Muay Thai

Improve Your Muay Thai Now: How Master Toddy Trains Champions, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.


The muay Thai trainer known as Master Toddy likes to have his students cut their teeth on a specially designed striking pad that’s positioned near the ropes that surround one of his boxing rings.

“You can stand in front and hit it to get your distance with uppercuts and other punches until you feel comfortable,” Master Toddy says. “Then you learn how to punch and kick while bouncing off the ropes to get their energy. You really need that energy in round four and round five.”


“In round one, watch your opponent,” he advises. “Notice how he stands, how he moves, how he blinks. You have to feel him out and think about what he wants to do to you.” That’s the best way to beat him, Master Toddy says.


“Fighting is 50-percent mental,” the muay Thai master says. “Conditioning is only so important. I know one guy who runs marathons, but the conditioning doesn’t do him much good in the ring. He never wins; he never believed in himself.

“I would say, ‘Kick him with your right leg.’ He would ask, ‘What happens if he kicks me at the same time?’ I told him I couldn’t be his muay Thai teacher because we couldn’t connect. Letting him stay would have wasted his time.

“You have to be determined to win. If you’re not, you’re wasting your time.”

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It’s very common for good teachers to connect with their fighters — even if they don’t call it “connecting,” Master Toddy says. “I might do more than other people because I come from the background of a monk. My family believed in the same things I do. My fighters do, too.

“Like Lisa King — we connect every time she fights, and she wins. She has the spirit. Of course, everybody has bad days. If your spirit is strong, though, it won’t matter. You can still be strong and win.”


Master Toddy says people often ask him if the person with the better technique will win a fight. “No,” he says. “The person with the heart of the lion wins. It can help you beat someone who’s technically better than you.”

The best test of skill in muay Thai is competing in Thailand — with no family and friends around you, he adds. “You can’t call yourself the world champion of muay Thai without having beat the Thais.”


After one incident in Thailand, Master Toddy began cautioning all his fighters about unexpected mental conditioning. “I had one fighter who went there to train,” he recalls. “She was watching a fight, and a boy she knew got knocked out right in front of her. She felt that knockout and heard his head hit the floor. She said, ‘I hope that doesn’t happen to me!’

“Then everything started going wrong. I tried to get rid of her negative thoughts, but she got knocked out in the first round of her next fight.

“Whenever someone gets knocked out, you shouldn’t look at the person getting carried out. You should look at the winner — and celebrate! Feel his victory!”


Thais start training in kickboxing at age 4 or 5, making it extremely difficult for an American fighter who doesn’t begin until he’s 25 to catch up. But Master Toddy has a solution.

“I have them train certain things and fight smart,”  he says. “For example, in Thailand, they don’t score much on punches because they don’t want muay Thai to become boxing. So training smart might include developing a big punch or a sneaky elbow. The Thais are so far ahead that a foreigner doesn’t have to win to be victorious there. If he goes five rounds with a Thai champion, he’s a winner to me. If he loses a split decision, I jump up and down!”

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“Prepare everything before a fight,” Master Toddy says. “Your clothes, gloves, even your toothpaste and toothbrush — everything you need to make your day. Then you don’t have to worry about the little things. You can focus on fighting and winning.”


“I don’t believe in telling my …

Improve Your Muay Thai Now: How Master Toddy Trains Champions, Part 1

In a universe populated by hardened ex-champs who have about as much personality as a worn-out boxing glove, muay Thai authority Master Toddy stands out. A jovial fellow, he’s as entertaining a host as one could hope for in the martial arts. But put him on a mat with his students or in the corner with one of his Thai boxers, and he transforms into a fighting fiend.

That’s where Master Toddy shines as a maker of champions — including American men and women who’ve actually traveled to Thailand and beat the Thais at their own game. His success speaks volumes about the validity of his unorthodox methods and beliefs. In this article, Toddy shares some of the kickboxing secrets that have propelled him to the top of the muay Thai world.

— Editor


During the 16 years he spent in Manchester, England, and the 15-plus years he spent in the United States, Master Toddy has learned that you don’t have to be a big bruiser to be a good martial artist.

“When I was in England, there was nothing — they weren’t even allowed to teach muay Thai because they thought it was too violent,” he says. “I had to teach them everything — discipline, how to slow down, how to fight smart. I had to show them muay Thai isn’t about street fighting.

