You might have had this debate in your gym, with your Nakmuay mates or with your coach.
It’s a conversation about your fight style and it can make a big difference when faced with different opponents.
The question and the debate is whether your style is traditional Muay Thai or not.
To answer the question and then to consider whether it is a debate you care about, you need to know the difference and how knowing the difference can make you more effective in different fight and sparring situations.
Traditional Muay Thai wants you to hold ground, inch forward, be staunch and defend with blocks and framing while looking for counters and openings without any real consideration for evasive footwork or angled attacks.There is little head movement and what little there is, is used for leaning back from a head kick or long hook rather than slipping and weaving jabs and crosses.
It can be brutally effective and it can win a lot of sparring rounds and fights and it can often be your ‘go to’ style or the only one you have been trained to do but it has a cost and it has an opposite style which you also need to understand.
The opposite style has no formal name but it is characterised by more movement more footwork and more angles, it also has a cost but it is forcing Muay Thai to evolve and with more westerners taking up this ancient art, many of whom come from western boxing backgrounds or With K1 styles or having had time spent in other striking arts, it will change the the way fights are fought and won.
For the purpose of this debate and to give each style a point of reference we will call these styles after two very obvious proponents of each… Buakaw and Senchai. You will know these fighters and most likely you will know which style fits which name.
To help you understand these two fighters you will need to go to YouTube but first let us explain what you will be looking at.
Tough looking and sinewy, Buakaw’s style is mostly about pressing forward with pressure and dominance to wear down the opponent without too much panache or verve. He does utilise some evasion, Lighter footwork, shuffles and feints but in the main his style is traditional.It is not unattractive but the beauty of this style is not in its creativity but in its unmoving and unflinching deliberate progress to dismantle the opponent. The line of attack is direct and uncomplicated and requires good conditioning to absorb and block your opponents strikes and to accept damage. Accepting the damage is the cost but the payoff is a greatly reduced load on your cardio and a firmer stance which is more ready to throw hard with frightening kicks. It is a less athletic style and is characterised by an upright posture, chin tucked and not much bend or flex in the knees.
This style bares little resemblance to the type of traditional Muay Thai taught in Thailand and yet it is still very much Muay Thai.
The main difference between this style and the more traditional style is increased amount of movement which comes from a more creative approach to footwork a more springy, knees bent posture and the idea that evasive footwork can keep you out of range, get you into range quickly and can also create angles of attack which are unexpected and which your opponent is perhaps ill equipped to deal with.
Senchai is now 40 years old, having trained from the age of 6 and it could be argued that the ‘hit and don’t’ get hit principle that busier footwork provides for you is the reason that the accumulated damage of a traditional style has not impacted so much on his body and mind over time.
WHICH ONE IS BEST?
The answer is not clear and the correct answer will depend on who you are fighting and what is more effective in those moments along with your abilities and fitness.
The correct answer also, is that the best style for you is the style that you can execute better and which provides you with the most success.
The definitive correct answer also, is that both are the best and you should aim to train both styles so you can switch up or switch down your game to suit the situation.
This means, as an athlete, you must not only be tough and durable, conditioned to block hard body kicks and nasty leg kicks with good unmovable balance to be able to march forward relentlessly, but you must also work on light footwork and an evasive style that just requires a mental flick of the switch to activate when necessary.
WHY DO I NEED TO SWITCH STYLES IN A FIGHT OR DURING SPARRING.
Let’s consider one of many scenarios.
You start the fight, jacked on adrenaline and slightly nervous about your opponents power. This means you favour an evasive approach and you have the energy to pull it off for two rounds…but this style and your nerves are taxing your cardio. The cost to you, of this style is proving unsustainable…you need to switch down a gear to reduce the load on your cardio while still being effective.
Let’s consider another.
You start the fight with a traditional style which also happens to be your opponents style but you quickly realise that they are looking to beat you with a counterattacks.This means that every time you throw they are timing you to block and counter immediately after and they are proving to be effective. There is ,little point carrying on with your style so you realise you need to feint then throw then extract back or to the side. All of a sudden you realise that marching forward and throwing is getting you countered and you need to switch up your footwork to feint, strike and exit.
HOW DO I GET MY COACH TO UNDERSTAND WHAT I WANT TO DO AND THE POINT OF THIS DUAL APPROACH.
If you are an active fighter and have a coach that is investing time in you then the likely hood is that you have a rapport of sorts and hopefully a relationship based on mutual respect, open mindedness, growth and with whom you can have intelligent fight IQ conversations with.
If you are one of many Nakmuay that train regularly in a large class of other Nakmuay, spar each week and only get a little bit of attention from your coach then you need to take the initiative but it is a good idea to explain what you are doing in a 2 minute chat to your trainer. Most of the time, they are teaching a ‘one style fits all’ class to a large number of students and will not be able to consider your specific requirements.
They will often have you drilling a traditional style and will critique your natural inclination to move away from danger by restricting your footwork.If you come from a kickboxing or Thaikwondo or Karate or western boxing style you will think it crazy to stand in range and block without considering a ‘move out of the way’ option.
Do not get frustrated and do not lose sight of the fact that the traditional style is proven and effective in real world fight scenarios against more movement based styles all the time…the success lies in its ability to win by attrition.
If your coach undstands your thought processes then he will explain that you are correct but for this drill, we are working on holding ground and blocking because this is a strategy that can work and you need to be able to fight with this style before you get all flashy and creative.
Next time you spar, do one round where you slip, evade move in and out defensively and then one round where you march your opponent down. Which one felt better, which one was more successful? Whatever the outcome, this will not always be the same with each opponent.
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