Yok Khao (Rising Knee) guard of Chaiya

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Here is our monthly Muay Chaiya lesson… many thanks to our Muay Thai brother Nathan for taking the time to educate us.  If you guys haven’t been over to his blog yet, mymuaythaichaiya.com It is worthy of a bookmark.

Yok Khao by Nathan

After some thought and talk with some muay thai friends, I decided to describe one to the base techniques of Muay Thai Chaiya, and point out some of the differences with modern Muay Thai. You guys can decide whether you can use the ideas. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Modern Muay Thai has the rising knee guard, to defend the legs, and torso from the devastating round kick of Muay Thai. Muay Chaiya also has this but there are a few distinct differences. Let’s start from the top.

The Guard
Most techniques in Muay Chaiya use the famous ‘Tha Kru’ guard of Chaiya which closes the face off from jabs and straight punches more so than the standard muay thai technique, where the hands are held straight up leaving the face open. I’ve seen many a fight where the straight guard has been penetrated by a strong straight cross or lead, where the Chaiya guard would have offered more protection. The Muay Chaiya guard also emphasizes using the elbow more than the straight guard, both against incoming kicks and punches alike.

The Knee
Again, modern Muay Thai seems to keep things straight, where as Chaiya uses and angle approach. Instead of using the shin to receive the punishment, the goal of blocking in Chaiya is to use the knee. This is reinforced by lifting the heel up as high as possible, in theory the shin should be held at a 45 degree angle. This

  • Tightens the knee, making it a hard, more solid unit.
  • Lessens the force of the blow (by half) to the shin, if not received by the knee.
  • Adds weight behind the knee.

Think about kicking a corner of a table, and how much damage this causes.

The Foot
Modern Muay Thai teaches to point the foot down, whereas Muay Chaiya teaches to lift the foot and toes up. This is primarily to protect the soft, delicate upper part of the foot. By lifting the toes, the tendons on the top of your foot become tense and help protect it, and the muscles in the shin are also tensed, so they are less likely to be damaged when receiving a blow. Also, your foot is now pre-prepared to deliver a good ‘teeb’ kick.
On from the basics
A good Chaiya fighter is at home on one leg as one two (a lot of the basic training ensures this), and by using stop kicks (chat) and a rotating guard to increase its effectiveness against oncoming attacks, it can be a very useful defensive tactic. Add to this, short hopping moves to change the defense into quick powerful attacks. Anyone fancy turning the tables on a kick, by replying with a superman punch?

Remember, this is just a short explanation of a foundation technique, and there are a lot more details that you learn in training. The amount of different techniques that we learn, and the emphasis about learning instinctive improvisation leads to a very solid unpredictable fighter.

Thanks to Jonathan Emil Tetzlaff Ebbesen for helping with the photos



More about Nathan

Starting with Judo at the early age of 7, Nathan Brown was a student martial arts (Taekwondo, Kung Fu, Chinese Boxing, Tai Chi, Jeet June Do) and eastern philosophy long before moving to Thailand in 2002, looking for a life more attuned to the Taoist philosophies that he had come to love.

The first meeting with Ajarn Lek made a great impression, especially after sparring with Tae for the first time and seeing the beauty in simplicity which is Muay Thai Chaiya. Seeing the practicality in defense, and efficiency and directness of attack, he also saw many similarities with the more advanced concepts of fighting that he’d learnt from studying the Jeet Kune Do concepts of Bruce Lee. Kru Nathan has learnt Muay Thai Chaiya for over 7 years from Ajarn Lek, who refuses to teach the fancy superfluous moves which now seem to be the trademark of Muay Boran, instead teaching the style in it’s practical, useful form.

Kru Nathan has spent over two years teaching the style in Thailand (teaching in both Thai and English), and 8 years after coming to Thailand Kru Nathan is now looking to take Muay Thai Chaiya international, starting workshops and private tuition.

Check out his websites (www.mymuaychaiya.com, www.learnmuaythaichaiya.com ) and his youtube channel for more information on learning Muay Thai Chaiya.

