Testicular injury ain’t nothin’ to fuck with. In Muay Thai, solid strikes to the groin can do more than just hurt like a bitch: they can cause unconsciousness and permanent damage, including sterility. But while the Thai steel cup is the standard form of protection, it’s bulky, uncomfortable and a hassle to get on. I decided to search for a better modern alternative.
For those who haven’t yet mastered pulling airplanes with Iron Crotch QiGong, sledgehammer-proof groin protection is vital for Muay Thai competition and sparring. Kicks, knees and punches can easily go astray in the heat of battle, especially when your opponent’s a flailing spaz – or just a total dick. “Low-blows” were actually permitted in Thailand until the mid-1980s and are still tolerated there. Just watch the recent fight between Boughanem and Kanongsuk, in which Kanongsuk regularly kicks Boughanem in the crotch to keep him away.
Regular Athletic Cups When I began training at Fairtex San Francisco over a decade ago, I assumed the typical “jockstrap” used in sports like soccer and football would be fine. But then I heard Ra Karma Young give a disturbing account of an amateur Muay Thai match he was refereeing, during which a hard knee blasted one of those plastic cups into nasty splinters. his description was gruesome enough to immediately convince me to switch the traditional Thai steel cup.
The Thai Steel Cup (~$30) is a thick piece of metal armor that built to stop a charging bull. Although it does a great job of guarding the groin, it’s wide and bulky and can impede freedom of motion. Getting it on is also awkward, as it must tied behind the back with two cords around the waist and another one up between the butt cheeks. Unless you have a personal assistant to steel-cup your balls, it’s challenging to get a snug enough fit to prevent the metal dome from bouncing around your shorts. The cords can also loosen during movement and the cup can be displaced by impact. It’s a primitive device.
So, a year ago, I decided to search for something same-same-but-different. As the head athletic coach at San Francisco’s El Nino Training Center (home of Jongsanan and a number of pro Muay Thai and MMA fighters), I asked our teams for recommendations. Many of our pros are sponsored with Diamond MMA’s protective compression shorts, but they cost about $100, which was more than I wanted to pay. Fighters’ opinions of other products were mixed, so I searched online for a better value.
The Lo Bloo Groin Protector (~$50) Although many groin protectors for combat sports are now available, choosing one based on their advertising is difficult since no real proof of performance is given. I then discovered the Lo Bloo Groin Protector (pronounced “low blow”). In addition to the claims of it being far more comfortable than the cold, hard steel cup, five things convinced me to request samples to test on our competitive fighters:
- It’s patterned after the Thai steel cup.
- It’s been tested to resist up to 4 tons of pressure.
- The creators are legit: The Lo Bloo was invented by a couple of fighters in Sweden, Usama and Musse. Both have competed in combat sports, including Muay Thai and MMA. (Usama twice represented Sweden in the Olympics in wrestling and has competed internationally in boxing and MMA.)
- It got a good testimonial from WBC Champ Kevin Ross and is apparently used by another WBC Champ, Simon Marcus.
- And then there’s this demo video of Musse kicking Usama – Square. In. The. Cup. (video below)
Lo Bloo’s founder, Usama, graciously sent us four samples. I tested one and gave the others to three of El Nino’s top fighters, all students of Jongsanan: Daniel “the Ambassador” Kim (pro Muay Thai), Jake Shields (multiple MMA world champ) and Jonny “King of Late Night” Carson (XFL MMA champ). They all pronounced the name as “low blue”, although it won’t actually protect you from blue balls.
THE FORM The traditional Thai steel cup is 5″ wide, 6″ long and weighs 8.9 ounces. The Lo Bloo is only 4.25″ wide, 7″ long and weighs half as much, at only 4.4 ounces. They’re roughly the same depth.
THE FIT The Lo Bloo is flexible and more ergonomic than the steel cup. It’s less wide and bulky, more form-fitting and protects farther beneath the athlete’s crotch. The adjustable straps consist of a wide, flat waistband and two thin, round elastic bands for the upper thighs. It takes some trial-and-error to get a perfect fit, but there’s a good tutorial video.
THE FIT Here’s what our fighters had to say about wearing the Lo Bloo during sparring.
Daniel Kim (pro muay thai): “My only small complaints are that I took awhile to find a comfortable setting and it felt like the leg-straps are too ‘stringy’. But once I got it on, I was like, ‘Damn, this thing is real small cause I’m used to wearing big Thai steel cups!’ After I’d gotten all the adjustments down, it really felt like I wasn’t wearing anything during sparring. The protection is great.”
Jake Shields (pro mma): “I had to get the straps adjusted right, but then it felt fine, good fit. It’s a lot better than the steel cup. It’s not as big, way more comfortable and easier to get on. The protection was good. I didn’t feel anything when I got hit. When I was grappling, the fit wasn’t as secure as my Diamond MMA shorts, but still way better than the steel cup.”
Jonny Carson (pro mma): “The protection was great while I was sparring both in striking and grappling. Adjusting it was easy and I never felt any pressure or pain when I was hit or being rolled on. But it’s not as comfortable as the Diamond MMA compression shorts for grappling, though.”
Me: It’s much easier to put on and wear than the steel cup. It’s lighter, narrower and doesn’t run into my thighs when I’m kicking and kneeing. I’ve used it for a year and have been hit at least a half-dozen times without feeling any pain. In the past, I found the steel cup and other protectors would painfully re-distribute impacts to the surrounding bones. But strikes to the Lo Bloo never hurt anywhere at all.
Though it costs a little more than a traditional Thai steel cup, the Lo Bloo is a much better alternative. It protects more completely and is far more comfortable. It’s 50% lighter and feels much less bulky. Once you’ve found a perfect fit, it fits snugly and never moves out of place The shape and size of the Lo Bloo does not interfere with kicking, kneeing and moving around. The vents in the Lo Bloo help keep it cooler and drier, and it’s machine-washable (mesh wash-bag provided).
While comfort was superior to the steel cup, it didn’t match the comfort of compression shorts, such as Diamond MMA’s $90 version. The stringy leg straps could be more comfortable, but they’re not really noticeable during combat. To get a perfect score for comfort, Lo Bloo might consider designing compression shorts to hold the otherwise excellent-fitting and unbreakable protective cup in place without elastics.