Things I’m Working On To Be a Better Fighter

A fighter’s progress is continual. One of the best things about fighting frequently is that every time I get in the ring it’s a real-time feedback on where I...

A fighter’s progress is continual. One of the best things about fighting frequently is that every time I get in the ring it’s a real-time feedback on where I am between the last step and the next one. I can jump right back into training and address limitations I’ve encountered. Of course, progress isn’t always liner; often it’s lateral and on a long enough timeline it’s circular, like Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, spiraling out. But that’s a good thing, as coming back to revisit and rework the same weaknesses or difficulties makes you able to sink deeper into them with each return. These are some of the things I’ve been working on lately.

Do Not Let Your Opponent Set Up – stay off the porch

Female Thai fighters really like to do this pattern of score, retreat, set up. It works; countless fights are won with this pattern. As a dern fighter, a fighter who stalks and always goes forward, it’s important – especially in the scoring rounds (3-5) – that I do not fall into letting my opponent set up after a retreat. Like, “oh yes, let me give you some space to reload your gun there, friend-o.” I do this much, much less than I used to, but it is still something that creeps up at important moments. It’s a bad habit that happens to be reinforced by padwork (where we can fall into regularly setting up again at an optimal distance without recourse), and by sparring, where partners reset again and again, and because we’re practicing we don’t put the pressure on to take away this habit. When trying to track and close the distance, as a smaller, stalking fighter, it is best if I stay off the “porch,” which is what Kevin and I call it when I basically stand right at my opponent’s striking range (kicks), instead of taking just the one or two more steps that cut off her range and enter into my own striking range. It’s breathing room and the only way it benefits me is if I can close it. That is where my opponent wants me to stand. That also is where a padholder and a sparring partner wants me to stand. When I stalk and see my opponent setting up it’s important that I do not stop. I don’t have to rush – that’s a secondary problem -, I just need to keep walking. This will take away my opponent’s cardio a bit, and it will keep their defensive game from being easy for them. As a stalking fighter under Thai scoring, I can look desperate in late rounds if I’m chasing; but if my opponent is going backwards and is unable to breathe or set up, then she looks desperate and as if she’s running. It’s a shift in perception.

As a stalking fighter under Thai scoring I’m assuming the minor position. I have to catch and punish my retreating opponent to win. If I stalk and then stop, I’m at risk of losing aesthetic points. The positive mantra which encompasses both the relentlessness and performing un-affectedness: Be a zombie.

Punch the Body – Demonstrate Power

Because punches to the head do not score heavily in Thailand, and I’m not a high-volume striker, and because I’m a power knee fighter, I’m trying to direct more of my punches to the body. These can have strong aesthetic effect because punches landed to the body, unlike punches to the head, are conceived as being “on credit.” A punch to the head either affects the balance of the opponent right away or it doesn’t; it’s an instant-gratification, cash exchange. But punches to the body will be remembered later on when an opponent starts to tire – oh yes, the audience or judges think, those punches from before are catching up to her now. Very few female fighters fight like I do in Thailand. The forward, power knee fighter is really coded as a masculine fight style, as are body punches. (I suspect that the times I’ve been called a “man” in the ring by the announcers is not only to do with my physical muscularity and tattoos, but also my style; I’ve got a lot of non-feminine coding going on in that ring.) If I can land strikes to the body this compliments the overall impact I’m trying to make in the clinch and reinforces my style. Being pure in style can have an impact on judges because it shows decisiveness and coherence. One amazing overhand right making contact is exciting, but it can be written off as possibly just a “haymaker.” Throw a few more and it’s a style; land a couple and it’s a good style.

Also, strikes to the body will put me in better range, force me to stay in the pocket, not to mention open up the head for strikes. I’m concentrating on both left hooks and right crosses to the body.

