Day 21 – Low Kick
In my fight on Friday I landed some low kicks, something that the Patriarch at Petchrungruang and Sakmongkol have had me working on previously and what Kru Mutt had asked for in my last fight. So today Sakmongkol strapped on an interesting belly-pad and thigh-guard contraption that is basically designed like a guarder belt.
He basically wanted me to have leg kicks as an openly available option throughout padwork, so I could just throw them in whenever. He was actually pleased a few times when I threw them in as openings to something else or when he was trying to move away from me, kind of a “Get over here!” in the Mortal Kombat “Scorpion” voice. Then he yelled at me twice, once for missing an opening and the second time for punching when the opening wasn’t there. He turned to Kevin and asked him what doo is in English, which Kevin doesn’t know because he doesn’t speak Thai – incidentally, Kevin knew exactly what he meant and offered “look.” Yup; that’s exactly what he wanted to say.
After padwork, which I felt pretty good about except for being kicked in the head about a dozen times – all blocked, but still annoying to not respond properly – but Mong made it clear he didn’t care about me getting kicked and the point is to just walk through it. Mai bpen rai (“it’s nothing”). I’m going to be kicked a lot in this next fight, so I’d like to respond with kicks or knees or crosses – something – but just not being affected is still 100% better than simply being affected. So it was good practice anyway. Sakmongkol was happy with me though. He didn’t tell me that, of course, but he gave Kevin a thumbs-up afterward. Then he put me on my least favorite, enormous long bag to work “everything.” My feet are in a state of disrepair at the moment and one of my blister-turned-skin-flap tore open during padwork and was now an open slice across my big toe and was, in fact, bleeding a little bit. The pain is irritating but the real problem was that I didn’t have any tape or Band-Aids and if there’s blood then all the disgustingness that is the floor mats at a gym where you can wear shoes inside can then come in contact with your bloodstream. Not my idea of a good time, Staph and all that. I did one round on the bag with my toe kind of elevated off the ground and I could see that Mong was disturbed by my weirdness but had not spotted the business with my foot. Finally I realized I could just put a sock on, since I had my running shoes there for a run after training. That was a real gem at the moment and I came back to the bag with a fury that was utterly lacking in my first round. Mong was happy. He told me to do two more rounds and then I could do whatever I wanted while he started work with his student visiting from Colorado.
I went on my favorite bag and played with some blocks and kicks. Mong asked if I was tired and I explained that I wasn’t, that I was frustrated because I can block and kick on a bag all I want but when I go in padwork with him I don’t get my blocks up and my counters are too slow or too late. He told me not to worry about it, that he’s much harder than my opponent. That was good to hear, just in terms of understanding what he’s after when he’s aiming for in building me for this fight. I had fun on the bag. I can feel that my body mapping is changing already in the 3.5 weeks we’ve been here. Before I always stood a certain distance for strikes and now I can feel like I’m within range for attacks at a much greater distance. My “sight picture” is clearer, so to speak. That’s amazing. Before I always thought I was too far away to strike and how the hell do I get in? Now I can stand that same distance and know quite quickly that I’m close enough to teep or even just take a big step and kick.
I stayed after I’d finished my workout to watch Nate – a young Thai man who trains at the gym – spar with Sakmongkol’s student from Colorado. The student didn’t seem into it. I don’t know if he was tired today or just didn’t have his head in it, but it was really good for me to watch as a third party what this looks like when I’m in that state. Everyone has those days and he kept going despite whatever his issue was. Mong kept looking at me from across the ring with this baffled look – this kind of outward expression of fatigue or unwillingness or defeat is just very not Thai, even though it’s very common in the West. I was smiling because it’s such a great lesson to be able to watch sparring of other people who share your flaws. I do this and being able to watch someone struggle to kick or back up in the same way I do – or in this case simply an attitude/energy expression – I can recognize it and kind of offer advice in my head that’s good for myself, too. If this guy watched me sparring he’d probably get the same benefit from seeing our shared flaws from the outside. And Mong responds very differently to me when I’m like this compared to how he was responding today, which indicates that he maybe wants different things from us. Mong said I can spar tomorrow so I’m pretty excited about that, although I don’t know with whom he’ll put me. I’ve only sparred with him and with Johnny, who’s probably near 100 kg. That was fun.
