Leg kicks are staple weapon of the muay thai arsenal. Properly deployed, it can severely diminish your opponent’s offensive and defensive capabilities and alter the course of a fight.
The Effects of Leg Kicks
Damage from low kicks degrades the leg’s weight bearing capability, and thus, balance and footwork. As your mobility becomes increasingly compromised, you forfeit control of range and timing to your opponent.
Leg kicks not only diminish the effectiveness of your kicks and knees, but also punches and elbows. With an injured lead leg, it becomes to difficult to “sit down” on punches. With an damaged rear leg, it becomes difficult to push-off the ground and generate torque.
Properly placed leg kicks will also cause the thigh muscles to immediately swell and stiffen up. This makes it difficult to lift your leg to check subsequent kicks and fade away from strikes.
There many major nerves running through the thigh which make leg kicks especially painful. Even the toughest fighters will be a little more tentative and gun shy after catching a few hard shins to the thigh.
Contrary to the “wisdom” of MMA judges such as Cecil Peoples, fighters can and do finish fights with leg kicks. A good example of a leg kick finish is the bout between Sam-A Gaiyanghadao and Dechsakda Sitsongpeenong on Jan 26, 2015 at Rajadamnern Stadium.
Sam-A is a veteran of over 400 fights and widely considered to be one of the best muay thai fighters in the world. He is a multiple time Lumpinee champion at super flyweight and bantamweight. He won both the prestigious Lumpinee and sports writers fighter of the year awards in 2011.
He started fighting at 9 years of age and is still very active at 31, pretty long in the tooth by Thai muay thai standards. He fought 11 times in 2014 with a notable win over Sangmanee Sor Tienpo. He’s suffered some set backs with head kick KO losses to Pettawee Sor Kittichai and Thaksinlek Kiatniwat but has strung together a good series of wins ever since.
Although Dechsakda was given a 2lb weight advantage, Sam-A had huge advantage in ring experience. Sam-A’s superior fight IQ, timing and reflexes really shines through in his fight with Dechsakda.
“What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Despite spending most of the time with his back against the ropes, Sam-A dominated through the entire fight. He easily avoided most of Dechsakda’s strikes but for a few clinch knees. He controlled the range well with teeps and consistently punished Dechsakda with counter leg kicks.
Lead Push Kicks in Orthodox Southpaw Matches
There are some inherent difficulties to using the lead push kick in an orthodox southpaw contest. Against an opposite stance opponent,it may be best to limit its use to a counter strike or as a reactive strike to stop aggressive forward movement.
Lead Side Obstruction
In orthodox southpaw match-ups, the lead hands tend to clash and this can diminish the effectiveness of the jab. There is a similar dynamic for lead push kicks in muay thai fights. Fighters can quickly raise their lead leg to obstruct the opponent’s lead leg teep.
Although most muay thai fighters adopt a fairly square stance, the slight inward turn decreases the target area on the torso on an opposite stance opponent. This also makes it a slightly more difficult to land the lead foot teep in orthodox southpaw fights.
Outside Foot Position
Another important dynamic of orthodox southpaw bouts is outside lead foot position. An orthodox fighter is better off when his lead (left) foot is outside of his southpaw opponent’s lead (right) foot. He has a better angle to land strikes from his power (right) side . At the same time, he also moves away from the arc of southpaw’s power strikes.
The problem with the lead foot teep, you risk forfeiting outside lead foot position. To avoid an orthodox fighter’s left push kick, a southpaw opponent may choose to side step his right. Now with his lead right foot on the outside, the southpaw is in a good position to land a counterstrike from his power (left) side.
A Tale of Two Teeps
Typically, fighters will rely on the lead leg push kicks to probe and manage distance, much like a jab. The rear teep is more powerful, however, it is generally slower and more telegraphed. If you overcommit and miss with the rear push kick, you risk falling forward into the opposite stance while in close with your opponent. This can be a pretty bad position unless you are comfortable fighting from both stances.
