This past week I had the incredible experience of traveling to Sitmonchai Gym, an hour outside of Bangkok. I’d just received my first sponsorship from Nak Muay Nation and part of what they are doing, other than helping me keep this site 8limbs.Us going, is hiring me as a correspondent for the premium content site. I’m going to be traveling across Thailand and filming privates with some of the best instructors in the world. When thinking about who to work with first, Kru Dam of Sitmonchai gym seemed an obvious starting point. So the day after my 127th fight, driving down from Chiang Mai to Pattaya we decided to swing by and visit Sitmonchai, about an hour west of Bangkok. I’m wasn’t too dinged from my fight, though I am still recovering from a hand-fracture, so that did modify some of our padwork.
Kru Dam is a treasure. He’s been with Sitmonchai for over 20 years, and in that time he’s developed his own, very unique attack style muay thai, with very strong emphasis on low-kick combinations (no, it isn’t just the Dutch who low-kick), and powerful hooks. Former Muay Thai powerhouse Pornsanae – who recently retired from fighting to join Evolve MMA as an instructor – was a main acolyte, and American fighter Kevin Ross even recently flown Kru Dam out to train him for his welterweight title defense at Lion Fight 21, a rematch against Tetsuya Yamato.
The low-kick in Thailand certainly is used, but as it doesn’t score highly here unless you really affect and off-balance your opponent, it’s not a heavily favored weapon. But not everyone trains it like like Kru Dam, who absolutely uses this weapon as a tactical “chop that tree down” approach.
The low-kick in Thailand certainly is used, but as it doesn’t score highly here unless you really affect and off-balance your opponent, it’s not a heavily favored weapon. But not everyone trains it like like Kru Dam, who absolutely uses this weapon as a tactical “chop that tree down” approach. He has a very pronounced step across, and what Lawrence Kenshin in his breakdown calls the “loading step”. At bottom I’ll include the Nak Muay Nation’s posting of the very first rounds of my private with Kru Dam, where we worked primarily on punch combinations and then introduced the low-kick. We filmed an incredible 13 rounds together, and all of it will be broken down on Nak Muay Nation by Lawrence. Look at Lawrence’s breakdown at article bottom, but this GIF (below) illustrates the fundamental aspect of the low kick that I worked on, how and where to step over.
A Video Sneak Peak – Two Full Rounds with Commentary
I’ve been living and training in Thailand full-time for a little over 3 years, since April of 2012. In that time I’ve been exposed to a lot of different trainers and training styles. At first it can be disorienting to have two (or more) trainers at the same gym giving you conflicting technique and corrections, but over time it all smooths out to become a “take it all in and keep what you like and works for you” opportunity. So, Kru Dam was showing me techniques that aren’t meant to tell me that other options are wrong, but rather that you can generate more power like this or more speed like that. He has an entire system and philosophy towards fighting, but ultimately it is up to the fighter to incorporate it. Some of the things he introduced me to in this private were relatively new to me, and I struggled a bit to “get it”. This is fine, and in fact you can learn a lot from watching someone struggle to be corrected. For anyone thinking of traveling to Sitmonchai and take your own privates with Kru Dam, he is incredibly patient and encouraging. We worked together for over an hour and in that time he told me probably two dozen times how to do this shortened switch-step because I’m not used to it yet, so I defaulted into my muscle memory of a deeper, slower step. But in those two dozen times he repeated himself he never got irritated at having to tell me again and – perhaps more importantly – he never gave up on this correction. He just kept insisting on it. This is an incredibly valuable quality in an instructor, and not always one you will find in Thailand (or anywhere else for that matter).
Kru Dam was able to fit an unbelievable amount of instruction into a single private session. This was a cram-course in his style and I’d wager that in the progression of the 13 rounds he showed me a snapshot of his entire system. That’s amazing.
Because of my experience of training and fighting, being able to speak Thai, familiarity with how padwork goes in Thailand and having enough time in training to be able to pick up on small details quickly, Kru Dam was able to fit an unbelievable amount of instruction into a single private session. This was a cram-course in his style and I’d wager that in the progression of the 13 rounds he showed me a snapshot of his entire system. That’s amazing. And it’s a testament to his experience as a teacher that he can linger on a technique that you haven’t quite understood yet and then link it to the next piece once you’ve got a basic grasp; then add detail. As we moved through each round I could feel him piecing everything together: start with punch and kick, real basic stuff but picking out where your foot lands and how your hips carry your power to get the most out of “the basics.” Next round, add the low-kick so that all this power you just learned can set up for it. Work on that for a while and then he changes the pads and you’re putting it together now; then just the power side alone so you feel like a monster. Then back to the whole network of movements so that you’re setting up for power and then finding yourself in the right positions to deliver it.
At article bottom is an exclusive preview of what otherwise would be Nak Muay Nation content, it’s the first two rounds presented and broken down by Lawrence, with emphasis on the loading of the low-kick. But Sean and Lawrence said it would be okay to share some additional material here too. Here are rounds 4 and 5 which include his introduction of a kind of whisper switch step…its an incredibly fast, and aggressive switch step, one of the coolest things he showed.
