This afternoon’s clinching session started with me shadowing in the ring, warming up. Sakmongkol taught me a knee that he was working on with Sifu McInnes and his son last night. Basically it’s a long straight knee that curves at the end if the opponent tries to side-step as a slip. It’s incredibly effective, although I’ve never come across an opponent who dodges knees. Save it for later, I guess. Mong asked if Kevin and I were going to go to Lumpinee next month for the “big show,” which I can only assume he means the last show at the old Lumpinee stadium before they move to the new location in late February. I said we probably weren’t – I would love to be in the old Lumpinee again but it’s a 2 hour drive to Bangkok and tickets for westerners are beyond what Kevin and I can generally budget. Mong said he was going with a student, then with one of the biggest smiles he has in his facial expression repertoire he pointed to himself with his index finger and said, “I get in for free.” Well, yes… he’s Sakmongkol and a Lumpinee champion! I told him he should wear his belt to the event.
Our clinch was a little different from yesterday. He just put pressure on me and had me fight my way out, not indicating what I should be doing quite as much as he was yesterday. Up to me to figure it out. He would make sounds of approval or delight when I did something well, let me struggle for a few tries before growing frustrated and showing me the correct way when I got stuck doing something ineffective. It was good practice though. He put himself in the corner for long stints and had me just move side to side working my hands and kneeing. It’s difficult with opponents so much taller than me because I can’t lock up the neck and still move with great freedom, mostly because I’m “reaching” to lock up the neck, so my stance gets narrow in order to keep the lock and then I feel too close to really land good knees. I should be yanking him down to my size, but Mong doesn’t go where he doesn’t want to go. I’ll tell you this: he will not let you take his back. I’m squirrely, small and very quick when I slip around the sides. He wants me to try it, he’s very pleased when I go around the body and try to slip around the sides, but never, never will he let me get all the way around. He just pops his stance wide and there’s nothing for it. Just once I was able to get my left leg outside his when I was around his waist, I lifted him and pulled him over my leg in a move that Frankie taught me at Lanna a few weeks ago. We were right against the ropes so he didn’t flop onto the mat the way I would have liked, but had we been in the center that would have been the result. He was very pleased/impressed with that maneuver. I wasn’t able to get him again with it.
After a bit we started sparring and mostly he wanted my footwork to be smooth. I was in control and able to throw some double kicks for the first – I don’t know – 10 minutes or so. Then he started putting on the pressure and backing me up, having me put my back on the rope and defend the way Thai women I fight love to do, just blocking and teeping. He wanted me to see that it’s okay to stay there, that when I block there’s no point scored against me, even if I don’t strike back. I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me and I started to get frustrated. I kept up with him, more or less, just energy-wise. Even though I was getting blasted into the corner I would take a million hits and just wait for my chance to explode out. It was worth it just to not lose heart in this case. When he called time to stop he said something to me that I don’t remember (there were about a half-dozen men watching at ringside at this point, since class was starting) and I said, showing my frustration: “Yeah, but I’m not kicking, not punching. Mai dai (cannot; or didn’t have the chance).” He shook his head and said mai bpen rai (“it’s nothing; no problem”) a few times, then explained that he was demonstrating what I can do by doing it against me. “Do as I do,” kind of. It’s an interesting lesson, one that is very Thai. In Muay Thai you’ll often see opponents matching each other. One kicks right and the other says, I see your right kick and raise you a faster, harder one, as well as a knee to finish. Then the next guy matches that. You learn from your opponent. This is a good lesson.
I literally had to sprint back to our hotel because I’d forgotten my wraps. Sakmongkol thought I was going running and looked confused, even when I explained what I was doing. As I ran down the road, maybe a half mile, to my apartment every single motorcycle taxi driver cheered me on – in both directions. They’ve seen me walk by in my Thai shorts, twice per day, for six days now and they never say anything. Once you’re jamming down the sidewalk at top speed, however, they know exactly what’s up and they love it. When I got back to the gym I hit the bag for a couple rounds before Mong called me in to the ring. He looked pretty tired, just in his facial expression. That’s a good thing in my book. It made him very serious in padwork with me though; he wanted me to focus more on footwork than anything, getting movement and pivots down. He wants me to really think about my responses, not in an over-analyzing way but more in a “be deliberate” way. If you’re going to move, move with purpose. If you’re going to stand in, be ready to punish after every strike. It feels good when I do it right, but it does require concerted effort to not be… sloppy. For our last round, which might have been the sixth, he pulled my gloves off and just wanted me to move and kick. A few times when I got him in the ropes I pulled my leg off of the kick into a block, as he taught me two days ago. He loved this and was super happy when I did it. That made me really happy because he could then see that I’ve been working on what he teaches me. And he keeps telling me he wants to “change my style,” by which he means relaxed and deliberate rather than kind of spastic, and demonstrating the style he’s shown me in the face of still being not relaxed shows that I’m trying, even if the relaxed part is going to take a while.
After telling me I train too much a few times but still coming out of his padwork with other people between rounds to show me stuff he wanted me to work on, I finished up with some light, relaxed shadow. He showed me what more relaxed looks like and told me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten for Muay Thai. “Sylvie,” he said (I love that he says my name right) “you try everything, maybe not everything feel good.” He threw a few different strikes, then his face lit up when he did an uppercut, “You find something you like, practice: do again.” He did the uppercut 10 times and then moved around again, found a kick he liked and did that a few times. It was beautiful. Find what feels good and become proficient, become prolific. Do what you like. That’s how you learn to play in the ring.
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.