Below is a 12 minute video segment of a private I shot for Nak Muay Nation. The full hour and a half, with audio commentary, is available for Nak Muay Nation members. What follows is a walk through of this 12 minute segment, and a discussion of the core principles of Sagat’s fight philosophy, illustrated through GIFs of various strikes. Sagat currently is instructing out of TBM gym in Bangkok. Map to where TBM gym is is found at the bottom of this article.
(Above) 12 minutes of the video private I shot with the incredible Sagat Petchyindee. Nak Muay Nation members can see the Sagat full hour and a half here.
In the video above you see us starting out with the very long uppercut that Sagat is (now) famous for. In the voiceover I talk about how it comes out more than it comes up, and you can watch him literally manipulate my arm for the perfect trajectory of that punch. But what I love about the first few seconds of this video is how much you can see his energy. He has me throw the punch, I butcher it, then he makes some corrections and when I throw it again he claps and says, “how feel?” He asks this a lot throughout the session, meaning “how does it feel?” He wants you to feel correct technique – it should feel stronger, faster, easier… it should feel good. And when you watch him on the video you can see how loose and relaxed he is. His movements are crisp and perfect, like he’s been programmed on a computer and all his spacing is mathematically determined – except he’s a person and so it’s just years and years of training to this kind of perfection. Watching him throw a combination and then watching me imitate it, the tension – the unnecessary tension – of my body is notable. It messes everything up, whereas the contrasting relaxation he demonstrates is just incredible. Do it like him.
In this 12 minutes he’s trying to get me to punch past the target, without ever saying that. But eventually I figure it out and the length of my punch adjusts accordingly. He shows me that you don’t punch up above your own head, as you might in boxing, instead you punch out because it’s Muay Thai and your distances are different. Sifu McInnes teaches an uppercut that basically comes off of a shoulder bump in boxing, where someone is clinched up against you and you pop them off with a push of your shoulder and then punch basically right next to your own face to knock them out. That distance doesn’t happen a lot in Muay Thai because when we clinch we can actually fight in it, but in boxing it’s like a “no hands” clinch. So in the voiceover I explain that you don’t uppercut like Ryu, who does his whole jumping straight up into the air to reverse-pile-drive kind of uppercut – Sagat’s is not that, his is coming out like a stab in the throat. His uppercut works in “the yard.”
Then he gets into hooks, which still come out of your core but you rotate past the target. It’s important to keep your elbow stuck to your ribs as you initiate the rotation, rather than pulling your elbow out from your body. That’s where all the control and power comes from. I explain in the voiceover how it happens to be that my doubles are better than my singles – meaning two hooks in a row rather than just one – because it forces a different starting point for the punch. Start from where that second one is, rather than loading up. But watching Sagat you really see how the power comes from his feet and his hips. Goddamn, he’s so strong and quick. I recommend you watch this whole video once through just watching his feet; they tell you everything about spacing and how to deliver the power in strikes. His distance is always perfect.
Sagat is a really cool guy. He’s a wonderful mix of very old-school – he reminded me a lot of my first trainer, Master K, who is in his 70’s – and also very in touch with international concepts of instruction. He’s more verbal than a lot of the trainers I’ve met and he’s even created some phrases for his particular style. “Organization,” for example, is the word he uses to mean strategically linking your strikes and footwork together. You use one strike to set up the second, which sets up the third, which sets up the fourth, and so on. Not just throwing one strike and see where you end up. He’s very strategic. And he’s also very good at breaking down the technique to simple elements so that you can get to the core of the power. Again, this reminded me of Master K, who is PhD level instruction in terms of finding the exact technique to bring forth power and grace. Sagat his this down to a science.
If you broke Sagat down into a stick figure drawing, you’d get a really good indication of his style. Like the single line that composes the body of a stick figure, Sagat is unbelievably strong down the center line of his body. Everything else moves around that center, and comes out of that center, with a kind of divine physics. He rotates around his core to deliver hooks, kicks and elbows, but he comes straight out of his hips and ribs to deliver long strikes and his famous “Tiger Uppercut,” so-called from the Street Fighter videogames. But it’s a long uppercut and the power is incredible. As mentioned above, he explained to me several times how some of his strikes are different from boxing, because in Muay Thai you never find yourself in the super-close positions you might strike out of in boxing, so for Muay Thai you change the positions and the strikes end up being longer. I thought this was brilliant, because in the west we absolutely learn boxing techniques and just throw them into the mix with Muay Thai – we’re far more familiar with boxing, so it makes sense – but actually adjusting the techniques to have the most power and to be available in the context of fighting Muay is just awesome. I’d pick those long body digs any day.
Below are some GIFs of my favorite techniques from our session. Sagat’s style isn’t fancy or “tricky,” so much as just solid. There’s a purity and truth to his movements that is unmistakable when you see him move. He’s carved away all the excess and it’s just this clean line, every time. It’s beautiful.
Turning the Cross Down
In the session Sagat spent a lot of care getting my cross to come out better. My elbow pops up in what I dub the “chicken wing” and it sucks power and accuracy out of your punch. Here in this GIF you can see the entire trajectory of the punch, as Sagat wants it. You are kind of punching down, ultimately, but with the knuckles slightly turning. He explained that you turn the fist a slight bit in order to engage the muscles at the back of your arm, shoulder, and lats. There’s very little power in the top of the arm for punches – that’s just not how those muscles work, they’re for pulling, like bicep curls. But the back of the arm is all about pushing, which is great for the punch. In the GIF you can see his stance; that should be your stance. He wants the punch to come out of the ribs, your core, rather than coming out or around first (that’s what causes the “chicken wing,” the elbow leaving your rib cage) and then you turn down at the end of the punch.
