As you may know, Muay Thai is also known as the art of the eight limbs. But what are the eight limbs? They are the eight weapons that distinguish this martial art: punches, kicks, knees and elbows. And, the number of techniques that can arise from the use of these limbs is rather a lot.
The eight limbs in Muay Thai
The punches (chok) in traditional Muay Thai were quite limited. This is shown by the fact that they didn’t mark a big score. However, with the evolution of the sport itself, and the fact that an increasingly international audience showed interest in Muay Thai, this has changed. Nowadays, punches are definitely more important, both as a technique and as a score.
Kicks (te) are a lethal weapon. Thai kicks are well-known as being brutal due to the strong impact that shins can land on the opponent (just think of how viral the video of Buakaw smashing a banana tree went). The front kick (teep) is also a very effective technique to keep the distance as well as to cause damage.
Knees (khao) are used in a unique way in Muay Thai. The effectiveness of these techniques is outstanding. A great example of this can be seen in the Clinch (chap kho) where knees and sweeps are the main actors (along with elbows).
Elbows (sok) are a deadly shot that shifts Muay Thai to another level from all other martial arts. Basically, mastering the use of elbows corresponds to learning how to use two knives.
Muay Thai & Yoga
Curiously enough, Muay Thai is not the only practice known as the art of the eight limbs. Yoga, which at first sight does not seem that connected to Muay Thai, is known by the same definition.
Unlike in Muay Thai, the eight limbs of yoga refers to a way of living in order to accomplish a meaningful and purposeful life. They are guidelines to help us connect to our true self and to achieve a better conception of things. They are:
Yamas: attitudes towards others and the external environment
Nyiamas: attitudes toward ourselves
Asana: physical postures
Pranayama: breathing techniques
Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses
Samadhi: fusion and complete integration with the universe. A higher consciousness
Exploring the eight limbs of yoga more closely we can see there are several similarities between Yoga and Muay Thai:
Yamas and Niyamas
The yamas and niyamas are moral guidelines of how we should treat others and ourselves, and how we should behave towards our internal and external environment. This is something that Muay Thai also teaches us, perhaps in a less direct way. When we fight, we are not driven by wickedness, we respect our opponent, and we honour him for sharing the ring with us. When we learn to love ourselves and others this feeling then expands to everything around us, and the love we put out, mirrors back to us.
As Muay Thai can have a tough effect on the body, the practice of Yoga can be very beneficial. The pleasure from deep stretching, give the muscles the chance to relax completely as well as to recover quicker, allowing us to feel ready for the next session sooner. After working out hard, it’s essential to re-circulate the blood flow in our muscles. It’s well known that yoga increases flexibility, and how important can flexibility be in a sport where roundhouse, high and spinning kicks are constantly on the agenda?
One of the main challenges every martial artist has to cope with is improving his balance. This is a fundamental skill that you need to develop from the beginning. I still have voices in my head of Thai trainers constantly saying to me: ‘’balance balance’’. And guess what? There are several Yoga poses focused on the ability of balance, and if you practice them regularly, this is going to bring improvement way faster than training alone. In the same way, we could speak about hip openers. Everything leads to a better control of the body, a smooth science to increase the sharpness of the weapon.
Personally speaking, one of the things I have always struggled with the most, is my level of cardio or stamina. There are many ways to improve this, but since it has been my Achilles’ heel for a long time, I have found practicing and implementing breathing techniques (pranayama) to be an ally of mine. Breathing techniques has helped me to become more aware of my breath, something that we often take for granted. When you control your breath, you gain more lucidity even in the most difficult situations. Inhale. Exhale. Everything is now clearer.
I see a parallelism between the withdrawal of the senses and the feeling you have once you have stepped into the ring. Nothing can bother you, voices are far and distorted; you kind of feel detached and distant from your body, but at the same time, you are in that moment more than ever and the awareness of oneself rises dramatically. A sensation that makes you feel alive, something difficult to understand if you have never lived it.
There is no training without concentration. Actually, nothing in life has a good outcome with no focus. When you are training, there is no space for other thoughts. It is important to learn how to do one thing at time, to make the most out of whatever you are doing. If you are focused, you know what you want, you figure out the steps you need to take to achieve it. You commit yourself, you work hard, and eventually, you get it.
There was one occasion where I faced a new fight opportunity which I was not sure whether to accept or not due to the short notice of it. On consulting my Thai trainer at the time, he asked me: ‘’What is the first rule you learned in Muay Thai?’’ I was not sure about the answer; many things crossed my mind. Before I started to reply he said: ‘’Heart. Muay Thai is heart. Heart is Muay Thai. The other guy has two arms like you and he has two legs like you. The one who will win is the one who has more heart.’’
Meditation is a great way to train your heart. Meditation reduces fear, stress, loneliness and depression. It increases self-esteem and self-acceptance, and improves resilience against pain and adversity. It also increases optimism, relaxation and awareness and boosts your mood and emotional intelligence. Moreover, it improves breathing and heart rates and reduces blood pressure. It is essential that the heart of a fighter is always ready.
The complete fusion with the universe, a merging with the divine and a connection with all living things. This is the last limb of yoga, which I would say it is also the final aim of a Martial Path: a mind and body integration with the concept that all the things are one.
These two arts of the eight limbs are linked and complementary. Implementing them both can only benefit our overall well-being. We may shift from one to the other but we remain connected to the same essence: becoming who we really are.
Khop Kun Krap. Namaste.