Quick Intro: This post is about my latest Sylvie’s Technique Vlog, sharing on the benefits of super high repetition training of an isolated technique. Every week I publish a new 1 minute technique vlog on my page Muay Thai Techniques – Preserver The Legacy, and a much more extensive vlog on that technique on Nak Muay Nation in the VIP course section. Once a month I share the entire vlog, just to let everyone know what’s happening over at Nak Muay Nation, and this is one of those. At the bottom of this article you can find a playlist of all my technique vlogs so far. These are not demo videos, but really vlogs just talking about approaches to training and specific techniques that I’m working with. I hope you enjoy, and find them of value.
this week’s vlog, above
One of the first deficits I encountered in learning Muay Thai was in high repetition. The way I trained, long ago, one on one in Master K’s basement, I’d do 5 minutes at a time of a single kick or knee but I had no way to get the repetition required for building deep muscle memory. Coming to Thailand was partly intended to fill that hole in my training, because I knew that training twice per day, every day, would absolutely create an increase in repetition. But in the 5+ years I’ve lived, trained and fought full time in Thailand now, this lesson has revealed itself to me over and again, at different levels and with greater importance over time.
This might sound strange coming from someone who set out to achieve impossible numbers of fights, but I’m not really a numbers kind of chick. If I’m running laps, I don’t love setting a number and trying to beat it. I’ll pick a number (1oo, 300, or 500) for kicks, knees, situps, pullups or whatever but I’m not really tied to to those numbers. I’d way rather just go until it’s hard and then push out a few more reps of whatever it is I’m doing. But, it turns out, numbers are important. Thais love round numbers, usually in the hundreds, for their repetitions. 100 teeps, 500 knees, that kind of thing. It’s a way to push yourself beyond the, “I’m tired now, so I’ll call it here.” What I’ve found for myself lately is that picking a ridiculously high number of repetitions for a technique that I’m particularly weak in has profound effect on the improvement of that technique. For the past 4 months or so I’ve been doing one thousand (1,000) elbows per day, every day. If that sounds like a shit-ton of elbows, that’s because it is.
What I’ve discovered through the boredom, fatigue, disinterest and intermittent enthusiasm of this process is that repetition itself creates variety. That’s interesting, because it seems counter-intuitive. But the more you do something, the more details you feel, the more errors you find, the more you can work out the kinks and excesses to carve your way down to something efficient and smooth. When I first started throwing the 1,000 elbows, they took forever. I was going slow, trying to get the right technique on each one. I tried to maximize relaxation but still keep my guard up and not let the elbows flop down, and watch where my hands were at the end of them… it goes on. It was a lot to concentrate on. It was too much to concentrate with any real focus. So I blurred the focus, more or less, and sped up the elbows. I did a lot of them “wrong” but just kept moving with mindfulness to correct those notable errors on the next elbow. Day by day I started to actually relax, my guard stayed up without me thinking about it, and the real progress was the way my legs and torso began to work together so that those elbows could fly out of near-effortless comfort. They started coming from the body. I’d never thrown an elbow with that kind of joy prior to this exercise of high repetition. I had to find a way to zone out to let the repetition smooth out all those areas of the technique that were too cumbersome when I tried to hold them all in my head.
The profound difference was that I chose elbows to work on because I really, really want to throw them in fights and just don’t. I think about them in the ring, I even think the words, “throw an elbow!” but then I tense up and nothing goes. When I first started throwing the elbows in this process of high repetition, I was still focused on perfect technique and basically this just reinforced my hesitation in the ring: I don’t throw them in the ring because I’m overly focused on the “right” technique. Fuck it – throw an ugly elbow; miss; hit air, but just throw it. That’s what this high repetition revealed to me, that technique and form are important, but they can be overly prioritized in a manner that makes them inaccessible (my husband wrote about this a while ago in a guest post: Precision: A Basic Motivation Mistake in Some Western Training). I had to let go. By doing a thousand repetitions, every damn day, you can’t throw every one of them perfectly, unless that’s the only thing you plan to do during your few hours in the gym at each session. But the repetition itself smooths out the flaws, which is the secret to seemingly perfect Muay Thai practitioners as well. These guys have just spent endless hours in the gym, going over a move day in and day out for years until it becomes flawless. Until they can’t do it wrong if they tried. But they’re not thinking about it. That’s why I’ve been frustrated when trainers don’t correct my kick, even though I know it’s not quite right. I want to be told the technique, to be shown so I can go in with a fine-tooth comb and “do it right.” But that’s not how you become skilled, really. You watch a really impressive trick skateboarder and I guarantee you he didn’t become that way by doing the technique exactly right a million times. In the long run, it’s the mistakes that actually make you so smooth, because they allow you to understand the movement from so many different angles. There’s this incredible line from the movie “12 O’Clock Boys,” where the kid who wants to become part of the pack of motorcyclists, who can pop their machines into a nearly vertical “12:00” position, says, “you gotta fall before you’re nice.” I could have that tattooed on me, that’s how deeply I believe that statement.
Obviously it’s important to not practice mistakes, but that doesn’t mean eliminating mistakes from your practice. If you can see the difference between correct and incorrect in a movement, make efforts toward the correct. But don’t fear the mistake because it helps shape you in important ways. Overthinking the technique is paralyzing. When I first started learning Thai language, I was too shy to actually speak to anybody. So I never got to practice because I was petrified of mistakes or not being understood. Eventually, I had to start speaking. I had to make mistakes and accidentally swear or use the wrong word or be misunderstood. The more I made mistakes and wasn’t afraid of them, the more I could make adjustments to the corrections. Now, when I speak to Thais I often get a, “you speak like a native,” compliment. That’s not because my Thai is fluent or flawless; rather, it’s because when I misspeak or make a mistake I can causally and comfortably correct myself… just like native speakers do, just like I do in my native English. I was in the van on a long drive back to Pattaya with Pi Nu’s family. His 3-year-old son Nat was babbling about something and he mispronounced a word. His tone was wrong and he was saying a different word from what he meant. His mom corrected the tone, including repeating the wrong pronunciation he’d used, and then back to the correct one. Nat insisted on the first, incorrect, version a few times and his mom just kept correcting him back to the right word. By hearing it 10 times like that, it reinforced my (and Nat’s) ear toward the right pronunciation and the very minute difference between the wrong word and the right word. At first they sounded the same to me, but after the repetition they sounded so different, like you’d never mistake them for each other. The difference between the words came out through the repetition; the variety in how to throw an elbow, or how not to, comes from throwing thousands and thousands of them.
This is a Playlist of all my Sylvie’s Technique Vlogs so far: