Muay Thai Vocabulary | Understanding Your Thai Trainer
A reader recently asked me if I’d ever written a post on what Thai trainers say during padwork. Obviously trainers are not all the same, but knowing the Thai words for basic commands, as well as what is meant by less-basic commands, seems like a good thing to compile into a list. To be clear, when coming to Thailand to train many, many trainers will have at least some basic English vocabulary, and in western oriented gyms may have quite a lot, and even if they don’t have English instruction is something that can be done almost non-verbally, it’s nothing to fret about. But, not only is it fun to learn a little Thai, Thais themselves appreciate any effort made towards their language.
A note on pronunciation: Thai is a tonal language, which means if you say maa, maa, maa with three different inflections, you are saying three different words. It also means that if you use the wrong inflection, you’re not just speaking nonsense, you’re possibly saying something else entirely. This can explain why if you feel that you are “close enough” to a word, a Thai might still not understand you. Tonality does take a while to develop an ear for as a westerner. I still struggle at times to hit the right tones after 5 years here, so keep at it. The tonal pronunciation key is as follows:
(H) high tone, starts high and goes slightly up – example: “huh?” with some disbelief
(R) rising tone, starts low and rises in a long incline – example “whaaaaat?” in a comical, drawn out question.
(M) mid tone, starts and ends at the same tone – example “no,” deadpan.
(F) falling tone, starts high and falls in a long decline – example “aawwww,” with disappointment.
(L) low tone, starts and ends deep – example “stop,” said with seriousness and maybe a bit of a parental threat.
Basic Training Vocabulary
Left – sai (H) ซ้าย
Right – quaa (R) ขวา
Punch – dtoy (L) ต่อย [more often trainers use the specific punch: yab = jab; hook = hook; uppercut = uppercut]
Stomach Punch – dtoy (L) tong (H) ต่อย ท้อง
Kick – dtae (L) เตะ
Knee – khao (L) เข่า
Elbow – sok (L) ศอก
Teep/Pushkick – teep (L) ถีบ
Correct – took (L) ถูก
Power – reng/leng (M) แรง
Speed – reow (M) เร็ว [very often repeated as reow reow – kind of “ray + ow” said as a diphthong]
Light – bao (M) เบา [this one is almost always repeated (bao bao) and means gentle or “light” in the way we use “light sparring” or “light shadow,” meaning easy, maybe a bit slower, not working power.]
Block – bang (M) บัง
Step Forward – gaow (F) ก้าว
Turn Your Hip/Waist – bpit (L) sa (L) pohk (F) ปิดสะโพก [close your hip] or bpit (L) ayo (M) ปิดเอว [close your waist] – instruction for turning over on a kick
Hands (Up) – meuu (M) มือ
Higher – sung (R) สูง
Hunch – goom (M) กุม – note: this means to hold tightly, but it’s used to mean a boxer’s hunch where you tuck your chin and hollow out your chest in almost a crouched/hunched position, like if you were wrapping your upper body around a basketball. You can stretch your arms out from this position, as Yodkhunpon does below. Goom is about the hunch in the shoulders and chest.
Break/Rest – pack (H) พัก
Finished – poh (M) laew (H) พอแล้ว [sometimes just shortened to poh, “enough”]
Drink Water – gin (M) nam (H) กินน้ำ
Less Basic Thai Training Vocabulary
Relax – sabai (first syllable L, second syllable M) สบาย
“sabai” is a simple, all-encompassing word for being relaxed, at ease, comfortable, well, etc. Often, when your trainer tells you to be sabai they are asking you to take tension out of your movements, “take it easy,” kind of thing. It means do not strain, do not force effort. This command can be frustrating for beginners and intermediate students when they first come to Thailand because we are not able to feel the tension in our bodies, and sometimes associate tension with being “tough” or “ready” or “fighterly”. But your trainers will see it, and will keep moving you towards sabai.
Back up/Don’t back up – toy (R)/mai (F) toy (R) ถอย/ไม่ถอย
this seems simple enough, but backing up is not just stepping backwards. Most often retreat in Muay Thai is a strategic practice, in later rounds you have a lead and you start going backwards to defend your lead and force your opponent to chase you. If your trainer wants you to toy, they are asking you to be evasive, go backwards and basically just teep and block to keep your lead. If they tell you mai toy they are telling you that you are not in the lead and you need to advance in order to pressure your opponent, demanding you not back up because in whatever context they’re teaching the backwards movement isn’t reading as a good strategy. Mai toy is also a characteristic of Muay Khao (knee fighting).
