International Writers Magazine: Kick-Boxing
Training in the Big Stadium in Chiang Mai
in a row on each side. Said the coach.
If he had been talking about punches I might have been OK. But it
was the last few minutes of grueling, two-hour training session,
and he was talking about kicks.
sweat about five liters of water during these workouts, and one
reason I circle in the ring is so I can move away from the puddle
that dripped down my legs like I had had an accident. I was panting,
heaving, exhausted, and the coach wanted ten more on each side.
Some of the kicks
were terrible, like a shaky old man swatting at a naughty boy with his
cane. When I threw a good kick, the coach would say, Narak!
which, in Thai, means cute. And I wasnt sure how to feel about
that. Did it mean, that I had kicked correctly? Did it mean, that I
was so weak my kicks were cute rather than frightening? Or, did it mean
I was cute when I kicked. I was wearing my blue Muay Thai shorts, the
ones that dont make me look fat, so one never knows.
The coachs face was a roadmap of scars and pockmarks. He never
smiled, but sometimes his lips parted and you could see that he was
missing all of his front teeth. I decided to concentrate on my kicks.
The coach was sort of hard to look at.
Around the world, MMA has been steadily gaining popularity and is now
one of the most watched combat sports on cable TV. The original intent
of the competition was to see if Karate could beat Kung Fu, or if boxing
was better than Aikido. This comparison of styles only lasted for about
the first six competitions, by which time most professional fighters
had agreed that the most popular grappling art was either Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu and the best stand up striking art was Muay Thai. I am not
an expert grappler, and dont want to receive hate mail from practitioners
of Russian Sambo and other arts, telling me there art is more effective.
It may very well be. But for the moment, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and western
wrestling are the two arts that one can find anywhere in the world to
train and practice.
With stand up striking there are a number of arts competing to be recognized
as the best striking art. Philippine Yan, Japanese Kiukushin, Chinese
San Da (San Shau) and Cambodian Bradal Serey are the leading runners
up. But for the moment, the only country which has sufficient infrastructure
to support thousands of foreign fighters is Thailand. There nearly one-hundred
thousand registered boxer in Thailand. There are schools, ranging from
posh, hotel-like training centers which teach in English and cater exclusively
to foreigners, to hard-core, sleep on the floor boxing camps, where
you can train for free against a large percentage of your winnings.
As for competitions and experience, in Cambodia or Philippines, professional
fighters are scrambling to find venues. The same Yaw Yan guys turn up
in kick boxing, karate, MMA, and even grappling tournaments, just to
have a place to fight. In Thailand, there are multiple professional
fights, every single day in every city. The way this all plays out for
foreign fighters coming to Asia to train, in Thailand, you can chose
from a wide range of schools or camps for your training. And, when you
feel ready, you could start fighting pro, as many times per month as
you wanted. Thailand also has a well-established ranking and tournament
series. So, when you win a title in Thailand, it is real.
I received an email once from the San Da champion of the United States.
How many San Da fights re there annualy in USA? How many people belong
to the federation? How many are in each weight category? And how many
did he have to fight to win? For many of these obscure arts, the champion
is the winner of a single, annual tournament. Whereas with pro-boxing
in the states, or pro Muay Thai in Thailand, fighters climb up a long
slippery ladder, winning and loosing, scrambling from a sea of thousands,
to be the best.
Thailand is where I first learned kick boxing, years ago. Afterwards,
I continued the training in Cambodia, Philippines, Loa, and China. But
Thailand is where I often return to get back into shape. So, after a
stint in Philippines boxing and learning stick and knife fighting, I
went home to Thailand, to train at Kawila, the big boxing
stadium in Chiang Mai.
Training at Kawila only costs 200 Baht per session, or that is what
I paid after negotiations. The facilities were basic, two heavy bags,
a full size ring and a few odds and ends. Obviously, you will want to
take your shower and change clothes at home.
The thing I like about kawvila and most of the other not-so-famous gyms
I find in Thailand is that I was either the only foreigner or maybe
one of two. The instructors didnt speak a lot of English, so I
got practice my Thai. And of course, in the small gyms you get a lot
of personal attention. The big gyms might be better for a beginner.
I think training in these professional environments is more geared toward
experienced fighters. There isnt a lot of instruction. It is more
a matter of giving you an opportunity to have supervised practice, with
the benefit of a trainer standing by to give you pointers.
The first thing they asked me to do was warm up by running around the
inside of the stadium. I refused on the grounds that I dont run
in doors, except on a treadmill.Instead, my warm up is, and always will
be, shadow boxing., My coach in Cambodia, Paddy Carson really pushes
us on the shadow boxing, beliving it is the single most important exercise
a fighter can do. Shadow boxing gives you a chance top practice movement,
striking, and combinations, without getting hit and without hitting
anything. It is a good way to warm up because you will be moving your
muscles in exactly the same way as you will in Muay Thai. Running is
running. Muay Thai is Muay Thai. It makes more sense to me to prepare
for Muay Thai by doing Muay Thai.