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The Hand Grenade

One of the things we’ve added a few weeks ago is an overhand right. I fight opponents who are usually taller and heavier than I am and it’s a well-known strike for attacking larger fighters. This particular technique also asks me to relax and really open up in order for it to work, which is good all-round for my own improvement. On the bag I have fun with it. We call it the hand grenade because I potentially want to throw it with a big looping arc, like I’m tossing a grenade; and I even started joking on the bag, pulling an imaginary pin with my teeth before I lob the fist over and smash it into the bag. It’s pretty effective, and I’ve caught Pi Nu in padwork several times – he lets me throw what I want in padwork, anything is game: “I’m protected” he says, pointing to his shin guards, belly pad and Thai pads. In my 2nd to last fight I let it the overhand right go and stunned my opponent into a TKO, knocking her down in her corner and her coach waved off the fight. My first hands TKO in a long time. This is something that would work great in concert with my body punches. Sakmongkol always told me to work on the things that are fun, because those are the things you’ll enjoy throwing. And it’s true, I love this.

Hips in, Not Ass Back, in Clinch

This is a big one as it’s a bad habit I’ve gotten into in clinch practice. I’ve somehow learned to “dodge” knees (they don’t hit me) by putting my butt back when they are thrown. It’s like a slip but of the most comical variety and looks terrible. The ass being back generally is not a strong position, and a knee thrown towards the abdomen in this position, even if it doesn’t touch you, can score big because it looks like your body has been knocked back. It LOOKS like it is scoring, like it is doubling you over. (Imagine if you had a habit of tossing your head back as if you’d been blasted with a punch rather than cooly dodging it like the super-slow-mo of Mayweather… not good.) I’ve lost at least one recent fight like this, and maybe more, by knees that were hardly even touching me but looked like a big impact because of how I was trying to dodge them. A big part of Muay Thai in Thailand is controlling the aesthetics of a fight.

Apart from aesthetics it is harder to score, defend and advance from a position with your hips back in the clinch, (though there are some long control techniques that work from this position I have not trained them). There are a few ways it is done, but generally you want your hips to be in, and stand tall. I’ve been training with stronger and taller people lately and it’s gotten me a little defensive in the clinch. To a deficit, really.

Score Faster in the Clinch

As the stalking, power fighter I need to let my knees go faster once the lock is put on. Some of my opponents have been very good at reading my balance and have thrown me while I’m on one leg to knee, which has made me less willing to throw knees until I secure a more dominant position, but this often leads to the ref breaking the clinch before I’ve scored, which isn’t to my advantage. Part of the reason I’m being read by opponents is that I’m waiting. The person with more experience – and less strength – gains the advantage the more time that passes in a neutral position. I want to lock and then throw, to stress my opponent and not let them gather themselves and wait for the counter. Fighting opponents who are both more experienced and bigger than me is forcing me to improve in this important area. (Yes, even with over 100 fights now I am still fighting opponents who are more experienced, both in years and years of fighting and sometimes even in number of fights as well.)

Core Rotation First – Left Hook

We found this the other day and I’m starting to work on it. I’m pretty comfortable with my left hook, and I can put a good sting on it. It may be my most thrown punch in fights, but we looked at my hook on the bag and noticed that my core (hip) follows my arm, and not the other way around. I really tried to move the hip in first the other day as an adjustment and it just wasn’t working. I felt spastic, like trying to turn a corner with your arm caught in something. Then I figured it out for myself, just mentally reasoning the coordination. Instead of pulling across with the left hip in, pull the right hip back. I’ve just begun working with this but it should add some serious power where I already have decent power. Looking forward to that. Based on the one time I landed this hook on Frankie the other day, it’s got some good whip on it.

Slow Down And Don’t Load Up

In later rounds with the fight on the line I’ve stopped punching. These are rounds where I really have to “walk” and keep coming. I thought about it and realized that the reason why I stopped punching in these rounds was not because I wasn’t thinking about punching, it was over-thinking my punching and loading up for one big punch, like hunting for a knock out instead of just striking and letting the KO come through. I realized that even though I have the cardio, and my opponent is tiring, I need to slow down. Slow down physically and mentally. That sounds stupid, but it’s not. It’s the third strike that lands, not the first – don’t load up. I have had my opponent in a bad place in the 4th round of several important fights and then started getting intense, loading up, and lost it. When I relax more strikes come to me, or I can see the right moment for one big one, set up by two smaller strikes. My opponent is still tired. In my most recent fight I could land pretty much anything I threw in the fifth round because my opponent was so exhausted, but I didn’t slow down and set up my shots. One second here, one second there won’t change that. Relax and let it flow.

