Muay Thai Technique: An Expression of Self

The Artistry of Sweet Science

Recently I tried to explain to my students that ultimately, our goal is to learn the techniques so that we can express ourselves through them.

I saw a lot of glazed over looks and nodding heads with empty eyes.

Then come sparring time, I saw a lot of mechanical movements, like notes to a melody being pounded out, without a single shred of feeling.

What does this mean? Expressing oneself through technique. I tried to explain that a fight is like a conversation without words.

Techniques communicate something immutable, intangible. In Thai Boxing, a Teep to the face, like Western Boxing’s Lead Straight Right is a way of insulting your opponent.

You are taking one of the dirtiest parts of your body and wiping it all over someone’s face. In essence using it as a door mat. Or in the case of the Straight Right, you’re taking your most powerful tool, from the furthest point away from your opponent and putting it right on his snot box without need of a set up or diversion. That expresses something.

The Rhythm of Expression

There is a rhythm to fighting, a cadence and timing.

The best fighters, the ones we love to watch always have an intimate understanding of this, a way of phrasing with their combinations, the tactful use of a dramatic pause.

Take for instance the difference in how these Instructors from the Thai Boxing Association express the same types of technique.

Take for instance, Ajarn Greg Nelson’s relentless and physical style.

And contrast that to the paced approach of Ajarn Bryan Popejoy shown here in the red.

And then look at how the techniques and their judicious placement and timing during the fight communicate something that cannot be said in Khuen Khru Brian Dobler’s highlight.

All are decorated, and very deeply respected icons in the Thai Boxing Association Muay Thai Camp. But each expresses the same types of movement in their own unique and beautiful way. There is an artistry to their approach.

The slight lowering of the gloves after delivering a telling blow. Giving the fans, the judges and the opponent ample time to absorb the message.

There is much more at play here than simply flailing limbs. There is a conversation being played out. A wonderful debate that those of us lucky enough to witness can learn from and enjoy.

Beyond the Science of 8 Limbs

This goes beyond Muay Thai and extends in to all combat sport. Boxing, Kick Boxing, Jiu-jitsu, Catch Wrestling, MMA, et al. So the next time you lace up those gloves and slicker up that mouth piece. Take a moment and remember, that that greats, not only deliver a heaping dose of punishment, but a sound and undeniable message…

an expression of the self.

9 replies
  1. naturalbornfighter1
    naturalbornfighter1 says:

    Nice post Dr.Sick! It’s definitely an aspect of martial arts that has been not forgotten but more like looked over in recent years. It’s nice to see someone bring it back to our attention. In the ‘When we were kings’ Documentary about Muhammed Ali and George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle they highlight how Ali insulted Foreman by using an right hand lead.

    There’s some deep rooted psychology going on when you are fighting, So many people can go on fighting for years without even realising this.

    • L J Perry
      L J Perry says:

      I really like that post Dr Sick, and yours naturalbornfighter.

      From my experience with other pursuits (sporting and non-sporting) it takes time for a technique to become “embodied” i.e. to change from mere mechanics to something that sinks into your body and you own it. At that point It becomes yours to express.

      The next step is the self confidence to express what you own. Not necessarily an easy or straightforward task.

      I find that process much easier with music than with Muay Thai so it’s helpful for me to use the feeling I get from music and apply it to Muay Thai. Although they seem very different I see the commonality as: being your pursuits rather than just doing your pursuits.

      • Dr Sick
        Dr Sick says:

        Thank you for your reply Lisa. Although I have to respectfully disagree 🙂 I think music and Muay Thai are very intimately related. Music has it’s chords, scales and theories. Muay Thai has it’s techniques, combinations and theories. The beginner works to master these. The master or artist is no longer confined by them, but rather transcends them and is able to weave in and out of the techniques, notes, phrases and progressions, and additionally lends to them his/her own inflections, voice, syncopations and dramatic pauses. The notes are no longer single tones, but tones played softly, with vibrato, sustain or even hammer-ons. This is what gives life to the piece. To the performance, to the art.

        I also disagree about expressing ones self truly and honestly being easier though music than through Muay Thai. 🙂 For me it is much more difficult to do this through music. I feel so much more exposed and naked. Muay Thai still gives me the semblance of a protective shell (as a façade as it may be), which hides the inner me. Music is a direct window to the soul for me. It is interesting that the Spartans felt a close connection to this relationship as well.

        Thanks for the reply. I haven’t done an introspective piece like this for a while. I didn’t think anyone was reading them so I kind of lost interest. But you’ve inspired me Lisa, to dig through the attic and find something new to think a little deeper about. Thanks again! and see you in the members area.

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  1. […] thanks goes out to Damage Control MMA Member Lisa from New Zealand who commented on my piece “Muay Thai Technique: An Expression of Self” and got me back on track and inspired me to try my hand at it […]

  2. […] come into great use when you are in a fight. Spread the word by tell a friend. Martial Art TrainingMuay Thai Technique Muay Thai is also know for their other name "The Art of Eight Limbs" and what ar…apon in Muay Thai as it can cause a K.O. or a cut on your opponent face easily. I have install a […]

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