20 Best Muay Thai Techniques for Self-Defense

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Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand. It is a combat sport known as “The Art of Eight Limbs” and Muay Thai moves are based on the eight points of contact that represent the different weapons in war. The hands act as the sword and dagger, the shins and forearms act as a shield for incoming attacks, the elbows resemble a hammer, while the legs and knees act like axes and staff.

Attending Muay Thai classes is a great way to discipline your mind and learn the right way to punch, kick, elbow, and knee. Below are some of the best Muay Thai techniques for self-defense.

Muay Thai Elbow Strikes

Using Muay Thai elbow techniques is an effective way to counter long-distance attacks such as the jab or haymaker. The tip of the elbow resembles that of a knife and can create cuts if timed right. It is important to practice the move thoroughly before attempting it in a fight to prevent an elbow bone contusion that occurs from wrong execution. Below are some common elbow strikes used in Muay Thai matches.

Slashing/Downward Elbow (Sok Ti)

Sok Ti or slashing elbow is a move used to strike the forehead, eyebrow, temple, or chin of your opponent. It is one of the most effective Muay Thai techniques for beginners and is a counter for haymakers by instantly closing the gap and executing a quick hit in a slashing motion to the enemy’s temple, thus being called slashing elbow.

  • Lift your elbow until it is raised to the same level as your forehead.
  • ​Shift your weight towards your front leg.
  • ​Now that you’re in the perfect stance to hit, swing your elbow diagonally downward on a 45-degree angle.

Horizontal Elbow (Sok Tad)

Sok Tad or horizontal elbow is used to hit your opponent’s temple. It is like a hook in Western Boxing, but the difference is its shorter distance. This move is risky since it is following a horizontal motion. If the opponent’s guard handles the impact, the person executing the move will be vulnerable to a hook counter to the face or the body.

However, as an offensive technique, it is effective after a clinch if done correctly. Having the proper Muay Thai stance is essential in properly executing the move.

  • Keep your guard up with the left arm ready to block an incoming counter.
  • ​Lift your right elbow around the level of your temple.
  • ​Swing your elbow counter-clockwise parallel to the ground. The movement should pass the line of your nose.
  • ​Bring back your elbow as fast as you can to protect your obliques from getting hit.

Uppercut Elbow (Sok Ngad)

Sok Ngad or uppercut elbow is one of the most lethal Muay Thai strikes you can have in your arsenal. This is a perfect technique to do when your opponent has tendencies of opening up their centerline when tired. Since the move is easy to evade through a step back, execute it right after a clinch if the opportunity presents itself.

Hitting the opponent’s chin with your elbow will almost guarantee a knockout.

  • Align your right elbow with your oblique muscles.
  • ​Swing your elbow up as if tracing a vertical line running along the centerline of your opponent.
  • ​Do not over-commit the swing and stop at around the temple level so you wouldn’t be vulnerable to a counter.
  • ​Return your hand to the Muay Thai stance as soon as possible. Expect a straight counter or rear hook from your opponent. immediately

Spear Elbow (Sok Pung)

Sok Pung or spear elbow is one of the trickiest Muay Thai strikes to pull off. Knowing how to throw an elbow alone is hard to master, but with practice, it is something that you can be able to execute as time goes by. One way to set this up is through a fake knee. If the opponent reacts to the incoming knee to the body, the head becomes exposed to a spear elbow. The elbow will then strike the head downward at a 45-degree angle.

  • Raise your right hand to a level just above your right ear.
  • ​Throw your elbow at a 45-degree angle while shifting your weight downwards and pushing the right side of your body
  • ​Quickly return to your initial position to protect yourself from a counter. immediately

Spear Elbow (Sok Pung)

Sok Kratung or reverse elbow is one of the most effective Muay Thai elbow strikes because of the power it generates compared to other elbow strikes. The perfect time to execute this is after slipping a straight from the opponent. If the opponent panics after you rush in next to his straight, he will be open for a reverse elbow strike.

  • From the Muay Thai stance, lower your arm to the level of your ribcage.
  • ​From your ribcage, move your elbow diagonally towards the chin of the opponent.
  • ​Raise your body by pushing your legs towards the ground as you are about to hit the opponent.
  • ​Shift the weight to the front leg and hit your opponent’s chin.
  • ​Go back to your initial position/stance as soon as possible to protect yourself from a counter. immediately

Spinning Elbow (Sok Glab)

Sok Glab is a fancy Muay Thai elbow that involves a spin. Don’t try it unless your opponent is already helpless, otherwise, you will be vulnerable to a counter.

  • From the Muay Thai stance, rotate your left foot clockwise.
  • ​Do a full rotation with the elbows pointing forward. The force must come from the rotation of your hips.
  • ​Once your torso has aligned with the opponent, land the blow.
  • ​Quickly return to your initial position again. immediately

Muay Thai Clinch Techniques

The Muay Thai Clinch is an extremely effective Muay Thai defense technique that allows you to set up an offensive technique at the same time. During a clinch, the opponent cannot throw a jab or straight punch. This position becomes a perfect opportunity to deliver knee and elbow strikes.

Arm Clinch

An arm clinch is when you are controlling your opponent’s arm using one or both hands. This clinch is a perfect set-up technique before delivering Muay Thai knee strikes to his or her stomach. In self-defense classes, an arm clinch allows you to throw the opponent to the using a Muay Thai leg sweep.

Side Clinch

To perform a side clinch, hold the side of your opponent’s neck with both of your hands. One hand goes around the front of the opponent’s body and the other one around his back. This allows you to perfectly position yourself for a Muay Thai knee blow towards the abdominal muscles. If the opponent escapes from the clinch, you can directly follow up with a Muay Thai knee kick to the body.

