Day 13 – Padwork and Clinch
Today was a full day. Damn. I had some good, hard padwork with Kru Nu at Petchrungruang and he really pushed me, telling me to rest tomorrow. Then I did bagwork, conditioning and shadow while waiting for some people to show up for promotional photos for a fight I have on Feb. 19th. That was good but it made breakfast later than usual and I only had about 40 minutes to lie down before I had to head back out the door for training with Sakmongkol. These are the good days, though.
I bought a mongkol today for my fight on Friday and we asked Sakmongkol where we could have it blessed. He shrugged, either unsure of where temples are near here or unsure whether it’s a special requirement. He decided to emphasize the point that a mongkol or whatever ceremonies one has surrounding a fight are secondary to what’s in your heart. He told us about a friend of his who never trained but would drink his M-150 energy drink as if it were a sacrament and then curse all kinds of superstition if he lost. That’s not my deal. I told him I don’t have to have it blessed, I just want to.
With Mong we started with padwork again and I killed it. He was very happy with me and told me so a few times. I told him that yesterday (which was not a good day) I had forgotten that I love to fight. My heart was in the wrong place. I’m not sure he understood me as I said it in Thai and it’s conceptual, but either way he was pleased with me doing what he wants me to do and then got super critical of me in the 5-7th rounds on the pads. That sucked but I do recognize that it’s because I was doing well. He increases his expectations because I’m meeting the more basic ones. That’s good.
Mong started saying something to Kevin and then stopped and changed his subject to the fact that he was losing his voice. He said it was my fault, that five minutes of pads with me and he loses his voice from all the yelling. You can see in the videos there’s a lot of yelling from both of us, grunting (both approving and disapproving) from him, and the occasional, “no!” He said because it’s my fault I have to buy him medicine but then he clarified that it’s a good sign because if he didn’t care about me doing well he wouldn’t yell or shout, he’d just coo “good… good…” which he mimed with a smile and bored, slow padholding motions. I was laughing pretty hard at this imitation. He may feel that way on the inside but he never really looks like that, even when holding pads for students who are clearly only in it for exercise. He’s pretty generous with everybody; that said, I know I get his best.
After padwork we clinched a bit and he was teaching me how to keep my forearm as a brake against the body when tucking my shoulder in during the clinch – if you pull the arm in with you the person you’re clinching with can just turn a few inches and choke you. He had me do this a few times where he brought his arm in and I choked him to prove his point, as directed. Then he wanted me to do it and he choked me and threw me on the mat and asked if I understood. I got up and yelled that I’d understood already from doing it to him three times and he looked surprised, then laughed and threw a flying kick at my head as punishment. He also got really excited and somehow also pissed when I came after him when he slipped on the wet canvas. He gets mad when I don’t follow after him if he gets in the ropes or stumbles or whatever. When he told me it was enough he stood at the side of the ring and dumped a liter of water over his head, then looked at me, smiling and emphasizing with his index finger, “Today I happy,” he said.
Padwork, 1st Three Rounds:
2nd Three Rounds:
Last 2 Rounds:
Clinching with Sakmongkol:
It is so funny for me when I watch clinch video with Kru Mong. When we clinch it feels like he’s tossing me here and there so easily and it’s challenging for me, but when I watch the video it looks like he’s clinching with a kitten that’s all riled up, just so delicate and careful in everything he’s doing. That’s not how it feels and I look so small. But that’s a testament to his control, for sure.
Day 14 – Last Session Before Fight and Blessing the Mongkol
In Chiang Mai I usually just do one hour in the afternoon or take the whole day off before a fight, depending on what my training has been like leading up to the fight. Kru Nu at Petchrungruang told me to take the day off and I’ve been training hard, but because it’s been so long since my last fight (it’s going to be about 3 weeks between) I wanted to have a session of just moving around with Sakmongkol. He’s working on changing my style, which in essence is taking the I’ll-stand-here-and-just-take-it down a notch and put in more lateral movement. It’s good, it feels good, but I’ve only been doing this for two weeks so there are difficulties in it as well; especially when the fight energy gets added because under pressure you do what you’ve spent the most time doing.
So this morning I slept in and we went to breakfast at our usual time. Then we bought an electric kettle so I can boil water and treat my shins after tomorrow’s fight, and then asked the lady from whom we rented our motorbike where a good temple is for us to get my new mongkol blessed. At first she directed us toward beautiful temples that are frequented by tourists but when I finally got the right explanation for our purposes (most important was that we needed a monk to be there to do the blessing) she sent us right down the street to a really nice little temple called Wat Chai Mongkol วัตชัยมงคล, which coincidentally means “auspicious victory/triumph temple.” Indeed.
