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Short vs Tall: How to Counter Reach and Height Advantages in Muay Thai


Short vs TallWhen it comes to sparring/fighting people who have a significant reach advantage over you it can be annoying. If you take two Muay Thai beginners at the same level and get them to spar each other, the taller guy will have a natural advantage over the shorter opponent.

I remember when I first started training Muay Thai, I would always get frustrated when I sparred taller guys. Why is there a noticeable advantage? An opponent who has a reach advantage over you will be able to hit you and still maintain a safe distance from you. Now before we discuss how you can counter your opponents reach advantage, it is important to determine what kind of fighting style he has. Is your opponent the type of guy who rushes forward with punches without throwing many kicks or is your opponent the type of guy that will sit back and out strike you from a distance?

The moment the round starts you should take a moment to let your opponent strike you a few times. You can learn a whole lot just by sitting back and analyzing what kind of attacks your opponent throws at you. If the guy rushes at you from the get go then you know you are fighting an aggressive fighter, conversely if he sits back and waits, he is a more technical fighter.

If you are fighting a taller opponent you have to understand you own fighting style and impose your game plan on your opponent. Someone with good boxing skills will want to try and look for opportunities to close the gap get into the punching range. Conversely, a fighter with sharp speedy kicks will be content to stay in kicking range and trade attacks with the taller fighter. Your strategy will be determined by your skill set vs your opponents skill set.

Height and reach is only one aspect of fighting, the fighting style of your opponent will also determine your game plan.

Here are some useful tips for people looking to deal with taller opponents

Choosing the Right Range

The first thing you should understand when fighting a taller opponent is range. Fighters who have a height and reach advantage are going to be able to strike you from a distance that is out of your own reach. Taller fighters can be tricky at times because you may think you are out of range of an attack that is actually in their range.

The key is to know your opponent’s range and make sure you are either inside of your own range or outside of their range. This means you need to utilize good movement in order to move in and out of their striking range. Conversely, if you are an aggressive fighter you can push the pace and stay inside your own striking range throughout the fight.

This video breaks down the importance of choosing the right Striking Range:

Learning to Counter Strike

Another good tip you can utilize to beat a taller fighter is to let them strike first and counter off of their strike. Counter attacking is a great way to get inside of their range if there is a big reach and height advantage. You will notice that Saenchai often moves in fast whenever his opponent’s strike because it gives him an opening to close the distance.

Counter attacking is a great skill to have regardless of your height, but this technique can be an effective way to close some of the distance if you ever match up with someone who looks like a Skyscraper.

This video talks about the importance of Counter attacking after your opponent strikes:

Circling Out Against Knee Fighters

Since tall fighters have a big advantage when they throw knees, you will notice a lot of tall fighters will utilize this technique against you. If you don’t know how to deal with knee strikes you may find yourself getting destroyed on points or knocked out in the later rounds of the fight.

One of the counters to a good knee strike is movement around the ring. If you are constantly moving, it can be difficult for your opponent to time his knee against you. Learn how to circle out as your opponent throws a knee is a skill that takes practice, but it is very effective when you face someone who is good at knees.

This video talks about the importance of circling out and provides a demonstration:

Lean Back – An Effective Technique for Short Fighters

This is probably the most effective technique that you can use against a taller fighter. Because your opponent is taller than you, their kicks are going to be higher up on your body. Whenever you see a kick coming you simply need to lean back and you will see the kick flying over your head. This will ensure that you don’t have to take any damage on your arm from blocking all the kicks.

A good fighter to watch who utilizes this technique extremely well is Saenchai. Saenchai is probably one of the best fighters in the world at leaning back. Given the fact that Saenchai is 5’ 5’’ (165cm), every single opponent he faces is taller than him. If you watch him when he fights he almost leans back on every kick. A well-executed lean back will put you in a position to fire back on your opponent when he misses his kick.

Saenchai Leaning Back

The lean back is probably the most utilized Technique by Thai fighters

Here’s another beautiful lean back demonstrated

Utilize your Teeps (Push Kicks)

A good teep is effective against any opponent regardless of their size. However, when it comes to bigger opponents, a well-executed teep will put them off balance, allowing you to attack at will. The bigger they are, the harder they will fall when you teep them off balance.

The key to using the teep effectively is to be patient and wait. You want to sit back and wait for your opponent to make a move, the second you see his hips start to turn you will then teep him off balance. Executing this technique will put fear in your opponent if you are able to get them off balance a few times. Every time someone attacks they will be offset with a well-placed teep.

The teep is a great defensive tool if you are sparring a taller opponent that is aggressive with his hands. If you notice your opponent wanting to come forward with punches, time your teeps so you hit him when he is about to strike. This will completely mess up his timing and give you and opportunity to strike.

Use Feints (Fakes) before you Strike

If you find that your opponent is blocking and always avoiding your attacks, it is important for you to utilize feints. By faking your opponent out, you will make them unsure of what your next attack will be. This puts you in an advantage when you want to punch or kick because they won’t know what weapon you are going to utilize. Fakes are extremely important for shorter fighters because they allow you to get in close without being attacked. When you fake an attack, your opponent will react with a block, allowing you time to follow through with strikes.

Nice fake leading into a sweep

Catch your Opponent’s Kicks

By catching your opponents kicks and teeps it’s a great way to effectively throw them off balance and put them on the defensive. Once someone is off balanced you are more likely to land strikes on them because they are worried about falling over. You are now the person in control and can be the aggressor.

The beauty of catching an opponent’s kicks is that you have a number of options once you catch the kick. You can either decide to sweep them or counter attack them with any of your remaining weapons. I prefer to attack with punches to quickly close the distance because sometimes it is harder to sweep and opponent that is a lot taller than you because of the height advantage.

