Every Muay Thai practitioner who has either sparred or fought knows the importance of range and reach. You need to measure it, manage it, use it defensively and use it offensively all within the same small time window of opportunity. This can be an incredibly difficult task against taller opponents or those with an excellent jab. However with a few small exceptions, even if your opponent has longer arms than you, you’ll still retain some measure of advantage in the length of your legs.
The Muay Thai push kick (also known as the teep) is your go-to technique when you’re looking to affect the opponent at long range. To perform the kick correctly with the front leg (the fastest and most common variation), the leg must be lifted almost straight, with a slight bend at the knee, pointing the sole of the foot towards the opponent. At this point, the power is generated by the hips driving forwards in a thrusting motion and causing impact with the ball of the foot, or sometimes the heel, rather than the whole flat surface.
It is also worth noting how different to the karate style “snap front kick” the Muay Thai push kick is. You have to imagine you’re trying to stamp on something in front of you but using power from your hips, rather than flicking the leg and foot using the knee joint. This is a much more powerful, stable, and rangy technique which generates your full body weight into a very small and focused area.
The front teep is much faster than the rear teep, in that it is far closer to the opponent to begin with. It doesn’t benefit however from the same raw power, as it is not “chambered” on the power side like your rear hand is in boxing. For this reason, it is typically used as a range finder, and set up to other techniques. Generally if you can land a good front leg teep to the body or legs of the opponent, only a small adjustment is needed to land any other long-range kicking technique.
The front Muay Thai push kick also works well at stalling and stopping an aggressive opponent in their tracks. If you find your opponent charging in trying to get close, try using a succession of quick front leg teeps to keep them at bay. While it may not be the strongest technique, it has a lot of stopping power and over the course of a few rounds and can really take the air out of someone’s lungs.
The rear Muay Thai push kick is far more powerful, though slower and coming from further away. Many fighters use the rear teep to great effect against aggressive opponents that like to get close and overwhelm them. You can either slam a rear leg teep into your opponent’s body as they come in to attack or use it as a combination finisher after punches and other kicks to create space. Either way, the rear push kick will do a greater amount of damage to the opponent and greatly unbalances them, sometimes even driving them to fall to the floor, scoring highly in a Muay Thai bout.
A variation on the front leg teep is the “side teep”. This isn’t strictly a sidekick as you may find in Tae Kwon Do, as the body is still mostly lined up to face the opponent. The side teep is executed by rotating the hips inwards as the kick is fired, meaning the strike is performed more with the outer edge of the foot. It is also often accompanied by a hopping motion towards the target. Because of the angle of this kick, it’s much harder to catch, and therefore much more stable than a regular teep. However, if missed, you end up facing a little away from your target, making it higher risk overall.
Targets for the Muay Thai push kick vary widely, and each has a different purpose. Starting at the bottom and working upwards you have a number of useful attack points. The thigh of the opponent’s front leg is an excellent choice if you’re looking to interrupt the opponent’s attack and break down their base and stance. Continued push kicks to the thigh cause great disruption to an opponent’s rhythm, and may create opportunities for follow up attacks. Above that the push kick can be aimed at the opponent’s hip, causing greater instability.
The classic attacking point for the Muay Thai push kick is the torso, either the stomach or less commonly, the chest. Repeated teeps to the body cause a depletion of the opponent’s breathing, which is extremely draining as a fight progresses. If a teep is landed as the target breathes in, you may even wind them, much like a well-timed punch to the body. With small adjustments in angle, the teep can even be aimed towards the right side of the opponent’s body for a powerful liver shot, often a fight ender.
Far less common is the push kick to the face. While a front leg push kick to the face can cause great annoyance and disruption to an opponent’s attack, the rear push kick is powerful enough to generate knockout power. This is actually seen as something of an insult in Thai culture, as the head is said to be the seat of the soul, and the feet seen as one of the most unclean parts of the body. To teep an opponent in the face is a disrespectful move in a fight, and should definitely not be used in a sparring scenario with teammates in the Muay Thai gym!
Overall the Muay Thai push kick is one of the most versatile moves in your arsenal as a Muay Thai fighter. As with any technique, build up speed and power on the bag and with a pad holder first. Soon though, you should try it out as much as you can in sparring with your training partners. Notice the speed of the front leg, the power of the rear leg, and the opportunities that follow after. If used with perfect timing against a kicking opponent, you’ll even start scoring the occasional knockdown using just the teep alone.