Muay Thai is known for its multiple weapons including the heavy punches, slashing elbows, crushing knees, and the devastating Muay Thai kicks. You add the clinch and sweeps and you get a complete arsenal.
We will zoom in and focus on the Muay Thai kicks in this article.
How Many Kicks Are There in Muay Thai?
Some casual fans of the sport think there are only two kicks in Muay Thai: the roundhouse and the low kick. But you can’t fault them for thinking that. Those two are, after all, featured very prominently in the attacks of Muay Thai fighters and practitioners.
The truth is, there are many other variations of kicks in Muay Thai. This accounts for their preference as the primary long-range weapons for a lot of Nak Muays. Muay Thai scoring also favor kicks.
Read on to learn more about this powerful weapon as I cover nine of its variations.
Teep or Push Kick
Let’s start with the teep or push kick. As we said above, this is probably the most versatile of the Muay Thai kicks. It also happens to be the most underappreciated. You can see how certain Muay Thai fighters, especially those from the West, tend to neglect this kick a bit.
Some know the teep as a defensive weapon that’s used to keep aggressive opponents at bay. It’s similar to how a lot of fighters use the jab to help fend off attacks. However, the teep is also a great offensive weapon in its own right.
The teep is a straight foot-thrust that can be aimed at the hips, solar plexus, abs, or head (see image above). It is a fast strike that can also be thrown with some power.
To execute the teep using your lead leg, shift your body’s weight to your rear leg. This will lighten your lead leg and you can raise your knee up towards your chest. Push out with your foot by thrusting your hips towards your opponent.
One thing that every Muay Thai practitioner needs to realize is that the teep is such an effective tool. It’s a great addition to their bag of tricks, especially when used regularly like the jab.
Next up is the Muay Thai roundhouse. Unlike the teep, the roundhouse is not exclusive to the sport, although some details in its mechanics make it one of the signature moves of Muay Thai fighters.
As briefly mentioned above, the roundhouse is acknowledged by some to be the absolute most destructive strike in any martial art. The kick certainly generates tremendous power and it can cause considerable damage if and when it connects.
The roundhouse owes its power to the way it’s thrown. It’s thrown from the hip as the lead leg makes a pivoting move and the rear leg is thrown horizontally towards the target. That’s why many use the baseball bat analogy when describing the Muay Thai roundhouse.
The shin is used as the striking surface of the attacker instead of the foot, which differentiates it from the round kicks of other martial arts.
There are three different variations to the Muay Thai roundhouse. These are according to what the kick targets: Head Kick, Body Kick, and Low Kick.
The head kick is a variation of the Muay Thai roundhouse. This is usually known as the head kick as it targets the head and neck of the opponent. If the head kick connects in a fight, it’s usually highlight-reel material that’s also potentially fight-ending.
In order to be effective, the head kick needs to be set up perfectly. The fact that it travels the longest distance from the floor to the target means that a lot could go wrong before it hits.
You’ll need to lure your opponent into lowering their guard to create the opening for the head kick. Once your opponent bites and you connect, it’s potentially a lights out victory for you.
The body kick is the mid-level version of the roundhouse. It usually targets the torso or the arms of the opponent who is on its receiving end. This kick also has the potential to end the fight if it connects solidly, especially to the ribcage. Repeated blows to the ribs can cause bruising and eventually, a knockout.
Targeting the arms of the opponent can also have devastating consequences. Fighters often use the body kick to hit their opponents’ arms for two reasons, First is to cause damage to the arms. The other is for them to eventually lower their guard after repeated blows.
As the fight wears on, the body kicks will have taken its toll on the arms of the opponent and the guard will be lowered. This opens a world of opportunities for the attacking fighter. A fight-ending head kick or any other strike that targets the head is already made possible.
The leg or low kick is yet another variation of the Muay Thai roundhouse kick. This kick is also very powerful and can cause tremendous damage once it connects successfully.
This particular kick is quite popular as it’s also used a lot in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Dutch Kickboxing, and other martial arts. One of the reasons why it’s popular is because it also has the potential to end the fight.
The main target of the low kick is the outer or the inner part of the thigh as well as the joints of the knee. It’s thrown like a usual roundhouse, with a pivoting of the lead foot and the twisting of the hips. Again, the shin is thrown similar to how a baseball bat is swung.