“Most people who do martial arts are shy. They’re nice people who’ve been pushed around, and they want to protect themselves. They’ll fight if they have to, but they don’t want to do it. That’s why martial arts competition has rules and why shy people can become great martial artists. That was the lesson I brought to England.”


Master Toddy was a hit in the United Kingdom, and he soon noticed that American champs were just as interested in what he had to offer. “They wanted to learn how to do muay Thai and defend against the leg kick because [25] years ago in America, they didn’t have muay Thai,” he says. “They had kickboxing, but it’s very different. When they faced a muay Thai stylist, they’d get hit with leg kicks or elbows.

“I decided to come to America to expand muay Thai, to show that it can be done properly and that it’s not a violent sport. The first thing I did was work with the Nevada Athletic Commission to get permission to include elbows and knees. We did the first show in 1995, and it went very well. It started growing. I was successful because I’m a very positive person. Every day I tell my people how important it is to be positive.”

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Master Toddy has trained plenty of well-known fighters over the years, including Maurice Smith, Tito Ortiz, Bob Sapp, Gary Goodridge and a host of K-1 regulars. “Most of them were already champions,” Toddy says. “After they had a hard fight, they would come to me because of my coaching record.

“For example, Bob Sapp came to see me. I trained him in one punch. He went out into the ring and got a first-round knockout with that punch. Then Gary Goodridge came and trained for one of the biggest fights in his career, against a K-1 champion. Gary knocked him out in the first round.

“Once they believe in it, they win. It’s mental programming. It’s not about the kicking and punching; it’s about connecting.”

Master Toddy


“It takes me 20 to 30 minutes to evaluate a fighter,” Master Toddy says. “I talk to him until we click. I find out if he has long arms and long legs and how he moves.

“For example, I might see that he’s got a lot of potential in his right hand. So we train, and I develop his right hand. I don’t train every punch and kick; I train him to use his other techniques to set up his right hand. After every kick, I want him to say to himself, ‘My right hand is ready.’ I want him to have confidence in it.

“In training, he throws a roundhouse kick, and his right hand is ready. He throws a left hand, and his right hand is ready. Then, when I say, ‘Now!’ he does it. At that moment, he and I have to be connected. I have to believe in his right hand. If he feels it, I can feel it. That’s how he can win.”


“When I was a …

Muay Thai Elbow Strikes: 5 Best Targets and the Best Methods for Hitting Them

When foreigners travel to Thailand to learn kickboxing, the biggest fear they face is the “knives of muay Thai.” Considered the secret weapons of Thai boxing, they’re the top cause of bloodletting in the ring. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the knives of muay Thai are the elbows. Over the past few decades, they’ve proved so devastating that Western martial artists in Thailand customarily request that their bouts be conducted without elbow strikes.

One of the most feared full-contact fighting systems in the world, muay Thai is renowned for developing the human body into a collection of weapons. For maximum effectiveness, the art teaches that each weapon should have a specific bone for striking, a specific movement for power and a specific target for destruction. The application of that ideology to elbow strikes is the subject of this post.

Nailing the nose

In muay Thai, two parts of the elbow are used for striking: the terminus of the forearm and the terminus of the upper arm. Note that the tip of the forearm (front tip) is not in the center of your arm; to access it, you must raise your elbow above the target before you strike. And contrary to what many martial artists believe, hitting with the tip of the upper arm (back tip) doesn’t mean hitting with the muscle; for maximum effect, it requires contact with the bone, which is also necessary to avoid injury to your limb.

Elbow techniques are called the “knives of muay Thai” for a reason: Rather than wield them with brute force, you strive to be smooth, relaxed and fast. The goal is to slice at just the right angle and just the right moment.

Described below are the best methods for using your elbows to attack five common targets. It’s safest to practice the techniques on a heavy bag or a Century Martial Arts BOB training dummy, which has realistic facial features on a soft surface. Avoid doing drills with a partner because sooner or later you’ll make accidental contact and learn quickly why the elbows are referred to as knives — they can cut.

Target: Mouth/Nose

Start from a right strong stance (left foot forward if you’re right-handed) and use your left arm to effect a front elbow strike that at first resembles an uppercut done with a bent arm. The technique is powered by body movement and footwork, which unite to move your elbow forward. It’s that forward motion, rather than an upward swing of the arm, that makes the technique work. In fact, the strike can be done with no arm movement at all — by locking the elbow tip in a forward position and charging ahead.

