I wasn’t sure what to expect from my private with Kru Thailand, as I was not very familiar with him as a fighter. He was a Rajadamnern (118 lb), Lumpinee and Thailand champion (122 lb), out of the famed Pinsinchai gym, you can read the Siam Fight Mag interview of him here. What was very quickly evident was his comfort, familiarity and keenness in focusing in on techniques when instructing, with precision. One of the things that westerners can crave when coming to Thailand is technical, corrective instruction and Kru Thailand is all that. Not only is his Muay incredibly economical and effective, he’s very honed in on communicating it in all its small details. This was just one of the best sessions I’ve had in terms of demonstrable technique in all my experience. His English is quite good and mostly we spoke only brief sentences of clarification or affirmation, but one of my favorite things was how he’d say, “look Thailand.” He meant watch what he’s doing so I can see what he’s trying to show me, but with a gesture he’d show clearly where to look, which a lot of trainers don’t specify. If you’re keen as well you can pay attention to where he’s looking when he checks to see if you understand – that also clues you in to where the center of each technique is. And his techniques are beautiful. He calls himself a Muay Buk fighter, which is forward pressure and a lot of strikes, which he’s able to achieve due to this kind of caged or armored car manner of protecting himself while striking. It’s the gladiator shield and the sword: block on one side, slice on the other. His shadow of elbows when he was showing me the symmetry of movement and ease of footwork is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I could watch it all day and I could feel, instinctively, how it was just flowing out of him from hours and hours, years and years of repetition.
At the very start of this video Kru Thailand is demonstrating his proper form for a knee executed while holding the shoulder of your opponent. What’s interesting about it to me is that, as westerners, 99% of the time our asses are back and our hips need to come in. Kru Thailand shows the difference in stance between an upright, hips-in execution and a hips-back (cocked for the knee, but not ass back) stance while latched on to the shoulder. It’s not a subtle difference between the hips in and hips back, but it is a subtle difference between hips back and ass back.
If you look at the line of his body, from his shoulder to hip to the full extension of his back foot, it’s a lovely diagonal line. Putting your ass back breaks that line and breaks your power. But the extended arm, hips back for the knees tucks the head in as well. It’s powerful and beautiful and completely protected. It’s that damn armored car. He also adds a small forward step after the turn, which allows you to land off of the turn and then have one additional beat (and literally a step forward) to come up on your toe and deliver maximum power. This one second pause can be critical in the difference between a rushed knee and a knee that takes all the air out of your opponent, and that step, which isn’t really intuitive, is where the power comes from. He’s the only instructor I’ve seen teach this step, but it’s excellent, and it is in keeping with the general rule of his: step forward on every strike.
The best bit of his arm-latch on the knees with the turn is that he taught me to bend the arm (above). I’ve never realized this importance before and surely always try to keep my arm straight (because the cross-arm is also working as a guard), while maybe sometimes having success with a bent arm and not realizing it. So I’ve struggled to just to understand why sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, or why I have such a hard time maintaining grip. But Kru Thailand actually bends the elbows for me a few times, to create a better lock and greater control, which he must be able to feel from his end as well. This is one of those tiny adjustments that requires detail in observation and in understanding of the technique. It’s how you can get so much out of even just one hour with a trainer like Kru Thailand. He also slows down for the repetition of each technique, to allow the mistakes and adjustments to reveal themselves. I liked how he had me move forward and backward on everything, which seems quite obvious but is absolutely neglected in a great deal of practice throughout the world: learning to execute any technique from a multitude of angles, while moving and in a relaxed state. But he also can explain and demonstrate his entire system, which is brilliant. Not only is his system as a fighter and trainer really evident and comprehensive in how it all fits together, but when I threw something in that he hadn’t shown me (a fake teep to elbow), he identified immediately that the better time to throw that technique is when going backwards rather than forward as I was doing. He has a reason for all of his adjustments, which I reckon every trainer does, but he is thinking about it and can express it pretty clearly, which not all trainers can do.