I had asked Mong if there was a scale anywhere in the gym. He laughed at me when I asked, as if everybody who walks in off the street knows where it is. I told him I was going to go run but made me wait to walk down the stairs with him so that he could show me the scale, which by the way I would never in a million years have recognized as such. It’s one of those benches with a mechanized tube that you put your arm through to take blood-pressure tests. For weight you use the touch screen to choose that option and then it tells you to put your feet up on this bar so it can weigh you as one seated unit. On our way down the stairs Mong started chatting to me in Thai. I was so surprised by what he said I didn’t respond at first because I thought I’d misunderstood him. He told me I was better today and asked if I could feel it. I responded nit noi (“a little bit”) in my confusion. He restated that I’d grown and that today he was happy. Then he stopped descending the stairs and turned to look at me, mai loom, he said. (“Don’t forget.”) It was a beautiful little moment of praise and yet also a warning, an unspoken implication that he will go harder on me as a result. As it should be, really.
Padwork with Sakmongkol
Kicking My Least-Favorite Bag
now with one sock!
Day 22 – Marathon Sparring, Clinching, and Keeping Your Shit Together
Today was just long. I get up later than I do in Chiang Mai, where I’m usually out the door and on my run by around 6:30 AM. Here in Pattaya I get up to start running at 8:00 AM or even later than that on days that I go to Petchrungruang in the morning (which is now most days), arriving at the gym by 9:00 AM. I’m almost done by 9:00 AM in Chiang Mai. Here I finish up around 11:00 and by the time I’ve had breakfast I’m getting home a little after noon, sleep until 1:30 and then get back to WKO Gym with Sakmongkol at 2:00 and go until 5:00, then head back over to Petchrungruang for clinching with the boys and finish there at 6:00 PM. My days are long, even though I start later and finish earlier than in Chiang Mai – I just don’t have the time to sleep and rest in the day that I do up there.
But today felt especially long. Kru Nu this morning was aggravated with me that I didn’t block in my last fight. He saw a picture on my opponent’s Facebook where I’m not blocking a kick, but she only threw about 6 kicks in the whole fight, so yeah… what are the odds? But he did start kicking me a lot in our last round of padwork and I got to practice my blocking in the context of pressure, which was great.
This afternoon my training with Sakmongkol began with sparring and then just kept being sparring. It was a lot of fun. We did Muay Thai for half the time and then only boxing for the second half, but he had me put headgear on (a loaner… worse than borrowing a toothbrush) so he could – I don’t know, not break my face? That was fun though. He wanted me to move more like a boxer when we did just boxing – he complained I look too much like a Muay Thai fighter when I box because I don’t have head movement. Fair enough. But I clocked him pretty clean a few times and he got excited. He was especially happy with me when he slipped on a wet spot on the canvas (he’s the one who waters it and dumps water all over himself every 5 minutes) and while he was recovering his footing but still on one knee I came after him and feinted a big overhand right, coming down on his head. He smiled for a long while after that one. It felt really good to spar, even though I felt frustrated at times for not blocking, not moving the way I wanted to or just staying on the porch the way I tend to do – all things that need work, but this is how one works on those things. Wearing the headgear was a little disorienting though. I haven’t had headgear on in well over two years and maybe the change in my peripheral vision from the cheek guards or something, I got very disoriented about where I was inside the ring. But I could tell where Mong was and knowing where your target is important, too.
