In the whole of combat sports, there is arguably no technique more devastating than the Muay Thai low kick. But according to a senior trainer at Chinnarach Muay Thai in Koh Phangan, Thailand, it takes more than just a strong pair of shins to turn it into an effective weapon in the ring.
Photo credit: Henry Johnson
Kru Keng (Pichit Nukla) is from Trang Province in Thailand, and since joining the team at Chinnarach Muay Thai in 2022, he has helped to prepare dozens of fighters for competition. He began fighting at the age of nine, participating in over 155 fights throughout his career. His first title was Southern Thailand Champion in 2000, and from there he went on to compete in both Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok (ranked 9th in Thailand) and Rajadamnern Stadium (ranked 8th).
The importance of low kicks to a Muay Thai fighter’s arsenal depends on the fighter’s style, Keng notes. “For example, a lot of Muay Mat (puncher) fighters naturally end up using the low kick because it can be easily set up using their boxing combinations.” However, Muay Khao (knee) fighters use low kicks to a lesser extent. “They are constantly looking to close the distance and get into the clinch, [and] low kicks do not naturally set up the clinch,” he explains.
Keng considers the purpose of a low kick to be less about finding an opponent’s range and more about “inflicting damage and pain to soften them up - or if you are lucky, to get a technical knockout.” Low kicks are an extremely dangerous weapon that can impact a fight in a number of different ways, Keng shares. In fact, “it does not take many low kicks to end a fight if your opponent does not have conditioning.” In addition, he says, low kicks can “intimidate and scare” an opponent, distracting him or her to set up a knockout, like a head kick. “They can [also] destroy your opponent’s ability to kick you, [as well as] greatly reduce your opponent’s movement and speed after they have received a few well-timed low kicks.”
Armed for Attack
Shin conditioning is a substantial part of a low kick’s success or failure. Keng explains, “Low kicks are very painful if your opponent checks them properly, and so a lot of fighters will try and avoid this.” However, he admits, “if you have strong shins, then you will learn to low kick at every opportunity.” Conditioning the shins for a fight involves “kicking the heavy bag many, many times; doing pad work with hard pads; and also running a lot,” he shares. “Otherwise, you will get a big surprise the first time your kick is checked in a fight.”
But according to Keng, the most important thing to learn is how to set up the low kick. He warns, “If you just throw a low kick without setting it up, then your opponent will easily be able to see it and check it.” As a result, if a fighter is going to use the low kick successfully in the ring, he advises “[spending] a lot of time practicing combinations that set up the kick.” This means throwing low kicks at the end of a combination, not at the beginning. However, he doesn’t dismiss the effectiveness of using the low kick to set up a head knock out. Such as in the classic “Look low, kick high [combination],” he says, explaining that low kicks can be used to distract an opponent to create an opening for a head kick while faking looking down. “I like this move a lot,” he adds.
“There are a lot of combinations you can use to set up your low kick, and almost all of them involve punching,” he contends. “The classic ones are (1) jab, jab, left hook, right low kick, and (2) jab, jab, right cross, left low kick.”
Keng instructs, “If you are attacking the outside part of their leg, then there are two places you should be aiming for: the outside of the knee joint, and the outside of the upper thigh about 1-2 inches above the knee joint.” Otherwise, he says, “If you are going for the inside part of their leg, then you can aim for behind their knee joint and anywhere on their inner thigh.”
According to the senior trainer, “The three most common mistakes I see beginners making are (1) bending their kicking leg as it strikes, (2) turning their hips over too much as they kick so they end up off balance, and (3) losing power by not stepping to the side with their standing leg.” Stepping to the side “creates the space and leverage for the power behind the low kick,” he concludes.
In this video clip, Koh Phangan based Muay Thai fighter Punjun shows what low kicks are all about.
Video credit: This Is Muay Thai