In fact, the way we got into clinch was by me grabbing him in a kind of improvised clinch during padwork. He responded to it, immediately felt what was good and what was lacking in that grip; he punished it first, by throwing me on the ground (he is, after all, a fighter in his heart) and then moved into showing me how to improve on those weaknesses. He’s an intuitive trainer, he lets the lesson develop as he goes, but his breadth and wealth of knowledge is deep enough that he has something to add to anything and everything.
above, Kru Thailand’s lean over technique for clinch control
What he showed me about peeling the arms down (Kevin and I call it the “banana peel” when you push the arms down from above in the clinch) using your own body weight from the shoulder, as well as a detail on where to land with your own weight that I didn’t fully grasp when in this lesson. You don’t put your chest on your opponent’s chest, as that kind of lean in can make you susceptible to being thrown, but you get your shoulder in and your chin down by their shoulder so you have maximum pin of their arm and can throw your opponent from this position as well. This is a very thin line between leaning too much and too little, something only learned by feel, so experiment with it over and over. Otherwise, as was the case in what I had to offer in that situation, you can be left kind of steering the arms around to no end. Not that. Kru Thailand shows me this trip that is really effective against most any kind of fighter, because you basically pin their leg down by the foot in order to keep them from being able to right themselves as you off-balance them from up top. He specified a limit on how far you can leave your foot on their leg in the turn before it becomes a foul, which I’d never heard before, but generally a lot of what’s legal or illegal in Muay Thai comes down to what you can and can’t see, or what is done with speed and flair. So, his tap of the foot to pin it and then immediately move your leg to get ready for the knee has two purposes: hide the trip and land the knee.
There’s a lot of technique packed into the full-length video which last a full hour, and what’s really great about it is that Kru Thailand spends significant time and effort making adjustments to each piece. He doesn’t show a “trick”, say good good and move on. He demonstrates a technique, has you reveal your own limitations with it and then he works to make small adjustments while you move around and relax into the process of feeling it out. I reckon the heart of a Muay Buk fighter comes from absolute confidence in your defense and power with equal measure, and that comes from being able to stand in any space, swallow up the space in front of you and pressure your opponent with the absolute certainty that whatever they try to keep you back with isn’t going to do it. I could feel in executing (to the best of my ability) Kru Thailand’s techniques how one could come to this kind of confidence. It’s exquisite balance, mostly; but what I love about how he teaches is that he shows you – and walks you through – precisely how you get there, rather than just seeing the butterfly and having no idea how it got there from creeping around as a caterpillar. It’s hours and hours, years and years of exactly what you see in this video. It’s pretty incredible.
If you’d like to train with Kru Thailand he’s core instructor at Santai Muay Thai gym in San Kamphaeng which is about 30 minutes outside of Chiang May in the North. The gym is esteemed by serious fighters and new students alike in that they offer lots of technical instruction, are known for teaching a comprehensive style in a more structured environment, and provide a camp-like setting that many westerners find satisfaction in, often returning again and again. It is also a camp that has proven very female fighter friendly, and well connected in terms of getting their best female fighters on big shows, against top Thais, fighting for prestigious belts. It seems right to say that it is the premiere female fighter gym in Thailand right now, and they have worked hard to make it so. You can contact them through their Facebook page, here is where they are on a map:
The Muay Thai Library Project
If interested in watching the full hour become a patron of mine, supporting my Muay Thai Library documentary project (suggested pledge $5). You can check out the Library here.
These are some of the things found in the full hour with Kru Thailand:
- Keeping the guard at eyebrow level (to protect from elbows) and slightly away from the face and body, but relaxed enough to move into a solid block at any moment.
- The lean forward to drop into the strong-side elbow, while keeping the front hand in a tight guard for balance and protection.
- Reaching across to your opponent’s opposite shoulder on knees, both as a block and to pull them into the knee.
- Pivoting on turns and then driving in the knee – keeping the gripping arm bent for better control.
- Turning the hip in a bit on a front teep, staying square on a back side teep.
- Using your own body weight to control a double-inside arm control in the clinch; how to do a trip off of that position.
- Bringing your head off-line on a kick. This is very “Pinsinchai” style in form, but Thailand has me throw my arm down for torque, whereas some other Pinsinchai fighters prefer to put the arm straight out with the hand in the face of your opponent. Either way is pretty similar when the head comes off-line the way Thailand teaches me here.
- Shadowing blocks and elbows – watch this part on repeat as much as you can. It’s so good.
- How to use the bag to work on spacing and timing.
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