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Nemean Framework

Greg Koval

Learning the System

Part 1 The Framework

The Two Boundary Bladed Stance Long Guard From Southpaw Open Stance

The starting stance for this system begins in the Muay Thai long guard. I won’t take a long time to detail this stance as this is not about teaching individual techniques, but rather the application and integration with other techniques. However this was heavily influenced by fighter Jon Jones who used his length to keep other fighters at bay. This guard is ideal for the defense against punchers, and due to the high percentile principle, we prefer to emphasize this for defense.

The extended lead hand serves several functions. In a fight, the fingers may remain extended so that an opponent attempting to press forward risks eye poking himself. Also, the lead hand maintains the top hand position, probes jabs, and creates a frame to keep opponents at bay. This is complemented by the lead leg side kick to the thigh or body with overlapping fields of fire. The hand frame keeps them back and as they attempt to bypass, meet with the side kick. This creates a two boundary range control which makes it possible to kick from an outside range.

We encourage a bladed stance because unlike sport fighting, where groin kicks are not permissible, in self defense, they are common and the bladed stance is ideal. When it comes to leg kicks, we will discuss better alternatives to checking in a future section. Often, I will turn my back leg in and use a blend stance. The front leg remains pointed forward, with most of your weight flat, the body remains half bladed, and the knee turns in with the heel raised, so you can explode off the ball of the rear foot. This offers a nice blend of stability in the front and explosion in the back. I use this a lot when I advance into the forward contraction to the high shell.

The functional lead side kick is an essential skill. Rather than lifting the knee straight up, when beginning the side kick, the foot must take a lead ahead of you, and even with a bent leg a frame is created to keep them at bay. To throw the functional side kick, lean weight onto the rear bladed foot and lift the lead foot to hip level ahead of you with a bent leg. To complete the kick, pivot and extend the leg.

Our preference is to be in Southpaw Open Stance. Assuming the same distance from lead foot to opponent’s lead foot, the open stance gives a further range advantage than the closed stance. Furthermore, from southpaw to orthodox, the powerful rear leg has more access to the opponent’s liver, making it ideal for level change kicking. If our opponent takes the southpaw stance, our next preference is to take the open stance from orthodox, as the range advantage is still favorable. Closed stance is only sought for close range striking under limited circumstances when boxing is favorable or when trying to get to a clinch.

When we are dealing with someone who is an active kicker or wrestler, we may choose to abandon the long guard in favor of the philly shell which better protects against frequent body kicks or allows for easier underhook access. The rear hand still protects the face, along with the shoulder. Since the lead hand doesn’t create the frame, you need to be more active with footwork and head movement, while landing lateral strikes as the opponent presses forward.

Common Opportunism defenses and Retreating Contracting to High Guard

From the long guard we experience 4 common attacks from the outside range. When we get to countering buckets we will discuss common responses to other types of pressure but when maintaining the outside range we are concerned with 5 primary attacks in order of frequency - Bitzing, Leg Kicks, Takedowns, and Body Kicks

Punching from the outside becomes difficult for your opponent because of the open stance, the lateral kicking, and the active lead hand frame. So the opponent is forced to blitz and overcommit in order to access you. When blitzing, most opponents will headhunt only and will ignore the body or leg. When this happens you must be able to easily backstep into the high guard. This requires practice.

Defending The Blitz - The Lead foot comes back and pushes off to retreat back. As you step back, the Left Rear elbow raises to cover the face on the left side against cross and hook. The Right lead hand pulls back in front of the face to cover from eyes to chin against jabs and the right rear elbow raises up to defend against kicks and hook punches. In the off chance that they try to attack the body, the lead hand swats low to defend.

Early on in training, until you become proficient at doing this easily without thought, it is often easier to use the high shell, with the fists coming to temples, forearms pulling tight, and elbows tight to the body, while doing a slight folding of the body. Often it is ideal to add rotation to allow punches to deflect on the rotation. The emphasis once again is on defending the head.

I will refer to this position as the expanding / contracting guard. In the Expanding contracting guard it is important to note that you advance to your opponent slowly, with readiness to retreat and circle out instantly.

While they are chasing you, you can’t just run indefinitely, or eventually they will chase you down and finish you. You have to give them a threat to stop the advance. So you add a disruption technique. As you backstep, you can do one of three attacks.

  1. Overhand Left or Left Cross with a head drop to the outside. After throwing this, circle to the left and expand back out to the long guard.

  2. Front Kick with the front foot. While most people in drill like to use the rear foot, in application it is easier to throw the front foot, since while backstepping your weight will be on the back leg when you throw it. After throwing this, circle to the left and expand back out to the long guard.