Low Clinch

To perform a low clinch, hold your opponent under his arms. From this position, you will not be vulnerable to punches. Knowing how to clinch eliminates the effectiveness of your opponent’s strikes. It will also be easier to lift and throw him to the ground.

Muay Thai Kicks

There are two general types of Muay Thai kicks which include straight kicks and round kicks. Within these two, there are 10 different types that have their uses depending on the situation. It is important to know when to use these kicks and how. Below are five types of Muay Thai kicks.

Muay Thai Roundhouse Kick (Tae Tat)

The Muay Thai round kick is the most famous and commonly used kick technique in Muay Thai. A roundhouse kick can come from either the rear or lead side. The goal of this kick is to hit the opponent’s leg, oblique muscles, or head with your shin. Unlike other disciplines that teach their students to land their feet, Muay Thai focuses on the use of shins to deliver a blow.

Muay Thai Side Kick (Tae Tad)

The sidekick is more of a thrusting attack rather than a striking one. It is like the sidekick used in Karate and Tae Kwon Do. Chambering the kicking leg, and releasing in a powerful kicking motion is the proper way to do the sidekick. The practitioner must step sideways before chambering the kicking leg to create momentum to make the kick stronger.

Muay Thai Axe Kick (Tae Khao)

The Muay Thai Axe kick is usually used to target the opponent’s face, head, or shoulder. To do an ax kick, keep the leg straight and drive it down towards your target.

A safer variation of this technique is the spinning ax kick. A plain Muay Thai ax kick may make you vulnerable to a sweep attack from the opponent. On the other hand, a spinning ax kick is hard to counter and gives you room to retreat with a counterattack. This move requires flexibility and practice through Muay Thai kicking drills.

Diagonal Kick (Tae Chiang)

The diagonal kick is used to strike the lower rib-cage or thighs of your opponent. Striking your opponent’s thighs is an effective way to hinder him. The diagonal kick is a fast kick at a 45-degree angle from the floor towards the side of the opponent's body and should quickly return to its initial position. This move usually causes sores on shins when practiced during classes.

Muay Thai Front Kick (Tae Trong)

The straight front kick is usually used to strike the upper body area of your opponent. When executing the kick, make contact with the toes or top of the foot. It is like the move done in Karate called Mae Geri.

Muay Thai Punches

Muay Thai boxing has a lot of similarities with Western Boxing. The difference, however, is that punching combos are mixed with kicks, knees, and elbows in Muay Thai. Western Boxing, on the other hand, emphasizes more on footwork. Below are the punching techniques frequently used in Muay Thai.


The jab is the most common Muay Thai striking technique, and it is easy to perform. To do a jab, you just need to throw a straight punch from your lead hand. The principle of a jab is like that of fencing. When the opponent charges in, the jab can keep them at bay. When attacking, it can disrupt the timing of your opponent or keep him in the defensive position while you load up the next technique.

To defend against a jab, slipping a punch is an essential skill to learn. If you can slip your opponent’s jab, which is the most commonly used punching technique, it is easier for you to counter. It is also important to know how to throw a proper punch to prevent yourself from getting hurt when attacking, especially when doing a counter.


The cross is also known as a straight punch. It is a knockout punch that is thrown in a straight motion using your rear hand. It is usually executed right after throwing a jab. The best time to throw a cross is when your opponent has no opportunity to counter. Throwing a punch like the cross without first gauging the distance or using the jab will make you vulnerable to a counter. Remember, the jab travels faster than the cross.


Throwing a hook will allow you to hit your opponent on the side. The move is called a hook because your hands will be shaped like a hook when throwing the punch. To generate power, you must rotate your hips along with the movement of your hand. The hook is difficult to master but it is very effective in knocking down opponents. Muay Thai combos usually pair the hook with a low kick to sweep the opponent, causing them to lose their balance.


When you are closing the gap between you and the opponent, protecting yourself is very important. If you are not aware of your opponent’s moves, you might get yourself caught by an uppercut which can lead to an immediate knockout.

Muay Thai Defense Techniques

Now you have an arsenal of attack techniques, but your opponent is likely to fight back. Here are a couple of essential defensive Muay Thai techniques.

Head Movement

Head movement is an essential defensive technique when fighting an opponent. Constantly moving your head will reduce your probability of getting hit. In Muay Thai, one of the most important boxing head movement tips is to avoid ducking under a punch because this will make you vulnerable to a knee or kick.

Keep in mind to avoid sticking to a head movement pattern so your opponent will not be able to easily read you. When you are fighting, you are playing with probability. Always choose the head movement direction where you are less likely to get hit. Also, avoid keeping your head in the centerline because this is where the majority of the punches land.


The parry is a defensive move that uses the momentum of your opponent against himself. It is more effective than blocking because it allows you to protect yourself but at the same time counter quickly. Although blocking protects you, you will still be able to feel some damage from the attack.

Parrying, on the other hand, redirects the opponent’s punch which leaves him off balance and vulnerable. Practicing how to counter a punch will make your parrying defense more effective.

Muay Thai for Self-Defense Conclusion

Learning Muay Thai fighting techniques will help you become equipped with a healthy mind and body. Muay Thai training techniques will also teach you basic self-defense that will come in handy when you are in danger.

This martial art is easy to learn but hard to master. It is also one of the most effective striking arts in the world. Muay Thai basics for beginners such as punches, blocks, low kicks, and knees can be learned in a couple of months.

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