Muay Thai does not typically emphasize head movement. It is not commonly drilled as it is in boxing. This is due to the diversification of attacks from punching. Defending the head becomes de-emphasized when your opponent mixes in kicks to the body and leg. However, when faced with a volume puncher, a fighter without head movement could be at a disadvantage.
What do you do when someone asks you to move your head? Moving the head involves flexion and contraction of the neck muscles. The resulting head positions are up and down (nodding), left and right (shaking the head), and tilted (ear to shoulder).
In a fighting context, the applicable head position for most of the time is down – tucking the chin and looking straight ahead. There is very little opportunity to nod or shake the head. Head movement does not actually have anything to do with the act of moving the head. It has to do with moving other body parts directly or indirectly connected to the neck to cause the head to be in a different spatial position than before.
Let’s look at some categories of head movements that can be used in Muay Thai. There is a plethora of specific head movements that are not covered in this article. This is just a starting point.
Dipping the Shoulder – Also known as “the slip,” this brings a fighter down by bring one shoulder down. The example below is done with the front foot stepping forward, but it can done with the feet planted as often seen done by boxers. Trav demonstrates below by dropping his front shoulder and stepping his front foot forward.
The dipping of the shoulder can also be accompanied by a punch. Damien Trainor demonstrates this below by dropping his back shoulder down as he rotates his shoulders to jab.
Horizontal Slide of the Trunk – This is done by stepping the back foot back and out to bring the body and head several inches away from their original position. You would notice a stance that is momentarily widened. Giorgio Petrosyan does this in conjunction with a tilt of the torso to avoid Josh Jauncey’s right cross.
Angling of the Trunk – Leaning back is a familiar defense to head kicks for Muay Thai practitioners. Leaning back puts the head several inches further from the opponent’s punch. Jauncey demonstrates this (right) to avoid Christian Baya’s left hook.
Slide & Step – Rather than moving only the head, a fighter can move the entire body out of the opponent’s range.
Albert Chey Veera (left) dances backwards to avoid Petchbangprang “Rit” Kaewsamrit’s left cross.
The above categories serve as a starting point to understanding the objective when learning different head movement techniques.
Be purposeful with your movement. When practicing the horizontal slide in shadowboxing, you may consider if your step is big enough to cause your head to move sufficiently away from a gloved punch.
Experiment. You may try combining two categories as the above sample of Petrosyan sliding and angling the trunk at the same time to ensure his head is out of reach for the punch.
The objective is to ensure your head is out of your opponent’s reach. With this understanding, experiment with head movements or rather experiment with moving your body to take your head out of the way. Find what works for you.
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