Our flight to Bangkok from Chiang Mai was at 6:55 AM, so we were up and heading out the door by 5:30. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to easily find a rot daeng (share cab) at that time, but as luck would have it there was a man starting his shift, wiping down his shiny red truck outside the 7-11 at the end of our street.
I couldn’t sleep the night before. Kevin went down at about 1:30 AM and got a few hours in, but I was wide awake all night. Partly excitement, partly nervousness, I just watched movies until my alarm sounded for us to get up and go. I couldn’t sleep on the plane either. It’s a short flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, only an hour and a half from take-off to landing. For how short it is, it was a very uncomfortable flight for me. I kept thinking to myself, “if I can’t handle this, how can I possibly fly 24 hours back to the US?”
From Bangkok to Pattaya is about an hour in a taxi. Our driver was pleasant and didn’t really speak English at all, although he could read English off the phone for the address we gave him. He listened to Mor Lam music (Thai country music) on the radio, which was incredibly soothing for me. Out the window the outskirts of Bangkok city turned into the unidentifiable green of fields and jungle. Certainly not “wild” but just open, in the way that traveling across the US feels very open.
We found a room, met with Sakmongkol, walked down to the beach to kill some time and check things out (found a room we’d move into the next day), and finally got back to the gym at 3:00 for training. I’d trained the day before at Lanna, but since I hadn’t slept at all the night before and had spent the whole day traveling, arriving in a place where I have no bearings and everything is unfamiliar, I could not wait to train. It felt like it had been forever since my body had done Muay Thai and I was excited to train with Sakmongkol as well. In the context of feeling overwhelmed and disoriented, Muay Thai is a good way to feel comfortable.
When I trained in Colorado with Sakmongkol it was one class and then a few privates where we only worked on clinch. So I’ve never done padwork with him before and I was both excited and nervous to do so. The gym is four floors and Muay Thai is at the top. I met the other Thai trainer in the lobby (he’s very nice and also totally the kind of guy you can expect at any Muay Thai gym), who shook my hand while he was already on the phone with a promoter to set up a fight for me. (Awesome.) I also met Sakmongkol’s wife and little daughter, both are beautiful. We climbed the stairs to the top floor, passing a weight room, a Karate floor, an empty room completely covered in mats (not sure what discipline trains there, it was closed for cleaning), and finally the top floor for Muay Thai. Music was blaring from the Muay Thai gym and it got louder as we approached – typical “dance mix” type music. There were a couple of older, western guys stretching out on the floor when we got there. They looked at me with slight interest mixed with too-cool-for-school boredom. Nobody said hello or talked to me the whole time I was there, which worked both ways.
I skipped rope and wrapped my hands, then went over to the far side of the gym to shadowbox. I wanted to move myself into the space, to avoid staying on the outside of the gym and the space as a newcomer or outsider or guest. Once I started moving I could feel the other guys at the gym watching me. Not in a weird way, just seeing what I was about. Sakmongkol jumped out of the ring and started coaching me on my shadow; he doesn’t like for you to spin around on shadowed kicks – which I knew and is hard for me – but I was able to figure it out quickly and felt relieved. He watched me for a few minutes, then told me to shadow in the ring. I climbed up into the ring, which he’d “watered” with an actual planter watering can for a garden, and tried to throw a bit of everything so that he could pick out as many things as possible to work on. He wanted me to use the ring strategically, something I’ve never been coached on at all. Normally I’m shadowing on an open floor, so I try to work around a center that I picture as my opponent, but inside a ring I can actually picture driving them into the ropes. Sakmongkol wanted me to think, to put my opponent in the ropes and then pivot and attack to drive them back out, so I could cut off the ring and keep them in the corner. This is a whole different way of “visualizing” an opponent for shadowboxing. I’m not used to it yet, but I love the idea.
He strapped on his belly pad and grabbed his pads while I hopped out to get my gloves on. Sakmongkol explained to me that he holds pads “like a fight,” and doesn’t like to do fixed combinations. “I don’t know what opponent do,” he said, explaining that he wants to make adjustments and force me to pick shots as they appear. As we began he was immediately happy with my power. (I think that nobody ever expects me to have power just looking at me. When I not only hit hard but hit harder than I should, they get happy.) The first thing he taught me was how to miss. When I would block or get kicked, I immediately fire back and often I don’t land. He told me to relax. If I block, the opponent has not scored. Everything is even. So wait, let them kick again and you know how they kick now so you can attack where they’re open. He pointed his index finger to his temple, the Thai command for “think.”
I immediately felt more balanced. He’d kick my leg and I could ignore it. No problem. He kicks again and that’s when I move my leg and attack back. He held for a right kick and I pounded into the pads. Then he held for it again and stayed there. He told me that if the opponent doesn’t move, kick again. So I’d kick and he’d disappear and I’d have to throw something else. Then I’d kick and he’d stay there and I could slam two more kicks into the pads. I liked how his explanation actually got into my psychology, immediately. “Oh, you’re not going to move? Here’s two more.”
He gave me a lot to work on in the first five rounds together, then told me to go kick the bags. He kept saying to take it easy because it’s the first day. This I find funny, because I trained yesterday. It’s my first day here, but not my first day after a lay-off. So I played on the bags for a long time. They’re rounds are shorter than at Lanna, so I’m not sure what my numbers will be like yet. Sakmongkol says they’re 3 minutes each (Lanna is 4.5), but they felt shorter than that at times. I’ll figure it out.
At the end I was doing my blocks in the mirror and Sakmongkol came back out of the ring after holding for everybody and showed me how he wants me to shadow after training. Very relaxed. Slow to fast, just gesturing at movements sometimes. He told me earlier, maybe a minute into our first round of padwork together, “I want to change your style.” He was smiling as he said it. I laughed and told him I wanted that also. Like every trainer I’ve ever worked with before, he told me to “relax.” But somehow, I’ve never been told quite in the way that Sakmongkol tells me. I think that’s his “phase 1” of changing my style.