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About Author

Starting with Judo at the early age of 7, Nathan Brown was a student martial arts (Taekwondo, Kung Fu, Chinese Boxing, Tai Chi, Jeet June Do) and eastern philosophy long before moving to Thailand in 2002, looking for a life more attuned to the Taoist philosophies that he had come to love. The first meeting with Ajarn Lek made a great impression, especially after sparring with Tae for the first time and seeing the beauty in simplicity which is Muay Thai Chaiya. Seeing the practicality in defense, and efficiency and directness of attack, he also saw many similarities with the more advanced concepts of fighting that he’d learnt from studying the Jeet Kune Do concepts of Bruce Lee. Kru Nathan has learnt Muay Thai Chaiya for over 7 years from Ajarn Lek, who refuses to teach the fancy superfluous moves which now seem to be the trademark of Muay Boran, instead teaching the style in it’s practical, useful form. Kru Nathan has spent over two years teaching the style in Thailand (teaching in both Thai and English), and 8 years after coming to Thailand Kru Nathan is now looking to take Muay Thai Chaiya international, starting workshops and private tuition. Check out his websites (www.mymuaychaiya.com, www.learnmuaythaichaiya.com ) and his youtube channel for more information on learning Muay Thai Chaiya.

45 Comments

  1. Interesting article.

    I dont know about anyone else, but in Muay Thai i was always tought to lift the toes and foot up when blocking a kick. I thought this was normal for MT as when pointing it down surely you risk getting it broken? what about everyone else? what were you tought?

  2. Hmm actually I was always taught to flex your foot when checking a kick. But my hands have always been more a product of the wet than of anything remotely Thailand.

  3. im holland we adjusted this a lil bit, and imo this improves this block by a thousand is; you move your hips backward. this doesnt make you block towards your opponent giving you much more time and space to block.
    if u raise your shin in a perfect vertical line right below the elbow you know you do it correctly.
    just try it, i know a guy that play his entire game on this move and you rly dont want to kick him mid or low

  4. i too have been taught to point my toes when i kick. i love blocking low kicks with my knee or bringing my block back to a 90ish degree angle to get some of my knee/shin on their foot.

  5. I too was taught to lift the toes up when blocking a kick. One reason is, as Nop mentioned, the tension in the muscles and tendons around the shin prevent some damage. Secondly, the hooked foot can catch an offending kick that slides off the guard to cut the other, grounded, leg often at the knee.

    The Muay Chaiya guard, esp in picture 2, seems too high. Invites a few low-impact high kicks followed by a high-impact inside low-kick.

    “Also, your foot is now pre-prepared to deliver a good ‘teeb’ kick.” — I’m skeptical of this. I think its pretty hard to deliver a decent teep off the same leg you’ve just blocked with cause you’re off balance. Sure, you can kinda push, but it won’t be a decent teep, will it?

  6. Hi guys, thanks for the responses :), all fair comments.

    Raised toes: From the guys I spoke to, and what I’ve seen of MT, the rising of the toes isn’t a compulsory thing… it’s cool to hear a lot of you are doing it anyway. One comment I got when asking about this was that there was a fear of the toes being bent back.

    Just as a side note, what do you also raise the toes when kicking? In Chaiya we do this in most of the kicks for the same reason – to stop the foot getting damaged. (I’m sure a lot of you have caught the odd elbow or knee!) but I know some guys can’t get there head around this, although I do see a lot of it in the ring at higher levels.

    @souvik: the guard is high in this pic showing the guard as we practice (if u can block high, u can block low;)), but this isn’t a static pose. The high guard (as shown in the pic) protects against mid/high kicks. We try and aim to block the kick from any height with the knee, so the knee is lowered/raised depending on the height of the kick.

    The teeb kick thing… this also takes practice. In Muay Chaiya, we actually call it a ‘chat’ kick, fast and snappy, power delivered through the heel. Power and speed is gained by rocking the torso back (also improves stability and balance) again, something that we train a lot. I didn’t say it was easy, but by training this you can open up a lot of options for riposte/counters.

