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In Muay Thai, As in Life

Written by Adam Brown, KruFit Member

Through the process of learning and becoming proficient with the basics of Muay Thai, there are several areas where using fundamental principles of fighting can provide real benefit outside of the gym.  

Last week, Kru Jamie discussed “controlling the controllable” meaning that our best efforts and most of our energy should only be focused on things that we can influence or control.  In a fight, much like in life, there are things that we can and cannot control.  The example that Kru Jamie gave was that we cannot control what someone else does in a fight, though we may try.

Knowing that this is true, we have a hierarchy of defense for dealing with things that are out of our locus of control. We may not be able to control when someone attempts to punch us in the face, when a global pandemic breaks out or when we deal with the loss of a job, but we can certainly control the way that we respond to these things.

All students of Muay Thai must learn the hierarchy of the 5 types of defense and how/when to apply them in a violent encounter. Continuing with the premise that Muay Thai mirrors real life, it is always better for us to take a proactive approach in responding to, redirecting, and hopefully neutralizing any threat that is thrown our way. This hierarchy can help us to analyze and respond appropriately to our current situation, or any other situation that the universe may deliver in our daily lives, just as in Muay Thai.

Take the Attack

The first and lowest level in the hierarchy of defense is to take the attack. There are times when we simply must accept the damage that has been dealt to us, recover and move on quickly. In building defense in Muay Thai, we learn to be resilient by protecting ourselves and leaning into the strike; to take what our opponent is throwing at us, and weather the storm. In life, some things are out of our control and we should train our minds and bodies to accept and deal with the blows that we get dealt. While none of us are excited about taking punches, knees, or hard kicks, it is very important that we know how to protect ourselves and that we are confident that we can take that punch, knee, or kick from a strong opponent and stay in the fight. 

Knowing that you can take a hard shot to the chin and still have the faculties and strength to respond is an incredibly valuable skill in the gym and in life. Right now, the entire world is facing a serious challenge; we are collectively taking one on the chin in the form of this awful virus. While this is a very serious blow and we do live in uncertain times, the good news is this — we’ve been here before. Throughout history, we have periodically faced global pandemics, world wars, genocide, etc. Humanity has faced greater threats than COVID-19 and we made it out okay. This isn’t the first time that our species has had to eat a few hard blows and it won’t be the last. We are strong, we are resilient, and we can take the shots and stay in the fight. 


The second level of the hierarchy of defense is blocking. In Muay Thai, this means literally blocking punches by forming a shell with our forearms and gloves. We block kicks to the body and head by using our forearms to absorb the force of the kick and we block low kicks by checking with our shins. While blocking, we certainly do take damage, but the purpose of the block is to take the damage on our terms, where we want it. It is much better to take a kick to the forearms than to take one to the face or ribs. In the Muay Thai gym as in life, it is always better for us to be able to take a blow on terms that we define. 

In the current climate, I see social distancing and non-essential business closures as a block of sorts. By closing our gyms, sporting events, and schools we know that we are certainly taking damage collectively. We are attempting to prolong the damage to prevent our medical infrastructure from imploding under the weight of the increased patient load. We are taking damage, but we are taking it strategically so we can stay in the fight and come back strong in the next exchange.  

The problem with these lowest two levels of defense, while valid tactics, is that these tactics always result in us taking some form of damage. By taking or blocking an attack, we are only reacting after the fact to something that we may encounter. It is good to learn to take a punch for sure and it is also good to learn to take a punch where we want it to land. Instead of constantly reacting to outside forces though, we strive to be proactive as we move up the hierarchy of defense.  

Redirect the Attack

The third level in the hierarchy of defense is to redirect the attack. At this level of defense, we are waiting for small signs that an attack is coming and preparing to redirect the damage. We use a technique called a parry to redirect the force of a punch or a kick, resulting in the aggressor being moved into an off-balanced or unfavorable position. By using the force of the opponent’s attack, we set ourselves up to take control of the situation and respond favorably.

In Muay Thai, as in life, knowing how to redirect negative situations in a way that leaves us in an advantageous position is very beneficial. Right now, a lot of people have lost their jobs and are struggling. How can we help them to redirect this negative blow and to turn it into something positive? Is it possible that losing a job could very well open other doors that we can walk through and end up in a better position? In sports, we all deal with injuries, can we turn a foot injury into an opportunity to fine-tune our punches?  Of course, we can! In Muay Thai, as in life, having confidence that the blows directed at us can be neutralized and ultimately redirected to our advantage is a powerful thing for sure.  


The fourth level in the hierarchy of defense is to evade. When we evade an attack, we simply get out of the way. This requires enough situational awareness and presence of mind to see a punch or kick coming and to hollow out, slip and move the intended target. This level of defense allows us to get out of the way of the attack and take zero damage while we figure out what our next move should be. 

In Muay Thai, as in life, it is very helpful to know when to get out of the way and to let something fly past you without engaging. All of us have faced the consequences of engaging in negative discussions or arguments that could have been completely avoided had we simply chosen to get out of the way. Sometimes, the best defense is to avoid the attack completely and move on. While this method of defense allows us to escape the attack or situation unscathed, it is still completely reactive to the things that are thrown at us. 


The fifth and most effective level in the hierarchy of defense is interruption. At this level, we are using all our cognitive abilities to be able to predict an opponent’s next move. When we see a slight dropping of the lead hand or tensing of the muscles, we know that a punch is coming and we move quickly and decisively to strike first, interrupting the attack. From a fight perspective, this is the ideal situation because it does damage to our attacker and we experience none.

In Muay Thai, as in life, when we can see a blow coming and respond before it lands, we are at the pinnacle of preparedness and are fully proactive. Mastering the defensive strategy of interruption provides a framework by which we can navigate the ring with confidence and allows us to proactively manage whatever our opponent may throw.

Now, in Muay Thai, as in life, we don’t always have the foresight to predict a strike and deliver one of our own before it lands. We improve our chances by drilling, repeatedly practicing and sparring in a safe and controlled environment so that when we get in the fight, we will perform. Sometimes, regardless of how well we have trained, we miss the cues and must redirect the blow. Other times, we are only reacting and either avoiding or simply taking the punch.

Regardless of the outcome and regardless of the level of defense that we use, knowing that we have these skills drilled into our memory banks gives us the confidence to step into the ring and to keep fighting when things don’t go our way. In Muay Thai, as in life, we must work hard to prepare and turn our hard times into something positive.

Keep training my friends and stay in the fight. 

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