparring to get better timing.
Related Article: Learning to Read Your Next Opponent
Inexperienced fighters often believe that the more combinations they learn, the better they will become. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The most important skill you can learn over any new combination is to improve the timing of your strikes. Going out and sparring with as many people as you can, is the only way you can develop better timing.
Combinations are Effective with Good Timing
The point of this article is not to say that combinations are not effective. That is not true. Throwing multiple strikes is harder to defend against than a single strike.
Learning combinations can help train your brain to string together multiple punches and kicks together. This can help you land strikes against fighters who have strong defenses.
The problem is that some people think that combinations are everything in Muay Thai. With so many YouTube videos showcasing combination after combination, beginners often think that learning a new combo will make them better.
If you only work on combinations in training you will end up with a robotic offense that involves rattling off combo A, B, and C. This may work against weak competition, but you will get easily countered by a skilled fighter.
Fighters who only learn set combinations are easy to read. Their offense is easy to predict and even easier to disrupt.
Related Article: Learning how to Recognize Patterns in Your Next Opponent
If you develop a dynamic offense that doesn’t rely on set patterns, you will be a hard fighter to counter. Learning to become unpredictable is going to help you become more efficient against your opponents.
Let Your Offense Flow Naturally
Developing a smooth offense starts with pad work. Finding good pad holders that can simulate the ebb and flow of a fight is something that will teach you to stay relaxed, balanced, and pick your shots. Training in Thailand is one of the best ways to learn the proper Thai style of fighting.
When you do spar, instead of trying to rattle off combination after combination, take a moment to see what your opponent is giving you. Throw a strike, see how they react. Are they trying to grab your leg whenever you kick? Do their hands drop down when they strike?
When you take time to listen to your opponent, you will stop focusing on trying to force things that aren’t there. This will help you develop a fluid offense that will improve your striking.
If you only throw one kick, make sure that kick lands. Good timing and a fluid rhythm are going to help you take your Muay Thai game to another level.
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