Day 15 – First Training After My Fight
My shin is a little swollen from checking a kick in my last fight so I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to kick on it today. It’s one of those things where it feels okay but you really don’t know until you just try kicking and see how that goes. Incidentally, I’d probably kick on it anyway.
As I was shadowboxing in the ring Kevin had the videos of the two rounds of my last fight queued up on our tablet so that Sakmongkol could watch. He’d missed the fight because he arrived a few minutes after it finished so this was his first time seeing it, although my corner and Mong’s friend Mutt had definitely already given him the breakdown on it. It was agonizing watching him watch the fight. I knew he wouldn’t be happy with it and there was total silence as he sat there, just the sound of my breathing and the stomp and scuffle of my feet on the canvas as I moved around and occasionally put myself on the back rope to be able to peer over his shoulder as he watched. Total silence. Then he watched the second round over again, maybe three times. When he’d had enough he stood up and handed the tablet over to Kevin, then gave me a look. It wasn’t quite chastising, not quite anger either, but my immediate verbal response was, “I know.”
Mong walked around “watering” the ring and talking to me about how the first round was very bad. He didn’t know the English for something and when I asked him to say it in Thai he couldn’t decide how it was said, so he just kept showing distance between his body and an opponent’s body by stretching his hands apart out in front of him. When I offered “outside” as the English a little later on he got excited and gave an enthusiastic, “yeah, yeah!” I’m not good on the outside… this I know already. But he was very complimentary of the power of my knees. He told me that Mutt had told him already that my opponent fought much better than I did in the first round but that her knees didn’t affect me and mine definitely hurt her. So he kind of offered a “sucking on the outside is OK because you can hurt someone on the inside fight” kind of resolution. Kru Mutt had said in a comment on a Facebook photo of him wrapping my hands that I have a “cruel leg” (kha hoat ขาโหด), which is about as awesome a phrase as has ever been uttered about me but it’s also something that Mong can rally behind. He then told me that he holds pads for me and has felt my knees, so he knows already that they’re painful. But it felt as though the realization of the value of that fact was presently becoming more clear to him.
He let me shadow for another 5 minutes or so and then stood in the ring with his shinpads on and his Thai pads on the canvas while he looked pensive and shadowed a few test moves for what he might want me to be doing. “Fixing” what he didn’t like. He was pretty happy with my padwork and I felt good, even though my shin was hurting a little bit on kicks. But I used my towel to press on the squishy part between rounds and that mitigated the sharpness of the pain and it relaxed into a dull throb. Anyone can handle that; just ice it later.
I felt good about the padwork and Sakmongkol seemed inspired as well. He sat on the speakers outside the ring for a minute and then asked to see the highlight reel of my next opponent for the Yokkao 7 card again so that he could imitate her style. Then he climbed back in the ring with me and instructed me on blocking a right kick, emphasizing that he wants me to move forward all the time. Kickers need distance to set up their kick, so the idea is to eat that distance – just swallow it all the time. So I was blocking left (his right kick) over and over again while closing the distance. My left shin is the one that’s got a ding on it, so it was actually really good practice to feel how I can move the block up and down to hit different spots if I have pain from previous blocks or if I go into this fight with a sore shin. See? Training around, through and with injuries is fun!
Admittedly, I was kind of absorbing the kicks for the first 5 minutes or so. There’s a difference between the nearly imperceptible bend or flinch of receiving a kick and the more perceivable push or semi-attack of blocking a kick with your shin out and forward, knowing you’re hurting your opponent with the block. I was doing the former for a bit, but when I changed my mind and my attitude I was able to kind of get the “fuck you, I’m coming forward anyway” mentality and it was a vast improvement. It even hurts less. In the highlights of my opponent fighting with Silvia La Notte you can see Silvia catch the right kick over and over again, but Lommanee has incredible balance. Sakmongkol wants me to block first and foremost but he showed me some really nasty things to do once a kick is caught as a backup. Balance be damned on Mong’s catching of the kick. He showed me everything, what to do if the knee of the kicking leg is straight, up, down, how to pull and then push, everything. Wung showed me one of these moves before and there’s a certain angle of the forearm and bicep holding the bottom of a leg that just crushes the ankle and shin. It’s terrible. I didn’t want to keep giving Mong my leg for the demonstrations because it’s so painful and generally terrible. He knew and just kept demanding it. Finally a young Thai guy who trains at the gym showed up and Sakmongkol got a little glint in his eye because he had an unsuspecting victim with the kind of status that he could just crush him as much as he wanted – which he did. There’s video of that… poor Nate.
