by Don Heatrick

Muay Thai fighting styles can be broken down into something far more useful.

Something you can use to train your own personal style, and develop one that can beat whoever is in front of you.

Let me show you how…

Video Transcript & Further Resources

In this episode, I’m going to break down the different fighting styles in Muay Thai, and what it means to become a “complete” fighter.

These are the conceptual models I personally use to analyse different fighting styles, and while every coach and fighter has their own interpretation, this is the best way I’ve come to understand things myself, and train fighters to use it too. 

We’re going to look at the four Muay Thai fighting modes, and the four fight ranges that must be mastered to become a complete fighter.

“Welcome to Heatrick Heavy Hitters, where Thai boxers use science to separate fact and myth… and become COMPLETE fighters”

There are many different Muay Thai fighting styles, but they can all be categorised into 4 fighting modes, using 4 different fighting ranges or distances.

A fighter’s preferred combination of fighting mode and range determines their overall fighting style.

4 Fighting Modes

In Muay Thai we have the following four fighting modes:

Aggressive, when fighters come forward using physical strength, endurance and robustness to win, like Buakaw.

Counter, when fighters analyse opponent’s habits and respond to outscore or damage them, like Namsaknoi.

Elusive, when fighters are difficult to hit cleanly because they evasively move so well, like Lerdsila. 

Tricky, when fighters fake, bait and taunt their opponents, to frustrate and break them, like Saenchai.

And although every fighter has a preferred mode, they’ll also adopt varying degrees of the other modes too – depending on their opponent’s style in that moment. It’s like a game of chess.

4 Fighting Ranges

In Muay Thai, we also have 4 fighting ranges:

Long range, which includes using long kicks, teeps and jumping techniques.

Medium range, which includes long punches, long knees and low kicks.

Close range, typically including elbows, knees, hooks and uppercut punches.

And Clinch range, which includes physically holding your opponent, and upright wrestling and striking. 

The combination of aggressive, elusive, counter, or tricky fighting mode, along with long, medium, close, or clinch range fighting, describes every style of fighter you’ll ever encounter, and the strategy they’re currently using.

Traditional Muay Thai Fighting Styles

Now let’s take a moment to cross-reference this more complete model with the typical traditional Muay Thai fighter styles.

Muay Bouk fighters are mainly aggressive fighters that use a variety of ranges and techniques, such as Buakaw.

Muay Mat fighters are mainly aggressive fighters that favour punching and low kicks, mostly working from medium and close ranges, such as Anuwat.

Muay Tae fighters are mainly aggressive fighters that like to kick from long to medium range, such as Yodsanklai.

Muay Khao fighters are mainly aggressive fighters that like to knee from medium to clinch range, such as Petchboonchu.

Muay Sok fighters are mainly aggressive fighters that like to elbow from close to clinch range, like Muangthai.

Muay Plam fighters are mainly aggressive clinch range fighters, like Yodwicha.

Muay Fimeu fighters are technical fighters that use predominantly elusive, counter and tricky modes at long to medium range. Such as Nong-O

Your Style

Now understand your style is individual to you. It depends on your build, your athletic abilities, and of course your Muay Thai technical and tactical skills at the different fighting ranges.

And don’t limit yourself to a labelled fighting style.

You can see the mix of possible fighting modes and ranges, using different Muay Thai techniques, makes for a far more sophisticated, personalised, and fluid style definition than simply calling yourself Muay Khao for example. 

Styles do make fights, but it’s important to realise that no one style is the best. 

Although, certain styles are more effective against other ones, and at different ranges. And a more versatile, or complete fighter can adapt to the fighter in front of them.

Complete fighters can adopt a style that messes up their opponent, rather than doggedly sticking to one that isn’t working, and could cost them the fight.

You’ll have a preferred style, where you spend the majority of your time, but if look closer at what you instinctively do in sparring and you’ll see…

Oh, there I was aggressive. And there I was tricky. Your style is actually temporary, and in a constant state of flux.

How To Train Your Style

And here’s how I train fighters to use fighting styles well.

First, understand we begin with a mindset, an attitude. And then everything just falls into place.

And I use this when I’m training people in sparring or during padwork. I’ll literally say to them…

“Now you’re “Aggressive mode”. Throw this combo: Jab, cross, hook – you’re aggressive.

“Now you’re elusive. Throw jab, cross hook. Now what happens? “

It’s the same combo, but the way you move, your footwork, your distance, your attitude, completely changes, just by that little dial on your head going “aggressive” or “elusive”.

It’s simple, and it completely changes how you fight. You can mess people up. You can throw exactly the same stuff, but just have a different mindset as you throw it, and it completely changes things.

So now with more freedom – say in sparring – switch your fight mode (or attitude) during the round. And also decide which range you want to work at. This really starts to mess up your opponent.

One minute you’re in elusive and long range, then suddenly switch to aggressive at close range, before see-sawing back again to elusive again.

Play with it. See what works well for you, and against which type of opponents.

Here are some ideas:

Aggressive works well against Tricky

Tricky works well against Counter

Elusive and Counter works well against Aggressive

Also test which range you’re best at, and your opponent is weakest, and take the fight there.

That’s how I coach fighting style with fighters, and how it can work in the ring when cornering fighters too.

In training, you can drill attacking combos and defensive techniques with a different fighting mode or mental attitude selected. And develop your Muay Thai striking weapons and defensive habits at the different ranges too.

Then play with adopting different fight modes and different ranges in sparring. Once you get this habit, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to pull this off in a fight.

Further Resources

How you go about your training has a huge impact on your progress as a fighter.

I see many fighters consistently working on the wrong things. And this not only slows their progress to a crawl, but ultimately limits how far they can go.

In this video, I explain how you can break limits in Muay Thai

Another  problem I regularly see, is fighters and coaches simply choosing the wrong weight class. This can be far more serious than just an uncompetitive performance…

So I’ve left no stone unturned in putting together an optimal fight class weight calculator and guide here.

I hope you found these tips useful…

I would love to hear your feedback. So leave me some comments below and let me know if you’ll use these tips and what you thought of this episode. Thank you, and I’ll catch you next time. 

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

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