Forward Pressure – dern (M) เดิน
when you are told to dern it literally means to walk, but your trainer is asking you to come forward with deliberate and consistent pressure. You walk through your opponent’s defensive strikes (or block but keep coming forward) and just keep coming forward, cornering them off, cutting off the ring… it’s the “go! go!” command. This too is a Muay Khao fighting characteristic, especially later in a fight.
No Mercy – kha (F) man (M) ฆ่ามัน
I don’t hear this everywhere, but my trainer, Kru Nu, uses it often. It’s not polite and literally means “kill it,” using the indefinite “it” pronoun that is used for animals, but referring to your clinching or sparring partner. It means be relentless, give no mercy, go hard.
Don’t Rush – mai (F) dtong (F) reep (F) ไม่ต้องรีบ
This is a way of a trainer telling you to chill out and take your time. He doesn’t want you to be slow, per se, but it’s correcting away from the kind of blindly throwing everything you can think of because you’re nervous. It means be deliberate, “be sure,” you’ll hear them say sometimes.
Be Cool/Calm – jai (M) yen (M) ใจเย็น ๆ
You’ll often hear the second syllable repeated, so it’s “jai yen yen,” and it means “be cool,” or “chill out.” The opposite is “jai rohn,” which is to have a hot heart or to be emotional or overly aggressive. Muay Thai isn’t about aggression, it’s about dominance. We say “hot headed” and that’s pretty close. Keep a cool head, take your time, be stoic… all those things are important in training and fighting in Thailand.
Nature/Instinct – tah (M) mah (H) chaat (F) ธรรมชาติ
Doing things according to your nature is a big thing. A lot of people get kind of tense when trying to do something right and the visible effort is unsuitable for Muay Thai. So your trainer will show you how to do something, and then command that you do it “tah mah chaat,” which means according to your own nature. It’s a bit confusing at first because a technical art form is not really “natural,” as you’re trying to apply movements which require thought and effort. But the idea is that you find your kick within the parameters of what the technique requires. It’s another way of saying “sabai” or relax, in that it’s a way to get the visible effort out of your form. Usually it’s commanded off of a tense block or being “flinchy.” Another one you’ll hear if you get jumpy or flinchy is: mai (F) dtok (L) jai (M), meaning not to startle or be shocked. Act natural, be at ease, stoic, jai yen yen.
tah mah chaat also has a sense that you can do this out of things you already know or sense, and that the way the body moves naturally is important to technique. You see Thai boys doing things, not with perfect technique, but with a flow and comfort. Andy Thomson, instructing in Chiang Mai for over 20 years, used to say to beginners: “Stand at ease, feet even. Now take a step forward. That is your stance.” This is part of the tah mah chaat philosophy.
My husband wrote a guest post about this: Precision, a Basic Motivation Technique in Some Western Training
A Straight, Stabbing Knee – siiap (L) เสียบ
I’ve never heard my trainer say siiap to me as a command, but it’s an honorary mention because it’s used quite frequently during clinching as a way to call out your points in dominance. When you land a nice, straight knee into your partner’s belly you scream siiap! as a way to claim the point – it’s a huge point. It literally means to stab or skewer. You can use this term when being shown this particular kind of knee, showing you understand…siiap.
Not Beautiful – mai (F) suay (R) ไม่สวย
This is almost always coupled with a technical correction, though sometimes it’s just a wrinkling of the nose. Sure, maybe you blocked the kick but if you do so in a flinching, or off-balance manner your trainer will shake his head and say mai suay. If your trainer is telling you to relax and not tense up your shoulders all the time, he might add while imitating your super-tense guard, mai suay. The visual element of Muay Thai is huge in Thailand and having “beautiful Muay” is as important as having power or speed; it can affect actual scoring in fights when comparing actual strikes landed versus “looking good.” Looking good can win a close fight. This because balance and flow is so important. Ultimately this is because balance and flow should add to your power and your speed, so it is not just a beauty contest, it’s about pushing toward firm technique. That doesn’t mean you should be overly concerned, to the point of inhibiting yourself in the ring, about how you look. It’s almost 100% a comment about balance and relaxation, so work toward that rather than worrying about a specific aesthetic on a technique.