  7. I would say it all depends on personal preference.

    Some guys I know prefer to point their toes up. They say that the top of the foot contains many small bones which are very susceptible to damage and hurts like hell when hit.

    Then there are others who chose not to point their foot up because it makes your foot perpendicular to the angle of attack from your opponent. This can easily break your toes.

    Also, the way the MT guy places his hands by the sides of his head makes his open to front attacks. Likewise, the way the Chaiya guy places his hands in front makes his head open to attacks from the side. (It takes longer to pull your hands back when they are almost crossed in front of your face.)

    It’s all a tradeoff. There’s no “one size fits” all. It all boils down to how you chose to react.

  8. The guy doing the ‘Muay Thai’ stance has a pretty exaggerated chicken wing guard with his arms as well. That’s atypical even among Thais to my observation.

    To any of the respondents. Anyone been taught to use an arm guard like that? Personally I wasn’t.

  9. “Again, modern Muay Thai seems to keep things straight, where as Chaiya uses and angle approach. Instead of using the shin to receive the punishment, the goal of blocking in Chaiya is to use the knee.”

    what the fuck place taught you to block with your shins? i hope you didnt go to a muay thai gym that told you to block with your shins.

  10. The Chaiya stance is very compact and tight. suppose to be lower than ordinary Muay Thai stances.

    I personaly stick my toes up when I block a kick and I find that the Chaiya guard is excellent when on the defensive. Chaiya is a majorly defensive style but on the Attack I change into Ta Sao.

    Actually most places teach you to block with your shins since your shins are supposed to be conditioned to be rock hard it wouldnt take much damage.

  11. I was instructed to pick up my toes as well, when checking kicks. The main reason I heard was to avoid getting you ankle snapped backwards with a kick. (kinda like what happens when you kick the heavy bag from too far away).

  12. I don’t know if I agree with this article. It seems a little biased to me (as to say that the Muay Chaya block is better than the traditional Muay Thai block)….Of course if you’re judging it by the pix taken above I would definitely side with the Muay Chaya block but the fact is that the Muay Thai block (of my knowledge) doesn’t really look like what is shown in the pic.

    I do point my toes down when blocking…but that’s a matter of comfort, it gives me extra blocking area and never in my life have I ever heard of someone breaking the cartillage of their foot by blockin a kick, that just doesn’t make any sense to me but if u guys have a live example please feel free to intervene.

    The main problem I have with the Muay Thai block as pictured above is the obviously exagerated gap between the blockin knee and the elbow which clearly allows for a middle kick to fit right in between. I was taught (by a thai trainer) to close that gap…bringing the elbows and knee closer together , it’s all about timing. The only time I leave that much space is when I’m gettin ready to catch your leg.

    I don’t see anything wrong with the Muay Chaiya block except for the neck kick opening on the planted foot’s side.

    My main point is that it just looks to me like the Muay Thai block was purposely exagerated to make Muay Chaiya’s block look better.

    Here’s a good example of a Muay Thai block in action:

    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/114/284332846_062f69e249.jpg?v=0

  13. Like Spydaman said, unless you’re checking a leg kick, there should be no gap between your elbow and your knee. When I do the full block, my opposite side arm comes across in a half twin forearm block/sawn ton swan position which provides ample protection for the face.
    I don’t point, or flex my foot. Just keep it in the middle. I’m generally just happy that I got my block up to begin with lol. One trick I’ve learned with flexing the foot is you can kind of grab their leg as they retract which really throws them off balance. Of course, you have to be really, really good to pull that off in a fight.

  14. @spydaman: Nothing was ‘exaggerated’ in the pics, and I tried not to be biased. The point of this article was to teach a little bit about the muay chaiya style by point out differences between styles, and not to say ‘my styles better than yours’.

