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Kaitlin Rose Young

Differences in technique and method in Thailand vs western countries

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Another big difference. Most elbows in Thailand, at least classically, are designed to cut and not to knock out. Technique is focused on precision, placing the bone right on the bone to split the skin. It's like the difference between a scalpel and a hammer. In the west it's often all about the thud. These are just very different techniques. Even KO Thai elbows have a precision to them, a focus of attack.

Folded into this is how elbow cuts are scored or how they thematically play out in Thai scoring. They can indicate the exposure of the weakness of an opponent. It's not just that there is blood. There are those incredible moments when Karuhat would cut someone, and then step back and point at the cut for all of Lumpinee to see. There is just something very different about that.

Among the greats at least, the elbow is almost wielded as a paintbrush.

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"On more than one occasion, I've heard a grappler express the idea that they like Jiu Jitsu better because your game keeps evolving. You can always learn and develop more. In striking, they said, you can only get stronger and/or faster at the moves you already know. That basic idea seems to be very prevalent here in the west. It's laughable, but it also kind of makes sense that they have that perception."

I remember reading something Rousey said about Michael Phelps in the same vein. Her first sport was swimming, because of her dad, and she has this (pompous, but hilarious) attitude that she could do what Phelps does - all he can ever do to be better is just swim faster. But in Judo you have to think of the next move, you have to transition, etc. It's a non-swimmer who knows how to swim assuming she knows what it takes to be an elite swimmer. So, of course, thinking you "know everything there is to know" about striking pretty much shows you're not a striker. 

There was this really earnest French fellow at my gym. Sweet guy, really, really wanted to get better in Muay Thai. I'd see him shadowing something he just learned, or watch the Thai boys in clinch and then try to shadow the move himself. Hungry for technique, willing to put in the work. I liked him. One time he was hitting the bag and he asked our trainer, Kru Nu, "what is your favorite combination?" Kru Nu looked at me for help, not understanding at all what was being asked. I translated as best I could, but without going into the global disparity between actual Muay Thai and "combination" drills of western gyms. Kru Nu just shook his head, "no, do everything," he said. The "combination" is access to whatever is needed, not a memorized "set."

It was an incredible moment of expressing this difference between the practices of Muay Thai. Asking "what is your favorite combination" to a Thai fighter is like asking a native English speaker "what is your favorite sentence?" Uuhhhhh, what am I trying to say? In what context? Who am I talking to? It makes no sense. To some extent, repeating a favorite sentence over and over again is basically a "tick," or using filler like, "like" or "um" or "not for nothing." They don't mean anything, they're just thrown in as part of your verbal styling. And if you use them a lot, you come off like an idiot. If you use the same punch-punch-low kick combination all the time, you're predictable... they already know what you're going to say.

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Another difference that occurred to me today is the very notion of "fight camp." I was recently at a camp up north where one of the very old, grizzled, probably perpetually drunk trainers was shaking his head about one of the fighters mentioning a fight that was still over a month away. He began this tirade about how it's simply too much time to even talk about it, that you only need - in his mind - 10 days for preparation. That's pretty standard practice in Thailand, I reckon. Since fighters are always training and in "maintenance mode," more or less, you just amp up your training for about 10 days, which includes a taper for the weight cut, and you're good to go. 

Western fighters, on the other hand, have this 6 week or 3 month build up to a single fight, that includes all kinds of "getting into shape" and weight training and then the final weight cut... it's SO MUCH TIME on the Thai scale of things. 

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My comment here is not entirely to the point but does tie in with some of the comments made...I wonder if MT in the West is 'struggling' a bit because there is no grading system (like there is for Judo, TKD, BJJ, karate etc etc etc), and as most people will never get the chance to fight or even spar hard against a total stranger it is very hard to judge one's progress and see whether one is improving over time. I'm not saying I'd want to see a grading system (I wouldn't!) but at least in such martial arts instructors can be seen to have a black belt or 'top' grading (althought whether they gained that in a reputable club is another can of worms).

This ties in with the the comments about a lot of Western clubs having 'trainers' who aren't necessarily particularly good (someone said 'Anyone can set themselevs up as an MT trainer') and how a lot of trainers look at power or speed first and technique later. I realise how fortunate I am in having a trainer who drums technique and balance first, second, and third; after all a perfectly delivered kick or punch has a tremendous impact even if it was fairly slow and weak. I suppose not enough MT trainers here have had lengthy fighting careers (or even fought at all) whereas any trainer in Thailand would have had years of fights. So inevitably the techniques between Western and Thai fighting are going to be very different.

