The strategy of evasion in Muay Boran
by Marco De Cesaris

Is it really possible to physically direct the force of a superior adversary against him? Is the theory of all the Far Eastern Martial Arts that the weak can overcome the strong real?
Though in cases such as those we have just considered one should never generalize, it is true that the theories of fighting in almost all the Eastern combat disciplines are based on the concept that a rational use of the totality of physical and psychic capacities of the individual can give him the ability to do things normally considered impossible, or nearly so.
However, the tough reality of the street or in the ring often seems to demonstrate exactly the opposite, that is, that the stronger, the more aggressive and heavier of the two participants generally wins the physical confrontation.
So, how can one reconcile the theories of the Eastern masters with what one normally sees every day in the modern world?
In traditional Muay Thai, it is often said that of the nine weapons at the disposition of each fighter—arms, legs, elbows, knees, and head—it is the head that is the most important; of course, one understands the head in the sense of the mind, and therefore recognizing the superiority of a well-trained, thinking fighter over any aggressor who relies only on his physical strength. Nonetheless, though conceptually that theory undoubtedly shows great validity, the real problem that the Muay practitioner has to confront, as well as the practitioners of other forms of combat, is how to carry that universal principle out in practice, especially when in the rings around the world great care is taken to have adversaries of the same weight fighting in order to avoid a painful and dangerous defeat of the lighter of the two boxers.
In reality, investigating a solution to the problem in the theories and fundamental techniques in the technical arsenal of the Muay Boran practitioner, one finds from among the 15 basic forms of the Siamese Art (the Mae Mai Muay Thai) one of the oldest and most effective systems to avoid being subdued by the attack of a physically larger and more aggressive adversary: that principle is found in the Number One Form, by order and importance, the Mae Mai denominated Salab Fan Pla, or Cross Stitch.
The idea that the most intelligent and effective way to finish with a violent confrontation consists of directing the force of the adversary against him is considered general theory, but without the capacity to “support” the possible initial attack, to merge with it, the first phase of the fight for us will be the last; knowing to perfection the effective use of the semi-circular movement along with a skillful employment of the hands to hook a limb of the adversary and have it under our control is the basic condition to effectively apply the theory of Salab Fan Pla. In order to correctly execute the movement of Cross Stitch, the first phase consists of stepping out of the line of attack following a diagonal path to the outside, evading the strikes and the attempts at grips, surrounding the adversary but staying at a distance at which at the same time we can execute our counter-attack. At a higher level, the counter-attack is simultaneous to the evasive movement so that for the adversary it will be impossible to execute a neutralizing action.
Now, it is necessary to distinguish between the various versions of the evasion technique that the exponents of the principle regional styles of traditional Muay Thai transmit. In fact, the fighters specialized in “long” actions—often excellent kickers like the practitioners of the style from the north, Muay Korat—tried to execute wider movements in order to place themselves in a position of counter-attack, remaining at a medium or long distance, and their Salab Fan Pla movement reflected that focus. In order to get an idea of this kind of move, it is sufficient to observe a modern Thai boxer (who we can generally consider the heir of the Korat style) in action in the ring trying to evade an attack circularly and counter-attacking with a kick or punch.
Contrarily, a combatant from the southern style of Muay Chaiya, trained primarily in evasive combat but an excellent exploiter of very short distance strikes, would usually execute the same technique of Cross Stitch being much closer to the adversary and, in a certain sense, “adhering” to him; in reality, the objective of the Chaiya boxer executing Salab Fan Pla was to surround the adversary remaining as “stuck” to his center of gravity as possible, taking away the impetus of the offensive action and preparing himself for a devastating counter-attack.
The direct consequence of what we have just mentioned is the necessity of developing a kind of explosive energy, fundamental for an effective and definitive response strike that, especially in the case of actions executed very close to the target, turn out not to be easy to learn; every good Kru Muay had to know how to develop that energetic crashing wave in the students by way of traditional exercises of their own original style.
In conclusion, we can observe that the evasive movement is common to all Martial Arts and Muay Boran is not an exception: the image of the Thai boxer who advances toward the adversary with an exaggeratedly open guard position, unconcerned about receiving the blows of the one in front of him, in the majority of the cases, is deceptive. Furthermore, it is clear that the strikes of a superior (in terms of weight) adversary are much more difficult to absorb than those from an adversary who has our same weight. Our analysis has demonstrated how the elements of timing, reflexes, rhythm, and refined technique have always been considered fundamental by all the great Kru Muay, the Muay masters from the distant and more recent past. The very fact that the Cross Stitch strategy is the first that is taught to thousands of Thai boxers in the very mother country of the discipline demonstrates the importance that this fighting principle has, so difficult to learn yet so lethal if correctly applied to a real fight.