The Ancient Art of Defense in Muay Boran: Lo Lo, Lop Lik, Pong Pad Pid Poed, Tha Yan.
by Marco De Cesaris

These archaic formulas, similar to tongue twisters for kids, really are the precious keys which, once understood, allow access to one of the most zealously kept technical sectors of all the technical heritage of traditional Muay Thai: the old art of defense.
The Thai boxers are known and valued as fighters essentially due to their offensive skills: everybody knows that Thai fighters have built themselves a reputation for being the “tough guys of the ring” thanks to a repertoire of amazing attack techniques with tibias, elbows, knees, and punches not incomparable to almost anything else in the world panorama of the Fighting Arts. The true champion of Muay Thai really needs to master both the offensive skills and the skills to neutralize completely the “natural weapons” of the adversary, finishing the fights in the ring suffering the minimum amount of traumas as possible. The real artist, the Muay technician (called Fi Meu, in the Thai language) is the one that manages to take advantage of the adversary’s weaknesses to attack him, destroying at the same time each offensive attempt thanks to a superior defense strategy. The masters of the past considered that crashing head against head, like in a buffalo fight, is a contradiction that doesn’t at all follow the true rules of the Thai Martial Art. According to them, the way of fighting of the Thai boxers today is subordinated to show, and has become, in fact, a strength and resistance test that does not have anything to do with the beauty and efficiency of Traditional Muay Thai.
In fact, everybody knows that long ago, thanks to a long and meticulous learning period, the aspirant got close to the control principles of the adversary’s attacks with techniques and timing which today, in the show-business age, would be considered anachronistic. In reality, when the objective was to train in how to survive and not how to win a competition, the Khru Muay (masters of fighting) considered the defensive skills as the real pillar around which to build the technical experience of the practitioner. Moreover, limited technical skill related to the repertoire of counter- actions against the adversary’s attacks, if it can be compensated for through other skills (stamina, pressing rhythm of attack, etc.) in the sport field, it can be a very serious handicap in situations where the rules do not exist: in fact, if it is accepted, for example, to oppose parts of the body (tibias, forearms, etc.) resistant to the strikes of an adversary of equal weight, as happens in Thai Boxing combats, that “fitting” approach can get lethal if we have to block the kicks of a fighter 10 or 20 kilos heavier than us.
For all the reasons we have just mentioned, it is fundamental to master to perfection the three basic approaches to the old art of defense, from a completely evasive modality, to the contrast or diversion techniques, and on to the strikes for attacking. We will see in detail the three strategies.
Lo Lo Lop Lik: in this first modality, the technique of invitation, of the shortcut, of the evasion and the movement against the different kinds of attacks in the 3 basic ranges is taught. The clearest example of this strategy is the Hanuman way of fighting, the White Monkey, son of the Wind; provoking the adversary to counterattack without any difficulty, to avoid the strikes or the grabbing attempts thanks to the fast movements of the head, trunk, hips, or legs to get out of the trajectory of the attacks, and getting to an optimal distance to react striking the most sensitive areas of the adversary’s body.
Pong Pad Pid Poed: this second modality is wide and complex and involves the study of the different possibilities offered by blocking and contrast movements (striking the sensitive areas of the attacker’s anatomy with the hard parts of our body), diversion (to deviate the strikes with or without the help of the movements), opening of the guard actions or trapping or control of the attacking limb (techniques known as trapping). All these strategies condition the executor to react, as a first choice, together with the defensive action or, as a second option, after having neutralized the attack, using the timing known as “two time”.
Tha Yan: is the fine Art that allows the person that masters it to attack the limb of the aggressor or his body at the very moment when the adversary executes his offensive action. Especially in this modality, the adept will have to develop an excellent sense of the distance and timing of execution, thanks to the long sessions of specific training with the master and partners.
Regarding the methodology in training the 3 basic strategies of the defensive Art of Muay Boran, we have to remember that the times of learning and perfecting the defense techniques are longer than those necessary to acquire a good defensive arsenal: besides, more than the important practice “with the shadow” of the movements, the figure of the practicing partner is essential in this case. A training partner that is always trying to get us in trouble with his attacks, especially in the initial period of the practice, will discourage us, making the application of the principles we are learning little by little more difficult, slowing our progress a great deal.
According to many Siamese masters, the Art of Defense is the real secret of Muay, zealously kept secret for centuries in the narrowest circles of the Thai practitioners. The mere knowledge of the defensive techniques without adequate daily practice with good training partners, and under the supervision of an authentic Kru Muay, won’t guarantee the skill necessary to apply what we have learned in real, stressful situations. On the contrary, the patience to train the three strategies for a long time following the three methods which we have described will, inevitably, offer the student the most advanced method of control and neutralization of the adversary, regardless of the strength relationship between the aggressor and us.