Muay Thai is an ancient battleground fighting first used by the Thai army. But this system also has self-defense applications in the real world. This combat form incorporates punches, knees, elbows, and kicks, but does it also include grappling?

Muay Thai is a combat martial art form that incorporates grappling. A Muay Thai fighter will primarily seek to win by striking their opponent using knees, shins, feet, and elbows. However, fighters may use grappling to gain a physical or tactical advantage and increase their chances of winning. 

The rest of this article will explain in detail what grappling is and how Muay Thai fighters incorporate it. Grappling gives fighters a physical advantage over their opponents, and Muay Thai has its own spin on it.

Grappling in Muay Thai

Although Muay Thai does not adopt grappling to a great extent similar to other combat forms, grappling still forms an essential aspect of the sport.

The clinch is the most common grappling used in Muay Thai. However, Muay Thai also occasionally incorporates trips and sweeps. 

The Clinch

Muay Thai fighters will use kicks and punches to try and knock them out from long range. However, in close quarters, these fighters will use the clinch to gain an advantage over their opponent. 

According to the experts at Loyal Martial Arts, a clinch occurs when the fighter grabs the opponent. For best results, fighters combine the clinch with a body lock, holding the opponent’s head with two hands. This technique is the Thai Clinch.

During the clinch, the fighter is in an advantageous position. In this position, they can use their knees and elbows to strike the opponent. Alternatively, they can trip or throw the opponent.

Trips and Throws

Muay Thai also incorporates various trips and throws. However, a fighter will typically attempt to trip or throw their opponent while in the clinch position. Muay Thai does not incorporate judo or wrestling-style takedowns or ground grappling. 

The objective of trips and throws is not to land the opponent on the ground. A fighter will use the clinch to destabilize the opponent. Additionally, the dominant fighter can strike the opponent’s supporting leg while in the clinch position.

The Basics of Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a combat sport that primarily uses kicks and punches. According to Rules of Sport, this martial art style uses shins, knees, fists, feet, and elbows. This variety is one of the most distinguishable features of Muay Thai, sometimes known as “the art of 8 limbs”.

The origins of Muay Thai date back as far as the 16th century. However, unlike other ancient combat systems, it hasn’t lost any of its effectiveness. Today there are over 3,800 Muay Thai gyms outside of Thailand.

Muay Thai does not feature any weapons. There aren’t many barriers to entry. The fighter must be older than 15 years and weigh over 100 pounds (45.3 kg).

Now, let’s take a look at the fighter’s objective in Muay Thai and how to win. This will provide a sound base to understand why only certain grappling forms apply in Muay Thai. 

Fighter’s Objective in Muay Thai

In Muay Thai, two fighters compete against each other in a ring. The fighter’s goal is to win the contest. They can win in different ways, as explained below:

  • By knocking the opponent out
  • When the referee deems one opponent to be unfit to continue with the fight
  • Winning on point tally

Thus, Muay Thai bears similarities with other combat forms such as boxing, MMA, and Jujitsu. The fighter will primarily use their limbs to strike an opponent. Still, in Muay Thai, they will occasionally use clinch and grapple techniques. 

It is important to know that Muay Thai is essentially a stand-up fighting approach. Unlike other forms of martial arts, Muay Thai fighters don’t fight on the ground. To a large extent, Muay Thai fights will involve strikes by both fighters. 

What You Can’t Do in Muay Thai

It is also vital to distinguish between Muay Thai and other combat forms in the takedown and sweeping aspects. Muay Thai does not allow takedowns. A Muay Thai fighter who repeatedly tries to take down their opponent will likely face disqualification. 

Below are other movements that Muay Thai does not allow:

  • Using the shoulder or hips to throw an opponent in a reap or judo throw
  • Stepping across or in front of an opponent leg and bringing the opponent down over your hip
  • Grabbing the opponent by the hip and attempting a hip throw

Even within these limitations, Muay Thai incorporates throwing techniques like the clinch.

Most grappling techniques common in other combat forms such as Jiu Jitsu and MMA do not feature in Muay Thai. These include submission holds, sprawls, and takedowns. As Muay Thai Citizen notes, Muay Thai involves stand-up confrontation.

Why You Should Consider Taking Up Muay Thai

Muay Thai is an excellent choice of martial art to enhance your personal defense. Muay Thai adopts a full-contact approach from the very beginning. It will arm you with a variety of practical skills to overpower opponents soon after you start practicing.

One of Muay Thai’s most unique features is the fact that it supports defense from long-range and close quarters. This gives you the option to strike your enemy with your leg or arm. You can also hold your assailant at the clinch position to destabilize them or strike a significant blow in close quarters.

Muay Thai is also an excellent way to keep fit. Fighters tend to have lean bodies, as opposed to more muscular bodies seen in other martial arts. Muay Thai prioritizes cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, and precise striking and clinching techniques.

What Is Grappling?

Grappling is a combat element that’s present in all kinds of martial arts, from judo to wrestling. Muay Thai implements unique techniques, but it still has things in common with other types of grappling.

The best way of understanding the role of grappling in Muay Thai is by comparing it to other combat systems. By seeing what other martial arts do that Muay Thai doesn’t, you’ll see what’s behind this relative lack of grappling.

Grappling is an umbrella term that encompasses multiple techniques to gain a physical advantage over opponents. These techniques do not involve using weapons or striking by force. 

The NY Martial Arts Academy explains that the objectives of grappling are as follows:

  • Achieve a physical advantage over an opponent
  • Improve one’s relative position in combat
  • Escape the opponent
  • Force the opponent into submission

As you can see, many things can count as grappling. It doesn’t need to be a locked throw or takedown. Under this definition, it’s clear that Muay Thai involves grappling, even if just to an extent.

Most Common Grappling Techniques

  • Sprawling. A fighter will use sprawling as a defensive maneuver when the opponent attempts a takedown. Here, the fighter places their legs behind them, keeping them out of the opponent’s reach. The fighter then lands their upper body on the opponent’s back to force them down.
  • Takedowns. A takedown occurs when the fighter forces the opponent to the ground from a standing position. This approach aims to destabilize the opponent with the goal of bringing them down.
  • Clinching. Like takedowns, this is a defensive technique used to defend against throws or takedowns. In this technique, the fighter gets a close hold on their opponent’s arm or head. This technique provides a physical advantage, making it easy to strike or takedown the opponent. 
  • Throws. In this technique, the fighter will throw the opponent to destabilize them. Often, fighters execute this technique from a standing position, and each fighter tries to throw the other to the ground. 
  • Escapes. This is a technique that, when done correctly, allows a fighter to escape from a disadvantageous position. Some of these positions include chokeholds, clinches, and when an opponent is atop the fighter. 
  • Submission Holds. A submission is an advantageous position where a fighter can easily suffocate or strangle their opponent. Most common submission holds involve a choke stance, and the opponent will submit by tapping out. 
  • Reversals. In this technique, the fighter will try and get underneath their opponent to attain a superior fighting position. In doing so, the fighter can take advantage of their superior position to dominate the opponent. 

Final Thoughts

Muay Thai does not integrate grappling to a large extent like other combat forms. However, it still plays a significant role in the sport. The clinch is, by far, the most common grappling technique in Muay Thai. 

This technique gives the fighter an advantage over an opponent in close quarters. It allows them to take on a position of strength when long-range strikes prove ineffective. 

Muay Thai also incorporates sweeps and trips, which are grappling forms as well.

These differences make Muay Thai a unique martial art that’s easily distinguishable from others.