In a way, the switch kick is also a variation of the roundhouse, although it has a bit of a twist to it. The switch kick is a weapon where the fighter needs to switch stances to kick with the lead leg.
It can be used for tricking one’s opponent through movement and footwork. Timing and speed play equally important roles in the successful delivery of the strike.
The key to the strike is to not jump using both of your legs at once. While this movement is fast, it will render you susceptible to low kicks in that short moment that you’re in midair.
So the best way to execute the switch kick is by taking a step back with your lead leg. Follow it up with a quick but short jab step with your lead leg. Maintain your balance as you deliver the switch kick with speed and power.
The jumping kick is one of the flashier weapons in every Nak Muay’s bag of assorted tricks. We must stress the fact that the jumping kick is not one part of the usual line-up of Muay Thai kicks that fighters use. But it’s both eye-catching and devastatingly effective when used correctly.
There are two ways to execute the jumping kick. The fighter can either deliver straight from his stance by jumping and attempting the kick. Or it can be a scissors kick (see image above). One thing that will remain true of the jumping kick is that it has tremendous power because of the momentum from the jump.
Practice and perfect the jumping kick on the heavy bag. Jump in an upward motion as you throw your roundhouse kick. Make sure that your kick connects while you’re still in midair. It might be a little difficult to get the proper timing of the kick at the start, but you should be able to get through constant drilling and practice.
Question Mark Kick
The question mark kick is perhaps the trickiest kick of them all. The move is made popular by the fighters of the legendary Jocky Gym. It is considered to be an advanced technique.
The mechanics of this kick is no different from the typical roundhouse. Their difference is when the kicking leg reaches its apex, it needs to be lifted even higher before being brought down at a certain angle.
A fighter that wants to use this technique on a regular basis should possess a high degree of dexterity and flexibility. Plus, hip mobility should also be at an optimum level to throw this kick properly, especially for the downward angle at the end of the strike.
Spinning Back Kick
The Spinning Back Kick is a less common technique in Muay Thai but can be used to devastating results. It is an actual technique inherited from the ancient Muay Boran move, Jarakhe Fard Harng (Thai: จระเข้ฟาดหาง). The name of the move translates literally as “alligator tail”.
Spinning back kicks are more common in Taekwondo and less so in Muay Thai. The move is favored by only a handful of traditional Muay Thai fighters as it opens up the entire back during the execution. It can be countered by a quick teep or push kick.
However, Muay Thai fighters typically do not anticipate spinning back kicks. Such a move can catch an opponent by surprise, even knocking them out.
Spinning back kicks are thrown to the neck or the head. It can also be thrown to the body for rib-cracking effect.
Timing is key. This technique needs to be thrown with speed to maximize impact and minimize risks of being countered. Constant drilling and practice on the bag or pads is the key to success.
And there is the Cartwheel Kick. Most fight fans associate this technique with Saenchai, who popularized it by making it his signature move.
The Cartwheel kick is based on a Muay Boran advanced technique called “Ma Deed Kra Lok” (Thai: ม้าดีดกระโหลก). The name translates roughly as “horse kick”.
Rotnarong, a golden era fighter was the first to use it in modern Muay Thai. He executed the move differently from Saenchai, with two hands on the canvas instead of one hand
This technique is actually illegal under conventional Muay Thai rules as the hand is not allowed on the canvas before your kick lands. The acrobatic kick is permitted on promotions outside of the Thai stadiums as it is entertaining.
Dareak Revolution Gym is another exciting Thai fighter who uses the cartwheel kick.
The Axe kick is another kick that is also not often seen in Muay Thai. It is traditionally not a Muay Thai kick but it has been seen on the rare occasions in modern Muay Thai.
This kick involves lifting one leg straight up and driving it down onto the opponent. The move targets the head, shoulder or the face.
This technique is more commonly seen in Taekwondo or kickboxing. It can be countered with a sweep/throw or push kick due to the slight balance from standing on one leg during execution.
Kickboxing legend, Andy Hug is known for his axe kicks. Saenchai has also used the technique on a few occasions.
