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Muay Thai is a stand-up art

“The Art of Eight Limbs” is used by some of mixed martial arts’ most prominent names

Posted: July 15, 2009 10:35 p.m.
Updated: July 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Eighteen-year old Ruben Lahn, left, spars with Kru Pongsan Ekyotin at World Muay Thai Tuesday in Canyon Country. Lahn, a Canyon Country resident, is training for the 2009 Ultimate Warriors Muay Thai Kickboxing World Championship Saturday in Anaheim.

 
Nowadays, Muay Thai is utilized worldwide.

From its inception thousands of years ago to its use in the top mixed martial arts organizations today, Thailand’s national sport has combined punches, kicks, elbows and knees to win battles and belts and has been thusly dubbed “the Art of Eight Limbs.”

Though a sport, the art form was born out of necessity.

“In Thailand, you don’t do Muay Thai because you want to do Muay Thai. In Thailand, they are forced to do Muay Thai to put food on the table,” said Francisco Funicello, a student of Canyon Country’s World Muay Thai chief trainer Kru Pongsan Ekyotin.

Ekyotin began training in 1970 in Thailand and is a two-time world champion.

“It is the stand-up game,” Funicello added, adopting a spokesman role for his Thai teacher. “I think that is why MMA fighters want to learn Muay Thai.”

Some of MMA’s biggest names are practitioners of the discipline, and that includes UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, former Pride FC middleweight champ Wanderlei Silva and their former Chute Boxe teammate Mauricio Rua, who will take on Lyoto Machida for the light heavyweight title at UFC 104 on Oct. 24 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

One legend of the sport is Ramon Dekkers, whom MMA legend Bas Rutten credits as the best Muay Thai fighter in the world, at least in western culture.

Also referred to as Thai boxing because of the aggressive use of strikes, fighters do a lot of work out of the clinch, where they control their opponents’ movement by placing their elbows near the collarbone and their hands at the base of the skull.

Pulling down the head in the motion of a bicep curl, the fighter can then employ knees to the body to wear down the opponent.

Because the action is kept on the feet, to take someone down with a throw or sweeping kick can be viewed as a sign of disrespect, said 22-year-old Jerod Zavistoski, of Canyon Country, also a student of Ekyotin.

But in the MMA setting, Muay Thai combined with the ground skills of Jiu-Jitsu can prove to be a devastating combination.

Agility, speed and strength are essential, but when looking at the discipline’s natural state, strategy is key.

“They play chess with each other back and forth, back and forth,” Funicello said. “Here in America, it is brawling, who brawls the best.”

Fast-paced in nature, top-notch conditioning is a must in order to come out with a win in the ring.

And it is not limited to men.

For instance, Gina Carano and Cris “Cyborg” Santos will meet on Aug. 15 in San Jose to fight for Strikeforce’s first women’s belt.

Both rely heavily upon Muay Thai.

But no matter the technical skill or natural ability, according to Ekyotin, a successful Thai boxer must possess more important qualities.

“Discipline and heart,” he said. “Without heart, you cannot fight.”

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