Welcome back to my online diary documenting my very amateur experience training in Muay Thai. If you missed the previous entries on Bloody Elbow, read them here.
As MMA has evolved over the years, it's sometimes easy to forget how it started - as a competition to determine what was the ultimate martial art (early answer: jiu jitsu). These days, the sport is all about fighters who bring elements of many styles together to form the much discussed "complete fighter." Yet there are still certain styles that are more often used and discussed - chief among them are jiu jitsu, wrestling (whether wrestling qualifies as a "martial art" or not is a debate for another day), and, of particular interest to me, Muay Thai.
A large portion of fighters in MMA cite Muay Thai as a basis to their striking. We've seen this changing a bit lately with first Lyoto Machida and his karate, and now Tae Kwon Do fighters like John Makdessi and Daron Cruickshank. But Muay Thai remains the most commonly named base. This brings to mind an important question:
Why aren't we seeing more traditional Muay Thai in MMA?
As I have gone deeper into my Muay Thai training, I have begun to think about this more. I've been training for over two years now, and while I still work on the basics quite a bit (because you can never forget those), I have also started delving into more distinctly Muay Thai areas, such as clinch work, knees, and elbows - the weapons that make this the Art of Eight Limbs. And a lot of those areas are just not seen in MMA enough.
Of course there are MT style roundhouse kicks, the occasional teep, and the Thai clinch, but what about the rest?Elbows are making more of a move lately, but they remain a woefully underused weapon in MMA. The same is true of knees - many throw them from the clinch, but the standing knee strike is only recently becoming a more widely used weapon. And what about that clinch? A big part of Muay Thai, the Thai style clinch has in MMA been reduced to the basic "grab head and throw knee" method. That ignores the numerous Thai throws (or dumps) from the clinch, the escapes, the elbows, the knees to the leg and body.
Final point to consider (and one that has, during my training, gained more personal significance to me) - true traditional Muay Thai is heavy on ritual. I'm not suggesting that a UFC fighter should be doing a Ram Muay inside the Octagon, but how many have even worn the monkong? If an MMA fighter truly wants to represent Muay Thai and give glory to this style, those sort of roots should be sometimes visible.
And perhaps this gets to the root of the issue - what we see so much of in the UFC and MMA in general is not actually Muay Thai. It's kickboxing - K-1 style kickboxing with a Dutch influence more often than not. And there's nothing wrong with that style - I'm a huge fan of the likes of Peter Aerts and Ernesto Hoost, masters in that art. But it's not Muay Thai. The two often are used interchangeably (I've been guilty of this in the past myself), but as I have gone deeper into my own personal Muay Thai journey, I've begun to think that doing so does a disservice to Muay Thai.
Muay Thai is a fighting style, but it's also something more. To call any brand of kickboxing "Muay Thai" is to deny what makes Muay Thai unique. For those of us who believe in the value and spirit of true, traditional Muay Thai, I've come to believe that making that distinction matters. That's how we fly the flag of Muay Thai - that's how we honor this great sport.
What do you say Muay Thai believers: Is this distinction important, or is it simply splitting hairs and I am being a big old Muay Thai snob? Your thoughts are, as always, much appreciated.