The Brilliance of Karuhat’s Forward Check | Offensive Defense From Southpaw
Yodkhunpon, the “Elbow Hunter of 100 Stitches,” has this favorite fahn sok forward elbow that he likes to teach. You have to lean forward and step around to the blind spot of your opponent, pretty much at the same time you’re slicing their face open. Being on the receiving end of it, while he’s demonstrating it, is truly horrifying. I know he’s not going to cut me, but you can feel a violence in it. Like a knife grazing your throat. I’ve learned this elbow from him and I’ve gotten much better at it, to the point that sometimes when I throw it at Yodkhunpon he backs waaaay up and gives me a look of, “holy shit,” to indicate that it was accurate. Even then, I know that I’m not throwing it the way he throws it. That’s what Karuhat’s forward check is to me. Sure, other people can check forward like this – it’s a basic movement – but it doesn’t feel like it does when he does it. Lots of people play the same chords on the guitar as Prince, but it doesn’t feel like Prince. Bjork didn’t invent any notes that anyone else can’t sing, but there’s a barely-controlled chaos in her voice that nobody else achieves. That’s what I’m talking about when I geek out over Karuhat’s forward check. The movement is an instrument, same as any other instrument, but when he plays it the result is just something else.
So why do I geek out over this at all? I didn’t notice this forward check for a long time, although his ability to block at insane speed and with unreal consistency is something that’s immediately evident in him as a fighter. In fact, his name (Karuhat) means a fortress, citadel, castle. But it wasn’t until really recently that I started to put together that this block comes forward, especially from his rear leg, whichever stance he happens to be when he needs it. From the forward position this check can block either side kick – check or cross check – and at times he blocks two kicks in succession with the same block. He can also switch stance with it by just stepping down and forward off of the check, so his rear leg becomes his forward leg off of the block. And he kicks or teeps off his forward check crazy fast. after discovering it through film study I had worked on it for about 2 weeks before I got to see him and train with him on this particular technique. He’d never explicitly shown it to me before (though he has nudged me towards it), but when I asked him about it, he just laid out a series of ways in which you can use it like a multipurpose. What I find the coolest about it is that it works as a fake as well. I’ve never seen someone systematically use a block as a fake, because blocks are seen as defensive, but Karuhat uses it that way to actually delay the opponent’s decision to kick and then in that split second delay he’s already kicked the opponent, or created a counter. It’s a defensive fake that becomes offensive attack before you even register what’s happening. It’s incredible.
You can see my Karuhat Sylvie’s Technique vlog where I explained the basic mechanics and thoughts behind this forward check:
above, my technique vlog on the Karuhat Forward Check
The thing about the check that I had some trouble with is how forward it is. I, like many others, always been taught to open the hip on blocks so that the kick’s impact doesn’t collapse the block across your body. This collapse happens pretty easily, actually, so an open hip is necessary to really stand up against the incoming kick. I spent many years here in Thailand really working on opening my hip, and getting my blocks up very fast. It’s very important, essential skill to have. But this is a different kind of block. The way Karuhat’s forward check avoids the issue of a block being weak is that it stays really tight within the frame of the body, so like how you get your arm slammed against you if you open the shoulder against a hook, but if you tuck it tight against the side of your head there’s nowhere for the arm to go. This forward check is so much forward that it ends up having solidity to it. And the hip is still open, just not pointing the knee out to the side – that’s hard to picture based on words, but just look at his form when he does it and you’ll see.
above, GIF of the Forward Check – or click here
And because he can maintain this balance if the kick does come, he can step down and launch his own kick, or teep, or sweep the front leg of the opponent. You can see the basic motion to the kick in the GIF above. Ultimately, what’s so Karuhat about the forward check is that it gives him so many options. If you block somewhat out, like the standard back leg check (which can hurt your opponent a lot, so this is still a really good technique) then coming down you generally only have the option to kick or step for a knee. And it’s a little bit slower than the forward check response time. But with the forward check you have like a Swiss Army knife of options to pull from, and it’s crazy fast. You can watch the handful of options taught to me by Karuhat in my Patreon bonus session here. Below is a preview of that session, the first couple of minutes, which will give you the hang of what this check is about mechanically:
above, video excerpt of my Muay Thai Library session with Karuhat
I’m still playing with this forward check and feeling out all the different ways I can use it. Again, a guitar is a guitar, but it’s the person playing it that makes the music. The faking with the check has been really effective in my sparring and clinching, although actually using it to block has been less effective so far. I reckon that’s a weight transfer issue on my part and one that I just have to get the feel of. The forward check into a teep works great for me, but the forward check into switching stance less so… so far. Again, it’s really fun to play with and find the different ways to use it. Having switched from Orthodox, my left side defense isn’t as strong as in my natural stance but this is a great way to work on that. And this can obviously work for the back leg with Orthodox fighters as well, but Karuhat is specifically working with me on Southpaw (me) versus Orthodox, so that the back leg is targeting the open side all the time.