  3. Shoot the Single Leg Takedown or the Body Lock Backward Break as a reactive shot ( a reactive shot is one that occurs as a counter when they are committed to striking, as opposed to a Proactive Shot that occurs as a follow up to an offensive combination or feint set up) We will discuss this concept more later.

Defending The Leg Kick - The common leg kick defense of checking kicks can’t be done well from a bladed stance. But it is also inferior to the step back technique. Not only does checking kicks hurt a lot but it is also harder to anticipate direction and height. Often, checking can be worse than just getting leg kicked. Instead we will do the step back technique.

The lead leg draws back to the rear foot then steps back to it’s original position to avoid. The advantage is the same movement can be used for side kicks, inside / outside leg kicks, and oblique kicks from either leg. The step back is to avoid the incoming kick, then drive off the rear leg into a counter cross as you step forward.

There are some other leg defenses that you can use that can be good to mix in, but the step back cross counter is the default. Other leg kick defenses are proactive to use when someone is overusing leg kicks, but the step back should be the default reactive counter, since it is easy to do, quick for response, versatile, and the counter cross is a damaging response.

A few other things that will help leg kicks are using outside foot position and top leg position. The outside foot position should be sought after whenever in open stance anyway. Not only does it keep you away from their power hand, gives you better angles for attacks in striking and takedowns, but it also makes it harder for your opponent to land leg kicks. You can also use the top leg position to defend most kicks, particularly leg kicks. The top foot position is simple enough but is very effective. Use the side kick to place or kick just above the knee on their kicking leg as they attempt to kick and it will frustrate your opponent. This is more proactive against an active kicker though.

Defending the takedown - The takedown defense builds off of the leg kick defense. This is one of the advantages of the step back defense, is the versatility. It works on both single and double legs, as well as body clinch takedowns. The step back only needs to modify slightly for takedowns.

For single/double legs, the foot steps back wide to a sprawl, but doesn’t recover back to the original position. The hands will shoot for underhooks, particularly the rear hand which keeps a tight elbow to the body, allowing the frame to already exist and allow for the hand to swivel underneath. If you can’t get to an underhook, instead emphasize pushing the opponent’s head down to the ground as you step back deep. In the event of body clinches the rear elbow can also umbrella out to create space to escape. The lead hand should also be active as a frame to keep them at bay so they can’t easily enter.

If you think the opponent may actively shoot a lot you should also drop to a philly shell which allows you to emphasize takedown defense by more easily getting to the underhooks. Keep in mind that the long guard is designed for the most high percentile threats, which is punching to the head. But as we deal with specific triggers we respond accordingly.

I will discuss more takedown defense in later chapters.

Defending the body kick - I’m going to divide this into rear and lead side kicking, as well as reactive and proactive defenses. Sometimes the easiest way to deal with all of these is to just step back out of range though.


  1. Open side body kicks late recognition - you will step to the outside (you should be actively seeking the outside foot position anyway) and tighten the rear elbow to your hip absorbing the shot on your bicep as you step away from the kick

  2. Open side body kicks early recognition - you will step away the same as you do for the late recognition but instead of absorbing on your elbow, you will wrap your arm over the leg to catch it. This presents opportunities for Thai clinch takedowns, but for a beginner just start by throwing a lead check hook after grabbing the leg.

  3. Lead side body kicks late recognition - These are mostly going to be front kick / teeps or side kicks. The best way to deal with this is to use the lead leg to counter the kick in a modified crescent kick butterfly hook. This technique raises to deflect like an inside out crescent kick, but the leg remains bent with 2 points of contact, thigh blocking the incoming foot, and your foot connecting with their thigh. This way at least one point of contact can deflect the incoming kick. ****It is essential you don’t start reaching down to block these kicks or leg kicks, as that is a great way to end up getting kicked in the face***

Proactive sweep throughs - If you can draw out kicking, then you are in for a good time, because then you can do a sweep through. A sweep through is using your hand to guide the kick into over kicking and essentially pulling it aside, exposing the back. The key is to guide in the direction of the toes and keep parallel with the ground. Muay Thai fighters are especially susceptible to this since they often overkick to get more power out of their kicks.


FAQ - What about if someone tries to break your arm from the long guard while you are leaving it out there? 1. This is unlikely and we deal mostly in high percentile which is the punching theat. 2. The lead hand is active and not just lingering out there. It should be actively probing and jabbing in addition to working for top hand position. 3. If someone is actively trying to grab your wrist, hit them with the cross. They’ll knock it off. If they do grab the wrist you can use common wrist escapes, or just roll your elbow over and hit them in the face. They’ll let go. 4. If they try to smash your wrist with a hard middle block or something, let them miss, overswing, then hit them with the jab. After they do this a few times, they’ll get tired of it. Even if they do connect, it’s annoying, but it won’t break your wrist. 5. If they try to elbow strike into your fist, draw your hand back and hit them with the other hand.

