Buakaw Banchamek is the most famous Muay Thai fighter in the world, and for good reason — he’s had a high profile, storied, and dominant career. Being consistently elite means that he’s got an enormous arsenal of tricks –this breakdown merely introduces some knees and concepts through Buakaw’s most recent fight.
Knees are really a Muay Thai specialty, and under Thai rules they’re emphasized more than a punch. Where as an American Kickboxer is more likely to punch in the “punching range”, the Thai fighter will likely choose to knee — having competed in a scoring system which favors the knee means more time spent on it.
Lee Sung-Hyun, Buakaw’s most recent opponent, is a good combination puncher. The classic way to defeat a good puncher is to clinch them — it negates the punches and halts the rhythm. However, in K-1, their rules limit the clinch (one knee per clinch, no double collar tie), so Buakaw has adapted ways where he can still effectively knee. This means he’ll have trained plenty of engagement and exit strategies.
Pull, Knee, and Strike on Exit
In combat sports, it’s always a goal to increase impact in anyway possible. In MMA, Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida often lures or “draws” their opponent in for a strike, crashing them into the weapon of their choice. The “pull” in a clinch is remotely similar, creating a crash with two forces meeting each other, thereby increasing the impact.
In the sequences above you can see Buakaw pulling Lee’s head with at least one arm — with another sequence of him pulling on the forearm as well as the head. Every time a clinch is engaged, there’s a transitionary period that must not be ignored — the exit can be a great time for either fighters to strike. With the one knee per clinch rule in effect, Buakaw developed very strong exits.
This knee technique is demonstrated in this Tiger Muay Thai tutorial:
Clinch Knee, Same Side High Kick
This is another aggressive exit after one knee, and Buakaw executes them masterfully. Upon delivering his knee, he returns to delivery stance and pushes off into a high kick. But Lee was clearly prepared for this strategy, executing a leanback both times to barely evade the high kick.
School of Thought on Straight Knees
There’s been a nice article circulating on “straight knees”, with the school of thought that the leg should be turned diagonally to deliver them. There’s some belief that “Straight Knees” shouldn’t come up (forward should also be mentioned) and down, but rather, the leg should be diagonal or preferably horizontal — that “up knees” don’t actually land with the sharp part of the kneecap, where as diagonal ones do. Perhaps equally important is how the former doesn’t maximize hip potential where as the latter does.
Interestingly, I’ve observed some (highest level) knee specialists that believe a diagonal knee shouldn’t ever be thrown either. This school of thought believes that while diagonal “sideway knees” look nice and are powerful, they’re more easily blocked, intercepted, and therefore susceptible to deadening one’s own leg. Check out Yokkao, another camp that believe diagonal knee thrusts are “less effective”.
Then there are also respected coaches like Vut Kamnark that lists 3 general categories of knees: straight knees, diagonal knees, and curved (roundhouse) knees. Each one of them has a time and place, and the article previous mentioned discusses the latter two.
I too belong in the school of thought that they all have a time and place, remotely similar to how the teep, sidekick, and roundhouse all have it’s place in different combat sports. Throughout this article, do notice that while some knees are diagonal, some are also straight. The angle of delivery changes, the target changes, but each does have their own effectiveness.
Slip Jab to Engage Clinch
To deliver knees in a clinch, one must get there first. As a result, if a clincher wants engage against a combination puncher, it’s often critical to slip his first punch (most often being the jab).
In the third sequence you can see Buakaw delivering a diagonal jumping knee.
Centerline Battle: Jab vs Switch-Knee, Cross vs. Right-Knee
Kneeing from longer distance (“Long distance punching range”), cross-reaching for the head and kneeing clinch is still a battle of threatening the centerline — who can hit first without being hit?
In these sequences, Buakaw reaches out to grab with the same-side hand which serves as a barrier to the trajectory of the jab or cross depending on right or left knee. If right knee, he’s more open to the cross, if left-knee, he’s more open to the jab.
But it’s really a battle of positioning and timing, and while during the transitionary periods both fighters can land, it really favors the one that can hit first. The one throwing the knee risks taking a shot on one leg (more susceptible to damage), where as the one punching, if missing, risks running into more knee impact. It’s a double edged sword.
Switch-Step, Hop, Stiff-Arm, Leaping Diagonal Knee
After being off-balanced by his own committed combination, Lee backs up, but Buakaw follows with a double switch-step and two stutter-hops (makings the knee unpredictable). Buakaw measures the range to lessen the chance of straight attacks as he puts his left-hand right in front of Lee’s face and goes for a leaping diagonal-knee. This technique bypasses Lee’s guard, hitting the side of Lee’s head.
Stay tuned for more Buakaw breakdowns! To stay updated, you can contact Lawrence Kenshin on his social media accounts below.