    In fairness, Jon (MT pic) hasn’t been learning MT for long, but I considered this better, as his technique is as it has been taught and drilled into him over the last few months. Apologies if you don’t agree with the pic, but it seems like a lot of you seem to use different techniques in you guard, one reason that I think taking a base comparison is best. As I replied above about comments about the muay chaiya block being too high, these blocks are not static, you raise the leg to a height the you intercept the attack. Notice how the pic you linked to is against a high kick? Hence the highly raised guard…

    More on toes: spydaman, point taken about the cartilage in the foot thing (ever happen to anyone?), but another benefit of lifting the toes fully is that it tenses your shin muscles, protecting them from easy damage (if you don’t get your knee/shin in the right position). I don’t know about you, but my shin muscles are much harder when I lift my toes, but that may just be me…

    @Frank: interesting idea… sneaky, I like it :P I’ll try that out next time I’m sparring.

  15. I also lift up my toes, and I think I do it because I saw some one do it in a fight on the Internet, Maybe Namsaknoi, or Saenchai?? Doubt that it is Buakaw! And becuase it thigtens the Muscles for extra protection.

  16. you are supposed to block with your knee was exactly what i was taught. block with your shins on purpose cause you ‘conditioned’ them? LOL. you guys are at legitimate muay thai gyms right? sometimes you do block with ur shins but thats when you cant/fail to check them with your knee.

  17. I think intentionally blocking with your knee is a very dangerous option. The tedons attached to the patella are easy to damage, let alone the patella itself. Taking any hard kick could easily fracture the patella which would spell the end of your fighting life and athletics for a long time.

  18. natb19, I apologize if it seems like I was attacking u. I want to thank you for your article…..however…lol….my opinion still remains the same…..It seems that you were writing more about the superiority of the Muay Chaiya block over the Muay Thai block instead of just pointing out the differences. Anyway, I was just stating my opinion, maybe i’m reading too much into it and if so I apologize.

    Now, as for the boy’s Thai stance I’m quite sure it’s greatly exaggerated and anyone could see that. It also looks like you are blocking for a mid kick while he seems to be blocking for…….a low kick (maybe)? But he definitely is not blockin’ for a mid kick. I appreciate this discussion so thank you.

    I never thought about the muscles tensing up when keepin the toes facin up, I’ll try it to see how it works out.

    Stack, I never seen an arm guard like that either.

    Frank, I like that trick…I shall try it.

    SE, I was taught to block a kick with either ur shin or ur knee (which ever makes contact wit the kick)….I do however try to aim my knee or elbows at the kick (it hurts them more) but u have to agree that most kicks are blocked wit shins because of the much larger area.

  19. I’ve trained all over the place, spent most of my time with 3 legit lumpini champions… Jongsanan, Bunkerd and Neungsiam, and never have I ever been told to block a kick with my knee.

    Tong Po, or Mexican can you ask Bunker or Mart for a follow up?

  20. SE, what do you aim with when delivering a kick…your knee? foot, even? ouch dude. conditioning the shins serves an offensive and defensive purpose.

    kicking a dome with an conditioned shin sucks. kicking a dome with an unconditioned shin can only be worse.

    i remember kicking a conditioned forearm bone (is that even anatomically correct?) with my 3 month old muay thai shin…i was rolling a glass bottle on that sucker for weeks.

  21. Lol… I was chatting with Jon (the guy in the pic) a few nights ago and told him about the comments. He chuckled as he looked down on me, as I’m 6′ and he’s about 6’5″. Honestly, we’re blocking the same height attack, it’s just he’s pretty damn tall :P

    My mistake was in resizing the pics… it makes us look the same height. Compare the sizes of our heads to see what I mean!

    Spydaman: it’s hard to write an article like this and not seem biased, I’ll be more careful in the future :)

    Spydaman&Nop. blocking with the head reminds me of Ong Bak… classic.