Philly Shell

As I touched on earlier, in some cases it makes sense to switch from the long guard to the philly shell guard. The long guard is designed to focus on the high percentile attackers, but the philly shell works for opponents who actively kick to the body or opponents who want to take you down. This position makes it easier to defend the body kicks and get to underhooks. Like the long guard, you can also step back with the lead foot to sprawl or evade.

Forward Contracting to High Shell (dealing with stance switching)

As shown earlier from the expanding contracting guard image, you can also contract forward into a high shell. This is usually done to be offensive in boxing or clinching from the pocket. To advance, you will move from an open stance to a closed stance. The full step allows a quicker advance into the close range and the closed stance puts you at a closer distance.

The primary reasons for entering the close range are because

  1. You are dealing with a wild striker and want to close range to a clinch

  2. To prevent them from continuously walking you backwards with occasional pocket fighting.

  3. To diversify striking with offensive boxing.

As you enter forward into range, you should anticipate incoming strikes as you press forward, so it’s a good idea to add a slip with the head as you enter and add a slight rotation with the high shell so any incoming straight punches deflect off rather than penetrate through.

It’s also important to drop down low into a deep stance as you enter. Not only will the lowered stance help get you underneath their incoming punches, but if you have been actively threatening a level change from feinting, then the entry might trick them into thinking you are going to shoot, when in fact you are going to enter low and strike from the pocket.

Because they often will throw as you enter, they often will open themselves up for your striking, allowing your combination to be more of a counter opportunity. You may even be able to add a pendulum step as they throw or switch to drop left to circle to the back.

Stance Switching

If you have an opponent who attacks the legs a lot with either single/double leg takedowns or leg kicks, it is beneficial to switch stance a lot as a preventative measure. This might also be beneficial if your opponent frequently switches stance, to deny easy access past your defense. The stance switching can also be beneficial to hide angle changes, but we’ll talk about that more later.


Whenever you aren’t actively in an exchange, you need to be actively feinting. This is one of the most neglected parts of most fighter’s training. You should be feinting approximately twice as much as you are striking.

The purpose of feinting is to overload their reflex response. It’s like a muscle that can be worn out with false positives. This in the short term hides any telegraph making it slower for them to respond because they never know when you are going to pull the trigger. But in the long term you can start to break down someone’s game by convincing them of a type of attack that never comes, until it does. If you are doing this right, you can get them constantly responding to false positives and ignoring the real attacks.

When feinting, make the motions small, even twitchy. Big motions will tire you out and over extend you. There are several types of feints I highly recommend. I strongly recommend doing some shadow boxing rounds on nothing but feinting in front of a mirror to learn how to do this smoothly. You also need to do a LOT of sparring actively focused on feinting until it becomes a background process.

  1. The duck walk or the sway - While unpredictable head movements are ideal, there are several effective continuous head bobs you can work into your advances that are helpful. They not only protect you from incoming attacks, but can be used in quick out of pattern motions to deceive your opponent.

    1. The duck walk is a quick step where your head bobs forward and back on each step.

    2. The sway is a side to side head movement each step.

  2. The Lead Foot Stomp - With quick stomps you can cause a reaction in your opponent. The idea is the stomp once so they react, stomp a second time so they only partially respond, then on the third stomp as they ignore it you advance with an attack. I like to use a rear leg roundhouse with this.

  3. Hands- There are a couple of hand activities that can be very useful.

    1. Lead Probing - The lead hand will constantly threaten with activity. By putting your jab in their face a lot it can frustrate them, distract them, and make them uncertain when you will pull the trigger on an attack.

    2. Rear hand probing - Occasionally mix in reaching out with the rear hand to create diversity in your feints. You can easily do a couple lead hand probes, followed by a hard right, then do a couple lead hand probes followed by a feint right to a left hook for example.

    3. Rolling hands - Occasionally add in hands circling in front of you. This is effective because low hands make it hard to tell when your opponent is going to attack and which hand, plus the upward angle can be deceptive. By rolling your hands you add a feint aspect to this concept. It also becomes useful in the same way that a bounce step or a muay thai march can be useful

  4. The hip and shoulder twitch - By twitching the rear hip or shoulder, you can threaten rear side attacks

  5. The lead foot heel pivot - threaten leg kicks and lead side side kicks

  6. The level change.- This is a really nice one to add in. A slight squat from time to time makes them have to be concerned about the single leg. This is a great one to threaten, when they respond, blitz with head punches. Then when the stop responding, you shoot.

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