All my Kru Dam rounds include my own DVD-like audio commentary of what’s going on, and what Kru Dam is asking for. In the video above you can see some of the progression I mentioned. Kru Dam had previous showed me this combination of a step-forward, lead arm, upward elbow that follows into a deep low-kick. I was struggling to get the mechanics of the transition between the two and he let me work on the transition of weight from the elbow (weight shifts forward and the left side of your body pushes your right side back) to the slice of the low-kick (weight hops across your opponent and the right shoulder drives forward and down into a crunch to really just wreck that leg). It’s as dramatic as the shift in weight and side-to-side twisting like throwing a left hook and then a right hook, but the strikes are different. When I expressed to him that the distance was tripping me up because after the elbow I was simply too close to slice across his body for the kick, he showed me how that elbow would likely stagger your opponent backwards and that creates the distance for you. He moved backwards and bam, that leg kick is ready to chop a f***er down! But that element couldn’t come first because I needed to learn the left-to-right twisting first, in order to generate the power for that slice across the leg. Learn how to load the gun, then fire it.
The Whisper Step – Round 5: minute 7:25
The switch step that Kru Dam so patiently keeps insisting on is really quite beautiful, it’s one of the gems of the entire session. Master K taught me an incredibly deep switch step, which he did in order to get the front foot so far to the back that it becomes a powerful shot. Whichever side is at the back is spring-loaded for power. I don’t do Master K’s switch step, I do a kind of half-assed sloppy version that formed out of my indecision between a number of different options and grew out of actually just walking forward – so I don’t even switch step so much as just step forward with my right foot and leave the leg behind, then kind of lazily skip it back to adjust for distances. It’s adequate, but not much more than that. Kru Dam hates it, haha. He’s polite about it and just keeps correcting me toward his style, but I can see in his correction that before this point from his fighter-brain perspective when facing me that my lazy style is just incredibly slow. He’s watching me, thinking, “I could have teeped her twice by now.” That’s high-level, of course – my switch step is “good enough” to be available in fights and for padwork. His correction, however, is really brilliant. Instead of the deep step, which takes time and makes the subsequent kick very slow, Kru Dam uses a very shallow pull-back of the front foot and then an immediate step forward with the back foot. You can see how shallow it is in the photo graphic above, and in the GIF of his instruction below
So you don’t switch your feet to the effect of having them at the same distance but reverse stance as before, you’re actually driving forward. By taking such a shallow step back with the front foot – really just dragging it back a few inches to get leverage – you are actually stepping forward and to the side of your opponent with the back foot with as much distance covered and power as if you were already in that opposite stance and kicking with the power leg. With my version I don’t gain any ground and may, in fact, even lose some distance; with Kru Dam’s version you’re eating distance and driving that leg into your opponent with incredible speed.
Kru Dam uses a very shallow pull-back of the front foot and then an immediate step forward with the back foot. So you don’t switch your feet to the effect of having them at the same distance but reverse stance as before, you’re actually driving forward.
To execute the switch step, Kru Dam slowed way down and stood in front of me, saying, “do what I do.” In your normal stance, drag your front foot back about 6 inches – your toes and ball of the foot don’t leave the ground, it’s like a chicken-scratch. It’s a switch step, but an asymmetrical switch step which walks foward. As your lead foot is scratched back, you plant the ball down as you are walking with your strong back leg forward and off to the side of your opponent, at the angle. Once you’ve landed your formerly-back foot to the side of your opponent you launch the kick, which is coming up on your toe of the standing leg and turning over your hip (“closing” your hip as Thais call it) to drive your shin into your sorrowfully close target. You’re so close, in fact, that you can drive a little harder and get a few extra inches going through your target. It’s a really powerful way to make your weaker lead leg very strong.
I have good power in my hands in training but it isn’t accessible in the ring yet – everything he worked with me on gets me closer to knocking someone out with my hands.
I would recommend that anyone take a private session with Kru Dam at Sitmonchai which is one of the premiere technique-centered gyms in Thailand – private runs 400 Baht ($11-12 USD) – in order to get the detailed, concentrated breakdown of his technique and strategy. Punching and low-kick isn’t my style, but I’ll be damned if improving those weapons doesn’t make any style more dangerous. I have good power in my hands in training but it isn’t accessible in the ring yet – everything he worked with me on gets me closer to knocking someone out with my hands, and I’m naturally drawn to low-kicks so being able to make them nasty is obviously better than just tapping someone. If you end up training at Sitmonchai for a period of time, the chances of picking up really important elements from Kru Dam’s system are very good. He’s the head trainer and many of the other trainers are former Sitmonchai fighters, so they all have familiarity with the system in an organic way, rather than the gym just agreeing to a style and making everyone adapt to it. If you had a couple weeks at the gym, the daily repetition and skill in teaching through progression that Kru Dam has would make any fighter improved – I truly believe that. In terms of knowledge it’s one thing for a fighter to have a strong style that is effective, but it’s leagues beyond that when a fighter can then become an effective teacher of that style. Kru Dam has both.
