The above video is the last round of my first attempt at slowing down my bagwork to focus on footwork and cutting out excessive steps – tiny foot shuffles I use for adjustment and filler. The idea is to make all the steps bigger and more deliberate, focusing on balance and purpose.
Two days ago I began experimenting with my footwork and rhythm in bagwork. I spend a great deal of time doing bagwork and shadowboxing, so these places are the perfect platform upon which to build a technique or retrain bad habits, which can then be brought to sparring and padwork, where there is more pressure involved to interrupt or challenge the new techniques, and then eventually to the ring.
Master K has been on me about footwork since day 1. His most loved style is one that is very fast, constantly moving, evasive and aggressive at once. He keeps a wide stance and hops in and out; when he does it he looks like a water skipper just “bamfing” like Night Crawler all around. That’s not what I look like when I try this same approach. Footwork and head movement are similar in that people who are very experienced and practiced in them can play around with complete flow, smooth movements, unpredictable and fast; but if you’re not already good at it there’s a degree of “improvisation” that is uncomfortable and all the movement is more confusing than anything because it has no meaning yet. It’s like being told to just “freestyle” words in a language you’re not quite comfortable in yet. You’re just not going to have good flow.
In my past and continuous attempts to just move more my movements were meaningless and superfluous. My Muay Thai rhythm in sparring and in the ring can be like a quick-step marching that takes tiny, tiny steps and doesn’t really get me anywhere. When I watch it on film, I hate it. But I’ve been doing it for a very long time, so it’s a habit that will be tough to break. Kru Nu wants me to be more deliberate in my striking. He tells me every day to only throw something when I’m sure, to do so with power and basically not to bother if I’m going to throw a strike as part of a mindless flurry that doesn’t have any strength behind it. When he imitates me to show me what not to do, it’s quite embarrassing… yeah, I don’t want to look like that and it’s not going to hurt anyone, back anyone up or score a point outside of a tapping contest.
So the new drill I’m working on is to slow it all down. We noticed that some of my small-step motions may have been accidentally ingrained in my 100s of hours of bagwork, so I’m working in the other direction to see what I discover. There’s a saying, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I think it originates from military snipers, which is appropriate enough for the kind of strikes Kru Nu is asking for from me. I’m not actually striking slowly. In fact, my strikes are far more explosive when I slow down since I’m going from relative stillness to the power of a strike. The part that’s slow is taking out all unnecessary movement, so I take a big step back or to the side in order to transition and then hold it, find my balance if I didn’t land with it (but without taking tiny steps to recover it; if I’m off-balance I have to take another big step to adjust and reposition) and then throw a power strike or a combination. On the second day (not filmed here) I got better at this, it became more pronounced.
It’s surprisingly difficult. The first reason is because I’m breaking a habit of meaningless, excessive movement, so my body wants to do these little tiny steps as a way to stall or think or bide time or whatever. Of course, fakes and evasive steps are still involved, just not foot shuffling. It would be similar to attempt removing all the “um”, “er,” “like,” “you know,” type fillers out of one’s casual speech: If you’ve ever tried to do this, it’s very hard to do. You have to slow down a little bit, but you will become more concise.
Saturday was my second day of training this particular drill. In the morning Kru Nu had to take his son to the dentist and I was left at the gym alone to do my own work on the bag and shadow, conditioning, etc. I must say, it was difficult to keep my focus on my back foot and making larger, more deliberate movements in my footwork when I was by myself because Kevin wasn’t sitting or right in front of me to point out my errors or when I get lazy. But it’s also a boon because going into that habitual foot shuffle mindlessly is easy when there are kids or others watching me because it distracts my mind and I get a bit nervous. The work had a positive effect and that afternoon my padwork with Sakmongkol – my first time with him holding pads for me in a full week – went really well. He was very pleased with my power and the choices I was making in strikes and changing angles; he’s incredibly fight oriented and requires me to think for myself about what to throw, how to “solve” him when he’s just standing in front of me or taking my space so I have to move off of that spot and create a new opening. But it was working wonderfully. Even though he was pleased with my movements in general, before our last round he grunted, “Sylvie… you slow.” I know I’m slow. I’m small and light and thus everyone wants me to be super fast and evasive – something like MMA fighter Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. But I’m never going to be that fighter. But I’m doing something to solve the “dead time” that I fill up with these meaningless movements, and when they start to have meaning, all of them, I will appear very fast, indeed.
After that I went to Petchrungruang and had more padwork with Kru Nu. With him I focused on being very deliberate and never backing up more than one step. My first round, I felt slow. It felt like my legs were caught in mud. But by the second round I had better flow, changing angles instead of standing in front of him and dictating the movement of our work by single movements, rather than taking too many steps here and there and having to regain that ground each time. It felt good. When all my other work was done, including clinching with the boys – one much more experienced and skilled in clinch than I am and one I can still toss around; I’ll have to work on this same slow and deliberate process in clinching, eventually – I was shadowboxing in the ring by myself. Kru Nu walked between the weight room, which is separated by a wall with lots of windows and a gate, so I could see him moving around in there and then appearing in the main room with the ring, and stood on the stairs of the ring watching me for a moment. His expression was curious: a mix between interest in what I was doing, maybe a little analysis, and also a “what the hell is this thing I’ve got in my gym now?” look. I know Kru Nu likes me and admires my work ethic, so I never worry about this look from him, but it’s as though he’s got a wild animal in his house and he’s watching it, trying to figure out what it does. That’s how he watches me sometimes, a small smile on his face while I’m literally raining sweat everywhere I stand, kneeing the bag or shadowing when the gym has already gone quiet. This time he was watching my movement. He could see that each step was to get me into a position to do something, even if it looked overly percussive or slow. I could see that he could see what I was doing. Just give it a week. I’ll be a monster.