It’s Chinese New Year today so there were a lot of people at the temple, giving offerings and getting blessed for the celebration. We took off our shoes and climbed the steep stairs into the temple itself. When you enter a temple it’s important to bow your head so that it’s lower than any of the statues or images of the Buddha; there was a monk giving blessings to people kneeling on the floor (always point your feet away from monks and Buddha images, also), so I crouched down and scooted on my knees forward so that I could do the three bows to the giant Buddha statue upon entry. Then I asked a fellow standing behind a glass counter whether it would be alright to have my mongkol blessed by the monk. My Thai for this kind of thing is pretty limited, but I know the verb for “to bless” and a mongkol is pretty self-explanatory, so he handed me a donation envelope and told me laaw รอ (“wait”) and pointed to a spot where people were sitting while he placed the mongkol in front of the seated monk. He blessed two women in front of me and then tied a piece of string around the wrist of each, being very careful not to touch them. When they put their silver trays full with water, snacks, and flowers as offerings I realized that I can’t hand anything directly to the monk. So I hurried over to an area by the door where you can get the silver tray and give a donation for flowers and incense; I put a bundle of orchids on the tray and the envelope that the guy behind the counter had given me next to it. As I kneeled back down I saw the monk had my mongkol in his hands, so I sat in proper position while he said words that I don’t understand, except maybe every 5th or 6th, then bowed and put the tray on the floor of the platform on which he was seated. I took the mongkol and carried it out and down the stairs. This is my first mongkol – they’ve always belonged to the gym, which is how that usually works, but WKO doesn’t have one and it’s important to me – so it felt very special to have it in my hands. It felt imbued with all my intentions.
In afternoon training I warmed up with shadow and then did five rounds of pads with Sakmongkol. I got a little frustrated and my attitude kind of turned him a bit. We had such an enjoyable session yesterday and he was feeling really good, but I think he really gets concerned when I show my frustration. It’s very un-Thai and even more so not like a fighter. He’s trained women before – he trained UFC contender Cat Zingano for over a year – but I can tell the difference between his training in the US and his training in Thailand. His sensibilities are different; his borders are taken in in certain areas. So, although he’s trained women before, he’s not accustomed to training women and we have a certain differences that can make us confusing. This is one of them. Yesterday, when I was doing well, Sakmongkol said to me in Thai that “you know when you good; you know when you’re fast, when you’re strong.” I nodded, then laughed and wiped sweat off my chin while I said, dae poo-ying Baah! (“But women are crazy”) He paused and digested that for a moment, then said bang krang (“sometimes”). I explained that a man can be total shit and still think he’s awesome because men are gifted with cockiness – which really is a gift, so cherish it guys – and women can be really good but they’ll feel they’re terrible because of self-criticism. He shook his head but I know he understands the concept, even if he doesn’t apply it to me. Someone who’s been watching my training videos with Sakmongkol wrote to him on Facebook the other day and told him how much they like his style. Sakmongkol was delighted. He excitedly told me and Kevin about this in the ring and went on to say that, “I don’t know if my style any good… I don’t know.” So he feels this, too – this weird need for affirmation. He just maybe doesn’t get down on himself if his style isn’t any good and he’ll just do it anyway because it feels good to him. The attitude of “fuck it,” or the more polite mai bpen rai (“It doesn’t matter/ it’s nothing”) can be an incredible asset. I need to learn that attitude; to practice it.
The padwork was good but I got too serious. Mong talked to my husband afterwards about how a fighter can lose the first three rounds and then win the fourth and win the fight. He’s talking about attitude. If you look defeated the judges will grant you that feeling. Attitude-wise, I didn’t pull out the fourth and fifth rounds with him in padwork because I got frustrated. So I got back to work shadowboxing and after he’d let me do that for about 15 minutes he put the bellypad on and had me move and teep him for the next 15 minutes, non-stop. He would sometimes move toward me, sometimes back up, but he wanted me to just keep moving and teeping at my own pace. In the last five minutes he started slapping at me so I’d have to block, but he wanted me to keep going, showing me that I could still affect him when he was trying to affect me. It’s brilliant, really.
I watched him hold pads for boxing a few rounds and waited to see if Kru Mutt would show up. He’s the other Thai trainer and will be in my corner with Sakmongkol tomorrow at the fight. Kru Mong will be coming from his Karate class and meet us at the venue, so we’re meeting up with Mutt first and need to arrange where and when, etc. That will actually have to be verified tomorrow because we only saw Mutt on our way out as he was climbing the stairs and any arrangements are really being discussed between him and Sakmongkol – we just need the memo. I’ve become so familiar with uncertainty around fights that it actually feels a bit comforting, like a piece of normality within so many unknowns. I’m very excited to be getting back in the ring tomorrow. I have to keep reminding myself that I won’t be a drastically different fighter, but also I know for a fact that I’m better – and that’s really all I could ask for.
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.