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Changing Gyms, Asking for fights, Training Styles and Sparring Elbows - A 2.5 Months Stay in Thailand


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Hi Sylvie,

I have two questions for you and if you have time, it would be great to hear your opinion on my situation. Firstly, I am currently training at a gym in Chiang Mai area and my original plan was only to train here for 1 month and then go to Bangkok to a gym owned by a famous fighter in October for 1 month, however, after checking out that gym for a morning session I really did not like the area that it is located in (I'm not sure that I would feel safe going for a run there by myself), and I am questioning if I would be taken seriously there, whether I would get the kind of training that would help me get to the next level rather than treating me like a beginner, so I am now contemplating whether I should extend my stay at my current gym to two months or should I still go to another gym so that I get some variety of technique...To be honest, I like how detailed oriented the trainers at my current gym are and that they are picking up on the small things that I didn't know I was doing wrong (although everything I thought I knew has been corrected so many times that it left me wondering if I actually know anything at all and what it was that I was learning/doing for the last 2.5 years, lol), but I feel like I am not learning any new techniques and only get corrected on the techniques that I already have, so I started paying for private sessions (I've done 2 so far and don't know if I should keep going with that) so that I can learn some clinch, since the group clinch sessions are pretty short (maybe 15 minutes at the end of the afternoon session), and to also do some sparring since there doesn't seem to be much sparring happening and the one session that they called boxing sparring was pretty short too and I got put in a ring with a bunch of complete beginners who didn't know how to control their punches and so it was just me trying to avoid any of the wild haymaker punches, while the trainer that was in our ring was jus watching and not saying anything, so I don't know if this is the norm in Thai gyms and this is how they conduct their sparring sessions so would going to another gym be really that different? Do you think it would be a good idea for me to train at another gym after my 1 month at my current gym or do you think I would be making it worse since the other gym would spend time to teach me "their way" of doing things and I would be basically unlearning again what I thought I knew? Or should I stay here at my current gym so that I can put in enough time to learn one style the right way and continue to do private sessions to fill in the gaps from the group sessions?

Secondly, I also wanted to try fighting in Thailand but I have never been in a fight that had the use of elbows allowed (I've only done 2 in house fights so I doubt that it counts for much) and I am wondering if these kind of basic sparring sessions at my current gym would prepare me for the use of elbows in a real fight, or would actually help me prepare for any fight at all. When you do sparring at the gym where you train, do you ever practice throwing elbows (in a controlled way) during sparring or is it something that only gets practiced on the pads? I also don't know if I should bring up the fact that I was hoping to be able to get a fight towards the end of my training at this gym or if I am expected to wait to be asked whether it is something I want to do? I feel almost embarrassed now to ask for a fight after having received so many corrections of my technique which up until now I thought was decent (I certainly didn't think that it was perfect but I didn't think that I needed so many corrections), and it actually left me feeling pretty disappointed in myself since I work hard when I train back home, but it almost now seems like it was all wasted effort and that the training that I was getting at home and thought of as being quiet good is not good enough. Do you think if I mention that I want to fight I would get better/different training or would I be laughed at for even asking?

Also, do you know if you might be getting any fights in Chiang Mai? I would love to come and watch at least one of your fights 🙂

Cheers

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Hi Sylvie,

To be honest, I like how detailed oriented the trainers at my current gym are and that they are picking up on the small things that I didn't know I was doing wrong (although everything I thought I knew has been corrected so many times that it left me wondering if I actually know anything at all and what it was that I was learning/doing for the last 2.5 years, lol), but I feel like I am not learning any new techniques and only get corrected on the techniques that I already have, so I started paying for private sessions (I've done 2 so far and don't know if I should keep going with that) so that I can learn some clinch, since the group clinch sessions are pretty short (maybe 15 minutes at the end of the afternoon session), and to also do some sparring since there doesn't seem to be much sparring happening and the one session that they called boxing sparring was pretty short too and I got put in a ring with a bunch of complete beginners who didn't know how to control their punches and so it was just me trying to avoid any of the wild haymaker punches, while the trainer that was in our ring was jus watching and not saying anything, so I don't know if this is the norm in Thai gyms and this is how they conduct their sparring sessions so would going to another gym be really that different? Do you think it would be a good idea for me to train at another gym after my 1 month at my current gym or do you think I would be making it worse since the other gym would spend time to teach me "their way" of doing things and I would be basically unlearning again what I thought I knew? Or should I stay here at my current gym so that I can put in enough time to learn one style the right way and continue to do private sessions to fill in the gaps from the group sessions?