Round two begins at a measured paced with Sam-A (red) and Dechsakda (blue) exchanging jabs and push kicks. Dechsakda takes the center of the ring and backs Sam-A against the ropes. Dechsakda, an orthodox fighter, almost exclusively relies on his rear leg (right) to throw probing teeps at Sam-A in this match. This turns out to be a major strategic blunder; Sam-A lands some of his best counters off these missed teeps.
Despite being the shorter fighter and up against the ropes most of the time, Sam-A is able to get the better of the push kick exchanges with superior tactics and timing. As the fight progresses, he becomes more and more comfortable with Dechsakda’s timing / range and increases the aggressiveness of his counters.
Fade, Feint, Lead Teep
When Dechsakda throws his rear teep, Sam-A simply pulls his hips back to evade. He distracts Dechsakda with a couple throw-away jabs while he shuffles his rear leg forward and counters with his lead leg teep. Dechsakda raises his right leg to parry the teep but is not fast enough. He gets pushed back to the center of the ring.
Fade, Lead Teep
Here, Sam-A easily fades away from Dechsakda’s rear teep. Although Dechsakda doesn’t fall forward after missing with the kick but momentarily has his right foot forward after he retracts his leg. Sam-A takes advantage by immediately firing back with his lead teep counter and knocks Dechsakda back before he can recover his fighting stance. With a better feel of his opponent’s timing and distance, Sam-A doesn’t wait to set up his counter teep with jabs this time round.
Fade, Rear Teep
Dechsakda has Sam-A against the ropes once again and throws a hard rear push kick. With Dechsakda so over-committed after missing the kick, Sam-A is safe to fire off his powerful rear teep. Dechsakda is not in his fighting stance when Sam-A’s teep lands. This makes it much easier to push him back.
Countering Teeps with Leg Kicks
As Sam-A gets more attuned to the timing of his opponent’s probing rear teeps, he begins to punish Dechsakda with hard counter leg kicks. A typical target for rear leg kicks is the inside of the opponent’s lead leg. However, Sam-A able to catch his opponent on the outside of the rear leg some times because he counters when Dechsakda is still in close range.
Counter Leg Kick to Lead Leg
Dechsakda scores a right cross to the body and follows up with a tentative right teep to thigh. Sam-A steps forward and slams his left shin into the inside of Dechsakda’s inner left thigh while he backs away.
Counter Leg Kick to Rear Leg
Dechsakda throws a quick rear teep to Sam-A’s thigh. Sam-A fires back quickly with a hard leg kick and catches Dechsakda on the right thigh before he can fully retract his leg.
Teep Parry, Leg Kick to Rear Leg
Sam-A gets bolder as the fight progresses and begins to parry Dechsakda’s rear teep. He brushes the leg to the right, off balancing Dechsakda and opening up his flank. Sam-A fires a hard leg kick to the back of his opponent’s right thigh.
Tee(p)ing up the Counter Strike
A lead push kick is a highly effective tool against an aggressive forward moving opponent. Even if you do not throw it will a lot of power or weight, it can still keep them at bay. They will impale themselves against your foot with their own forward momentum. Once confident in your ability to land the teep, you can also use it to set up your counters.
Sam-A demonstrates great ring generalship throughout the fight by blunting Dechsakda’s forward aggression with lead teeps. As Dechsakda gets more desperate in later rounds, he tries to tie Sam-A up in a clinch. Dechsakda isn’t in a position to block push kicks when he ambles forward in a predictable linear fashion. Sam-A is able to land three successive lead leg teeps at one point.
Setting up Leg Kicks with Teeps
On many other occasions, Sam-A uses his lead push kicks to set up his rear leg kick. There are a couple of reasons for why this combination is particular effective. The lead push kick keeps your opponent at a predictable distance allowing you to accurately place the leg kick. It is similar in concept to how boxers will frame with the lead hand to measure their opponent for a cross.
