How to Develop Technique in Your Muay Thai Skills


By Sean Fagan

One of the big notions of muay thai is that the training is verygrueling.

The day in and day out of running, sparringbag work, pads, skipping, not to mention all the sit ups, pull ups, and pushups is the norm.

As a community, Nak Muay Nation has developed the reputation of hard training makes you a great fighter. And for the most part, that is 100% true.

Without a doubt, you have to put in the work to reach a level of skill worthy of fighting in the ring.  But fitness and cardio will only take you so far. You will reach a point where your opponent is just as “diesel”  as you are… or even more. It is at this apex that you will always lose to a more skilled opponent. It wasn’t because you weren’t in great shape, it was you not having the skills to keep up.

Take for example Saenchai. Why is it that he is able to easily defeat his falang opponents? They are obviously much bigger in stature than he is. I am also pretty sure they can bench press, squat and deadlift more than Saenchai. But Saenchai has something that trumps all the cardio circuits, crossfit workouts, and periodized personal training….

SKILL. And along with his skill, he’s got experience.

In my opinion, skill development is just as important as all the grueling conditioning.

Yes, it is true, you could have all the skill in the world but if you run out of gas, it doesn’t matter how sharp your jab is or how fast your switch kick is. In an ideal situation, you will be facing off against someone who has been putting in as much work as you have in the gym.

What I am talking about is the quality of your skill development.

What I have seen or heard from people many times is something like this.

“Today I am really going to work on my switch kick. I want to improve it and make it as sharp as possible.”

Then that person goes in and has his pad man work more switch kicks into his sessions or begins by hitting the bag with 200+ switch kicks. At the next session he decides to throw more switch kicks into his live sparring. Then he finishes practice by putting some more full power kicks into the heavy bag. Does this sound familiar?

1. Be Fresh

How I develop skills with myself and the people work with is to slow everything down.

Maybe even set aside one hour of time to work on something. It could be anything from a single technique, like a jab or a combination that you want to work in.

Lets use a Jab for our example. First and foremost, I believe that if you are developing technical skills you must be fresh. You should do basic mobility and a light warm up (just for the record… a light warm up may only be 5 minutes of skipping, or maybe even a walk around the block depending on your fitness level.)

You should never work on technical training tired or exhausted. The second rule is you should never get exhausted working on technical training. You are working on the technique not on your conditioning.

2. Break It Down

Staying with the Jab as our example, begin by breaking it down into parts.

Basically all moves (with a few exceptions) have 3 parts: the extension, the striking position, and the return.

The Extension: This is the part where you go from the beginning position in your fighting stance to the striking position where you make contact with your target. You are looking for things like; are you keeping your guard up? Or are you slightly pulling your hand back before throwing the punch?

Depending on your boxing style you will have different variations you can look at.

The Striking Position: This is the position your body is in when you are making contact with your target. You are looking at your guard (again) and if your shoulder is protecting your chin as well as arm and hand positions of the striking hand. You may even move from starting position to the the striking position and then hold the striking position to make sure you have everything in the right position.

The Return: The last part is the movement from the striking position back to the fighting stance position. Focusing on footwork, guard positions, and if you are “swimming” with your jab or do you return it directly to your face.

This type of breakdown can be used on any of the the 8 limbs of muay thai. It is important to be relaxed and move slowly. If you can not do the technique slowly, what makes you think you can do it fast and under pressure?

You must drill perfection into your techniques. It’s not “practice make perfect”, it’s “PERFECT practice makes perfect.”

3. Take Your Time 

Do not rush through things when working on technique.

Take your time and focus on what you are doing.  It does not have to be a flurry of punches, but rather just one punch looking at all parts of it as you move.

The mirror can be your best friend, especially if you don’t have your coach there to overlook your movement and positioning.  Remember all the parts you were doing when you were breaking the jab down into its parts.  Take your time and put them all together.

I remember hearing Mark Beecher in an interview talk about working on the jab with Kevin Ross at the gym:

“ One time me and Kevin were working on some stuff, we did a jab for 20 minutes… Just a jab in the mirror. Trying to make sure our shoulder was up and the other hand and just making sure everything was tight. There was some guy from a muay thai website asked us “What are you guys doing???” (asked as if puzzled).. We’re training.” 

The person seeing this type of training did not understand that focusing on basics, fundamentals and the quality of the techniques used is what champions are made of.

Fundamentals skills are the key to winning. Yes, you need to be in good shape and tough but you must be technical. Being flawless with your technique and developing timing and distance with those techniques can make you a very dangerous fighter even if your opponent is in better shape that you are.

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