For inspiration and study, take a look at this edit of a highlight on Karuhat that my husband put together to capture of some of the deeper feeling of the technique, as he employs it:
above, a highlight edit focuses on Karuhat’s use of the Forward Check in fights
The edit above was taken from a beautiful Muay Thai Scholar edit of found fight film. The way I really discovered the Forward Check was by watching that full highlight and only looking at his back leg. He’s a switching fighter so he is not only in Southpaw.
About Southpaw – Importantly Closing the Open Side
A big part of this technique is seeing how it addresses one of the most significant issues for a Southpaw fighter who is facing an Orthodox fighter, and visa versa. In opposite stance match up both fighters have their “open side” exposed to the power side of their opponent. One of the first things you have to be aware of, defensively, is how you are going to close that side to power attacks. Big mid-kicks, big crosses. Your open side is the side toward which your belly button is facing, in any 3/4 or bladed stance. As a Southpaw, in these instances you want to deliver your power right through the same channel you have to defend. What Karuhat’s Forward Check does is close the open side by simultaneously eating space, and threatening an attack. As the knee comes up and forward ideally the opponent will not know if it’s a preemptive check, the start of a kick or teep, or even a knee. The check hides that, while discouraging power kicks. Karuhat covers up to protect against open side crosses., so he doesn’t walk into a big punch. As the block occurs you become more squared for a moment. This is very good for pressure fighters who want to close distance or stay close. You are closer to clinch entry, too. If you are a switching fighter like Karuhat is, and as I ultimately aim to be, you get to cheat your way into a sudden switch if you want to. You can use the Forward Check in same stance match ups, but you’ll be defending your opponent’s weak side (closed side) attack, and the same opportunities are not present.
How it Relates to the Golden Kick
If you look at the GIF above you’ll see how closely the trajectory of the kick was on the same line as that of the block. For those who have been following me closely, and have read The Golden Kick – How To Improve Your Thai Kick, you’ll recognize that the Forward Check comes out of the very same principles as the Golden Kick does. Stay in your frame. If you haven’t yet read the article, please do. You’ll understand the use of the Forward Check much better.
The stay in your frame principle in kicking isn’t only shown by Karuhat. If you watch this Sagat video segment from my Patreon session with him, you can see him teaching the same “stay in your frame” kicking technique:
above, a video segment of my Patreon session with legendary Sagat
This is the exciting thing about my Muay Thai Library Preserve the Legacy Project. While one might learn elements of these styles in private sessions alone, or pick up unique techniques, because I’m filming with legendary fighters and krus multiple times, all across Thailand, deeper knowledge starts to show through. Studying the long form sessions in the Library can produce increased understanding, over time. My Golden Kick article was an example of this, but Karuhat’s Forward Check is an even better one. I trained with, and filmed Karuhat perhaps 10 times before I discovered the Forward Check. And I only discovered it because of film study. I could have gone through my whole life, as an avid Muay Thai student and fighter and not seen it. But here, in the process of seeing all these wonderful men, and documenting their Muay, it suddenly appeared. Supporters of the Preserve The Legacy project are actively producing knowledge, making knowledge accessible and spreadable, in new forms and expressions. It’s hard to tell the things others will discover by studying these films of historic Muay.
If you are a $5 supporter you can watch the full session I had with Karuhat where he teaches the compliment of attacks that can come out of his Forward check here:
If you’d like to see the full evolution of Karuhat’s teaching thus far, you can watch those sessions with commentary here:
And, if you’d like to watch the full near-hour long session with Sagat, you can watch it here:
if you are patron, be sure to sign in to Patreon after clicking those links. If you aren’t yet a patron you can quickly become one with a suggested pledge of $5.
You can see the full table of contents of the Muay Thai Library project here.