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Traditional Muay Thai fighting stances: the Art’s bedrock

Jot Muay or fighting stance is the foundation of all Muay Thai maneuvers; from a good solid stance comes a strong foundation to develop high level combat skills. Nowadays, with the development of the sport of Thai boxing, the many variations of Muay fighting posture that were adopted in older times, have been abandoned. Most instructors teach a modified version of the western Boxing guard that has become the universally accepted standard. However, in the ancient times, when Muay was practiced according to very different rules and regulations, every training camp had a peculiar system to teach boxers to protect themselves with a proper guard position, according to the camp’s region of origin (Northern, North Eastern, Southern or Central part of Thailand).
A boxing guard consists of specific feet positioning and specific arm postures. The ultimate goal of fighting positions is to provide the best conditions to perform the following combat maneuvers:
a. Efficient footwork.
b. Total body defense.
c. Powerful attacks.
Accomplished Khru Muay (Muay Thai teachers) should know how the different positions or hand guards can be employed in various combat situations and how they can be used to attack and defend. The general concepts connected to a proper fighting posture in all ancient styles are the fighter’s feet position on the ground and the wall of defense created in front of him by his arms (and legs).
1. Position of feet.
The fighter’s feet position is the foundation on which the entire Siamese fighting system is built: according to an ancient tradition, it is generally considered that the fighter will stand in one of the following 3 ways in combat situations. In accordance with the feet position on the ground, you may stand in a 1-point support position (Yeun Neung Khum), a 2-point support position (Yeun Song Khum or square position) or a 3-point support position (Yeun Saam Khum). This latter is commonly called “the triangle stance”, since the feet are placed on the vertices of an imaginary triangle drawn on the ground.
Going from the first to the third situation, the fighter’s stability and capacity to react to external stimuli, is gradually increased. The triangle position represents the pillar around which the entire “technical standard” of the Art is moulded; in fact, this is said to be the mother of all traditional techniques of Muay and its learning constitutes the true foundation of a real understanding of the Siamese original fighting system.
In a fight, the feet should be at shoulder-width distance, with the rear heel kept slightly off the floor. The knees slightly bent, ready to spring forward, backward, to the right or to the left. The front and the rear knee are raised alternatively to create a lower wall destined to protect the groin and legs against kicks and knee strikes (see opening photo of this article).
2. Position of arms.
In Muay, the body of a fighter is seen as an ensemble of several triangles, whose pointed vertices can be turned into natural weapons which can be used to attack or defend, causing damage to the enemy’s body. A correct guard position allows the fighter to employ these natural weapons quickly and efficiently, with a minimum energy loss. As a general rule, in a correct fighting stance the chin must be kept tucked in, covering the throat. The elbows must be kept close to the sides of the body and the hands on the front. This general rule applies to the long range phase of any fight: the shorter the distance, the more grounded and stable the fighter should become. In fact, compared to long range fighting where mobility is the key, at close range the main attribute of a good fighter is stability. In order to stay on your feet and attack with grabs and strikes at grappling range, you must have total control of your center of gravity at all times. Keep your feet apart and your knees flexed and your upper body slightly arched forward. Also, keep your chest in a line above your knees, since this helps you to keep rooted.

Traditional fighting stances.

Muay Chaiya stance. According to Grand Master Khet Sriyaphai the fighting stance must be compact and efficient in order to achieve victory. Jot Muay Chaiya can be compared to a durian fruit: every time you try to touch it you get hurt because of the thorns that protect its shell. This posture is structured to guarantee maximum protection: a fighter’s body is divided into two halves and into upper middle and lower areas. The resulting quadrants (left upper, right upper, left middle, right middle, left lower, right lower) help define the proper body weapon to use against all possible attacks. Upper and middle quadrants are protected by the arms while lower quadrants are protected by the legs: that’s the general rule when this position is employed. No wasted motion is used to protect a quadrant when it is attacked: every defensive maneuvers follows the shortest path to cover the endangered area. Economy of motion is guaranteed and as a consequence defences are quick and efficient.(image 1)


Muay Korat stance. In Muay Korat, Lub Jod is structured to put a fighter in condition to attack quickly and efficiently. Muay Korat boxers based their success in combat on aggressive forward movements and extremely powerful hand and leg strikes. In order to do that, a Muay Korat fighting posture had to be “offence oriented”, starting from the feet position. The weight has to be put on the front leg and the rear leg has to stand on the ball of the foot: the knees are slightly bent and not spread apart in order to allow for quick (offensive) footwork. Both fist are held roughly at breast level with the front arm almost outstretched: as a result the guard is never too far from the opponent and potential attacks will necessarily bump into the obstacle represented by the boxer’s front arm. This will act as a wedge allowing aggressive defensive maneuvers and oftentimes opening the way to devastating counter strikes.(image 2)


Muay Lopburi stance. Jot Muay Lopburi are various and diversified. The fundamental fighting stance is characterized by a peculiar hand position. Fists are turned with the palms facing upwards and arms are bent at the elbow: both arms are held relatively low, compared to Korat and Chaiya style. This position is very similar to western bare-knuckle boxers’ guard used before the introduction of boxing gloves. This posture allows for quick hand movements and is designed to best execute Lopburi boxers’ favourite hand attack, the upward swing punch. The distance between the right and left foot is to be enough to guarantee quick footwork and balance in motion: the rear foot is flat on the ground when defending and raised on the ball when moving around or attacking.(image 3)


Other typical stances.
Muay Pranakorn stance (Sorn Kwai camp). Jot Muay Pranakorn (Bangkok style) combines some of the features of the three main regional style previously analysed. In this stance the distance between the front and rear foot is larger compared to the previous positions. The front foot points straight forward and the rear foot is held almost perpendicular with the front foot. The front arm is extended, the elbow is slightly bent. The rear arm is bent at the elbow and held close to the upper body in order to protect the vital areas of the torso. Powerful hand and leg strikes can be executed from this stance, even if most attacks have to be delivered from the rear side in order to be quick enough.(image 4)


Muay Chaisawat stance. Professor Chaisawat structured his style’s fighting position with maximum defensive and offensive efficiency in mind. From his stance a fighter can be quickly move out of the opponent’s line of attack and at the same time he can easily retaliate with arm or leg strikes. Power is not the only concern of a boxer who employs this stance: multiple maneuvers such as side stepping, dodging, parrying and simultaneous counter attacks can be executed smoothly, without ever losing balance.(image 5)