And the goals of the clubs are different too because, as I mentioned above, so few people here will ever get a fight of any description (and many people don't want to either - they do MT for the exercise and fun), whereas it seems that anyone in a Thai gym is almost certainly going to fight.

 

Just my twopennyworth.

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Another difference that occurred to me today is the very notion of "fight camp." I was recently at a camp up north where one of the very old, grizzled, probably perpetually drunk trainers was shaking his head about one of the fighters mentioning a fight that was still over a month away. He began this tirade about how it's simply too much time to even talk about it, that you only need - in his mind - 10 days for preparation. That's pretty standard practice in Thailand, I reckon. Since fighters are always training and in "maintenance mode," more or less, you just amp up your training for about 10 days, which includes a taper for the weight cut, and you're good to go. 

Western fighters, on the other hand, have this 6 week or 3 month build up to a single fight, that includes all kinds of "getting into shape" and weight training and then the final weight cut... it's SO MUCH TIME on the Thai scale of things. 

I've heard a couple of Thai trainers/former fighters express the same thoughts - 10 days to prep for a fight.This is assuming you "train easy" in the mean time and don't let your weight get out of control. Despite the common perception that Thais go hard all of the time, it seems trainers are far more cognizant of overcooking than one might expect. I wonder if it is something that still works in the West where the fights are so few and far between. If we only trained hard 10 days prior to fights here, it wouldn't probably amount to that much hard training over time. 

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Between people backing out and straight up not being matched for a card, I'm currently at 13 months since my last fight (female amateur USA). So having 6-10 weeks to prepare for a fight sounds about right for my experience simply because that's about as often as an opportunity exists, if even that.

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I've been absolutely astonished by how limited the knowledge some of these guys who go home and are "krus" have in Muay Thai. Explaining Muay Thai in the west to my trainers out here has always been a bit tricky - expressing the drastic differences in time spent in the gym, the actual quality and types of training, etc. But the easiest bit has always been pointing to some muppet guy in the gym who thinks he's hot shit and saying, "in my country he would be an instructor; and in his country he probably owns a gym." That pretty much always gets a, "ooohhh," kind of understanding that encompasses all of it from my Thai trainers.

I don't think you're wrong about people wanting a grading system, but I have always had (and probably will always have) a really hard time advocating for such a thing. My own original teacher, Master K, had a grading system of colored prajaet, which he clearly only did for western students who were kind of on their way to earning a Kru Certification or whatever. What I do like about Master K's version - which involves being able to do sequences of moves with flow and precision - is that the highest grades are for fighting, and then winning a fight. Fighting is included in the entire system. The reason I struggle with the grading thing as a "way for students to know they're advancing," is that you should just be able to tell that you're advancing by the actual commitment and experience of training. Hitting a plateau sucks for everyone and pushing past it shouldn't be a colored shirt, shorts, prajaet, or whatever; it feels, to me, like it goes against the ethic of Martial Arts as a battle with the Self.

All that said, I don't train at these gyms and I don't have the same path as the folks who do. So it's none of my business. I've met PhDs who are total idiots, having gone through THAT grading system, and I've met bartenders who are absolutely brilliant and skipped the whole institution. So these kinds of things exist in all areas, I reckon.

My comment here is not entirely to the point but does tie in with some of the comments made...I wonder if MT in the West is 'struggling' a bit because there is no grading system (like there is for Judo, TKD, BJJ, karate etc etc etc), and as most people will never get the chance to fight or even spar hard against a total stranger it is very hard to judge one's progress and see whether one is improving over time. I'm not saying I'd want to see a grading system (I wouldn't!) but at least in such martial arts instructors can be seen to have a black belt or 'top' grading (althought whether they gained that in a reputable club is another can of worms).

This ties in with the the comments about a lot of Western clubs having 'trainers' who aren't necessarily particularly good (someone said 'Anyone can set themselevs up as an MT trainer') and how a lot of trainers look at power or speed first and technique later. I realise how fortunate I am in having a trainer who drums technique and balance first, second, and third; after all a perfectly delivered kick or punch has a tremendous impact even if it was fairly slow and weak. I suppose not enough MT trainers here have had lengthy fighting careers (or even fought at all) whereas any trainer in Thailand would have had years of fights. So inevitably the techniques between Western and Thai fighting are going to be very different.

And the goals of the clubs are different too because, as I mentioned above, so few people here will ever get a fight of any description (and many people don't want to either - they do MT for the exercise and fun), whereas it seems that anyone in a Thai gym is almost certainly going to fight.

 

Just my twopennyworth.

