Guest Post – Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu
Above are kind of my reading notes on a really good Joe Rogan podcast with his long time Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Jean Jacques Machado who speaks with great reflection on the evolution of the art from what he considers the acme of its development in the 1980s and 1990s, to today’s MMA influenced versions. To follow what is below watch that 5 minute edit of a very good discussion. What is compelling about the selections I chose, and some important others (for instance the reason why he does not teach heel hooks and leg locks early on in a fighter’s development – so good) is how much they reflect the same laments made by Golden Age Muay Khao fighters during the same period of time, here in Thailand. If you are just coming to the subject of Muay Thai, it is widely acknowledged that the 1980s through the late 1990s composed an unequaled excellence in the fighting of Muay Thai, when the talent pull was the deepest, the fight purses the largest (fueled by an economic boom, and the bloom of Bangkok which drew workers to its heart from all over the rural parts of the country. It was a Perfect Storm of talent, money and audience passion. Contemporary Muay Thai, most feel, has fallen well off that crescendo. In any case, it was striking to hear Machado speak in terms very much like those of the Golden Age legends we have interviewed and filmed with for the Muay Thai Library documentary project. He, like they, bemoaned that the transitional finesse and continuity in Muay Thai clinch (the grappling portion of Muay Thai Martial art, an aspect of what is called the Muay Khao (knee) fighting style), has been lost. Much of what we do in our documentation in the Library
You can watch the entire collection of our documentation of Thailand’s Muay Khao fighting style, past and present, here: Muay Khao Fighting
Included in the notes edit was part of the fabulous 3rd round between epic Muay Khao Knee fighters of the Golden Age, Chamuekphet and Langsuan, the full fight is below. It doesn’t so much typify the Muay Khao style of that age, so much as express it almost in an ideal form, because styles make fights and in this case you had two fighters who brought out the confluence that is the aim of that style and training. Notice how the referee has almost zero breaks in the fight.
You can study each of these legends’ styles in the Muay Thai Library, both were Fighters of the Year in the 1980s:
#49 Chamuakpet Hapalang – Devastating Knees in Combination (66min) watch it here
#45 Langsuan Panyuthapum – Monster Muay Khao Training (66min) watch it here
Muay Thai As Mixed Martial Arts
In many regards Muay Thai is a Mixed Martial Arts system. It was no doubt influenced in its early modernist days by Judo, it arrived in Thailand contemporaneously to when it arrived in Brazil – You can see a timeline of Muay Thai development here when Muay was taught side by side with Judo in cadet schools, along with western boxing in the first decades of the 20th century.
And though Judo was explicitly purged from the art when the National Stadia rose post World War II, making Judo throws and trips illegal, Muay Thai definitely developed it’s own branch of a grappling art every bit as complex as that of Judo or BJJ, according to its rule set. Muay Thai is a combination of grappling and striking arts. Mixed. For those of us with a passion for Muay Thai’s grappling side, it’s Muay Khao fighting style, hearing Machado’s warning about the loss of transitional BJJ should trigger warning bells, because the great Muay Khao fighters of Thailand, in the Golden Age, have been telling us the same thing. The principle of Continuity, of never finding a stagnant dominant position, but rather becoming adept at feeling your way through advantages and leverages is on the significant decline. And, that is in Thailand, the motherland of the art and sport. Throughout the world, where exposure to higher level training methods and knowledge is reduced, this is even more so the case. What Machado, and many Golden Age legends of Muay Thai are telling us is that the richness and true potency of the art or arts are threatened to be lost, and we are right now at a turning point when those that physically know and understand those threatened principles are still with us and can still pass them on. In 2 or 3 decades that window will be closed.
How Anticipation Creates Time Travel
That’s my little rant about something important. There are some really interesting components or parallels mentioned in the video notes. One is how the legendary fighter Karuhat Sor. Supawan teaches the same “leading your opponent” process that Rickson Gracie used, but he teaches it in space, rather than at grappling distance. I outlined some of those tactics from Southpaw in this post: The Secrets of Karuhat’s Style – Four Internal Games From Southpaw. Each of these could be considered directional anticipation being used by a fighter to basically break down the time advantage the defensive fighter has that Machado references, which boils down to: when you know where your opponent is going to be in space, before your opponent does, you can time travel, or time hop. You can “bank” this time gain and keep adding up it (more on this here) until it becomes an overwhelming advantage, or you can try to cash it in quickly, lessening your chances for success:
You can study Karuhat in the Muay Thai Library where Karuhat’s style and tactics are pretty well documented. Below are all the sessions with Karuhat already published:
Bonus Session 1: Karuhat Sor. Supawan | Advanced Switching Footwork | 60 min – watch it here
#7 Karuhat Sor. Supawan – Be Like Sand (62 min) watch it here
#11 Karuhat Sor. Supawan Session 2 – Float and Shock (82 min) watch it here
#20 Karuhat Sor Supawan – Switching To Southpaw (144 min) watch it here
#27 Karuhat Sor. Supawan – Tension & Kicking Dynamics (104 min) watch it here
#50 Karuhat Sor. Supawan – Serpentine Knees & Flow (62 min) watch it here
Bonus Session 7: Karuhat Sor. Supawan – Forward Check | 39 min – watch it here
You can also study Karuhat in extreme detail On Demand on Vimeo in the Intensive series. Over 30 hours of commentary breakdown training with Karuhat
John Boyd’s OODA Loop
One of the more compelling aspects of Machado’s description of Rickson’s advantage is the way that time and space (positioning) is discussed. This is really and ideal example of what military theorist John Boyd extrapolated from his own experiences as a fighter pilot, and his historical study of warfare and fighting tactics. I’m going to link to our forum so I can present some of my thoughts on this because they can feel obtuse, but if anyone would like to discuss this with me I think it’s a huge and often neglected aspect of fighting, and it can provide the keys to what turns a sport into an art.
Talk About Time Fighting with Me
Join me to read and talk about John Boyd’s OODA Loop and Machado’s lament on transitions on the forum here:
Time Fighting: John Boyd’s OODA Loop, Rickson Gracie and Karuhat
Here is John Boyd’s graphic laying out what the OODA Loop is in his mind (below), I’ve written about it some in the post “Precision: A Basic Training Motivation Mistake in Some Western Training”
for a thorough yet still somewhat concise description of the OODA Loop read the article The Tao of Boyd:
Thus, once you move past the simplified, Cliff Notes version of the OODA Loop, you find that it’s actually pretty heady stuff. It’s not “groundbreaking” in the sense of revealing insight never before conceived; rather, its power is in the way it makes explicit, that which is usually implicit. It takes the basic ways we think, decide, and operate in the world — ways that often get confused and jumbled in the face of conflict and confusion — and codifies and organizes them into a strategic, effective system that can allow you to thrive in the heat of battle. It is a learning system, a method for dealing with uncertainty, and a strategy for winning head-to-head contests and competitions. In war, business, or life, the OODA Loop can help you grapple with changing, challenging circumstances and come out the other side on top.
The Best Muay Thai Discussion in the World
If you enjoy these kinds of theoretical, cross-discipline conversations you might really like the Muay Thai Bones podcast Sylvie and I do, talking about all aspects of Muay Thai and fighting. You can watch all of those podcasts for free on YouTube, or as a patron you can get them on iTunes
watch the Muay Thai Bones podcast on YouTube