3 Muay Thai Knee Setups For Beginners

As a beginner in the sport of Muay Thai, there’s something quite exhilarating about utilizing knees. They’re a powerful strike that can quickly be learned at a fundamental level. Diving into the sport of Muay Thai, you will quickly be introduced to the various strikes utilizing the “8 limbs” for which Muay Thai is so well known. Each one harnesses its own powerful potential, and each one has its own unique uses, applications, and set-ups. 

The knee is a close-range strike, meaning that setting it up is key to landing a clean knee without also taking a hit yourself. Understanding how to move, position yourself, and utilize your hands will offer you the best knowledge as you begin to play with the Muay Thai knee – whether it be on the pads, the bag, or even with a partner. 

As with any strike, utilizing footwork, angles, and postural control will lend towards many opportunities for landing knees. While each of these can be used alone as set-ups, the clinch is a prime example of utilizing all of these in unison to create the most and best opportunities. 


1) The Clinch

Possibly one of the best ways to utilize and set up the Muay Thai knee is within the clinch. The clinch lends quite easily towards landing knees, and will enable you to utilize both footwork and angles at the same time to land powerful knees. The control within the clinch creates a postural dominance that give you space for landing the knee while maintaining control over your opponent. Try these set-ups from within the clinch to land your knees.


How To Use The Clinch

  • From within the clinch, try utilizing footwork to move your partner to a new angle (think of taking a full step back, and turning to face the location that was previously behind you while still maintaining the clinch). As your partner works to step and catch their balance, use that timing to land a knee to the body. Both knees up the middle and knees coming from the outside to your partner’s side are effective here. 
  • Another way to use the clinch is to use your footwork to step back while maintaining a solid clinch, pulling your partner with you, while still facing the same direction. As they step to follow you forward, try driving back in with the knee up the middle. 
  • Utilize the break of the clinch. When the clinch is about to break, utilize the timing of the break to drive in with a knee or even a jump knee to close any distance that has been created. 


2) Footwork

Footwork can be used to set up the Muay Thai knee, both from within the clinch, as previously discussed, or from outside the clinch, as well. Try these set-ups utilizing footwork. 


How To Use Footwork

  • Use your footwork to cut an angle on your opponent before stepping back into the knee. Cutting an angle will put you in a better defensive position as you move towards landing a knee. Try pulling your knee up and around your opponent as opposed to a straight knee up the middle. Utilize your hands to post or gain some control of your opponent’s head or shoulder as you work into this knee. 
  • Use a full step to close the distance and land a knee up the middle. Since knees require close range to be utilized, a full step will cover that range and get you closer to your target. If you are moving straight forward using a full step, be sure to utilize your hands to protect yourself, or by throwing a few offensive strikes on the way towards your opponent. 
  • Use footwork to play with closing the distance. Playing with different ways of moving to the inside with the knee will help you to cut the distance quickly, leaving you a bit more protected during the process. You’ve likely seen variations of “flying” knees in Muay Thai, and they are fun to play and experiment with. 

Try a variety of knees, like a full-step knee (take a full step with your back leg and then knee with your lead knee), a jump knee (back knee comes up, then jumps into the lead knee), a pop knee (both feet leave the ground at the same time and your back knee is utilized for the strike), or even a switch-step knee (switch your feet simultaneously, then throw the knee from your back knee). 


3) Strikes

Using one strike to set up another is a great way to set up any strike in Muay Thai. The knee is no exception. Try utilizing some of these strikes to land knees:

  • Hooks: If you are close enough to throw a hook, then you are close enough to throw a knee. Try using the hook (which comes from the side) to set up the knee (which will come from the front). Playing with strikes coming from different angles will help you to distract your opponent and give for the best opportunity to land your strikes. 
  • Leg kicks: Leg kicks are a great way to set up your knees. Cutting an angle to land a leg kick will most always result in your opponent turning back into you to remove your angle on them. Utilize the moment they turn back into you to drive your knee forward towards your opponent.  
  • Double Jab: Doubling (or more) up your jab as you move into your partner will keep their hands and eyes distracted as you give yourself time to cut the distance and follow up with a solid rear knee. Target the jabs to the face in order to draw your opponents hands up to their face and open up the body for landing your knees. 

Whether you choose to utilize footwork, strikes, or even the clinch to bring everything together, the knee is a great strike to start exploring with confidence as you jump into Muay Thai. 


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