Don’t Get Cut – Part of Relax

I’ve been cut a lot lately and it not only has cost me valuable training time, it has cost me fights which had to be cancelled due to the stitches (maybe 5 fights or so). I hate that; I’m here to fight. I consider this stretch part of a test for me. These cuts came around the same time I received an invulnerability sak yant, and I believe are teaching me about truer meanings and sources of invulnerability. The cuts are an external symptom. The truth is that I’m not being cut by overly aggressive or beautifully thrown elbows by my opponents (a few, yes, but not most). These are mostly accidental elbows I’m running into by not having enough presence of mind, and my two most recent cuts were self-inflicted by my own head butts (the same cut, then just reopened) as I was entering the clinch with my opponent against the ropes. The cut itself I don’t mind. My stitch count is at 61 now, so I’m pretty far beyond the “keeping it minimal” stage. And my guard is actually one of my strongest features, it has been seriously improved over the last 6 months. But I want to slow down, the slow down of confidence and assured power. And to slow down enough to return elbows as well, for the quickest way to stop elbows against female Thai fighters is to throw them back.

Overcoming the Wall of China

The Wall of China is what we call it when an opponent uses their shin to pin your waist or thighs in a clinch attempt. Sometimes the neck is also grasped and leveraged down. It is basically just a neutralizing maneuver, but against a stalking knee fighter it can score because you’re being controlled. The shin pushes your hips back which is an inferior position, and all a retreating fighter has to do in later rounds is not get hit or controlled. I’ve lost several fights lately to the effectiveness of this defense when used by bigger opponents. It would not score in the west at all, but here it is significant. What you don’t want to do is struggle against it, or put you hips back in a way that looks like you’ve lost energy. I’ve been working on two counters. One is a grasp of the neck along with a torquing turn which will result in a throw on my part. A second is trying to increase my reaction time on the quick push down of the knee/shin. If I push down immediately, with hips in, before the Wall fully sets up, and then counter knee this should be effective. It can leave you open to an elbow, so you have to be fast and keep your head down. (Elbows on the scalp won’t stop a fight; get cut there if you’re going to be cut.)

Jab More – Unlock Your Strikes

The jab is something that I haven’t believed in a lot, and there are many fights where I forget it altogether. And sometimes when I do jab I just am not snapping it off so it feels ineffective, and I give up on it. But in fights where I have jabbed there has been success. It not only stresses my opponent, it seems to open me up to throwing more strikes. I use the long guard a lot, sometimes with knee up, so it’s something that can get lost in my other attack positions. This is something I’m focusing on.

Step Forward on the “Fight” – and Scratch

As a forward fighter it’s important that I try to communicate that commitment to moving forward in all places. One of the keys Kevin uses to gauge where I am at is whether my first step upon the referee calling “fight!” at the beginning of every round is a step forward or backwards. He says that when I step forward on this he knows I’m in the right frame of mind. Also important is how I respond when a ref breaks the clinch. Ideally I want the ref to pull us apart with me still active and for him to appear to have to hold me back so that he can give the signal to fight. A lot of my opponents in the late rounds want to hang onto me in the clinch, neutralize, and force the ref to break. When this happens the advantage goes to them. As the retreating fighter all they have to do is play to “equal”. When the ref breaks the clinch I have to show that I haven’t been neutralized in my energy. If I drift back after the break, and assume a casual distance, it can appear as if my opponent has taken some of my energy. I want to “scratch” as they say.

Persuasion and Authority

One of the most interesting burdens of my recent sak yant is the way in which it asks of me to be authoritative and persuasive in the ring. When I lose fights it isn’t because I failed to score a certain number of points, or even execute specific techniques or strategies. Ultimately I’ve lost because I have not been persuasive enough. This is especially the case against the top, very experienced opponents I’m fighting. They know the art of persuasion. They know how to persuade in the final round. My sak yant has specific persuasion yants, they are asking of me to assume the authority as a fighter, and to persuade not only the judges but also the audience – and my opponent – that I was dominant. To do this I must assume the mental powers of my yants. This is the specific burden and hard path of the yants I’ve happened to receive. And it is not a destination or achievement, but a way of being, a constant path of progression – just like fighting. It’s not any one fight; it’s not your record: it’s being a fighter.

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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