The strike is often used against boxers who rely on powerful hooks and grapplers who shoot in for a takedown while keeping their arms spread wide to grab your torso.

Proper footwork entails pushing with your right leg while stepping forward with your left. The best time to use the technique is when your opponent is aggressively approaching, making the effect not unlike two rams slamming their horns together.

Tagging the temple

Target: Eye/Temple

To attack this body part, use a left diagonal elbow strike, which is a near-horizontal technique that’s often delivered immediately after a left front elbow. The diagonal strike is small, smooth and fast. If it makes contact squarely, a knockout may result, but if your opponent moves his head forward, a laceration will likely occur above his eye. If he happens to raise his head, your elbow will hit him in the jaw and possibly knock him out.

Before you strike, make sure your left foot is slightly in front of your opponent and your right is planted in back, providing a solid foundation for the technique. Stand tall and lean forward to hit the target. The power comes from the sequential twisting of your hips, waist and shoulders, not from moving your arm. Frequently overlooked detail: Your left fist should effect a small movement as though you’re punching your right shoulder.

Target: Chin/Jaw

To attack this region, use a back-tip strike delivered in the form of a short poke that travels straight up and into the bottom of your foe’s chin or jaw. A sneaky and effective strike, it often results in a surprise knockout, especially when your opponent has his mouth open. In muay Thai bouts, however, it’s seldom seen these days because it’s been deemed an old-school technique.

Footwork: Turn to present the back tip of your elbow to your opponent. After hitting him, immediately establish a strong stance in front of him, with your left foot forward and slightly to the right of his body and your right foot slightly back and to the left.

Chipping the chin

How to Get Good at Muay Thai: Strikes and Combinations

To excel in muay Thai, you need to develop all your main weapons, Alex Gong said, and although the legs are used more than the arms, punching skills shouldn’t be neglected.

“Your hands are useful because you can quickly punch somebody in the head, and if you land one hard shot, you may knock him out or set him up for a knockout blow,” he said. “Your kicks set up your punches initially, and then your punches can set up your kicks — but that’s not to say you should rely on one more than the other.”

First, work on mastering your straight punches, Gong said. Understand how to do them and how to defend against them.

“I like to use a lot of same-side attacks,” he said. “That means you punch with your left hand and kick with your left leg, or you knee with your left leg and punch with your left hand. Same-side attacks don’t always leave you vulnerable to that centerline of fire.”

The counterpart of the same-side attack is the cross-attack, he said. “You jab with your left hand and kick with your right, or you punch with your right hand and kick with your left. Those are nice combinations, but as you throw from one side and switch to the other, your body’s in the line of fire. Using same-side attacks helps you avoid that.”

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Gong advised students to throw various hand and foot techniques at different parts of their opponent’s body to create new opportunities to launch follow-up attacks. Whenever an opponent adjusts to your attack and counters it, he inadvertently creates new opportunities for you to launch another attack, he said. Eventually, this barrage should wear him down enough for you to finish him.

“In muay Thai, you assume that your opponent will block your attacks,” he said. “In fact, he may block most of your techniques. So when you kick at his body, you’re not necessarily looking to land right into the body but to hit the outside shell.

“I like to teach the ‘walnut philosophy’: You have to crack the shell to get to the nut. You hit him on the outside of the shell to make him react. Assuming he can take the shot, he will adjust and fire back, creating opportunities for you to break down his outer shell.”

When you’re beginning a walnut-philosophy combination, Gong said, it doesn’t matter where your blows land. If you kick his arms, it’s good because it can keep him from punching. If he punches simultaneously and you slam your shin into his body, it’s good because you can do some damage. If you kick his leg, you may prevent him from raising that limb to block a follow-up kick. If you kick higher and target his head, that’s also great, Gong said, because of the knockout potential.

When you begin a bout, Alex Gong said, you might feel more comfortable using muay Thai’s boxing methodology: “When your opponent tries to attack, you get out of the way and counterattack. You’re constantly on the move. When he comes to one side of the ring, you move; and when he comes again, you attack.”

That mobility-based approach enables you to create openings to inflict damage on your opponent while you protect yourself from his attacks, Gong added. But as you expend energy, you may not be as quick to maneuver and counterattack. That’s when many kickboxers switch to the “walking and fighting” methodology.

You basically march forward and defend yourself, Gong said. “You don’t move around too much. Your opponent attacks and you block. If he comes in, you kick him. You meet his force and constantly move forward.”

