International Writers Magazine: Martial Arts
Lao, the forgotten art of kickboxing
can gain extra power on your kicks by throwing your kicking arm
down, but you need to protect your face with a cross arm defense.
Explained Adjarn Ngern, at the national kick boxing stadium in Vientiane,
In Tae Kwan Do and
a lot of other kicking arts, the right hand comes down when you kick.
This is the moment when a good boxer should step in and punch the kicker
in the face. Adjarn Ngern was the first person ever to show me the cross
arm defense, basically wrapping your free arm across your face to cover
up when you kick. This gives you safety and power.
It was my first day of learning Muay Lao and I wondered what else they
had to offer. For years I had been training off and on in Thailand and
Cambodia. I had heard that the national sport in Lao was called Muay
Lao, but I didnt know anyone who had actually gone there for training.
Lao is a sleepy country. The population is less than six million and
nearly all of the development is in the capital, Vientiane, which is
a cute, peaceful city which feels like a small town in the US from the
1950s. Apart from the docile feeling in the air, Lao is surprisingly
good for training. There is a weight lifting gym located in a tenement
block, beside the national sports stadium, where you can do your strength
training for a small donation of fifty cents per day. You can get a
bed in a dormitory for $3 a day or stay in a hotel, as I do, private
room, TV, cable, hot water, private bath, and air-conditioning, for
$12 per night. Food is excellent in Lao, French, Thai, Chinese, Indian,
Lao or western, and most meals in a restaurant will cost you about $2.50.
You could probably live even cheaper if you wanted to eat the street
food which would probably run you less than a dollar per meal. In Lao,
they accept US dollars, Thai Baht, or their local currency, Kip. Muay
Lao training costs 200 thai Baht, about $6 USD per session, for private
The travel guides were all dead wrong about the Muay Lao training. Most
books said it was held at the national sports stadium in Vientiane.
Actually, the Muay Lao training is held at the National Muay Lao stadium,
which is located about fifteen or twenty minutes outside of the city.
The stadium boasts a full size ring, a row of kick bags, and a row of
uppercut bags mounted on the wall. The coaches are excellent in the
ring working the pads with you.
Adjarn Ngern, the head coach of the Lao National Muay Lao Team, told
me that Muay Lao is a much smaller sport in Lao than is Muay Thai in
Thailand. Professional fights are only held in the National Stadium
twice per month. There are only a handful of registered professional
fighters in the whole country.
How is Muay Lao different than Muay Thai? I asked.
Its exactly the same. Said the Adjarn.
Cambodians are angry abut the name Muay Thai. They feel they invented
kickboxing and it should be called by the Cambodian name, Bradal Serey,
not Muay Thai. What do you think of that?
Without a seconds hesitation he answered, Muay Thai was
invented in Cambodia, but Thailand has the money and got famous.
The Adjarn had me start with warm up exercise, a very complete stretching
routine which covered all parts of the body, especially the neck and
shoulders where injuries can occur in kick boxing.
He watched me shadow boxing for a few minutes then asked, confused Do
you also kick? I think your fist martial art stays with you forever.
You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you cant take the Brooklyn
out of the boy. No matter how long I train in Asia, I will always look
like a boxer or street fighter.
We readjusted my stance. He didnt want me to hold my hands next
to my face like I do in boxing. Instead, he wanted the lead hand out
in front and a bit lower than what I do for boxing. He also didnt
want the hands touching my face in case I was punched or kicked and
it would force me to hit myself.
Next, we worked combinations on the uppercut bag one, two, and upper
cut switching off left hand upper cut and right hand upper cut. He was
excellent about correcting my form while I trained. Adjarn made me turn
out my back foot on straight punches, and go up on my toes at impact.
On the Upper cut, he also had me up on my toes, and made me turn my
We transitioned to kicks, on the bag. The important point which he kept
stressing here was to get up on the toes of your base foot, and rotate
the foot with the kick. Next, you must be careful to twist your hip
and butt into the kick. The leg must travel parallel to the ground,
and strike at an almost ninety degree angle, kicking IN not UP like
in a Tae Kwan Do kick. Of course, in Muay Lao, like in Muay Thai, the
roundhouse strikes with the shin.
Other combinations we worked on required me to kick off the front leg.
A lot of teachers tell you to hop, scoot the front leg back, then kick
with the front leg. Adjarn Ngern wanted me to minimize this hopping
and leg shuffling. He told me to only to slide my left leg back slightly,
then kick off of it. The right leg didnt really move at all. It
felt awkward at first, but it was a good technique. It was faster and
less exhausting than the more common hop and shuffle. It just took a
lot of practice for me to get it. To save even more time, he showed
me that when the left leg hit, instead of bringing it back, just bring
it straight down to the ground. Now you are in close so immediately
throw an overhand elbow with the right arm.
With the knee kick, Adjarn Ngern always wanted to lead hand straight
out. You could use this hand to measure distance, and time your strike.
When your left hand just about makes contact with the opponent, step
in and decimate him with your right knee. The extended arm is also a
good defensive tactic. This way if your opponent takes this opportunity
to throw an elbow or a punch, you could catch it with your lead hand,
long before it hits you. In fact, you could catch/deflect his elbow
with your floating lead hand, and still complete your knee strike. In
that instance, the power would be multiplied by the fact that your opponent
would be coming forward with his own strike. This would be one of those
knees to the solar plexus which could end a fight.
