Learn How To Throw An Elbow Like A Muay Thai Fighter

With over 23 years of experience in fight training, Gary Barrett knows a thing or two about throwing a punch.

Chandre Davids |

If you’ve ever watched Kickboxer (the movie where Jean Claude van Damme kicks a banana tree until it breaks under the sheer power of his shins), you witnessed some serious badassery. Despite the name of the movie, Kickboxer actually had nothing to do with kickboxing, well except that his brother was a kickboxer (we can argue semantics later).

The fighting style of the movie is called Muay Thai, one that is rich in history and a huge part of Mixed Martial Arts fighting. We chatted to Gary Barret, a former Muay Thai fighter and owner of True Muay Thai, to find out exactly how Muay Thai can make you a total badass.

Related: This 43-Year-Old Uses Karate To Stay In The Best Shape Of His Life & Why You Should Do It Too

With over 23 years of experience in fight training, Gary Barrett knows a thing or two about throwing a punch. At 15 he started training as a Muay Thai fighter, a sport he immediately fell in love with. “I was really bitten by the sport and the combat side of it,” he explains. He further honed his skills with boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai legend and champion, Mike Bernardo.

Over the course of his teens and early 20s, Barret gained experiences in various fighting styles but he says that he always came back to Muay Thai. “Teaching people Muay Thai is a lot of fun as there’s way more to offer” he says. In 2016, Barrett and his family moved to Thailand where he trained and fought. When he returned to South Africa, he opened up his gym, where he continues to train anyone wanting to learn how to fight, from professional fighters to beginners who are looking to get fit.

Related: Waking Up With Diabetes Changed This Man’s Life

It’s definitely not kickboxing

One common misconception is that Muay Thai is just kickboxing, well no. “Kickboxing is a hybrid of Muay Thai. You’re not allowed to throw elbows in kickboxing and you’re not allowed to continuously knee,” explains the 42-year-old. Muay Thai is a stand-up striking sport that involves clinching. It’s known as the art of eight limbs as there are eight points of striking- punches, kicks, knees and elbows.

The sport is one which has a rich history.  Legend has it that in the 18th century, famous Thai fighter, Nai Khanom Tom, was captured by the Burmese. Having heard that Nai was a famed fighter, the Burmese king gave Nai the opportunity to fight for his and the other prisoners’ freedom.

After the ritual of Wai Khru, the traditional dance that is done before fighting, Nai beat the Burmese boxing champion via knock out. Not convinced by Nai’s efforts, the king sent in another nine fighters to face Nai. But Nai won each fight and the freedom that came with it.

In Thailand, 17 March is regarded as Nai Khanom Tom day or Muay Thai day. Mauy Thai is the national sport of Thailand, with kids as young as seven fighting as professionals.

Related:Build Quads Of The Gods With These 6 Moves To Killer Legs

Eat Clean

“As a fighter, your diet should be clean” says Barret. Depending on what’s available during that season, you should be eating fresh and heathy food. “So you’d want to eat good fats like avos, oily fish, loads of protein, leafy green vegetables and good carbs like sweet potatoes” he advises. You’d want to load up on carbs before and after fights with amount of energy burned during training and fighting.

Train Mean

In Thailand, training can be pretty hectic. “You’ll start with 5-10km run and then make your way to they gym where you’ll skip for about ten minutes. Then you’ll do some pad work, sparring, bag work and some conditioning. And in the evening you’ll be back to do it again.” Training can be pretty painful but in the end it makes you a stronger and better fighter. Take shin conditioning for example, in Muay Thai, the shins are used to block and make kicks. So your shins have to be able to withstand a bone to bone strike. Check out the video below to get a better idea of why conditioning is necessary.

Related: Earn Your Muscle The Hard Way With MMA

3 moves to help you win a fight

With great power comes great responsibility, so don’t go using these moves to show off. If you find yourself in a position where you need to defend yourself, these three moves could potentially save you.


“Punching is effective but there’s a good chance that in a dangerous situation you could end up hurting yourself instead. An elbow to the head or jaw can be enough to knock someone out.” If you’re in close enough range, tuck your hand in at the chest, as you step in, throw your weight and pivot your hips when you strike.



If you’re able to get your arms around the attacker’s neck, pull them down into your knee whilst striking your knee upwards. Be sure to aim for their ribs and stomach.



Flat hand

Similar to a hook, instead just keep your hand open. Landing this hit on the ear, will send a pop or a shockwave into the head, disorientating the attacker.


READ MORE ON: fighting Fitness how to fight kickboxer kickboxing martial arts mixed martial arts muay thai workout

Copyright © 2021 Rodale Inc.
Subscribe for notification