I got great video interviews with Sitmonchai gym manager Abigail McCullough, a former western female fighter who runs the gym so warmly, and with gym owner Pi Eh, as well as a video tour of the gym. I’ll be putting those up in a few weeks in case anyone is interesting in seeing more of this very technique oriented.
The Exclusive Nak Muay Nation Breakdown
Below is Lawrence Kenshin’s breakdown and presentation of my first two rounds with Kru Dam, included here with his permission. This is content that is just for NMN members, and he’ll be presenting all of my rounds with Kru Dam, as well as the technique reporting I’ll be filming in the future. For those who are already Nak Muay Nation members you can see the breakdown there. Lawrence is perfectly correct about the crunch down on this low kick, and it’s something I’m working towards. Both the deep step across, and the shoulder crunch are things that take some time to acquire.
Sylvie’s Padwork with Legendary Kru Dam: Part I
This is the introduction of a new series: female fighter and writer Sylvie Von Duuglas-Ittu. For those who don’t know Sylvie, she is the Muay Thai foreigner, male or female, with the most fights in Thailand under her belt. She also won Awakening’s “Female Journalist of the Year” award.
Sylvie fully immersed her self into Muay Thai and left her life in America to live her dream in Thailand. Recently, she sent out a crowdfunding campaign to help support her journey and journalism. Having been a fan of her journey and journalism for a few years, we reached out to her.
We’re proud to announce that Nak Muay Nation is an official sponsor of her endeavors. Since the beginning, I’ve always said that Nak Muay Nation is not just about me or Sean, but rather to create a true community hub that empowers as many people involved as possible.
How better to embody the spirit of this, than to assist Sylvie pursue her unrivalled passion in Muay Thai? I admire her spirit and effort greatly and I think everyone can learn from her and be inspired.
The result for Nak Muay Nation? We will now have Sylvie provide exclusive content training with some of the most legendary fighters and coaches in the heart and source of Muay Thai–Thailand.
Without further ado, let’s get to it: first feature, legendary Kru Dam of Sitmonchai, who is well known for coaching fighters such as Pornsaneh Sitmonchai and Kevin Ross.
The first round is a diagnostic round, which I don’t have much commentary to add to. Sylvie’s progress since training full-time in Thailand is amazing, her shots are power oriented and I particularly enjoy seeing her knees. She generates great power and her timing with the head pull is nice.
Note how Sylvie and Kru Dam does the elbow and it’s variations. The horizontal elbow, as Sylvie noted, is meant for attacking a guard that isn’t up, whereas the overhand elbow is meant for attacking a guard that is up. This is analogous to how an overhand is designed to surpass the standard guard with both hands up, which is a great technical addition.
The Loading Low-Kick: The loading low kick is something I’ve briefly discussed in the Yodsanklai pad work video breakdown. The loading step low-kick is a particular type of low-kick that is much more powerful.
Here’s what I wrote for this in the Yodsanklai kick breakdown:
Observe how the moment before Yodsanklai launches his kick, he takes a loading step forward. Analogous to this is how soccer players run and load their kick before the punt the ball, there’s some similarities in the mechanics here. Momentum carrying forward will always help with an assault, if you can land it.
The loading step helps to cover distance, but again the emphasis is on power generation. Observe how on the first kick, as the pad holder moves back, Yodsanklai takes the chance to use the loading step to move forward.
For this low kick, you can see that Yodsanklai is either not raising his basing foot or barely raising his basing foot. For the first kick, it’s heavily planted at the point of impact. Why? Because the driving force of the kick is not going up, but rather, going forward and sometimes down.
Also, when the basing leg sets it’s entire weight on the entire foot, the base is stronger and more stable–we will examine how certain camps utilize this kick in future articles. On the second kick, there is even more range between Yodsanklai and the pad holder, and he takes an explosive loading step to drive his low kick in.
As you will see, it is the also the way of the Sitmonchai gym, and the way of great low kickers such as Ernesto Hoost.
Observe not only the loading step but also the crunching motion of the upperbody of all these attackers. There is a very pronounced crunching motion in which the abdominal tenses and the head goes down.
There are a few different variations going on here, as the mechanics do change when the hook is thrown with the crunching/loading kick, but you can see how pronounced the crunch and some of his loading steps are even in this video.
Sylvies Low Kicks Round 2:
If you’d like to follow in detail the rest of my 13 rounds of work with Sitmonchai’s Kru Dam join Nak Muay Nation, for whom I’m a correspondent and who is a sponsor who makes this site possible. They’ll be breaking down and presenting the rest of my rounds with Kru Dam, as well as my travels to other great technical instructors in Thailand.
For more technique tips from instruction I’ve encountered check out my Sylvie’s Tips posts.
Here are all my Nak Muay Nation Sessions with Greatness posts.