In Thailand the scoring system favors kicks over punches. This means if you catch a kick the ideal response would be to utilize a sweep or a body kick to get the most points for the technique. I personally like responding with punches after I catch Teeps, but if you want to maximize your points in a fight the kick or sweep will score higher.

You always want to look for opportunities to catch or throw your opponent off balance so you can follow up with a counter attack. Saenchai is a fighter that utilizes the counters extremely well. The moment an opponent lands a kick or a punch on him, he immediately responds with a strike or combination. Counter attacking will often throw your opponent off because they won’t be expecting a strike.

Here are some beautiful kick catches followed by sweeps

Practice (Sparring) Makes Perfect

Always remember no matter how much theory you know it all goes out the window if you don’t focus on trying to apply it in sparring.

You can’t expect to read this guide and start owning everyone you spar with. The key to beating anyone in Muay Thai is timing and patience. When you travel to Thailand you will notice most of the trainers and fighters are all short. However, this doesn’t stop them from owning most foreigners they spar with. Don’t underestimate the size of an opponent you either fight or spar with.

Experience makes the world of a difference. The more hours you have sparring taller guys the better you will become at it. Always be sure to work on different things every sparring session to ensure you don’t become a one dimensional fighter.

Sparring is a place for you to try to improve your technique and timing, it shouldn’t feel like a battle every time. People who are always trying to win sparring matches won’t be very popular in the gym and often get overconfident in themselves going into a fight. Always be humble and respect your opponent.

Muay Thai Counters RESIZEIf you want to read a detailed breakdown on how to counter Taller fighters make sure you check out me book called Muay Thai Counters. This book breaks down 18 different counter tactics to help you beat any opponent you face in the ring. 

Click here to find out more information about Muay Thai Counters

About Author

In 2011, Stephen decided to move to Thailand in search of 'real' Muay Thai. After training MMA for 5 years, he wanted to focus solely on his standup striking. After gaining a few years of experience in the ring, he decided to start Muay Thai Pros with his brother Ben, to share their experiences from the land of Muay Thai. You can follow Stephen on Instagram or read about his Muay Thai journey HERE.


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    Muay Thai Student on

    Can you make a guide on how to utilize your range to fight opponents that are shorter than you?


    The ultra deep lean back -also called deep fade-rocking back -sway back , in western boxing- is very good , however most students are lazy and refuse to give the move enough time to develop it effectively .
    Or then complain about back pain and quit trying.
    I see most students giving up if they can’t do a move in three tries.
    For the lean back there are are a dozen pay back moves available for counter measures -response.

    Leg catch -intercept . this opens the area of single leg wrestling options in the muay thai realm.
    There are counters to the leg catch as well that only the thai`s do and outsiders never ever learn !!

    Tall vs Short; the school trainer must teach the classic defenses and strategy that should be handed down from each generation of high style fighters to the next .

    There is just too much to learn if you are starting at 17 or 18 years old. you will playing catch up your entire fight career.
    so many of the classic “femur” technician style moves are gymnastic oriented , natural speed and nimbleness is a must, and a big old bear heavy weights probably won’t be able to execute them moves.
    Thats why the thai`s don’t like to watch big guys , they can’t move well enough for there entertainment .

    this is only the beginning there is much , much more to downtown bkk style that i could bore everyone with.
    People should watch the classic fights from 1980`s thru 1993, now that time period had lots of great fighters . Unfortunately those fighters whom became trainers , are not able to make fighters like them selves .
    chock dee bye

      Gabriel Garcia on

      Hello, I enjoyed reading your comments and will keep what you said in mind. Do you have any recommendations for books or other reading material for shorter fighters?

      I’m 27 years old, and after a 5 year break in fighting I am getting the itch again. I haven’t started training yet, as I’m trying to pick out a gym to sign onto, but I’d like to start practicing techniques that will help me in sparring against taller opponents. At 5’7, most opponents are either taller or around my height. I’ve had some trouble in sparring before with fighters who were taller than me and knew how to utilize their jab and footwork.

      • Hey Gabriel, being a shorter fighter has its pros and cons. Even though i’m 5’10, at least half of the guys I spar with are taller than me, so I understand your frustrations. The best thing you can do is spar and gain experience. I am coming out with my own book in a few weeks called Muay Thai Strategy, I would definitely recommend you check it out if you are looking for some strategies and counters.


    Growing up in boxing, the lean back was always considered a no-go by my coaches, too easy to get caught on the chin on the way back, whilst being unbalanced. Resulting in an easy knock-down, if not KO for a hard hitter. What would the would there be a good way to fix these downsides? or is it just a drill, drill, drill issue?

    • The lean back in Muay Thai is very effective and used by every high level fighter. When I say lean back, there are many degrees of leaning back. Yes, if you only slightly lean back, you are definitely at risk to be hit in your head. However, when you take a step back and lean back properly, your face is out of range from any kick or punch that your opponent can throw. Look up Saenchai and other shorter fighters and you will see that this is one of the best defensive techniques that they use against taller fighters.

      Obviously your flexibility is going to determine how far you can lean back. Some guys look like they are in a Limbo competition because they can bend like the matrix. When you lean back, your back leg should take a step back and your upper body should bend backwards. This will automatically put you out of range from any punches. The only thing that can catch you is a kick if you aren’t bend far enough back. Once your head goes back far enough, the only opening your opponent can exploit is your body if he changes the level of his kick. Hope that helps.

    Gabriel Garcia on

    Great article. Really enjoyed reading through it, and the GIF’s made things easier to understand.

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