Secondly, I also wanted to try fighting in Thailand but I have never been in a fight that had the use of elbows allowed (I've only done 2 in house fights so I doubt that it counts for much) and I am wondering if these kind of basic sparring sessions at my current gym would prepare me for the use of elbows in a real fight, or would actually help me prepare for any fight at all. When you do sparring at the gym where you train, do you ever practice throwing elbows (in a controlled way) during sparring or is it something that only gets practiced on the pads? I also don't know if I should bring up the fact that I was hoping to be able to get a fight towards the end of my training at this gym or if I am expected to wait to be asked whether it is something I want to do? I feel almost embarrassed now to ask for a fight after having received so many corrections of my technique which up until now I thought was decent (I certainly didn't think that it was perfect but I didn't think that I needed so many corrections), and it actually left me feeling pretty disappointed in myself since I work hard when I train back home, but it almost now seems like it was all wasted effort and that the training that I was getting at home and thought of as being quiet good is not good enough. Do you think if I mention that I want to fight I would get better/different training or would I be laughed at for even asking?

Also, do you know if you might be getting any fights in Chiang Mai? I would love to come and watch at least one of your fights :)

Cheers

I think this is a common question among people who come to Thailand for a mid-length stint (longer than a month, shorter than 6 months) and have spent enough time at one place to have gotten over the humps of initiation. There are pros and cons in both directions of your situation.

The cons of moving to a new gym now is that you have to "start over" in terms of re-introductory to new trainers, new environment, relationships and even just being accustomed to your padholders. Every time you go with someone new there's this "wait, what are you asking for?" period of getting used to each other. There is also, of course, the risk of not liking the new place as much as your first experience and wishing you'd stayed or feeling you've wasted your time.

Of course, the opposite can happen as well, where the second gym is better for you. The pros of moving to the new gym are that you get a wider experience of different training styles, techniques, trainers and training partners, etc. You will be "treated like a beginner" no matter where you go, simply for the fact of being new. But it's just for as long as the trainers are checking you out, seeing how you work, etc. It's not permanent. But, you may be a bit short on time to establish strong relationships in that second gym.

But here's the thing about your particular situation. Your gym in Chiang Mai is technique-oriented, which lots of people really love, but you have to keep in mind (and may simply just not know this, as there's no reason why you should) that that gym hires all its trainers from one gym in Bangkok - they're all from the same "school," so to speak. And while it's not typical for all the fighters of one gym to have the same style, it's something that your gym strives for. They've made a choice to keep uniformity in their technical training rather than the far more common every-trainer-wants-you-to-do-it-differently experience of most Thai gyms. So the correction (and perhaps over-correction) of your pre-existing technique is to mold you into their style, not because you're necessarily doing it wrong. Imagine trying to make all your students in school have the same handwriting: you're not spelling or using words incorrectly, but at this school you can't put a tail on your 't' even if that's more natural to you. They just want uniformity. Which is another reason why you may not be learning anything new. In the west we learn Muay Thai combinations and "tricks" kind of like the Japanese form of kata, like accumulating tools. But that's not how it's done so much here in Thailand. It's massive repetition of the basics until they become automatic and you're comfortable enough to start throwing in a little twist of the technique - faking or doubling up or those ridiculous spinning elbows at terrible range that all the western guys who fight at Max tend to do.

It's possible you could split the difference and try a different gym not too far from your current gym and see how that feels. That way you get to experience something different and if you discover you're actually pining for your first place you haven't already moved. It's a bit of a delicate option because of the social/business issues that might arise from popping into a neighboring gym, but since you're not fighting yet it shouldn't be a huge deal to try a different gym for a few days or a week or something.

