The Muay Thai recipe for success in combat
by Marco De Cesaris

In the Martial Arts circles, discussions related to the presumed superiority of a system, style, method, or art of combat with respect to the others are often heard. With time, the superficiality of those questions has been demonstrated and confirmed since it is always the individual who wins or loses, never his or her style. However, beyond that sterile analysis, what time proves to be winning—or not—and what the majority of the practitioners, professional athletes in primis, often assimilate are primarily the training methodologies and the exercises with tools that show themselves to be the most effective.
Through the years, Muay Thai has stood out as an example in this field and the fundamental training systems utilized by the Thai boxers have become common patrimony of the fighters of many “hard” full contact styles of combat. Apart from the natural physical and characteristic skills of each athlete, there are three pillars on which a Thai boxer is built and on which he is maintained, as much the neophyte or enthusiast as the professional (also, with the natural prudence involved, the older practitioners). The three “ingredients” that can never be left out of the recipe for success transmitted by the Muay Thai traditions are: running, the work with Thai pads, and clinch work (hand to hand fighting). The complementary elements that are normally included in the three fundamentals are, respectively, the work in empty space (also denominated shadow boxing and the study of codified forms), the training with the heavy bag (to empower the strikes and condition the limbs), and sparring (controlled combat, executed according to specific modalities). Thanks to a regular and intense application of these methods tested by generations of practitioners, every martial artist can strengthen his muscles, tendons, and bones, converting the body—when necessary—into an incredible instrument of offense and defense.
Now we are going to analyze in detail the various elements, evaluating each one in terms of the great training benefits they can offer practitioners of distinct levels.
1. Running
Running has always formed a part of the basic preparation of Thai fighters and of all the full contact fighters in the world, especially boxers, considering its evident value for training to be an excellent fighter. According to some people, running is the best basic method of physical training known up to today and for that, from centuries ago, it has formed a part of the indispensable training for whoever wanted to progress in the Arts of Combat.
The important cardio-vascular stamina that is acquired with running is essential for whoever wants to fight in the ring or in other contexts, and it is difficult to achieve this with any other system.
Apart from the difficult effort made by the practitioner running in the street, in order to increase the difficulty of the exercise, the Thai masters used to make their students run in rivers in water up to their ankles. For modern practitioners, to get an equivalent effort, it is sufficient to vary the difficulty of the run, going up hills, stairs, etc.; all of that will not only strengthen our heart to the greatest degree, but will also make our legs strong and resistant to the point of converting them into genuine weapons, and in consequence, it will greatly increase the effectiveness of our offensive and defensive actions executed with the lower limbs and with the arms.
Another element that disallows running from being eliminated from any respectable training routine is the aspect of the mental effort that develops in the athlete; the superstar of the ring, Muhammad Ali, unforgettable heavyweight Boxing champion, advised running until one can’t refrain from retching from the effort; in that way he not only conditioned his body but also his mind for the merciless fights that he regularly confronted in the ring.
We should all keep in mind the advice of great champions, whether the masters of the East or the champions of the West, and it is for that that we recommend you include running in your weekly training classes.
2. Work with the Thai pads
A lot has been written—including in this magazine—about the importance of the Thai style impact training, which is based mostly on the employment of the typical equipment called Thai pads. Many disciplines have adopted the Thai pads, recognizing their excellent value for the development of muscular explosiveness and therefore of incredible power in all the arm and leg strikes; furthermore, thanks to a simple but brilliant system of attachment to the trainers arm, the Thai pads become real extensions of the guard of whoever wears them, in that way giving the impression to the one who strikes that he is directly attacking the body of the trainer with the logical technical advantages for the development of the sense of distance, timing, and the capacity to utilize “the weapon” just at the right moment.
The only “defect” of the work with Thai pads is the necessity of relying on an adequate partner/trainer, one who knows how to use this equipment, allowing the athlete to develop all his potential; lacking an instructor, we always advise not training with non-professionals, replacing the exercises with the Thai pads with sessions of various heavy bag work (on this theme, refer to the related article in a past edition of this magazine).
3. Hand to hand fighting (the clinch)
Everyone knows that the only method to learn to swim is to enter the water and get wet, so in the combat Arts it is true that up to today the best system for learning to fight has been to find a good partner and begin to freely put our force against his. From the psycho-physical point of view, there is no better exercise than working with a partner who doesn’t collaborate, work in which with maximum energy our force and technique can oppose another thinking being who is trying to beat us, though in a friendly way. The strength (especially in the neck, the arms, and the back) and the physical stamina that is developed through fighting are “specific” and have to be increased, especially by confronting good sparring partners, making mistakes and correcting them, and without fear of being inadequate or of “losing” (I say the same for the sparring with punches and kicks in which we train the reflexes, speed, and the resistance of the strikes). Learning to dominate in short distance with grips, movements, short knee and elbow strikes and throws, fighting in as real a way as possible (always with safety, thanks to adequate protective equipment) can be the ace up the sleeve for every fighter, whether a professional Thai boxer or a self-defense practitioner.
Once these three basic exercises are integrated (with the corollary of the other three elements that we spoke about), we can be sure that the level of our preparation and our physical and mental attributes, fundamental in order to be a true fighter (strength, speed, stamina, conditioning, etc.) will grow a lot, and if sufficiently maintained, they will guarantee us the achievement of the maximum level of our martial capacities.