Neither methodology is superior; the “right” one depends on your preference and the situation you are in, he said.

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Winning is about strategy more than anything else, Alex Gong said. Once you’ve mastered the basic techniques, focus on how and when you will use them. “You have to find your own internal rhythm, your own balance and your own movement, then apply that knowledge to make your opponent go off his movement,” he said. “Even if you have only one technique — let’s say, a jab — but you have great timing and great strategy, you can make it work.

“My personal fighting style has evolved over the years,” Gong continued. “I came into the game with the ‘big stick’ mentality: Kick him with a big, heavy weapon. And that’s a great way to start as a muay Thai fighter. …

How to Get Good at Muay Thai: Roundhouse Kick and Knee Thrust

Before he took up muay Thai in 1993, Black Belt Hall of Famer Alex Gong trained in tai chi chuan, aikido, taekwondo, bare-knuckle karate and judo. While he was being exposed to the hundreds of traditional techniques that those arts teach, an idea germinated in his mind:

Why not seek out a style that’s composed of a few proven strikes that can be used in a wide variety of situations?

“When I was finally introduced to muay Thai, I realized that this is what I’d been working toward, and I knew I had found the right style,” said Gong, who trained in Thailand with Apideh Sit Hirun, the man who was named Muay Thai Fighter of the Century by the king of Thailand.

“Fighting is about evolution, and in muay Thai, you’re constantly fighting and testing,” Gong continued. “It’s the only true, constantly battle-tested style out there.”

Alex Gong

Muay Thai is a simple art, one that doesn’t have a lot of techniques, Gong said. Once you’ve mastered the basic kicks and punches, it’s time to focus on what’s really important: moving, power, timing and defense.

Gong knows the truth of that statement not only from the time he’s put in as president and head coach of the Fairtex USA Muay Thai Team, but also from the time he’s spent on the road visiting camps and watching bouts. “I go to amateur and professional fights all over the country, and I know that if more fighters just had a better foundation of the basics, they’d be much more successful,” he said.

The basic weapon of muay Thai is the roundhouse kick to the head or body. “It is one of the easiest strikes to land, and you kick with your shin, so it’s very powerful and effective,” said Gong, who trains in San Francisco with Phicheat Arunleung Ganyao. “You have so much power because you put your whole body into it. Behind your leg, your hip and your shoulder are driving forward into the target. You don’t just kick the target; you kick through the target.

“Too often martial artists kick forward but let their body move backward, especially with the side kick and roundhouse kick,” Gong said. “If you do that, where are your power and inertia going? They’re not going into the target where they should be.”

If you perform the roundhouse kick properly and turn into the target, your shoulder will be positioned between your chin and your opponent’s line of fire, Gong said, and that will afford you some protection from a punch.

“If you step forward to do a roundhouse to your opponent’s body, you have to be careful not to step straight into the centerline of fire,” he said. “That’s why, when you step over to kick, your footwork is so important. If you step out at a 45-degree angle to throw a right kick to his body, your right shoulder will be to the outside of his right shoulder. Then his right punch will go right over your shoulder, not right into your nose.”

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Another reason Thai boxers favor the roundhouse kick is it forces their opponent to react with more defensive movement, Gong said. “He’s got to work harder to stop it. He’s got to raise his leg higher and adjust his body more so than with any other attack you can deliver.”

Because the kick makes contact with the lower part of the shin, you can hit your opponent while maintaining a relatively safe distance from his hands, he said. “When you’re kicking at full-body length, it’s very difficult for him to land a shot to your face.”

Practicing body kicks helps you develop better footwork, and in muay Thai, footwork is everything. “If you become better on your feet and have that primary weapon, everything else will follow,” Gong said.

Alex Gong

The straight knee thrust is another mainstay of muay Thai. It’s usually executed when your opponent is rushing toward you. “It’s not necessarily you hitting him or him hitting you, but the two of you hitting each other with your knee smashing into him,” Gong explained.

Although the straight knee has the potential to knock out an opponent, it’s more often used to tire him out and set him up for a knockout technique, Gong said. Because it may not finish him off, you have to think about protecting your face during and after the action — and fortunately, that’s relatively easy to do.

“You can use your knees to attack without giving up too much vulnerability,” Gong said. “When you punch somebody, he can punch you, too; but with knee shots, you can …