Right Hook Drive By
I love this GIF because you see a decent turn for the rear hand hook by me, but then using my body as the center line you can see the entire trajectory and turn of the perfected hook by what Sagat is doing. If you stand on the line of a mirror or put a piece of tape vertically on a mirror, you can practice his hook. You want your elbow to end at your mouth, so your fist is past the center line. If you stop the hook on the target, rather than coming through it, it’s a pretty lame punch. When you twist all the way through, from your hips, it’s so powerful. Again, you want your punch to originate from your core so you keep the elbow on your ribs as you start to turn.
The Sagat Tiger Uppercut – Straight Out From the Body
This is the famous “Tiger Uppercut,” as it’s called from the Sagat in Street Fighter. You can see how long it is. But the elbow comes straight out from the body and you can see his very slight turn by watching his hips and feet. I was always taught a boxer’s uppercut, which is very close and comes straight up. His is more like a stabbing motion out. I found it very difficult to not “punch up” while with him. Instead you want the trajectory to go right through your target. It’s almost like an “under hand” jab with power more than an upper cut.
The Sagat Body Shot – Stab Like With a Knife, Don’t Body Hook
Amazingly, you can learn the Tiger Uppercut by practicing his body digs, which is what he did to really teach me to come out rather than up on the uppercut. It’s less an “uppercut” than an “upward facing cross.” In his body digs, however, you can really see the direction because he explains that it’s like stabbing someone – really straight. I kept turning my punch, like a hook to the body and he hated it because it just grazes, the hook to the body is a boxing strike, from positions you don’t find yourself in very often in Muay Thai. He repeatedly showed me how easy it is to just pull his hips back and have me miss completely. When he actually just took his finger and said, “I put a knife in your hand, now you have a knife,” and had me stab him, the punch was perfect. You can see it in this GIF. But the importance of thinking you are stabbing with a knife is that you kind of turn your fist a bit in a way that keeps your punch straight. You don’t hook/swipe with a knife. You stab-stab with a knife. Here is a fight example of the straight body shot from a recent MAX fight
Sagat Step In On Inside Elbows
Firstly, look at his left foot as he steps in for this elbow. Elbows are a really close-range weapon, way closer than most people attempt to throw them. The really good elbows can be done in a phone booth… or glove compartment. They’re really close. But what was great about what Sagat showed me was how he elbowed out of his guard. He says you cover one eye with the guard and then the opposite arm does the elbow. In this GIF you can see the rocking motion as he twists his hip a slight bit in order to really drive the elbow through my damn face. But again, the elbow comes out from the center and goes out, not up.
Street Fighter – Sagat
Recently the Bangkok Post did a special on Sagat‘s rise to fame and the Street Fighter character ostensibly based on him (although the creator of the game denies the connection and has avoided ever paying for his likeness). I played a lot of Street Fighter as a kid, always choosing Chun Li or Blanka, mostly because both are great for “button mashing,” which was my preferred style. But Sagat was crazy hard to beat. When I told Sagat (the real Sagat) that his character was an End Guy who was so hard to defeat, he said, “I know… I want to fight myself, to beat myself, and I cannot.” It was pretty funny (video below). But it is something that makes him well-known to the west, which many fighters of his generation missed out on because there was no Youtube and a lot of those fights just got lost in time. Like my own trainer, Master K, you can see that Sagat has further perfected his technique since leaving the ring as a fighter. If you watch his fights (there is some footage online), he’s not fully developed yet in what’s available to view. Watching him now, however, in the ring with me and showing me the techniques he’s trying to inform in me… it’s just a whole different, complete and perfect thing.
above, Sagat says that he cannot beat Sagat
From Sagat’s History with Muay Thai and Boxing
266 Wins (151 KOs)
Muay Thai: 3 times Lumpinee Champion, 3 times Rajadamnern Champion
Boxing: OPBF World Boxing Champion, WBC Asian Boxing Champion, fought Wildredo Gomez for the WBC Super Bantam Weight World Title – full boxing record here
Below: rare footage of Dieselnoi and Sagat fighting, two of the arguably greatest fighters ever. They reportedly fought 3 times, with Sagat winning twice:
photos below from Sagat’s personal photo album
You can see Lawrence Kenshin’s breakdown piece on Sagat, the real life Street Fighter here:
Training with Sagat – TBM Gym
TBM gym is a Thai fighter gym. They have developed their own fight team and Sagat is their coach. If you are a fighter there is the possibility of training with them, but this incorporation of westerners is largely untested waters. On the same premises there is a fitness gym as well (a separate business) – despite what I say in the video walk through, if you are a beginner you may be asked to train at the fitness gym. This is not a traditional kai muay in which everyone is invited to train with the fighters. Taking privates with Sagat is admittedly a very expensive affair. 3,000 baht was the cost (many times what I have paid to train with greats in Bangkok), but I will say this. He is an incredible instructor. It isn’t just that you’ll be training with the man who inspired Sagat in Street Fighter, or even one of the great Muay Thai fighters of his generation, it’s that he is extremely precise in his corrections, and he has honed his own style to such a high degree it is practically impossible to not learn something of great value when training with him. I’ve taken everything he said about striking out of my core, not coming wide, and really worked to improve my own training. He’s pretty amazing. Privates with Sagat are open to serious students at any level.
TBM Gym tells me that they are going to be moving to an enormous, all-inclusive facility in Bangkok, with many amenities (pool, accommodations, training equipment) perhaps as early as January 2017. They are thinking of creating an offering like some of the very large Phuket gyms, including MMA training. We’ll have to wait and see what 2017 brings, but it sounds very interesting.
video walk through of the TBM Gym location, above
You can contact TBM Gym on Facebook here.
Map and Location of TBM Gym in Bangkok:
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Private with Chatchai Sasakul – Perfecting the Jab, Cross, Hook and Uppercut
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