Illegal Throws in Muay Thai – Just What Can’t You Do?

If you enjoy this archived article, you may like Kevin’s forum post, which contains a lot of additional references and explanation: Illegal Foot Sweeps in Muay Thai – Separations...

If you enjoy this archived article, you may like Kevin’s forum post, which contains a lot of additional references and explanation:

I’ve fought over 100 times in Thailand and honestly I have never had a completely clear picture of what is and is not a legal throw in Muay Thai.  There are some very obvious fouls, but others seem a gray area. I’ve had a vague sense that you cannot lift an opponent, or that you can’t “back break”, or use the calf or “hooking” with feet to trip, but it seemed that some of the more effective throws that Mawin and Phetjee Jaa do in training were often in the gray area. I experienced a thunderous, pretty clearly illegal throw in last night’s fight, and it was very effective for my opponent in the final round (below).

Illegal Muay Thai throws - Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu

I’m not complaining; the line seems to be that a foul is only a foul when it’s called and this one wasn’t – it was an icing on the cake move in a round where her low clinch was working. The art of Muay Thai often is blurring the line just enough, and using moments for dramatic effect – for instance it is well known that Saenchai’s cartwheel kick is technically illegal – you cannot touch the ground with your hand before you strike – but he uses it spectacularly, so much as to make it a signature move. And it seems that illegal elements can indeed be used in Muay Thai fights, if they are done very quickly, with force and flair. In a match up fight many months ago, Sangwean complained when I used a low-back break in the first round, not because it was illegal (it was not called as a foul), but because all the gambling money in a crowd that did not know me suddenly went over to me and against my bigger opponent. I had showed my strength, in a borderline move. Sometimes illegal moves can be like inadmissible evidence in a court that, once presented, the jury is instructed to ignore. Even if you’re not supposed to include it, having seen it still has an effect. It terms of presentation Sangwean, when teaching me certain throws that involve lifting, urges me to be “fast!”. If you do things suddenly, much may be permitted, and the aesthetic seems to be: if it looks like your opponent suddenly just had something “happen” to them, this is ideal.

I’ve been wrestling with the low-waist grab. It is a power move, and because I can really dominate Phetjee Jaa with it – and she hates it! – the O. Meekhun gym really started to frown upon my grab of the waist when we train.  Only mine, however; Jee Jaa is never chastised for fouling me in exactly the same way. At times it bordered on the back break, but other times not, but their complaints moved me way from practicing an effective move for me. In fact, two fights ago in a very close fight I was dominating with the low waist grab, but then neglected to push it and lost. And in this most recent fight my opponent used the low-waist grab very effectively and basically shut out the final round.

In any case, I thought it would be a good idea to find out what the rules actually are, so I could at the very least figure out when I’m bordering on violation and when I’m not. Again, there are always the “written rules” and the “applied rules,” which can differ.  A few Googles provided this excellent list (below). I’ve reworded it for more basic comprehension. It was provided by the always excellent Tony Myers on Ax Muay Thai

§  wrapping your leg around the leg of an opponent from the inside or the outside and forcing them to the canvas

§  locking an opponent’s neck and executing a hip to shoulder or hip throw

§  grabbing the opponent’s hip in a waist lock and throwing using a hip throw

§  grabbing an opponent’s arm, turning and using the calf and back of the thigh (hamstring muscle group) to sweep an opponent’s legs from under them

§  grabbing an opponent and falling backward to throw the opponent

§  a rugby style tackle on the legs and waist of an opponent

§  grabbing an opponent’s waist from behind, then, placing a leg between the opponent’s legs, pulling the opponent backwards over the leg and hip

§  grabbing an opponent from below the waist, lifting and throwing

§  catching an opponent’s leg and using the other arm to push them off balance while taking more than two steps forward (“ploughing” or “plowing”)

§  catching an opponent’s leg and using the calf muscle to trip/sweep them off their feet

§  tripping the opponent with the ankle

§  leg sweeping the opponent using the calf or inside of the foot

§  trapping the opponent’s arms in a waist lock, lifting them to throw

§  grabbing an opponent from behind, lifting to throw

§  grabbing around an opponent’s lower spine and hyper-extending their back in a “back breaking” move

These are rephrased 2002 Board of Boxing Sport definitions of what “wrestling and Judo moves” are. Most interesting perhaps is that lifting is not strictly prohibited, except in the instances described, and that low-spine clinching is perfectly fine, as long as there is no hyper-extension.

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see


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