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Muay Thai is a very specific martial art in many if not most aspects. Although similar to a lot of modern combat sports, the Thai tradition has done a lot to shape Muay Thai into a very specific art that has a lot of unique elements which you can fully appreciate only if you devote yourself to it. But, if you just don’t have the time to become a Muay Thai master, we are here to provide you with all the necessary details. Continuing our series of articles on Muay Thai, we are going to explain to you how scoring in Muay Thai works, since it’s a bit different than the usual scoring systems we’re all accustomed to.
In Muay Thai, there is no 10-point scoring system. Judges evaluate the whole match as a unique event, rather than just split the points per round and then add them up. Things they take into account are aggression, dominance, technical execution, and the amount of damage inflicted.
The former answer was given in the simplest possible way. But, there is more to it. So, if you are still interested, let’s start with the topic.
Table of contents:
- What is Muay Thai?
- How Muay Thai Fighting Works
- How Does Scoring in Muay Thai Works?
- What Do Judges Consider when Scoring a Round?
What Is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai (Thai: มวยไทย), literally “Thai boxing”, is an Oriental martial art and combat sport that originated in Thailand somewhere during the 18th century. It is a full-contact discipline that is also known as the “art of eight limbs” and is heavily reliant on the use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.
It originated as a fighting technique to be used in wars, Muay Thai soon became a fighting sport used outside its original setting. After more than a century of development in the Far East, Muay Thai became extremely popular in the West during the 20th and 21st centuries, when Western practitioners that came from Thailand started using the discipline in kickboxing and MMA competitions, thus introducing and popularising Muay Thai in the West.
Muay Thai is, today, a global combat sports practiced around the world and is internationally governed by the IFMA.
How Muay Thai Fighting Works
We’ve already shown you the historical development of Muay Thai and how it functions. Now we are going to present some of the basic aspects of Muay Thai.
Traditionally, the stance in Muay Thai – one of the basic aspects of the discipline – is straightforward; the hips and the torso are completely straight, the chin is tucked in and the posture is completely straight. Because it depends on kicks, the stance in Muay Thai puts more weight on the back foot than the front foot; that is to enable for a faster and more powerful shot.
This is important because Muay Thai fighters fight at a close range. A fighter tends to stick close to his opponent and just linger around, waiting for his turn. They don’t jump around and rarely retreat, which why such a stance is both practical and practically necessary.
As for the footwork, we can only say that Muay Thai is an art that requires patience. Thus, a fighter has to adapt his footwork to patiently follow the opponent and his movements in order to find the right moment to strike.
The defence in Muay Thai is based on block as retreating is generally frowned upon and considered as being against the spirit of the art. Also, since there are no ground moves in Muay Thai, there are no ground techniques when it comes to defence. Some of the basic defensive tactics in Muay Thai are:
- Blocking with shins
- Leaning back from kicks
- Block with high guard
- Clinch when in range and stop strikes
Muay Thai’s offence is based on utilising four parts of your body – the elbows, the knees, the fists and the legs. Let us see how each of them functions:
- Elbow shots are very important in Muay Thai. Muay Thai has a lot of very elegant and effective elbow strikes that you won’t find in any other martial art, which means that Muay Thai’s elbow tactics have a lot of benefits for the fighters. This is where Muay Thai can help you overcome the difficulties and become even better.
- Muay Thai is very practical and beneficial when it comes to knee techniques, better than most other combat sports (except maybe kickboxing, but kickboxing stems from Muay Thai). Why is that? The knee is an essential weapon in Muay That; the fighters approach the fight with a number of different types of knee shots thrown from the leading leg or back leg. You can fire a leading leg knee shot from a stance or incorporate knee strikes from the clinch.
- Although Muay Thai is actually ‘Thai boxing’, punches are very underused in this martial art simply because they are scored less than successful kicks; the goal is to win, so the fighters chose shots that can give them more points. Muay Thai fighters will stand firmly in front of each other and trade shots, be they punches or kicks. Muay Thai boxers tend to “gather” shots and block them, waiting for their turn to fully explode with a good counterattack.