Ultimately Sakmongkol is inspired to work with me on a few solid things to train and train to the point of being automatic for this fight, which is really good. I’m excited about it. He said we’d start clinching again tomorrow and told me we were done, to which I said I’d like to kick the bag and he gave this “oh, of course, yes!” expression that didn’t really involve any words but did have a few sounds. My elbows are swollen from my fight because I’m a jackass and was blocking body kicks with them, so the impact of punches seemed like something that can wait for tomorrow. So instead I just worked on blocks and kicks on the bag for a bit while Kevin chewed my ear off about how Sakmongkol’s block is different from mine – his forearm and thigh are parallel rather than the elbow-t0-knee that I do – which led to Kevin strapping on a shinpad on one leg and holding the bag so he could kick me, I could block on the left side and immediately attack. We did this for 40 minutes straight. Between rounds with Nate and a Russian teenager Mong would hang over the ropes and tell me to step forward harder, bring my shin across the bag, or his favorite, “Sylvie! Opponent kick, you kick back harder!”
Despite the excitement of working on simple techniques that feel good, there’s something even simpler that needs work that is immeasurably more important and yet incredibly more difficult to control and train: my emotions and mental attitude. I got terribly frustrated in the drill with Kevin a few times and then increasingly, until near the end Sakmongkol gave me a look and told me to take it easy and maybe stop for the day. He wouldn’t say that if I were having fun, even if I’d been at it for five hours straight. It’s hard. The mind goes where it’s gone before, where the grooves are deepest; you have to wear new pathways in order to think different thoughts and arrive at different emotional outcomes. You can kick a bag 10,000 times to make the muscles move automatically, faltering and correcting form here and there. The mind is the same, but if you don’t make corrections when you falter in thought then the automatic will not be what you intended; or what you need.
Day 16 – Being Tired and Clinch
This morning after three rounds of padwork Kru Nu at Petchrungruang told me that I was faster last week. He asked me if I was tired. I said that maybe I was a little bit but that’s okay. I tried to be more lively in our last round of padwork and then finished the session with bagwork, conditioning and shadow. We decided I’d come back to Petchrungruang to clinch in the afternoon, after my regular afternoon session with Sakmongkol at WKO.
I have about an hour to sleep between breakfast and going to start my training with Sakmongkol, so these days are pretty intense. Mong wanted to start with padwork in the afternoon and do clinching afterward. I was a little frustrated in the first few rounds because we worked extensively yesterday on my left block and yet today, in real-time practice I was not getting my block up fast enough and he was basically kicking me in the upper arm over and over again. If the block wasn’t going to make it I wanted to be sure to just close the distance anyway, so at least I had that. At nearly the exact same point in the padwork Sakmongkol asked if I’d trained this morning. I said yes and he followed up regarding the extent of it, whether I’d done padwork and clinched. I confirmed the padwork and gave him a quick rundown of my workout, then he told me I seemed tired. Yeah, some days you’re just tired – I told him that was okay, tired is okay. I didn’t know where he was going with that or what the most appropriate response is. When Thai fighters are tired do they get sent home? Pushed harder? Is the problem that it’s evident? Should I be hiding it better?
