Throughout combat sport and martial arts history, Muay Thai fighters (nak muays) have always been feared for their relentless ferocity, durability, and power. But of all the eight limbs, or weapons, available to a Muay Thai fighter, it is perhaps the legs, or rather, the kicks of a nak muay that are most feared.
This is simply because the Muay Thai roundhouse kick is known worldwide as one of, if not the most powerful kick techniques of any martial art. And coupled with the efficiency of the technique’s simplicity and the average Muay Thai fighter’s training and conditioning, the kick makes for an incredibly frightening and devastating blow.
For Muay Thai fighters, having to deal with this technique in the ring is a frequent affair. However, within the sport exist exceptionally heavy kickers; heavy kickers even the most skilled Muay Thai fighters in the world are afraid of.
And it’s certainly not difficult to see why; some of the most powerful kickers in Muay Thai history are known to have broken down their opponents with their kicks alone. Some of these include fighters like the late great Apidej Sit-Hirun, Jongsanan “Woodenman” Fairtex, Samkor Kiatmontep, Sakmongkol Sithchuchok, and Yodsanklai Fairtex.
Heavy kickers can no doubt cause a great amount of damage to you in a fight. But with the right techniques and approach, you can avoid the detrimental effects of those kicks and overcome the heavy kicker. Here’s how to combat a heavy kicker in Muay Thai:
Defense: General Positioning and Range
The amount of damage and impact inflicted by a heavy kick is amplified when the end target is moving against, or in the opposite direction of the kick. This is why fighters are always taught to bait their opponents to move or circle towards their rear kick or punches. As the opponent moves or circles towards their rear limbs, landing power shots from the rear limbs will come much easier, and when they do land, the impact will be much greater.
When facing a heavy kicker, you need to pay special attention to your general positioning and range. Circling and moving away from the rear leg of your opponent is a crucial defensive step to take as it prevents your opponent from landing those crushing rear roundhouse kicks comfortably. It also helps you to react and shift yourself (your opponent’s end target) away with greater ease and efficiency when you see a kick coming.
However, you must also remember that doing this will also mean that you will be moving into the lead side of your opponent, which will expose you lead hooks and switch kicks as well. So be sure to focus on keeping good range and being ready to defend against attacks from your opponent’s lead side, though they are generally less threatening than attacks from the rear limbs.
Defense: Change the End Target
As mentioned, the damage inflicted by a heavy kick is amplified when the end target is moving against, or in the opposite direction of the kick. This is why moving yourself towards the direction of your opponent’s kick (e.g. moving right with an incoming right kick or moving left with an incoming left kick), or in other words changing the end target point of your opponent’s kick, is an effective way to reduce or sometimes even completely nullify the amount of impact received from the strike.
An even better option would be to lean back from the higher roundhouse kicks, which will completely prevent your opponent from landing altogether. However, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to apply the lean back technique against every incoming kick, so shifting yourself towards the direction of the incoming kick and changing the end target should be your general focus throughout the fight.
Defense: Use the Right Blocking/Checking Technique
Smart fighters with heavy kick aren’t always looking to land one significant kick to end the fight. Most of the time, they are looking to break down and weaken the arms or body of their opponents gradually throughout the fight with their powerful kicks; which will in turn also take away the strength in their opponent’s punches and guard enough for them to finish them if the opportunity arises.
This also means that against heavy kickers, it would not be wise to use basic blocks in defending against kicks. This is because while basic blocks might be effective in protecting the more vulnerable parts of your body from the average kicks, the constant impact on your arms or legs alone from heavier kicks will drain you and break you down eventually.
Which is why you need to use the right blocking/checking techniques against heavy kickers. Adding an extra limb or glove check to the block will help disseminate the impact into two to three points of the block instead of just one. This will no doubt help you dissipate the damage received throughout the fight and keep your durability and endurance intact to perform consistently for the duration of the fight.
However, it is crucial that you only perform such blocks at a range that is safe from punches as it requires you to give up your hands and also the balance of having both feet on the ground to execute such blocks effectively.
Defense: Low Kicks or Teeps to the Lead Leg
Another good defensive tactic against a heavy kicker is to use low teeps and kicks to the thigh of the lead leg. Stability and a good amount of weight on the feet are what allows a fighter to generate explosive foot turns and hip rotations for powerful kicks. Disrupting this process by targeting the lead leg as your opponent is throwing a heavy rear leg kick will cause him/her to lose balance and find it hard to turn to complete a kick. With the right amount of power and timing, you might even be able to sweep your opponent off his/her feet.
Doing this frequently and effectively throughout the fight will also cause your opponent to hesitate when it comes to throwing kicks. The danger, however, is the risk of getting caught with punches while executing teeps or sharp, low leg kicks; so be sure to not neglect your defense against upper strikes as well.
Offense: Catch and Counter
Another good way to get your opponent to think twice about throwing kicks is to catch their kicks and to follow up. Catching kicks while also shifting yourself in the direction of the kick (see point Defense: Change the End Target) will not only help you nullify the intended effect of the strike, it will also open up opportunities for you to counter with strikes, sweeps, or even help you force a clinch (see point Offensive: Use the Clinch).
Countering significantly with every kick catch will undoubtedly be frustrating for your opponent. It will also help you score well on the judges’ scorecards especially in the aspect of dominance.
Offense: Fight in the Mid-Close Range
If going head to head with strikes at a long or long-mid range isn’t working out for you, then perhaps fighting in a mid-close range to limit the kicks altogether would be a better option. Using the clinch is arguably the safest and most fool-proof way to deal with a heavy kicker or an exceptional mid to long-range striker in any fight. This is because working in a tight clinch will completely nullify your opponent’s ability to throw strikes.
The best way to force a clinch against a heavy kicker is to move in after an attack or after catching a kick. One way this can be done is to bait your opponent to kick and then catch it and pressure forward to lock your opponent up in a clinch. Another way is to simply wait for your opponent’s attack, avoid them with good head movement and footwork, and force the clinch.
Another way is to force the action in a mid-close range; in other words, forcing upper body strikes instead of lower body strikes. Forcing this range and type of action would mean you would be trading punches and elbows a lot more than kicks, which can be beneficial if your opponent isn’t as good a puncher as he is a kicker. Turning the entire fight into a boxing match or a grueling battle in the clinch will no doubt put the threat of the incoming heavy kicks to rest.