- Muay Thai is a martial art where kicks are essential. In fact, they are so essential that one could say that Muay Thai completely depends on kicking. As such, Muay Thai emphasizes the usage of kicks in a fight. Common kicks are the body kick and the leg kick. Teeps (the push kicks from front or rear legs with the foot in a vertical position) are also heavily utilized as are side teeps (teeps where you step aside and push out with your body in a horizontal side stance). Head kicks are also thrown, although not as much as in some other Oriental martial arts. You typically don’t see much variation beyond the Thai round kick.
This covers the essential elements of Muay Thai. You’ve seen how it functions, what it focuses on and how its offence and defence work. Now that we’ve done that, let us see how the scoring works and why’ve actually given you this brief introduction.
How Does Scoring in Muay Thai Work?
Scoring a fight is never easy. You have to be able to follow and evaluate the fight that’s happening right before your eyes, watch every move and apply the rules to a fight in order to evaluate it appropriately. This task is entrusted to the judges, ringside observers who don’t actively participate in a fight but are essential if it goes to the distance.
For Western viewers, the most common and well-known scoring system is the 10-point system used in all major combat sports such as boxing, MMA and kickboxing. According to that system, the judges carefully watch and score each round separately.
After each round, each judge gives his scores to the referee, who then hands them out to a clerk responsible for recording them and adding the final scores. Each judge must award 10 points to the winner of the round – thus the name, 10-point system – and less to the loser. Of course, the winner can get less than 10 points if there have been deductions during the round, but if the round was completely regular – the winner must get 10 points.
Check here if you want more information about 10-point scoring system.
If a bout is completed and there was neither a K.O. nor a disqualification, the scores are all added up together by the clerk, who then gives the final results to the referee, who, then, declares the winner. This is how the 10-point system works.
Is it like that in Muay Thai? It is not! Namely, Muay Thai doesn’t use the 10-point system at all, but rather – the judges evaluate the whole match as a unique event, rather than just split the points per round and then add them up.
What is interesting to know is that Muay Thai judges do have scorecards where they can award 6-10 point to a fighter per round, but these scorecards are informal and only help the judges to keep track of the fight. They are not official scores as the judges don’t score rounds. The important thing is the final score. What does this all mean in practice?
Let us look at an example – a five-round fight, where fighter A very narrowly drops three or even four rounds to fighter B according to one judge, that one judge’s scorecard would have accumulated strictly to a total of 30-27 or 40-36 points in favour of fighter B, depending on how the scores would be allocated.
In Western combat sports, such a scorecard would give fighter A little to no hope or of winning the fight on the scorecard; the only thing he could hope for would be a K.O., a T.K.O. or some other form of interruption what would be in his favour.
However, in Muay Thai, the judges are constantly watching the fighter who is ahead and the extent of that fighter’s lead throughout the fight. So, in a Muay Thai fight, fighter B’s lead would be practically minimal, which would put fighter A in a much better position.
Therefore, it would still be very possible for fighter A to do his best and take that lead away from fighter B in the final rounds. In other words, fighter A would still be able to win the fight on the scorecards even without a K.O., a T.K.O. or referee stoppage in the final round.
Of course, that could still happen only if the margin of difference in who won the earlier rounds was indeed very narrow and fighter A is able to rally back and dominate the final round convincingly enough to overcome the slight difference from the earlier rounds.
What Do Judges Consider when Scoring a Round?
Muay Thai judges have several things they look out for when scoring a fight. These things are:
- Determined and effective aggression – this is the most important thing the judges need to evaluate in a Muay Thai fight. Aggression determines the flow of a fight and it has to be significant for the points to be awarded to one fighter or the others. You can execute a lot of shots, you can have a good defence, but if you’re not aggressive in your offence, you won’t win the match.