To execute a hard rear leg kick, you need to take a small outside step with lead foot. This helps generate momentum and allows you to catch your opponent at the height of the power arc of your kick. Sam-A is able to disguise the forward step for his leg kick in the teep set up, removing a common tell. After landing the lead teep, he places his right foot slightly on the outside and smoothly turns his body to the right to deliver the leg kick.
In another instance, he uses the lead teep to time Dechsakda for a counter leg kick. Sam-A creates space with teep to his opponent’s thigh and takes a step back. He sees Dechsakda drop his level and place weight on his lead leg in preparation for a right straight to the body. Dechsakda is not in a position to check leg kicks with much his weight on the lead leg. Sam-A fires off a hard leg kick to the inside of his opponent’s left thigh. The impact is magnified by the amount of weight Dechsakda’s puts on his lead leg.
Creating Openings with Teep Feints
Dechsakda backs Sam A into a corner and Sam-A gives himself a little room to maneuver with a teep. Dechsakda predictably charges forward again. Sam-A feints another lead teep by raising his right leg and draws out Dechsakda’s right knee shield. Just as Dechsakda drops his right leg, Sam-A comes over it with a left body kick, landing flush in the ribs.
Creating Dominant Angles with Circular Movement
As we’ve seen so far, Dechsakda has a fairly predictable linear movement patterns throughout the fight. Although Sam-A is quite comfortable against the ropes, he uses circular movement to escape corners and to create new angles at various points in the fight.
We touched on the significance of lead foot placement in orthodox southpaw matches earlier. If Sam-A, a southpaw, circles in a counter clockwise direction, he can move his lead right foot outside Dechsakda’s lead left foot. This which will give him better angles for strikes from his power (left) side. Conversely, if he moves clockwise, he will concede outside foot position and circle towards his orthodox opponent’s power side. All things equal, Sam-A should choose to circle right.
While all the following sequences start from different ranges and end with a variety of strikes, we can see how moving counter-clockwise creates openings for a slick southpaw.
Side Step and Counter
Sam-A side steps to the right to avoid Dechsakda’s rear teep and throws a body punch. Now with lead outside foot position, he follows up with a hard lead leg kick as Dechsakda moves forward. Sam-A has a good angle to deliver a kick to Dechsakda’s left thigh with his right foot on the outside.
Clinch Turn and Counter
Dechasakda backs Sam-A into a corner with a long right straight. The punch falls short but Sam-A has no room to maneuver. Sam-A initiates a clinch and immediately pivots counter-clockwise. He pulls Dechsakda into a hard left knee while escaping the corner.
Feint, Pivot and Counter
Sam-A first keeps Dechsakda at bay with a lead leg teep. He feints another teep and gets his opponent to raise his left knee shield. Sam-A takes advantage and circling to the right while Dechsakda’s left foot is still in the air.
As mentioned earlier, a problem with raising your lead leg in an opposite stance match is it gives your opponent an opportunity to side step and achieve dominant foot position. After placing his lead right foot on the outside, Sam-A throws a hard rear leg kick to Dechsakda’s inner thigh. With Sam-A on his left flank, Dechsakda is not in a position to defend.
While this is a pretty one sided fight, Dechsakda was able to land a few good right knees from close range. Here he sets up the knee with cross hook, causing Sam-A to close his guard. Dechsakda then traps his hands from the outside and pulls Sam-A into the knee.
With Sam A into the corner, Dechsakda’s inches forward to a distance where Sam-A is unable to throw his lead teep. After Sam-A drops his raised right knee, Dechsakda explodes forward with a long knee.
Sometimes it pays to slowly a approach an opponent who has a fast reactive teep. They usually cue the teep off quick forward movements. If you methodically inch forward, you may be able to get in close enough to deliver your strike before they decide to throw the push kick.