As for the fighting question: you don't have to wait for your gym to ask you to fight. In fact, showing and expressing interest might be the spark that pushes you into a different level of training. You know who the fighters are at your gym so you probably can see whether or not the training is much different - if there's more sparring/clinching, different focus in technique, etc. But all Thai trainers make discerning choices in training fighters vs. non-fighters.  You don't need to train elbows in sparring at your current level, and indeed, given how you've described your partners I wouldn't recommend it. I do feint elbows in both clinching and sparring, but they never make contact and actually yelling "sok!" is how they're mostly incorporated. I got elbowed for real by a kid I train with the other day; he's a dick and lacks control. Don't throw elbows for real in sparring until you are super, super experienced. That said, you're not going to be used to elbows from training before you experience them in fights. It's just not how it works. Elbows aren't thrown in every fight, most that are thrown don't land. Focus on keeping your guard tight when you're in range and you're good to go; way easier to practice than actually having people throw elbows at you. My trainer elbows me in padwork, but he has total control and has only started doing this in the last 6 months or so.

Your likelihood of getting a fight in Chiang Mai is very, very high. There are fights at numerous stadia all the time and lots of female fighters up there, of varying skill and discipline, which makes finding a good match reasonable. I don't know what it's like at this other gym you're looking at, but from what I know about them they don't have female fighters, so I have no idea how readily or willingly they'd get you a fight in a short period of time training with them.

So the breakdown is like this: if you want a different training experience, do try somewhere else. If you want more from your current gym, don't be afraid to ask. It's always a good idea to let your gym know that you're interested in fighting. Your technique that you came to Thailand with isn't necessarily wrong - your current gym is looking for uniformity and if you go to a new gym they'll adjust everything also, possibly even more so and between trainers at the same gym. Consider it an expansion of options, rather than a limitation of what's right and what's wrong. Don't elbow in sparring, but do think about elbowing while you're sparring and either call out those openings to yourself or go ahead and yell 'em out as you see them.

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Hey TZ, Sylvie's husband here, a few off the cuff suggestions for a 2nd gym, if you end up going that way. When we first came we were in the same boat, and we split the time between 2 Chiang Mai and Bangkok gyms. The difference itself was a good experience, but the Bangkok gym did not produce a good fight experience, and the urban area all around the gym felt really harsh. Maybe something interesting would be Sitmonchai? They are pretty technique oriented (specialize in low-kick and striking combinations), in a rural-like context, and seem like the kind of gym which would get you a fight. You could ask blogger/fighter Kelly Creegan about them. They also have a female westerner, Abigail, who acts as a go-between, managing the gym. They do not emphasize clinch though. Or you could try Hong Tong gym in Chiang Mai, they seem fight oriented. Melissa Reaume is a fighter who lived there for a year, she could shed some light.

My own sense is that after a session or two you get a "gut feeling" about a place, and it's best to listen to it.

But hey, if you are open to a change in your second gym, you could also come down to Pattaya and train with Sylvie too. There isn't a lot of instruction (most Thai gyms don't do a lot of correction) but the padwork is great and the work should be good. Michelle wrote about her experience of doing so for a few days.

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If you're not entirely comfortable or confident with your gym, it's a good idea to seek out other options. If nothing else, you'll have something to compare it to. You might find another gym that fits better for you, or  you might find that the gym you're at now is the better option. You won't know unless you look into it. You have such a short time in Thailand, it would be a shame if you spent its entirety at a gym you weren't happy at.The same goes with regards to your question about requesting a fight. I would definitely go for it. I don't think any harm can come of it. Once they know, they'll be able to train you accordingly and you'll be able to assess whether or not they're taking you seriously (as you said that was something you're concerned about).Do let us know what you end up doing!  :smile:

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If I was to make a stupid comparison, its kind of like eating a cake, it tastes nice it even might taste the best, but you really don't know until you try some other cakes, don't give up completely on the first cake, it is still nice, but take the time and try out some other cakes. You don't want to be stuck eating a nice cake if there has been an amazing cake there all along.

I know that was silly, but that's what it made me think when I read it.

Best of luck though.  :smile:

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Bit late comment but If I was in your shoes I would definitely try another gym also for a week than you can still decide to go back or stay at the new one or try another one.

And for sure let them know you want to fight. Some gyms will push you to fight or ask you if you want to fight, other won't even ask it. So tell them so they know for sure you want it.

I don't know where you stay now but I have been at KC gym for 2-3 weeks the training there was good. they also train woman and arrange fights if you want it. They are mostly western minded but really a good envirment.

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