- Dominance inside the ring – when inside a ring, a fighter has to have a good stance and needs to appear dominant over his opponent. This is connected with the above element, as aggression helps with building up dominance. You mustn’t withdraw or look scared, but rather try and assert your position over your opponent.
- Technical execution – this is also a very important factor. The judges will evaluate how precise and technically correct your shots are and how they are executed. If you keep landing clear, technically perfect strikes and not just quasi shots that are there to fill your quota, you’ll be in a much better position with the judges, plus – it will probably help you with all the other elements the judges look out for.
- Damage – while being perfectly executed, the shots you place also have to be effective in doing damage. This very important to the judges and whey will certainly value your input more if your shots do more damage to your opponent. There are fighters who punch a lot but don’t do any damage and they are usually not the winners; execute your shots smartly and value quality over quantity.
The Unspoken Code
Because of its unique and very specific scoring system, Muay Thai fights have, as time passed, developed a certain informal code of conduct among the fighters in the ring, which the judges are aware of. These so-called “unspoken codes” have caused a lot of confusion among the fans and spectators who don’t really understand them like the fighters and the judges do.
These informal codes aren’t really something the judges evaluate and score ultimately and they rarely influence the final outcome, but since they are present and are a vital part of Muay Thai traditions, we’d like to explain them to you. The codes concern situations happening in the first and fifth rounds, which are very important in Muay Thai.
1) The first round
You might have noticed that a Muay Thai fight doesn’t really start until the second or third round (in a five-round fight), while the first round normally sees the two fighters remaining rather tentative and respectful of one another. Why is that? This is because fighters usually use the first round to feel the opponent out and plan their tactics for the rounds that come.
This, however, does not mean that the judges completely disregard the first round in Muay Thai fights. As said, this is just an informal rule and the rumours you might hear that Thai judges don’t score the first round at all are just false.
Because a Muay Thai fight is judged in its entirety, the decision to use the first round to study your opponent is actually quite logical, as it will better prepare you for what is to come. This is the reason why most first rounds in Muay Thai get a 10-10 score (even some second rounds), but the judges certainly look for the fighter who did enough to win the round and will evaluate that later in the match.
2) The fifth round
The intensity of a Muay Thai fight picks up in the second or third round, continues through the fourth round but will ultimately decline in the fifth round; sometimes it’s at the beginning, sometimes it’s in the middle and sometimes it’s at the end of the round. Spectators may also start seeing the fighters raise their hands occasionally in confidence or even touching gloves more. Why does that happen?
It is a matter of risk. Namely, if a fighter believes he has done enough before the fifth round to win a match, he will rarely dash out and take risk of jeopardising his position in the last round. This is why the match is toned down and the fighters rely more on defence. However, if the fight is really close and the fighters cannot evaluate his position or if the stakes are high, the action will continue at a high intensity till the end of the fights.
To a Muay Thai fighter, the raising of the hands is a way of claiming victory. If both fighters believe they have done enough to win, they may both carry out this practice towards the end of the fight. If the win is fairly obvious by the final round, the winning fighter may initiate a glove touch. And if the opponent answers the offer of a glove touch, it is usually a sign of acknowledging defeat. In that case, there would simply be no need to fight on if that understanding has been established between the two fighters.
As you can see, Muay Thai judges have a very understandable method of scoring fights.
Much like in any other combat sport, effective shots, technique, skill, posture, dominance inside the ring and damage done are the most important factors. Where things differ is that, unlike other sports, the fight is judged as a whole. The philosophy of judges is that a Muay Thai bout is a marathon rather than a series of sprints, like the fights are perceived in the West. Fighters should have the opportunity to recover ground after a bad start and the judges give them the possibility of doing so.
Understanding these rules, perfecting your game, and adopting the “marathon philosophy” will see you enter the ring with a game plan which can please the judges. In Muay Thai, this will be of the utmost importance. We hope you found what you came for and that we’ll see you soon. Until then!