Yokkao Matrix Shin Guards
Yokkao's Matrix is unrivalled amongst Muay Thai shin guards
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Yokkao Matrix Shin Guards
If you’re just getting into combat sports, in particular Muay Thai, there are some things that you want to purchase when it comes to protecting yourself.. While most people like to spend money on Muay Thai shorts to look cool (which actually is a great investment because they are built to last) things like gloves, wraps and a good gum shield tend to be the more essential purchases for the sport.
At some point you will be doing some sparring.. In my gym, we run a beginner’s class which is usually just for first-timers and designed to teach the very basics of striking and kick-blocking. Once our students do one or two of those classes, we encourage them to continue on with our mixed-level classes. It is here where they will first experience sparring. And we tend to do some light sparring every day with students at every level. This is a great way to allow them a chance to apply some of the striking and defenses that we are teaching them and quickly initiates them into the sport.
Whether you have been doing pad and bag work only a few times or for many years, you’ll probably agree that the first time you were sparring, you actually felt like you got rid of some butterflies and started to feel like you were a real student of the sport. You left the realm of the people just looking to have a laugh and burn some calories, and entered the realm of the “real” Muay Thai student (Nak Muay).
As you start collecting your own gear, probably in order of importance- gum shield, handwraps, gloves, the next on the list is to get yourself a pair of shin guards. Most Muay Thai gyms have numerous pairs of shin guards available for students to borrow. Note that unlike handwraps (which a good school will wash after each use), Shin guards and gloves can’t just be thrown in the wash. The best we can do to keep them clean is give them a spray with some Bio Aid anti-bacterial cleanser and leave them in the sun to dry. As you can imagine, that is not the best way to avoid skin infections. Just from a hygiene point of view, having your own shin guards are a huge advantage. But also, you can ensure your own will be taken care of, will not get twisted out of shape by the odd 150kg student who borrows it. Also, the ick-factor of putting on sweaty shin guards has ramped up precipitously in the age of Covid.
So, what are my options for Shin protection?
Basically, good shin guards for Muay Thai and MMA are starting to evolve into a similar product. In the past there were more distinct differences in that the Muay Thai shin guards tended to be a bit bulkier, yet offered clearly better protection across the top of the foot. MMA shinguards, on the other hand, were more streamlined- a design which helped them to stay in place better when the sparring session moved to grappling against the cage, and ultimately, wrestling on the ground.
The sleeker fit has been adopted by many Muay Thai equipment manufacturers, as it is both visually appealing and still a great application for the sport. The materials have also evolved offering better protection in a smaller package.
Some people prefer the comfort and/or price of the cheap elastic sock-style shin pads. I should warn you away from these. Going cheap is rarely the best strategy for saving money. These tend to be designed with cheap filling and the absence of a better constructed outer shell will be felt even in a light sparring session. You might think that for easy sparring, these will be fine, but even in the most mundane session, it is common to kick the knee of an opponent who is blocking. When done while wearing these cheap shinguards, you will instantly be flooded with not only a sense of buyer’s remorse, but a thumping bruised ego and shin, because your shin against someone’s knee HURTS! I guarantee it will only take once to decide to upgrade your shin protection.
Tae Kwon Do and Karate shin protection is a different animal altogether. Designed for snap kicks in point-based scoring systems, these have little practical use in combat sports where you win by actually beating and pounding your opponent. I won’t even get into this.
Today we are reviewing the Yokkao Matrix Shin Guard…
Yokkao is simply in the business of making awesome Muay Thai equipment. From gum shields to shin guards, they can equip a fighter with everything they need. Lately, they have been getting creative with some of their designs and honestly, it’s pretty hit or miss. But the Yokkao Matrix shin guards that I have are the OG of shin guard styling. They are simply blue. Nothing flashy at all about these. In fact, if you had to guess which was the oldest design of Muay Thai shin protection, you may be tempted to choose these over similar models from other top brands like Fairtex, Twins of Top King.
But I really like the look. You can get flashy shin guards in wild colors. The ones that I have probably would sit on a shelf for a long time if I tried to sell them in our retail area. That is, unless there was a discerning customer who really knew Muay Thai equipment who happened into the place. I don’t mind the minimalist style, but then, I’m a guy who wears a gym T-shirt all day everyday.
Unlike virtually every other supplier on the market, Yokkao has stuck to the original handmade real leather construction. For some reason, most are now making these from some sort of PVC/PUC fake leather. The result is a MUCH longer lasting shin protection. I know that many people may object to using animal products in their Muay Thai gear, but for durability, there is simply no substitute for real leather. And you can’t beat the smell of genuine leather either- at least until they’ve been used!
When you put the Matrix shin pads on, you know right away that you are wearing some quality protection. They feel snug around your shins and the foot straps. Of course you can tighten these up. Many manufacturers use a loop/Velcro system to secure them to your behind your calves. I’m not a fan of this system. The Yokkao Matrix uses two separate flaps on each side with Velcro sewn into them. Both upper and lower. I find this system is much more durable. The loop system seems to wear out earlier. Standard, as on most shin pads, is an elastic strap going around your Achilles heal area and another near the arch of your foot.
The Yokkao Matrix does not have the best styling on the market. I don’t think that anyone will question that. But they do look sleek and definitely pass the eye test. 3/5
The Yokkao Matrix shin pads feel great when you wear them. They come in sizes from XXS- Large, so there is definitely something for everyone. And of course you can control the fit. They have a no slip inner which is breathable, yet doesn’t seem to absorb too much sweat. The leaner fit as well as the high quality construction results in a really comfortable product. These don’t feel bulky and they tend to stay in place better when checking kicks or absorbing attempted sweeps.
These shin pads feel REALLY good on you and are great for sparring.
When it comes to getting life out of your gear, the Yokkao is unmatched when it comes to the Matrix Shin Guards., Their quality materials and that handmade construction are the best on the market. These should easily last a good Muay Thai fighter for a number of years even when doing high-level sparring five, six or even seven days a week. Longer if you make sure that you do your best to dry them out between uses. Obviously, dropping them into a sweaty gym bag until your next training session is not the best way to extend their life.
To care for them in a hot place like Thailand, we simply spray them with a BioAid/water mixture and put them in the morning sun which is already baking by the time we finish our early session. Turn them over after a few hours to allow the leather outers to dry off and then pull them in when they are dry. We’ve figured out a place to lay them out and use the roof of our training area to protect them from too much direct light as the sun moves across the sky which may actually dry out the leather too quickly, resulting in cracking.
If you’re training at home in the US or Europe, it may be wise to bring them indoors to a heated or air conditioned environment between uses to dry them out. That’s not ideal in the long run, as they will invariably begin to emit some odors at some point, but there are worse compromises that we make in life.
No better shin pad on the market.
This is a tough one. Comparing value of the Yokkao Matrix to other top of the range shin guards from other suppliers isn’t easy. They are VERY expensive compared to almost every other brand. The only other supplier which offers a product in the same price range is Hayabusa. And though I have never tried the Hayabusa pads, I am dubious because they are not made of real leather. They are constructed with something called Vylar, which is an engineered leather.
The top of the range Fairtex, Twins and Top King models all are 40+% cheaper, but again, they are all made with some sort of synthetic leather. There’s just no comparison. The Matrix will definitely outlast them all, but it is very hard to justify spending upwards of 160USD for a pair of shin pads. That’s a decision you will have to make on your own. Everyone has different definitions of value.
Because of the long life and great construction, I feel that these are some of the best shin pads you can get.