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Detecting The Fight Space, Reading Fighter Patterns, Rhythms and Energies | High-Speed Review of Tape

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One of the most interesting things that has developed through all our filming and review of the styles of legends of the sport, studying tape of their actual fights, and watching them correct Sylvie in live time, has been a sensitivity toward what I call the Fight Space. It feels like a very productive concept when thinking about fighting styles and energies, an order quite different than what often gets much more attention: techniques. The Fight Space for me is an imaginary bubble which exists between opponents, sometimes roughly equivalent to "the pocket", but not always. It's a kind of psychic space - without getting too woo about it - in that a lot of what fighting is about is body mapping, and the virtual way we project our body into the forward space, in the view of physical and emotional threat. A great deal of time is spent perfecting or regulating strikes (techniques), but sometimes less focus is on the Fight Space itself, and the fighter's relationship to it.

If we are talking about the highest levels of Thailand's Muay Thai - mostly drawn from the Golden Age - what distinguishes that excellence is how those fighters engaged with the Fight Space. It's not just that their techniques may have been different, the myriad of ways, the styles of Fight Space engagement were special. And styles produced different approaches to the Fight Space. A femeu fighter like Samart may choose to control the Fight Space with distance, and lance it with punctuated attacks, a pressure fighter like Samson Isaan might smother and squeeze the fight space, cutting through it, while it in with blows, a fighter like Karuhat might press against it defensively, and them melt and liquefy himself along its edges, as if he's balancing an invisible yoga ball. Many fighting styles can be characterized by how they engage with and use the Fight Space. How long they stay in it, how they manipulate it, or leverage it.

In addition to these questions, how one trains in Muay Thai also can create lots of Fight Space habits. These are invisible comfort zones that we practice in relation to learned techniques and fight actions. Sylvie and I have talked about before how lots and lots of padwork can create habits of padwork spacing, which not only groove comfort levels of specific spatial effectiveness, but also can make you quite vulnerable to changes in that space. The same thing can occur with lots of drilling with regular partners. We think about how techniques are being practiced, but we do not often think about how what is really being rehearsed are fixed distances and a narrow experience of Fight Space. Because a great deal of fighting is about engaging the Fight Space, this can leave a very skilled fighter vulnerable. 

All this is to say, I think a lot about Fight Space, and it's pretty much how I watch fights. It's also how I think about Sylvie's development as a fighter. It's one reason why we've moved away from heavy padwork and into much more sparring, because sparring - if you have the right partners - presents many more Fight Space problem solving. Part of this had been pretty regular sparring with Yodkhupon for the last year. He's not ideal in that he's about 12 kgs bigger than Sylvie, but he does have Golden Age rhythms, which means, he poses Golden Age Fight Space puzzles. What I'm really talking about here though is a different way of looking at Fight Space that involves watching sparring rounds in a different way. The video below shows this. The video is degraded through high contrast, almost to an abstraction level, and speed WAY up. The idea is to zoom out, away from any technique choices, and notice patterns within the basic movements and responses. In a certain regard, it shows the Fight Space (as the constant between opponents), and how a fighter is relating to it.

This is just experimental, but it is really interesting. As a matter of this case what was happening is that we noticed that Sylvie was developing a habit of jumping out after landing strikes. You CAN do this, but it presents a very different narrative and relationship to the fight space. It leads to more point fighting. It has been kind of an unconscious habit, because he's just so big, and it's not altogether bad. In fact, its good to know if this is what is happening. In the video below we have two compressed "give ground after scoring" rounds. The next 3 rounds were the next day when Sylvie committed herself to NOT giving ground after landing. This goes more in the Muay Khao style of using pressure on the Fight Space as tool against your opponent, an invisible tool. We've talked a lot about this quality of Muay Khao fighting, you can check out our analogies with Persistence Hunting in this article here: Muay Thai Aesthetics, Keto, Persistence Hunting and the Shape of Time. Just the same, in this example, I believe you can see the difference in the 3 final rounds, in terms of the Fight Space itself, as well as rhythms and energies. Neither of these energies and patterns (1st two rounds, last 3 rounds) are correct or wrong. Each requires a different skill set: If you are going to be scoring and retreating - in traditional Muay Thai - you need to be quick with defense and repositioning, read the fluctuations of the present score carefully, and be timely in your punctuated attacks. If you are going to be persistence hunting you need to develop fast eyes for close range counters, be more closed and intelligent in your short range weapons, and develop a nose for your opponent's fatigue and decay. But, you can see in this example that this kind of zoom-out on sparring gives a perspective where these things can be thought about and improved upon. Part of this as well, is about developing awareness of unconscious patterns of comfort and movement. If your fighting style is composed of lots of unconscious movement patterns you can be taken off your game quite significantly by simply being forced to move in ways that aren't in your groove. When this happens you can get a sense that "nothing was clicking" or that your opponent is moving in ways you can't anticipate, when in fact it's just a change in the Fight Space, and the unconscious ways you like to deal with it.

In the video you'll see, for instance, Sylvie's circling left a lot. This is because we've found that she has an unconscious pattern to drift to the right, related to a bunch of less optimum positions. So...go Left is a thing for us. It makes your choices more conscious, and develops skill sets and perceptions in areas of the Fight Space map that would be otherwise less explored. The change in the rounds below which involves holding ground after a score is the same sort of thing. A retreat on score was growing as an unconscious habit, so consciously mapping the "stand your ground" after strikes that land is about becoming more conscious, more present. In the video you can see the difference in energy, and in the way that Sylvie is contesting the Fight Space itself. Generally, this is pretty good because she's a Muay Khao clinch fighter, even though she's been broadening her vocabulary and style a great deal over the last year. This is about investigating your own style, becoming aware of the shape of you as a fighting artist.

These are things that you can of course see in real time, if looking for them. The sped up, contrast abstracted video is just an additional tool in how to aesthetically present and experience them as a viewer. Conceptual knowing only go so far.

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Parallel Thought

This 4 minute quick edit below, of how Samart dealt with the Muay Khao invasion of the Fight Space by Namphon is a bit related to the above. Rather than illustrating the Fight Space aesthetically, it brings out a technical solution to the pressuring of the Fight Space, because Samart often liked to control the fight space with distance.


You can watch the full 30 minute edit and discussion of the technical solution Samart used here:

Samart's Attack and Control of the Groin vs Namphon | Kevin's Notes (30 min)

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