Waking up before 5:00 AM in order to get into a rented car and drive into Bangkok for a 7:30 AM training session doesn’t seem like something one would be jumping to do. I’ve been wanting to meet with my friend Emma, with whom I’ve had an internet friendship for about 2 years now – she’s the author of the Under The Ropes blog and Facebook Page, which is a great blog – and the fact that she had a hand in booking my Queen’s Cup fight through Master Toddy was the perfect excuse to head up to Bangkok to thank them in person… and get some training in, of course. If you like what you read below you can find out about Master Toddy’s Bangkok Gym from his website.
If you’d like to read Emma Thomas’s Under the Ropes post on my visit, check it out: Training with Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu
About Master Toddy
I’d wager that most Americans who have even moderate familiarity with Muay Thai are also familiar with the name Master Toddy. The pompadour styled hair and metaphors about being a “snake in the grass,” or “like the tiger!” jump to mind, followed perhaps by the names of some of the students he launched: Anne Quinlan, Lisa Howarth, Gina Carano, Kevin Ross, and all the women on the Fight Girls series, which include Christine Toledo-Badua, who is one of the founders and current promoter at Lion Fight Promotions – one of the biggest promotions of Muay Thai in the US. Master Toddy’s contribution to the proliferation of Muay Thai through English-speaking nations is truly more significant than most people realize and, perhaps most relevant to my own interests, he’s been a proponent and advocate for female Muay Thai fighters since the late 70’s.
When I interviewed Anne Quinlan her comments on Master Toddy were absolutely glowing (I still need to put up part 2 of the interview). She smiled at his style and his eccentricities (which are pretty mild, actually) and added emphatically, “he will get you believing in yourself; you will believe that you can just beat anybody.” When I hurried into Master Toddy’s gym this morning, irritated with myself for being late (it’s a 1.5 hour drive without traffic, but the idea of Bangkok without traffic is just… laughable), I was introduced to Master Toddy by Emma as her friend for whom he’d booked the Queen’s Birthday fight. “Oh!” his face lit up, “this is the one?” Without even remembering my name and within a few seconds of saying hello, he put his hand firmly on my left shoulder and tilted his head down, looking at me with a tucked chin, “you can do it,” he said, “you will be great.”
Holy shit! I’ve had a few Thai trainers by now, starting with Master K, then Kaensak, then Den and the men at Lanna, followed by Sakmongkol and now Kru Nu – it’s not a modest sampling – and I can securely say that verbal encouragement is not a common train among male Thai trainers. (I’ve never had a female Thai trainer, but it’s not a big theme among Thai people in general, even if they are very kind, even if they do believe in you, it’s just not stated.) Everyone was already in a shadowboxing warmup and by the time my hands were wrapped they were already getting ready to spar. So I shadowed by myself while everyone prepared their equipment and Emma went around finding some shinpads and sizeable gloves for me. I could tell that Master Toddy was watching my shadow but it wasn’t intrusive – that is to say, I didn’t feel I had to be any particular way while he was watching. He has a very calm, neutral feeling eye.
What It is Like at Master Toddy’s – the Power of the Positive
Sparring is light and technical. What’s kind of brilliant about it is that you start out with only one or two weapons – in today’s example: only the left jab and left kick – for a whole round. By limiting the options one has to think strategically. And Master Toddy is right there, walking through everything and giving critique to each person. In the case of Emma and me we have the same problem of not following up. There’s something about his pervasive optimism – it’s not all positives, he does offer critique and minor threats following having to repeat himself – that makes one feel like, “hey, I could totally try that in this round,” rather than the, “but [insert a million thoughts about why that’s hard to do here]” thoughts that can be drummed up by frustration. Emma, of course, also helped in making this experience so wonderful. She’s got a great attitude about the give-and-take that comes with sparring, so there’s pressure that allows you to have to work for everything you want to accomplish but there’s no emotional attachment to the dominance swinging in either direction.
A Quick Example of What Makes Master Toddy Unique
watch this short video to get a sense of what he is like – love it
At the final rounds he told us to really move to win the fight. He wanted strong action, lots of movement, all the things that every trainer wants. But he really wanted us to perform with our faces, to look like we knew we were winning – both of us… all of us. It’s an important part of Muay Thai. It’s a part that is drilled into every Thai kid over a period of however many years, but I don’t think it’s ever expressed this way. It’s part of the sabai, sabai iteration that one hears at every turn. But for westerners, for those of us who weren’t raised in the culture, in the sport, in the theater of Muay Thai, having this part taught like a technique is incredibly rare. And maybe that’s part of what Master Toddy’s extensive experience in the west and even with women in particular has developed in him, this understanding that being aware of one’s face is not something westerners might think about, whereas the importance that Thai culture places on appearance makes this more of an obvious point for Thais. It’s not a small gift.
Emma and me clinching (above)
After training I asked Master Toddy his thoughts on the rumored Carano vs. Rousey fight in the UFC. His primary answer is actually the exact same reason I’m not amped about the fight and that’s that Carano hasn’t trained in years. He spoke about the difficulty she faces with her movie contracts but his most interesting points were about the next two moves, not this one. He thinks like a master chess player – win or lose the fight doesn’t matter so much but there have to be planned moves at the end of each option. He said that Carano’s fight against Cyborg was a disaster for both fighters because nobody thought ahead. That’s almost exactly what my problem was with the fight – as well as my thoughts on the first Rousey vs. Carmouche fight in the UFC – and that’s that if the woman who everyone wants to win doesn’t win there has to be a next move. In the course of talking to him, however, I gathered that he has a very strong process in how he develops fighters. He told me that for the first 10 fights he is very careful with each of his fighters, “taking care like they are an egg on the rock,” he said. This means finding the right opponents at the right time – not necessarily padding wins, but knowing that if his student loses this fight, at this time, and against this opponent that they can grow from that experience. I’ve seen Master Toddy on his Fight Girls shows and he talks a lot about the “lion heart” that he wants from each of them. In one scene he takes a fighter onto his team who is far less experienced and skilled than another, but what he sees in her is this “lion heart.” It’s something you can’t teach but something you can either crush or nurture. I understood as he was explaining his process that nurturing this heart that’s he’s so carefully selected is his chess game “openings.” With a strong enough opening one can set up the board so that the exchange of pieces throughout the game doesn’t jeopardize the king – the heart. He builds confidence in fighters who have raw heart. And perhaps I’ll inspire ire in some readers with this next bit, but I believe it to be true: women show what kind of heart they have much more readily than men do. And maybe that’s why Toddy has had such interest, and success, in his female fighters.
A Round of Padwork with Kru Singh
My Brief Video Tour of the Gym and the Muay Thai Clothing and Equipment Factory