I’ve only come back to training at WKO with Sakmongkol in the past few days because of the stitches I received after my fight last Wednesday. It feels so good to be back to hitting things after being careful to not break a sweat for a couple days after the fight when the stitches were new. I’m actually impressed that my trainers at both Petchrunruang and Sakmongkol and Kru Mutt at WKO were willing to train me on the pads even with the stitches still in, but I’m very grateful that everyone was on board.
The first day back with Sakmongkol he actually hit me in the face a few times, which surprised me. My guard was up, so really he hit my gloves and maybe a bit past them when my guard was poor, and that knocked me right in the stitches once. But I’m not complaining – I think it’s actually quite remarkable that he threw it at all because I’m used to my trainers being very, if not overly cautious when I come back to training with stitches in – more than anything it’s an incredibly good lesson in “keep your damn hands up.” If you get hit in the exact same spot where your face split in a fight, means you’ve got a hole to patch! Mostly he just wanted me to move around a lot, using footwork and trying to work angles to come in. That’s what his main “thesis” has been since I started training with him a few weeks ago, which is really good for me because footwork has been – and remains still – a serious weakness in my general abilities. I’m good at some things and a quick learner but I lack some very fundamental basics. Between rounds or after I’d fumbled something and he called a pause to admonish me, he’d add in how sucky I was in my fight, which he hasn’t seen. My response to feeling a bit wonky in my padwork anyway and wanting to do “well” after being a big disappointment to him in pretty much all three of my fights here in Pattaya (that’s just going to happen – can’t make huge changes to the way I fight in such a short time, though I will say he saw none of my fights) was to be frustrated with myself for not responding properly to being kicked, getting stuck on the porch, getting nailed in the face, etc. But Sakmongkol’s whole attitude was that it didn’t matter and he told me over and over again, in Thai, that he’d been super hard on me prior to the fight because when it’s time to prepare for a fight he get strict and the whipping sticks come out, so to speak. I get that. I got that. But he was saying that when you’re just training, when you don’t know when your next fight is, then you train relaxed – attitudes are different, looser, etc.
While I’m happy that he’s not refusing to speak to me anymore, which is part of his pre-fight preparation, I also want him to expect me to improve. This one pad session, so of course it’s hard for either of us to have a great deal of expectation or perception of learning based on this one hour together. In agreement with what Mong is saying to me, I should just calm down about it.
Today was our second private session before regular training. Mong was again very relaxed about everything, wanting me to be more relaxed – visibly – but after about 40 minutes he started chiding me for how I was responding to being kicked, repeatedly, in the shoulder by him. He was criticizing everything I came up with in terms of strikes – well, no; not everything but every time I wasn’t sure and made a choice I was not right, according to his responses – but then when I asked him what I should do he would shrug and say his favorite Thai expression, laaeo day khun (“up to you”). So, my choice – just not what I actually choose, apparently. That’s fine. After he’d told me he hated my left leg kick (like, stop doing it) I asked what to do and he just laughed and shook his head. Then he made a gesture with his hands like how one might use two hands to indicate “zip it” but in front of his forehead instead of his mouth: “forget,” he said. He was really laying into me about being more instinctual, “automatic,” he kept saying, in English. I understand what he means. He started imitating me, looking asleep as he stumbled around the ring miming being kicked and just kind of standing there in response. I don’t look that bad, but I probably don’t look much better. He couldn’t decide on an English word for what he wanted but he would spring to life and start moving around for what he thought I should do – we offered “awake” and he liked that. Awareness – like animal awareness; thinking how to respond and being ready. I laughed, though not wholeheartedly because his imitation of me was pretty embarrassing. My problem is that he wants me to look alert but if I try to imitate what he’s doing when he’s being alert I end up looking tense and he tells me “relax.” If I relax, he tells me I look asleep. Bah! I did express to him in a hodge-podge of Thai and English that I am responding automatically but my wiring is not yet right. I don’t have the experience to know how I should respond to each obstacle – I don’t have the “oh, he just kicked me I should do this to solve that.” Experience is required for the correct automatic responses to be what comes up first. He agreed and told me som, som loy (“train; just train”).
It was actually after we’d finished working that I appreciated that Mong was literally telling me to “train my face,” something I’ve come up against many times in the past two years of training in Thailand. Your face can be very expressive, even when you don’t mean it to be – and it’s potentially expressing a message that you’d rather it didn’t. You have to fake it, or at least control it. After I’d finished my whole workout and was sitting on the edge of the ring rolling up my wraps to head out, Mong stood in front of me and said my name in a kind of barking way that he does when he wants my immediate attention. I looked up and he was pointing to his own face and moving his index finger in a circle, the way you would to indicate “all of this.” Now he was actually, unmistakeably telling me that my face was making me look miserable; he had a sleepy look on his face as he circled it with his finger, then he stopped with his hand and gave a facial jump as if someone had just been awakened from a daydream. “Fix your face,” he was telling me. I smiled. Then I laughed. As much as I hate being told to smile – and I hate it a lot – this is different. He’s not telling me to smile, he’s telling me to show that I’m ready, to be engaged in the fight, in the training. In the words of Ray Valez, my boxing instructor for a time in New York who would yell at me for staring off into space and staying inert between rounds, wanting me to move around and be alert in the “off time” rather than caving into myself: “Act like you been here before.”
Video from the 2nd day – pad work