Sam-A’s Knee Defense
Sam-A quickly adapts and begins to extend his lead hand when Dechsakda steps forward to knee. His right glove disturbs Dechsakda’s balance, pushing his weight back, thus taking a lot of power out of the knee. The glove also obscures Dechsakda’s vision which enables Sam-A to land a right knee of his own.
Sam A’s Sharp Elbows
With Sam-A dominating the fight from kicking and boxing range, Dechsakda tried desperately to initiate the clinch during round three. Sam-A’ s preferred close range weapon is his left elbow and he was able to land it at will from a variety of positions. Sam-A also uses Dechsakda’s forward momentum against him to magnify the impact of the elbows.
Stand Your Ground
While Sam-A usually backs up when Dechsakda advances. he chooses stands his ground this time. Dechsakda doesn’t anticipate this and keeps a loose guard and poor stance as he approaches. This enables Sam-A to land a left downward elbow through Dechsakda’s guard as he continues forward.
Frame and Elbow Strike
Sam-A extends his right arm and cross faces Dechsakda to halt his aggression and maintain distance. He then loosens his right arm, allowing the frame to collapse. Dechsakda forward pressure works against him as he falls forward into a hard left elbow.
Arm Immobilization, Elbow Strike
Dechsakda walks forward with both arms extended. Sam-A pulls down on Dechsakda’s left arm to create an opening and throws left elbow overtop. Dechsakda’s forward lean prevents him from rolling away or fading back from the elbow.
Double Hand Trap, Elbow Strike
Sam-A traps both arms from the outside and throws a hard left elbow as they disengage from clinch. This outside hand trapping tactic is also favorite tactic of Muangthai PK Saenchai Muay Thai Gym.
The Beginning of the End
Dechsakda is clearly stunned by the end of round 3. His right teeps have been countered with hard leg kicks and his clinch knees have been met with sharp elbows. Sam-A has been playing the role of defensive counter striker up to this point but he decides to go on the offensive with Dechsakda hurt.
He lands a hard left cross to chin through the guard. Sam-A follows up with hard left kick to the ribs. Dechsakda raises his right knee but is too slow to block the kick. His inability to raise his knee shield may be a result of the leg kicks he absorbed thus far. Dechsakda looks like he has his wind knocked out of him and he stumbles to his left.
“In battle, if you can make your opponent flinch, you have already won” – Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings
Sam A darts forward with a flurry of punches but Dechsakda closes his guard to defend. As he circles away to his left, Dechsakda ends up in a temporary southpaw stance (with his right foot forward). Sam A takes advantage by throwing a hard left leg kick to the lead leg. Dechsakda cringes in pain and tumbles to the ground for an 8 count. The bell rings as he gets up giving him an extended break to recover before round 4 begins.
We saw above that Sam-A preferred to circle to his right to get outside foot position and avoid his opponent’s power side. However, with Dechsakda in a southpaw stance, Sam-A will no longer be moving into danger by circling left.
Moving clockwise also gives him a better angle to do damage to Dechsakda’s injured right thigh. Although Sam-A landed some hard leg kicks before, he usually made contact with his lower shin as Dechsakda was backing away. With Dechsakda in a static southpaw stance, Sam-A is able to make solid contact with the middle of his shin.
He manages to hit Dechsakda’s IT band just above the right knee. This is a very painful area to absorb a leg kick. Swelling is almost immediate and it can do serious damage to the ligaments and tendons of the knee.
A Blueprint for Limb Destruction
Dechsakda looks reenergized and recovered at the beginning of the fourth round. He puts on his best poker face but is still hurt. It is difficult to make sound strategic decisions after you’ve been hurt badly. Errors tend to compound as you get farther behind in a fight.
At the same time, an injured opponent is still a dangerous opponent. The course of a fight could still change with a lucky blow. The veteran Sam-A takes a measured and methodical approach to limb destruction and doesn’t rush the finish.