Once again, when reaching out with your left/lead hand, you could either
use your right hand to do the cross face defense, as you did in the
kick, or you could throw the right hand down and back to add extra power
to the knee. The lead hand can be used to grab the back of the opponents
head and pull him into the knee strike. And remember to go up on the
toes of the base leg to get those last few extra inches of extension
After you have thrown the knee, you can step trough with an elbow because
you have already closed the distance.
To help me get up on my toes and swing my hips, the coach and one of
the fighters stood behind me, twisting my legs and hips and trying to
get my position right. It was a lot to remember, and there was nothing
natural about having two men twisting and prodding my body while I practiced.
It was like a dance lesson gone wrong.
Adjarn had me hold the bag and do left right knee combinations, fast.
But, he kept stressing that each of the knees had to be a real technique,
a solid knee strike. Most people who practice the fast alternating knees
on the bag just barely touch the bag with each knee, then shuffle and
throw the next one. But this type of exercise has nothing to do with
real fighting. Its not just aerobics. In a fight every technique
must be right. Every knee strike must count.
Blocking, the knee can be used several different ways. One common option
is to block a kick by brining the knee straight up, and allowing your
shin to hit the opponents shin as he kicks. A more offensive block
is to quickly raise your knee higher than the attackers kicking
leg, and bring you knee straight down into his leg, hitting him with
your knee on his thing, just above his knee. This could render his leg
useless for the rest of the fight. Once, again, after you have blocked,
you have already closed distance, so the quickest follow up is to bring
your leg straight back to the floor and step in with a close elbow.
Some coaches tell you to knee strike with your foot at a 90 degree angle.
Other coaches tell you to point your foot at the floor. Both camps claim
that they get more power. I dont think there is a clear answer
on which is better. This coach wanted the foot pointed at the ground.
With both a knee and a kick one more thing to remember is to arch your
back to get the extra extension and power.
The coach taught me a fake. He did a shuffle, as if getting ready to
kick with his left, lead foot, but instead, he threw a punch to the
If you see the punch coming you can use Teep to protect yourself
because your leg is longer than his arm. Explained Adjarn Ngern,
teaching the push kick.
When executing a push kick, the toes must be curled back and you strike
with the ball of the foot. It is really hard to do because you have
to develop the muscles in your feet. I cant curl my toes back
at will. Teep can also be done with the heel of the foot, but Adjarn
Ngern claimed that it wasnt as powerful. Muay Thai Boran practitioners
find that the heel of the foot works just fine, however.
Very few people in Lao speak any English at all. Most people in Vientiane,
including Adjarn Ngern, speak excellent Thai. So I was able to communicate
with him in Thai. Thus far, I was impressed with Adjarn Ngern and how
modern his training and thinking was. He was one of the few coaches
I had worked with in Asia who could really analyze and discuss the sport
of fighting. But his old-school training suddenly showed when he did
the thing where he put rope in his mouth and used his neck to lift a
heavy bucket full of cement.
He invited me to try it next, but one look at his used saliva dripping
off the rope made me thing twice about it.
Arent you going to boil that rope? I asked.
We opted to move on to the next phase of training instead.
In Muay Lao, as in Muay Thai the fighters often lock up, grappling.
They grab each other behind the back of the neck and struggle to get
dominance over the opponent. It is amazing how many throws a good fighter
can do from this position. A significant component in learning Muay
Lao is practicing grappling from the neck.
The goal in Muay grappling is to achieve the dominant position, which
means, getting your two hands on the inside. The two fighters start
with one in and one out, then they compete to get both hands inside.
Once you have both hands inside, you can plant your elbows in your opponents
chest, leverage his head and take him. In any type of fighting, if you
want to control a man, grabbing the back of his neck is good because
then you are pulling against muscle, not bone. Grabbing higher on the
head gives you extended leverage, multiplying your power. Post your
hips back, bend at the knees and bring your entire body weight to bear
on his neck muscles.
Adjarn Ngern showed me how you could grab the back of the head with
one hand and slide your hand down under the elbow for leverage. Then
in one quick, jerking motion, you could pull down on the head and push
up on the elbows at the same time and throw the man. In wrestling never
let your legs stand square, one foot beside the other or you have no
base no balance and can easily be knocked down.
Another exercise we worked on, one man held his hands behind his back
and the other man tried to throw him. It is a simple technique, step
out on the right, throw on the left. Step out on the left, throw on
Training in Lao was just one more piece of the puzzle. The art of kickboxing
is widely practiced in Lao, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. Only by training
in all four countries could I get a good overview of the art. So, Burma
Graceffo Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com
Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living
in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey,
The latest episode, shot inside of Burma with the Shan State Army rebels,
is running on youtube, click here. http://youtube.com/watch?v=rCjNaHnk7Jw
Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com
see his website www.speakingadventure.com
Get Antonios books at amazon.com
The Monk from Brooklyn
Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves
The Desert of Death on Three Wheels
Adventures in Formosa
More adventure in Hacktreks
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