JR and the Thai Low-Kick
JR started training and fighting out of Lanna (Kiat Busaba) when he was about 12 years old. So he kind of came of age at the camp, learning under trainers who are no longer there, but he became a trainer himself maybe 5-7 years ago in his early 20’s. He was a trainer at the gym when I first made a trip out to Thailand 3 years ago but since then he’s moved to China with one of his former trainers and become a trainer and fighter out there, where earnings for fights are much higher than in Chiang Mai. He’s an amazing athlete and fighter and he comes back to the camp every six months or so for a couple months at a time for purposes of renewing his visa, so I try to get as much training and tips from him as possible when he’s at the camp.
He’s one of these Thais who will retain a level of boyishness until his dying breath, but it’s not an immaturity so much as an uninhibited joy that ripples out of him all the time – whether he’s laughing with the Thai boys or yelling at his student who comes with him from China during sparring. He actually comes off as really jolly even when he’s yelling and hitting his student (or one of the Thai boys) with a switch cut from a nearby tree. He’s old school in his training and I’ve so far been spared the switch, but I will not even blink if ever I find myself facing him with it. He even has this joy about him, this boyish charm and minimal seriousness in his face when he’s fighting. That doesn’t mean he won’t destroy someone in the ring, it just means he’s really light-hearted in the process of destroying someone (or at the very least in the moments just before and after).
But watching JR fight is a thrilling experience (video below). One of the most exciting qualities in really good Muay Thai fighters is the visual expression that they always have another gear. They start out fighting really clean and beautiful and then the opponent gets something in and it feels for a moment that there’s danger but then your fighter switches into a higher gear and suddenly the danger is facing the other guy. JR does this really well. He’s always got another gear. And one of his top gears that’s, like, zero to a million miles an hour in 60 seconds is his body punch to low kick combination. They’re brutal. I don’t flinch at people getting hit almost ever, but I wince when I see JR going in for a low kick KO. Good God.
So now that JR is here at the camp for the next two months I’ve managed to let him settle in for about a day before asking him to help me learn his low kick. We shot this video after training the other night, so it’s pretty dark, but you can see the movement. He’s so whippy. There’s no audible explanation, so I’ll do my best here:
1. Use your standing leg to hop forward and over so that it lands outside the stance of your opponent (or the bag) and the kicking leg whips across. The standing leg bends at the knee so your almost squatting a bit and the standing foot pivots to be fully to the side. The kicking leg should have a slight rainbow trajectory so that you land down on the thigh with your shin rather than just cutting across. (This cutting across is exactly what Master K teaches, and is part of the foundation of what I first learned about Muay Thai.)
2. Look at how still his upper body remains. He doesn’t lean back (I do, which isn’t right) but instead drives his rear shoulder forward and his front shoulder back in a quick rotation.
3. Your arm on the same side as the kick slices back rather than down, keeping your shoulder close to your chin and your arm extended out almost toward your opponent’s face to protect yourself from punch counters. JR explained decisively how a kick to the body has the arm coming down and a kick to the thigh has the arm slicing across – he demonstrates both.
4. Return to the stance from whence you came. He shows a number of steps, demonstrating how the feet return to where they started (he shows this when I’m kicking on the left leg). He even goes and gets a dry-erase marker and marks the ground where my foot starts to where it should land during the kick and then I have to get my foot back to the starting line. The lines form an upside-down triangle with a wider point for the right leg (as a standing leg) on left kicks. You have to step pretty wide for that one.
See the Kick in Action: JR
The real action starts after minute 1:20. His opponent throws the first leg kick which stings JR, and JR proceeds to let loose with – increasing intensity – what must be a dozen leg kicks in variety until there is nothing left to stand on.