    Serious note:
    Frank, agreed on the kneecap, it’s a very important point. I’ve 4t about this on many occasions and it does concern me. 2 points that I’d like to make…

    – Muay Chaiya isn’t designed for the ring, where fights are extended for long periods and repetitive damaging blows are part of it. Muay Chaiya (with no rules) was designed for battle/street fighting/self defense, where you make fights as short as possible (hit them in the vulnerables!). Usually, if someone kicks you knee (or elbow), they really think twice before kicking again. This creates lots of advantages (but i suppose only if your knee is still in one piece ;).
    – Last night I was explaining to a student about the reasons we cock the heel up so high, as one of them is to make the knee more solid. One time when I was sparring, I knee-checked a pretty solid kick that was rising slightly, and I hadn’t raised my heel and it caught me right under the kneecap(patella) on the patella tendon, it felt like my kneecap almost slid up my leg :(. I think that cocking the heel up helps with this, try it for yourself. Also, it gives me concern for how SE is checking kicks with his knee. SE, any problems like this, or do you cock the heel as well?

    Frank, I’m not disagreeing with you here, fracturing the kneecap? Eeeurrghh, can’t imagine how much that would hurt.

  22. natb19, “it’s hard to write an article like this and not seem biased, I’ll be more careful in the future “…maybe I’ll be less critical next time :-P

  23. Well Chaiya and Modern MT they both cock up the heel when blocking and its always close gaps for both styles I would say. Pointing your toes down is more for a knee strike , When you’re sparring or in a real fight normally you be blocking with both your knee and shin anyway I just see some people that makes comments here don’t really think and analyze.

  24. Yeah, natb19…. I received a couple of bone chips from getting kicked in the knee by a small girl doing just some light sparring. I think it’s more likely if your supporting leg gets hacked as opposed to a flexed knee, but I’m sure it’s still very feasible.

    Back to the block though…. I’d like to see a post on what you guys do for 1 leg balance. My balance is good, but Lumpini good:p

  25. i would think to consistently block a kick with your knee your timing would have to be amazing, perhaps thats why in MT we block with our shins – to block with your knee in the ring over 5 rounds would not work. Whereas like nathan said in Muay Chaiya the battle would be over very quickly so you may only have to block one kick.

    SE i think you have it the wrong way round, we aim to block with our shins, if they hit our knee and damage themselves then thats just a bonus!!

  26. @nopstar
    I have used that type of “block” during traditional muay thai sessions where we practiced footwork, Wai Kru and “tradiotional” stances in general. Sure, bending your foot upwards tightens the muscles around the shin and you get some kind of extra padding but there are two issues though.

    1. You might get a good amount of damage if catch the incoming shin with foot/fingers but most most importantly

    2. why would someone want to put shin against shin? In cases like that the stronger shin wins and the weaker one gets damaged, breaks, or cracks and the pain is severe. We only practice shin contact as a conditioning method in order to familiarise with the feeling and to get our shins used to it. We never use it for real blocking.

    What I have learned so far is that shin is for kicking and knee is for blocking. I use the lower part of the knee, the part that connects to the shin, and it works great. No nerves, no pain, no damage and the oppenent will think twice before performing a low kick again. Most of the times the opponent gets a damaged shin and limbs, especially if you faint and let him/her score a few “recon” lows. Then when he/she gets confident and throws the “good” one you raise your knee and you watch him scream.

    Even if you get caught in the shin you should try to bend you leg as inwards as possible so as to receive a glancing blow. You might also want to tug your foot towards your groin so as to get the blow on the outer side of your leg.

    Cheers

  27. The muay chaiya classes and guys I saw in thailand definitely didnt bring the whole self defense, bare knuckle perspective to it also they rarely compete because there are bare knuckle events every year to fight against the burmese in open competition. They talk alot about fighting but i didnt see anything at all functional in the way they were doing it. Alot of talk. It seems it survives in an odd stripped down of fighting way, like the forms are there like a shell and everything else is lost. Plus this postions they used cant be maintained in the fights or sparring i saw some sparring and it just deteriorated into what would be the standard swinging. I also saw some clips of some guys from one muay chaiya teacher vs the guys from another muay chaiya teacher and it was pretty poor, embarassingly so. I think the gesture that its for real fighting etc is good but not in the form that its survived on

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