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I have another idea why punch defence is considered more important in the West than in Thailand. Distribution of weight classes. The most competitive weight classes in Thailand would be at lower weights than in the West. Heavier weight class - higher probability of punch knockout. If most fighters you train are middleweights and above a single punch knockout is something that happens regularly. If a majority of your fighters are around featherweight - not so much.

In the UK fighters punch more because of the different rule systems. Interclub - N - C -B Class rules are all no elbows to the head so punches tend to be more dominant up until A class (Full Thai Rules). Up to that point it's a case of old habits die hard.

 

Muay Thai rulesets vary alot in different Western countries at anything below A - Class (Full Thai Rules).

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One of the most interesting differences between Thai and western imitation of Thai techniques I think comes in clinch. Westerners often seem to feel that "Thai Clinch" is essentially a kind of continuous "swimming" for position, coupled with elevated knees (sometimes with an overriding directive: Get to the double neck plum!). This kind of continuous swimming, hopping, skipping clinch could be seen in classic Greg Nelson's clinch DVD, which by the way, is excellent in so many ways...despite the fact that no Thai I've ever seen actually clinches quite like that. The larger issue is that the are many styles and modes of clinch fighting, and the swimming/leaping style isn't often used in stadium fighting unless in dominant moments - constant swims leave you open to throw counters, leaps result in being thrown. This is kind of "practice" clinch. Different from swimming clinch is Lock Clinching, where there is much less movement, and a fighter will work to a dominant lock. Yodwicha fights like this. Sylvie and I laugh over and over again at what Yodwicha said to Sylvie when she trained with him and told him: I like to lock. His eyes opened wide: You like to lock!? I like to lock!, as if he had found a simpatico friend. Yeah, you like to lock, you are one of the best in Thailand at it dude. In any case, there can be a spectrum maybe, from very serpentine clinching, to dominant lock clinching. And all the variations in between. I remember watching the clinch practice video of Sataanmuanglek, with spectacular trips and off balances, leaping knees, but then was struck how so much of this was countered by the lock power of Tanadet when they fought, so much so that in some of his fights against him he kinda stopped clinching all together. It was a case of rock, paper scissors.

Sylvie broke down some of his spectacular clinch sparring here:

You can see one of their instructive fights here:

 

This end of the spectrum, Lock Clinch fighting, is I believe underdevelped or suffers from lack of awareness in parts of the west, but it is a big part of stadium, Muay Khao attacks. It can and does using swimming, trips and other elements, but largely it is about catching the slippery fish, and establishing dominance.

If there is any doubt about the variation in clinch technique, check out this video of Sinbi coach Kru Pot, who specializes in clinch knee fighting, completely overwhelming Saenchai with knees. Pot isn't even locking. He's just controlling, and abusing with incredibly fast, direct knees. This is perhaps the most striking clinch video I've ever seen in Thailand.

There is a lot going on there - I believe I read that Saenchai had just been dominating a few fellows in clinch, so it seems that Pot is coming in to master him, and put him in his place. He just does not relent. But Saenchai is a pretty decent clinch fighter. Not great, but very good against certain opponents. Look at how incredibly strained, stiff and stagnant he becomes. He's almost paralyzed. This is what the Lock fighter is trying to do. Kru Pot's size and strength advantage has a lot to do with this too. Saenchai can't really afford to take risks, he ends up just trying to fight him off.

Sidenote: This is one of the interesting things about Sylvie's clinch style. It's a locking style. Several fighters coming out of Petchrungruang have this slow, methodical locking style. That is the style of her gym. Yet she uses it against fighters usually with 3-6 kgs on her, which is a very steep hill to climb. It also is why she has had such trouble against Loma in the past. Loma's a timing throw clinch fighter. She doesn't lock. It's a counter clinch style, and has been learned since Loma was a little girl. A locking fighter has to become quite dominant to beat a counter clincher like that, otherwise they will just be thrown. In a sense, they have to be 1.5x or 2x as good, with counters to counters.

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Despite having trained with Greg quite a bit in the past, I have not seen his DVDs! I know he teaches clinch with a heavy Greco Roman wrestling influence, and it comes together quite nicely with Thai boxing concepts for clinch in MMA. I think the constant swimming for position is a direct transfer from the pummeling drills used in wrestling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fz-duVr-vY

We used to have a guy at the gym who was a decently high level Greco competitor, but then also trained (fought) and lived in Thailand for quite a some time. He has long since retired from fighting, but his clinch was something else. It was definitely not traditional, though quite effective. 

That Pot vs Saenchai video was great. Thank you for sharing. 

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