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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Teaching Narrative, Rhythm and Postion - the work with a legend

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Yesterday we put up a few rounds that I randomly filmed with the work that Yodkhunpon is doing with Sylvie. I just was sitting at the edge of the ring and was enjoyed the energy of what was going on, so rolled the camera a bit. We stitched the together and posted them on YouTube (above). I've watched these rounds a few times, each time seeing something different, new, but today I'm seeing more deeply into them. If you called these rounds "sparring" they would be very different than what westerners think of sparring as. "How come Yodkhunpon isn't hitting her! (for 20, 30 seconds at a time)". We expect "sparring" to be two fighters "going at it" (lightly, or more full on) in a constant intensity of back and forth. Each trying to "get" the other. This corresponds to also how we tend to see fighting itself. Two fighters going at it, 5 rounds, add up the damage points. Some of these thoughts flow out of yesterdays: "The Stupifying of Scoring: How Duration Creates Meaning Through Narration", check that out at the bottom of this post below.

When you watch what Yodkhunpon is doing - he's not always all padded up, but on this day he was - is that he's walking...really dancing...Sylvie through the forms of fighting that express his era, the Golden Age of Muay Thai. When he is retreating, or floating, he's not taking it easy. He's posing a situational problem in a hypothetical narrative. He fade back, bouncing his lead leg. This is a fighter who has a touch of the lead. How do you solve not only that fade, but also the position of the leg bounce (a very common defensive tactic). Sylvie's talked about how Karuhat, more than maybe any legend we have worked with, teaches "how to read" an opponent. She compares this "reading" to literal reading, where the position of the opponent - which leg they are on, the shifting of their weight, where the open side is, where the guard is - is like a letter, or a word. Once you know that "word" you know how to read it. You know it's (limited) possibilities of attack, and its inherent weaknesses. As your opponent moves through their "vocabulary" you literally are reading them, like words or letters. Your reecognize and see, perhaps even using the same part of the brain that reads words and letters. Sylvie learned of this in her 30 days with Karuhat which you can see in the Sylvie Intensive Series, you can watch that here. We've never seen anyone who can read quite like Karuhat, but great fighters of his day were readers.

What Yodkhunpon is doing is moving Sylvie through words, and positioning her in Narrative sequences. In the West we learn and rehearse "combos" and "tactics". Counters, Attacks and Defense. This is very different stuff. Yodkhunpon, because he has the music of the Golden Age in him, is instead like a dancer who takes the lead, and waltzes his partner through Narrative shapes, posing puzzles of words to sound out and solve. Sometimes it's a position, like the anti-clinch arches he takes, or the bouncing leg, sometimes it's situational, like being overcome by repeated and repeated knees in dominance (a huge score in Thailand). He is guiding really melodies of fighting, and building word-solving. Importantly, these are not memorized & repeated reactions and solves. These are extended out (it's 10 rounds of work), pulled into themes and varying psychological states and degrees of fatigue. These are stories.

This goes to the more profound differences between combo-centered western style kickboxing fighting - and their formats of mandatory aggression - and the Narrative fighting of Thailand's tradition (linked below). Ultimately, of course, if you master reading and narrative you should be able to fight free and dominant in any fight aesthetic, but until you do, you are just feeling your way forward. Memorized combos and bull-rushes will definitely win in promotional fighting that urges & rewards these tactics. Very much so. But, its a beautiful thing to seek a layer below those approaches, into the older sense of Time and agonistic struggle. That's what I see here, when I watch Yodkhunpon move and set puzzles. These puzzles are of position, and of dramatic form. These are not mechanics.



My related piece from yesterday:


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