a Round of Muay Thai Sparring with Sakmongkol
Another Round of Muay Thai Sparring with Sakmongkol
A Round of Boxing Sparring with Sakmongkol
A Second Round of Boxing Sparring with Sakmongkol
My friend Aldric (“Sai”) who I met one day in Chiang Mai at Lanna about 7 months ago and who coincidentally has been in Pattaya at Petchrungruang for most of the time between, came to WKO to see what it’s like and help me by sparring a bit. I bounced on a tire for a bit to cool down from the sparring and also warm up for everything else. As I did so Sakmongkol got really excited that this Thai guy had shown up – he (Mong) was pointing at me and saying “fighter, fighter,” and then told me that this guy is a boxing champion and that he’d arrived just too late to have sparred with me, but that later we should because we are “same size.” We are not the same size at all, but our height is much closer than between Mong and me. I played on the bag a bit and this new Thai guy was definitely eyeing me to see what I was about. I was a little surprised when Mong called me into the ring for padwork. He’s been so “take it easy, crazy-pants” for the past month but I guess he’s finally accepted that I go and go, so he might as well play along. That’s awesome.
Some of my clinch practice with Noi
After padwork Mong had me clinch with the new Thai guy, who I later learned is named Noi. There was some discussion going on in Thai about this and Kru Mutt chimed in. Yet again a moment when the complications of male-female clinching in Thailand became very evident. But once we started Noi just came at me like a regular dude attacking another regular dude – aggressive and playful. He actually reminded me a lot of Big – my favorite fighter at Lanna – as he played in the clinch. Mong watched closely and cheered for me when I got good angles or moved to a dominant position, more loudly when I kneed. But then I got caught in a bad hold and he was cheering for Noi as I got about 20 knees to the belly as I stood sideways. It was fun though. I think we only went for 10 minutes or something, then Mong said that was enough. I went to buy more water on the bottom floor and grab a Coke for Sakmongkol and when I came back up Alric (“Sai”) and I agreed to spar. However, I had to rewrap my hands (take your wraps off when you clinch unless you wear gloves – the Velcro scratches and wraps smell like harpy death) so Mutt and Mong saw Sai with his shinpads on and had him go with Noi. Noi didn’t put any gear on at all, not even gloves. At first he was really giving Sai a rough time but as he got tired and Sai got comfortable the tables turned and by the end Sai was dominating Noi in caught kicks and counters. Then Sai and I went for about 30 minutes and I was just sucking all around. Mutt, Mong and then also eventually Noi were all yelling at me to block the kicks. I honestly couldn’t see them and my range was terrible, so I wasn’t getting anything in either. Noi would have us stop and then have Sai kick him to show me how I should just block like it’s no problem. Sai didn’t kick Noi the way he kicks me though – if he were kicking me with “demo” kicks I might be blocking better. But as a result of everything but truly just the result of me not keeping my shit together, I started to get really frustrated and my attitude was pretty shitty.
I started blocking and kicking on a bag, just working on the muscle memory, and Noi came up and took me off the bag to teach me how to block in shadow. He was kicking me, slow and light, with bare shins and I was kind of wincing with my body which was pissing him off. He didn’t know what was wrong with me and kept reiterating to block out with my leg. I just ran over and got a shinpad so I wouldn’t dent my leg and he was really happy to see me block properly with the shinpad – that I wasn’t just incompetent. As a result of that little success to him and me kicking back when he wanted me to, harder each time, he just kept going with it. Like freestyling a lesson where you just build on everything. We did tons of drills, kicks, blocks, leg-kicks, Boran blocks, elbows, and even a little clinch. Everything. It was great fun and I didn’t learn anything new but rather how to piece things together in a building-upon-effect sense.
We headed over to Petchrungruang and I got about 30 minutes of clinch with a kid I’ve never worked with before. He’s closer to my size than anyone I’ve clinched yet and just incredibly strong. All he wanted to do was crank my neck down, which he was able to do every time. I was frustrated and got a little less-than-jai yen yen (“cool hearted”). Because he was being so rough on my neck I started kneeing him harder, sticking stiff little knees straight into his stomach or ribs. Not full power, but they definitely didn’t feel good. Kru Nu was watching intermittently and approved of my stronger knees, so I guess it was within bounds. Not my favorite clinch experience, but it was really good for me. If you don’t like it, find a way to make it not happen – and keep your shit together.
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.