Defense is a huge part of feeling confident enough to be offensive in a fight and it’s a weak point for me. I’ve been trying to learn defense for a very long time and have struggled to articulate to my trainers how important it is for me to learn and practice defense. I believe the difficulty in getting them to work with me on it is in part because I’ll barrel into a fight despite not having good defense, so it’s not as evident to my trainers as it is to me what’s lacking. But all the things they complain to me about my fights would absolutely be improved with the development of defense.
So with Neung I’m working a lot on defending my head with slips and blocks. It’s much easier to land combinations of any kind when you feel confident that you can defend yourself on the way in. After all, it’s not the first strike that lands, it’s the third or fourth. This is why throwing one strike and stopping is utterly useless for me, but the way for me to get to those further strikes is through defending myself on the counter to the first.
I think my blocks are getting stronger around my head. I definitely do better when I’m consciously (and almost aggressively) blocking rather than just covering up and waiting out the strikes. My leg blocks have needed some work, mostly on the left side, but that’s a matter of opening my hip more so that my own shin blocks the kick flush instead of catching it on the side and collapsing inward. I’ve made a lot of progress here in the last weeks. A kick landed there can look like I’m getting crushed when really it’s just poor form affecting balance.
Clinch – Tight vs. Loose
Den has been disappointed with me for probably a dozen fights now because I’m not kneeing straight in the clinch. I knee him all day in padwork and then don’t do the same thing in fights, which he doesn’t understand. Obviously he’s not appreciating that the girls I’m fighting don’t clinch with me the same way he does in padwork – or the same way my clinch partners do for that matter – so I’m actually quite unpracticed in the angles and grips of clinches I face in fight contexts.
Part of the problem has been that I reach around the neck of my opponent with my forearm, all the way up to the bicep, like a headlock. It’s worthless. I get too close and turned almost sideways and then can’t knee with power. If my opponent knows what she’s doing she can keep kneeing from her position and my only option is to pull her head down, whereas a different grip would allow me to turn, make space and throw straight knees.
So I’m working on coming into the clinch with my arms close together, rather than reaching out and around. Picture T-Rex clinching – Sean Wright when at Sasiprapa gave me this very valuable and memorably teaching image – and that’s my tactic: elbows inclose, forearms locking inside the arms of my opponent. I’m getting better at it in terms of doing this more comfortably and automatically, so hopefully it will start appearing in fights soon.
Kicking Two Ways
I’ve had a dizzying week of working on two exact opposite kicking tactics simultaneously. Andy was down from Hill Camp and wanted to work with me on shortening my right kick, both to speed it up by making the distance it covers much shorter but also to increase power. Den told me that I kick too high on my opponents (I did notice in sparring that I was tagging Daeng in the shoulder whenever I landed a kick and never in the waist/ribs where it should be landing for points), so he wants me to kick lower, which works out well for Andy’s shortened kick.
Andy basically wants me to step out with my foot already turned and then kick without turning my hip as much as I like to and using my shoulder to drive the power. It’s an unusual feeling, but I did start to get it down. Then I did padwork with Daeng and he kept telling me, “more hip!” which I tried to accommodate while still using the techniques Andy is pressing. Andy also wants me to double up on my kicks to speed them up, so I’m always throwing two or three at a time – something that Master K has told me to do (although he wants 10 at a time) and also something I’ve been working on in ringwork with Kevin. But then, after padwork on Saturday afternoon Den took me over to a bag and told me to just do single kicks, as hard and fast as I can, against this giant bag. He said kicking many times is too light, better to kick only one time and really hard. So I’m trying to work out the balance of all these things together while noting that the important thing to accomplish in this fight is just to make contact with the kick.