Mong gave me a couple more rounds of padwork and then we worked clinch for maybe 30 minutes. I felt confused in clinching most of the time, mostly because I wasn’t able to hold any catches firmly so even though I was in a dominant position I was slipping out of it when I tried to turn him. He wanted me to be much more aggressive, to really grab and turn and be strong. That’s all good, my energy and focus would have made up for what I’m lacking in strength today, so it’s important to note the difference. However, Mong seemed perhaps a little overly upset by my lack of power and seeming tired. I understand it’s part of his method in training me. He’s not going to praise me and he’s not going to baby me, so if he doesn’t like anything about my training he’s not going to try to find part of it that’s good. He’s just going to make me solve the problem.
What’s a little frustrating to me about it is that I don’t have much control over the issue – I’m just going to be more tired and have less power for probably a week or more because it’s just the cycle my body goes through. I can’t talk to my trainers about this and it also can’t be handled the same way you’d deal with training-induced fatigue. It’s hormonal, so just “taking it easy” or getting more rest or whatever might not help. My feet are really torn up at the moment as well and are terribly painful all the time. I had some blisters that tore open and now it’s just raw skin on the crease of the bottom digit on the big toes and ball of the foot. It bleeds sometimes but mostly it’s just incredibly painful to walk or stand or run or pivot – pretty much everything hurts. I don’t think that anything I’m doing is making them worse, and I don’t know that taking time off would make them better – I still have to walk, after all. It’s the same between the fatigue and the painful feet – if I knew that taking training down or taking time off would fix it, I’d do what I could. But since I don’t know that either of these things will be helped at all by training less then all I’d get would be less training and fatigue and ripped up feet.
After I finished all my work at WKO and had a quick run and some conditioning we hopped on the motorbike and headed back over to Petchrungruang. The boys were running so I had to wait a little bit, shadowboxing and playing with a bag a little bit to just keep moving. After maybe 20 minutes I got in the ring with a little kid, much smaller than the last guy I clinched with who was incredibly strong and close to my weight, but a good 6″ shorter than I am. This kid was probably only 40-42 kg today so he was much harder pressed to crush my neck or tug my head down to a point that I couldn’t do anything. It was good practice, just trying different things and using the “face-smoosh” a lot and to good effect. However, Kru Nu sat in the corner a few times and chastised the kid for not kneeing when he had a good position and me for not using my strength and size to really rip this kid around. That’s a thing about training in Thailand. You don’t necessarily have to play with a handicap, so to speak. If you’re bigger, be bigger – it seems unfair to the little guys, but here are a few things about that: 1) it is unfair, but sometimes fights are unfair and if you don’t use your advantages, then you don’t really have any; 2) that’s how little kids learn and get better, everyone grows up the underdog; 3) I’m always the little guy, so if I don’t play the big guy when I’m the big guy then I’ll always just be the little one.
I got more aggressive in maybe the last 10 minutes of the 35 or so that I clinched. About five minutes before the time limit of 30 minutes was up my clinch partner, who hated clinching with me and was getting razzed by the older Thai guys for getting bettered (here and there) by a girl, asked Kru Nu if he could go to the bathroom and ran out of the ring. Immediately I had another partner, a slightly larger though equally short little Thai kid with arms too long for his body and more swagger than he has weight. He was eager to show me up immediately and he had some pretty decent strength. As such, I had to go harder – but that’s really good for me. We clinched for maybe 10 minutes, this kid and I, and it was a nice little amplification right at the end there. It can be difficult to feel confident after getting challenged by little kids but ultimately this is my start. I can only get better.
6 rounds of pad work with Sakmongkol:
This is part of a near-daily Muay Thai series Training with Sakmongkol wherein I describe my training experiences with him at WKO Pattaya. For those interested I recount my decision to temporarily leave my training in Chiang Mai to take the opportunity to learn from one of the best Thai fighters of his generation and a uniquely gifted teacher in my post: In Search of Sakmongkol. In these posts I try to include as much extensive video as possible so that others can see in detail how and what he is teaching me.