I’ve been working with Daeng in padwork for the past few days. We’ve worked together before, but only a few times and it came to light recently that he was under the impression that I didn’t like working with him and I had felt that he didn’t want to work with me. Lame. But we worked it out and now I know to ask him to hold for me and I can tell already that working with him is going to have a big impact on my fighting. He’s a fighter’s trainer – he watches my fights, watches me in training and finds ways to address the weaknesses he sees. It’s a wonderful thing to have someone like that as a trainer.
We’ve been working on my blocks for kicks in padwork and I’ve been personally working on blocking punches since I’m going to be fighting with a broken nose pretty soon. My blocks have been very consistent at times and when they are not I try to at least kick back quickly, which is an acceptable response and Daeng is happy to let me mix that in. The main point is not hit the “reset” button every time I miss a block, get hit, etc. Just respond.
This morning I climbed in the ring with Daeng, ready to work hard. He was ready for it too and immediately started making me work to catch him. He doesn’t stand there and wait for a kick, even if he’s holding for it. He makes you track him, cut him off, reach him from awkward distances, just like a real fight. It’s incredibly valuable practice and I felt myself starting to flow in the first round. I was blocking return kicks between my own strikes, throwing my hips back as he came it to clinch my waist and driving my knees hard into his belly pad, snapping my punches and cutting him off. I even managed to evade a few head kicks by “matrix” bending backwards and returning with strong kicks. When he punched at my face I weathered the flurry and then knocked him back with a quick knee.
There’s a guy from Denmark named Robert who has been at Lanna for what I imagine is at least a decade. He’s a friend of Andy’s and lives up at the Hill Camp most of the time, making day trips down to Chiang Mai every so often, including to watch me fight. He was at the camp today, standing at the corner of the ring (on the outside) watching the padwork within the ropes. I could hear his approval as I blocked, dodged, fired off knees or turned Daeng in the clinch. He was excited, like he was watching a fight. At the end of the round he exclaimed, “Beautiful!”
My second round wasn’t so fluid. I was tired already and I could feel the effort more than the absence of it. I failed to block Daeng’s kicks for the first half of the round at least, but finally started firing teeps into his belly pad when his leg came up, launching him into the ropes and following with a knee. He wasn’t super pleased with my inability to block – my head was too far forward and that drove my hips back, I think – but he is such a man that if what you do instead works then he’ll accept it. Rounds three and four were more of the same, getting more difficult to respond with speed and trying to maintain power in my strikes. I knew I needed to relax, let that flow back into my movements, but I couldn’t reach it.
The Cost of Effort
I thanked Daeng and climbed back out of the ring as he called in another student. I smiled at the thought of all I’d learned just now, the value of the practice was immediate in my mind, and I contemplated how to do better as I poured myself some water. Robert came up to me and said how beautiful that padwork was, how he loved watching me and that my technique is really good. I just need to relax, he said. I smiled at this; I always do. I know in an abstract way what people mean when they tell me to relax, but I don’t know how to relax while lying on the bed, so the idea of being able to relax while someone is trying to punch me in the face is more complicated. Well, not really, but it seems that way. What Robert means is that I have to stop trying to reach at performance just do: believe in my technique instead of trying to perform the correct example of it. I regard his compliments highly – this man has seen a lot of Muay Thai over the years and his enthusiasm while watching my padwork was sincere. That padwork felt like a fight and if I could feel that way in an actual fight it would really be a leap for Sylvie-kind!
Speed: Power vs. Strength
I put my cup on the bench and started pulling my gloves back on when JR came up to me. I adore JR. He’s always got a smile on his face, even when he’s not actually smiling. He walked confidently up to me and put his arm on my shoulder. “You are strong,” he said, “but now you need to work on power.” What? I laughed and nodded. I know that I’m strong and I also know that one isn’t anything unless one knows how to access or how to use that thing – being tall isn’t really an advantage until you know how to use your reach and really be tall. “I thought I had to work on speed,” I said to JR. “No,” he said, “you need power.” He went on to tell me that when I’m running I should sprint for at least 1 kilometer, full speed, full power sprinting. He pointed past the rings behind him to indicate where on a 5 km run around the neighborhood I should start sprinting back to the camp. “Make you power,” he said.
His use of “strength” and “power” are not accidental and I’ve been thinking about his words all morning. By strength he means inherent or potential strength and power is the ability to access that strength and apply it to strikes. His advice for how to work on this was the same advice Den gave me on how to be faster – “do everything faster,” Den said, “eat fast, walk fast, brush your teeth fast, and sprint when you run. Not only sabai, sabai.” So maybe what JR means is explosiveness, a deliberateness in power strikes rather than just trying to throw everything with more power.
Given the advice that JR has given me before, what Robert said today, and pretty much the most frequently issued advice my way, I think what JR means is also that I need to relax. In clinching you aren’t using power in a muscle sense – you’re not pushing or prying in a consistent way – but rather in an explosive tension out of looseness. I can use a lot of muscle strength to keep my opponents from turning me in a clinch, but even though I’m stronger I cannot pull an opponent off balance no matter how strong I pull. Instead, a well-timed jerk of the hips will throw my opponent – or much bigger and more skilled training partner – onto the mat with great force. It’s power, not strength.