above is an extended clip from my 82 minute session with Karuhat. You can see the full session with commentary on my Patreon Muay Thai Library.
This is an excerpt out of a longer training video with Karuhat Sor. Suphawan, one of the greatest Muay Thai fighters of all time. In this portion Karuhat is really working diligently on using a relaxed sway as a way to hide a right cross and a right kick, primarily. If you watch his old fights from the Golden Age, you’ll see the way he creeps in. It’s not quite as simple as this sway, but it’s in there nonetheless. His style has this incredible elasticity to it, where he’s always pressing forward but if he gets moved or has to take a step back in order to evade a strike, he just snaps right back to that forward creeping movement. This is the seed-form of that movement.
This all began because I was telegraphing my right kick on the pads. Karuhat tried to show me how to hide it by being more relaxed but I couldn’t quite grasp it. So eventually he moved us onto the floor so I could watch the movements in the mirror and actually see how to hide the strikes by just turning them into extensions of this relaxed sway. Karuhat, of all fighters, can teach the importance of relaxation because I suspect it was his greater strategy to create tension in his opponents in order to make them easier to read. A tense fighter telegraphs everything. And as someone who has been training in Thailand for almost 5 years now, I can attest to the frequency with which your trainers will suggest, command, and outright demand that you relax, “sabai sabai.” I suspect that in the west we don’t even recognize relaxation for what it is. We see relaxed fighters and call it “technical,” but really you can just see more refined technique out of a relaxed fighter than out of a tense one. Or we call it “flow.” You simply cannot flow out of tension. But it’s really, really hard to relax – it takes a lot of work.
But the kind of work it takes is what Karuhat is working with me on in front of this mirror. I keep winding up my shoulder before the punch without even realizing it. But if you watch Karuhat in the mirror you’ll see how beautifully his right punch comes from absolutely nothing, near his ribs, to a long and beautiful and very fast snap that kind of extends out of his rocking onto his front foot. It’s all one motion, like a whip from handle to tip, it just extends out and snaps at the end. Same with the kick. You sway, sway, sway and then the leg comes out on the same rocking onto the lead foot from which that right hand comes. Almost like an underhanded ball pitch.
I had a hard time keeping the same flow between the footwork/swaying and the strikes. I create tension in order to throw strikes, rather than using relaxation to drive them. The difference that occurred to me in the 6 minutes of this video is that trying to “muscle” the strength into a strike is just the opposite of how it actually works. You know that saying, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”? That’s kind of what this is about. The relaxation creates accuracy and accuracy is what creates real power. Imagine a Major League pitcher trying to throw a ball with crazy speed, power and accuracy with a tensed up arm. It just won’t go. He’s got to relax and release at the right moment to really whip that ball. The difference is really illustrated in Karuhat and my bodies side-by-side. He’s utterly relaxed and I’ve got a layer of tension like wearing wet clothes or something. His hips, thighs and knees really show how he creates this kind of flexing forward and back, like the tension on a bow when the string is drawn – my shoulders and hips really show how I’m just flexing muscles. There’s a difference between those two kinds of tension, a flexed bow versus a flexed bicep. He does this really amazing exaggerated motion where he brings his chest forward and up, like he’s coming out of water. That’s how he’s trying to explain to me the sway forward, so you come all at once with your hips and chest as the lead and you kind of lift as you bring up the leg for the kick or snap the arm out for the punch. Picture how a ballerina lifts up onto her toe as she steps forward, all one fluid, gliding step and lift. But with a strike on the end of it instead of an arabesque.
Teaching relaxation is nearly impossible, but the repetition of this exercise – done over time – is a good way to work your way into however it looks when you’re relaxed. The repetition creates boredom or fatigue, which then allows you to be relaxed. Your body just kind of gives up. Then, once you know what that feels like, you can try to recreate it without first being bored or tired. As I got frustrated in this segment, I became more tense and I’d have to work it back out again. It’s not about doing the strikes “right”, it’s about doing movements out of relaxation. This is one of the best lessons I’ve ever been taught in all my years in Muay Thai thus far. It’s how to train a skill, the skill being relaxation. And I try to implement this sway movement in my shadowboxing and on the bag, slowly working it into my padwork and sparring (where the pressure makes it quite difficult) and it’s all precisely from this lesson with Karuhat.
GIFs from the Full Session
The above GIF is a beautiful illustration of Karuhat’s elasticity. He’s just swaying to fake forward movement, not even lifting his feet, but this acts to bait a strike and he’s ready to respond with a backwards step and immediate strike. He actually shows two alternate options, the switch-step to get out of the way, and then the step back in his regular stance that ends with the right cross as the opponent is closing in.
This one is straight out of my last lesson with Karuhat (Here: Be Like Sand), in which the greater theme was “be like sand.” He meets my hands with his hands and offers a moment of resistance before releasing any tension in his arms and I basically collapse into his knee strike. His hands basically guide me in. Also note how he guides my hands over to the side, not straight in. This is totally a “pulling the chair out from under someone” approach.
This footwork is similar to the sway he’s teaching in the video clip, as well as the first GIF at the top of this string. He baits the teep and then just pulls his weight back, rocking out of the way to take power out of the teep and pulls slightly on my heel to off-balance me as he comes back with his counter. It’s the same swaying, rocking, floating movement that makes his whole style.
Karuhat was a master of the elbow, cutting opponents at a decisive moment. In this GIF he’s showing me how to use an angle on the elbows to come over the guard, whereas a “fahn” elbow, which comes straight across, will just hit the guard. He actually holds my hand with his thumb pressed into my palm, to show how you just collapse the guard of your opponent down with a gentle push, almost like arm-wrestling but without power. Then the elbow just continues on that same trajectory, right into your opponent’s exposed face. If you look at my facial expression as he does this, you can see how I know I’m screwed, even though he keeps a polite distance. But watch each arm individually to see the movement – look at my arm in isolation and how the forearm basically just gets turned down like a lever – then watch his arm and how it just pushes down and then the elbow folds in, but he pulls my hand ever so slightly into his own chest, which if it had some speed and power to it would pull me into the elbow as well. His left arm, which here is just lightly pulling back to allow the whole movement, would pull back to guard as he turned.
Karuhat Highlight – His Elasticity
The above highlight by Muay Thai Scholar almost exclusively focuses on Karuhat’s elasticity. You can see how the base rhythm and relaxation he is showing me in the above video clip is used, in fights. It’s like he is attached to his opponent like a giant rubber band.
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If you area already a patron, watch my session with another legend, Hippy Singmanee, who relatedly is also teaching relaxation. But in his case it was to deliver maximum power.