Notable Muay Tae – Muay Thai Kickers
Muay Tae (Thai: มวยเตะ) is a Muay Thai fighter and/or fighting style that emphasizes on kicks. Strong kickers develop destructive power through relentless bag kicking and conditioning.
Here are some of the best Muay Tae fighters:
Apidej Sit-Hirun was a Thai fighter who competed in the 60s and early 70s. He was nicknamed “Golden leg” for his strong, hard kicks. He was also the only Nak Muay to be crowned the “Muay Thai Fighter of the Century” by King Bhuminol Adulyadej (Rama IX).
The masterful boxer was an ambidextrous kicker equally effective with both his left and right kicks. This is a rare gift that few fighters possess.
Apidej’s claim to fame came when he broke both arms of his opponent, Sompong Charoenmuang in a legendary 1963 bout. Sompong never fought in the ring again while Apidej cemented his place as possibly the hardest kicker in Muay Thai history.
The legendary fighter retired in his mid-30s with an astonishing 340 wins and just 10 losses. He then went on to become a trainer at Fairtex Gym. He trained and produced many champions at the camp including Kaew Fairtex and Yodsanklai Fairtex.
Apidej passed away in 2013 from lung cancer.
Sakmongkol Sittchuchoke is a Muay Thai golden era legend who competed regularly at the Lumpinee stadium in the early nineties. He held just one Lumpinee title through his career alongside other less esteemed titles.
Sakmongkol was a stadium favorite known for his aggressive style and what many considered to be the hardest left kicks of his time.
He was nicknamed the “Jade Face Left Kicker”, with wins over many notable champions of his time. He is best known for his fights against fellow Thai legends as well as western fighters like Ramon Dekkers, Dany Bill, and John Wayne Parr.
Samkor Kiatmontep is widely considered to be one of the hardest kickers in history.
The southpaw fighter batted and battered his opponents using the sheer power of his iron-hard left kicks. He competed through the 90s and first decade of the 21st century, taking on fighters from the golden era to the modern era.
Samkor has fought and won against many of the best Muay Thai fighters in history including Wangchannoi Sor Palangchai, Karuhat Sor Supawan, Sangtiennoi Sor Rungroj, Attachai Fairtex, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtom and Saenchai.
Another southpaw to add to the list: Yodsanklai Fairtex is a hard-punching Muay Mat with equally devastating left kicks.
Yodsanklai is a modern Muay Thai legend who is as technical fighter as he is a knockout artist. He is a 2-time Lumpinee champion, multi-time WBC welterweight champion, WMC champion and the winner of Muay Thai reality show, The Contender Asia.
Former foe and Australian Muay Thai legend, John Wayne Parr had this to say in an interview, ” He (Yodsanklai) was a southpaw, and kicked and punched the hardest I have ever felt in 114 fights”.
To provide perspective, JWP has fought everyone from Orono Por Muang-Ubon, Buakaw Banchamek, to Mike Zambidis, Albert Kraus, Kozo Takeda, and Dzhabar Askerov.
Yodsanklai’s days at the top may be over but his legacy will stay with fight fans for a long time.
Singdam Kiatmoo9 is an orthodox style fighter with a bone-wrecking right kick. He is a self-confessed knee fighter but his middle kicks are just as formidable.
The Buriram fighter is a multiple-time Lumpinee and Thailand champion, and 2002 Fighter of the Year. He fought against almost every top fighter in his time during his elite fighting years. The Black Lion holds notable wins over fellow kicking legends like Samkor Kiatmontep and Yodsanklai Fairtex.
Singdam stopped a number of his opponents and broken their arms with his repetitive right kicks. If you wonder why you should check kicks with your shin, try blocking a Singdam kick with your arm.
Singdam has transitioned to completing in the international scene since 2016. He won the WBC Muay Thai Diamond world title in 2019.
Kicks are among the most important and lethal parts of a Muay Thai fighter’s arsenal. A good fighter or practitioner needs to at least be adept at the most basic varieties of Muay Thai kicks to be effective.
Those who are able to master the basics and even the more advanced ones have the potential to be great. Some even have the potential to become legends. That’s what the different Muay Thai kicks, the sport’s long-range weapons are capable of unleashing.