“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Dechsakda throws a right knee, misses and steps forward into a southpaw stance. With Dechsakda in southpaw, Sam-A circles to his left for a better angle once again and fires a hard leg kick to same spot. Dechsakda skips away to regain his composure.
Dechsakda pushes Sam-A against the ropes and the two exchange knees. Sam-A hands fights with Dechsakda and proceeds to throw a sneaky left leg kick to the injured right thigh. By engaging Dechsakda arms, Sam-A was able to draw his attention away and measure distance for the leg kick.
“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Dechsakda trying to force a right straight through Sam A’s guard and ends up in a southpaw stance as the pair turn clockwise. Sam-A fires off yet another left leg kick to the injured area. Dechsakda doesn’t even make an effort to block. Dechsakda begins to neglect his defense even as his situation becomes more desperate.
As Dechsakda presses forward, Sam-A forces his arms upwards. This makes his opponent assume a more upright posture, further exposing the injured leg. He feints a right teep drawing Dechsakda’s right knee forward. As Dechsakda lowers his right leg in a temporary southpaw stance, Sam-A throws a soft probing leg kick to the right thigh. As Dechsakda presses forward and Sam-A immediately disengages from the hand fight. This allows Dechsakda to fall forward as Sam-A fires a hard leg kick to the thigh. Once again, Sam-A masterfully controls distance and timing to set up a damaging leg kick.
Sam-A stays in close and continues to hand fight with his opponent. As Dechsakda stands tentative and flatfooted, Sam-A fires another hard leg kick to the thigh. Sam-A sees Dechsakda stumble as the kick makes contact and rushes forward to throw a fast punch combination punctuated with another brutal leg kick. Although Dechsakda blocks the kick with his right shin, Sam A’s kick is so hard he knocks Dechsakda’s lower body backwards and causes him to fall forward on his face.
Dechsakda writhes in agony on canvas, unable to continue due to the cumulative damage to his right thigh. Sam-A nonchalantly raises his hands in victory then checks on his fallen opponent.
Parting Shots and Random Thoughts
Sam-A puts on a masterful performance throughout this fight. He dominated all ranges and phases of combat. At kicking range, he fades away from Dechsakda’s teeps and counters with teeps and leg kicks. At boxing range, he hand fights to create opportunities for leg kicks. In the clinch, he controls his opponent’s posture and position by cross-facing him and pulling on his arms. This enables Sam-A to cut him open with a series of sharp elbows.
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water.” – Bruce Lee
Sam-A abides by the convention wisdom of circling to his right when facing this orthodox opponent for much of the fight. However, when Dechsakda lands in a southpaw stance (after throwing over-committed knees or teeps), Sam-A circles to his left for a better angle to tenderize Dechsakda’s injured thigh.
“Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack.”― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Sam-A took very measured and calculated risks, staying in a pretty defensive and reactive mode for most of the fight. He waits for Dechsakda to open up and chooses his counters wisely. When Dechsakda is stunned, Sam-A moves forward to throw aggressive combinations. After Dechsakda had a chance to recover between rounds, Sam-A did not rush the finish. He methodically dissects Dechasakda’s defenses while chopping at the thigh.
Sam-A’s patient and methodical approach to limb destruction has borne fruit in the past as well. On June 7, 2013, he punished Petch U Thong Or Kwanmuang with counter leg kicks off Petch U Thong’s teeps and jabs. By the second round, the damage was so severe that Petch U Thong could not get up after being knocked to the ground.
In his fight with Ritidej Wor. Wanthavee on Dec 8, 2011, Sam-A fades from his opponent’s round kicks and counters with leg kicks. After damaging Ritidej’s legs throughout the fight, Sam-A backs him against the ropes and finishes him with leg kicks in the fourth.
Sam-A shows us that cumulative damage from leg kicks can finish fights. One swing of the axe might not fell a sturdy tree, but it cannot withstand a multitude of blows.
Full Fight Video – Sam-A vs Dechsakda
Full fight video Courtesy of Timo Ruge at MuayTies.