After the warm up, the trainers had me work on a bag. Now, that I have
trained all over, I feel a good program should in clued rounds on a
heavy bag, medium bag, floor to ceiling bag, and upper cut bag. If you
lack all of these specialized bags, as they do in Kawila, you can devide
your practice into rounds, doing specific skills for one round each,
on the single bag that you have. For example, while you are still not
quite warm, you dont want to throw power hooks, so start off with
straight punches for one round. Then one round of straight punches combined
with elbows. Next, a round of hooks, combined with elbows and straight
If you are doing the math, you have been hitting the bag for quite some
time now and havent kicked it yet. This is total body, combat
training. Every weapon has to be honed. So many kick boxers rely on
their kicks and have weak hands. Once you are done training the upper
body, it is time to throw in a low kick. Always start with low kicks
first, particularly if you arent thoroughly warmed up yet. Obviously,
throwing high kicks when you are cold will cause injuries.
Knees can be added at any point that you find convenient. It is probably
best, however to add knees in after you have done a few rounds of punches.
So, now you got your punches, knees, elbows, and low kicks. The last
item to practice is the high kick. In my personal opinion, the high
kick is overemphasized by non-fighting arts, such as Tae Kwan Do. In
real fighting, a high kick can cause a win by KO, but when you throw
a high kick you are wide open. If you have been trained in Muay Thai
Boran, Bokator, or Kuntaw, you know absolutely terrible techniques to
do to someone whose leg you have caught. These techniques, mostly hyper-extensions
and hyper flexions, straddle sweeps
are extremely dangerous. Many
of them, if done correctly, can end your opponents fighting career.
As a result, you become over-cautious about throwing high kicks and
leaving yourself open to these kinds of attacks.
After working the bag, the coaches had me do an exercise I had never
done before. They had a bamboo pole, set in a concrete base, and wanted
me to kick over the pole. The Muay Thai low kick should come around,
with your hips open and lose, twist at the waist. Bring your shin up
and then down into the target. With the bamboo pole, the goal is to
kick over the pole, and come down on the other side.
My first several attempts were flawed, and I hit the pole with my shin.
After I got the hang of it, more or less, they had me doing drills.
Kick over with the left leg, come down, shuffle, kick over with the
right leg. Or, do a double kick left, followed by a double kick right.
It was an excellent exercise. It was good for teaching the stretching,
or extension of kicking. At the same time, you werent impacting
the bag or another target, so you dont injure yourself. This exercise
can be extended, and used as a cardio workout, which is better than
kicking the air, because you have a physical barriers to kick over.
After I had done so many kicks that my inner thighs felt like over-used
rubber-bands, they got me a higher pole, and we started again.
The meat of your training with a coach is the ring work. The coach started
by slipping on the boxing coach mitts. He had me work on all of my familiar
boxing combos, jab, jab, right, hook to the body, hook to the head,
mixing it up. Next, he added elbows. In Kawila the main
elbows that we worked on was the hook elbow and the up elbow. We didnt
do the spinning elbows or up elbows very much. After a few rounds, the
coach strapped on the forearm guards and we worked on combinations of
kicks and punches.
The nice thing about ring work is, first of all, you are in a ring.
Paddy Carson, my primary fighting coach, always stresses the point that
stress, the fear and excitement that you feel when you get in a ring,
can zap 80% of your strength. Paddy always says that most fighters burn
the bulk of their energy in the first round and then suffer through
the next four rounds. So, training in a full size ring gets you ready
for fight night. You feel more comfortable because you have been training
in a ring. Next, training in a stadium, like Kawila prepares you for
the huge open space of a professional fight.
Doing ring work with the coaches is good because you can practice real
movement, in a real ring, throwing your combination. A good coach will
crowd you or run away, or circle, like a real fighter to get you used
to chasing a fighter. During blocking drills, the coach with throw kicks
at you, to remind you to block quickly. The block in Muay Thai, of course,
is done with the shin. When a kick comes, you raise up your leg and
catch the kick on your shin. The coach had me do a series, for example,
I would throw a low right round house, jab, jab, hook, step back, then
the coach would kick me, and I would block and counter.
Or, I was supposed to block, but I was usually late, and coach would
smash me on the thigh.
The coach strapped on the abdominal pad and had me practice knees. In
Muay Thai, many coaches want you to grab your opponents head,
and pull him in to you, any time you execute a knee. We practiced for
a while, neck wrestling. I would grab his head. He would try and escape.
If he escaped, we did it again. If he didnt escape, I drove my
knees, as many as I could, into his abdomen. After that, we did series
of kicks, punches, knees, and elbows.
The final evolution of the days training was sparing. When you
spar, you shouldnt get competitive. There is a single winner or
loser of a sparing match. You can, however, have two losers or two winners,
depending upon if you spar well or not. Sparing well means that no one
gets hurt, but you took chances and practiced techniques that you hesitate
to throw in a real fight. Sparing gives you the chance to practice those
techniques on a real opponent, who is defending himself, and counter
punching, but who is not trying to take your head off.
The session was excellent. The trainers at Kawila and elsewhere in Thailand
really helped me to calm down my sparing and learn from it, rather than
get hurt by it.
A friend of mine, Shlomo, who speaks Thai perfectly, to the point that
he teaches Thai words to Thais, came down to help me film an episode
of my web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey at Kawila. When I was taking
direction from my trainer, Shlomo would inevitably ask.
Did you understand that guy?
Of course. I laughed. I might not be much for the classroom,
but I can talk Muay Thai all day.
The coach said something that, in Thai, sounded like, Your peas
are eaten with a butter and knife.
What was that? asked Shlomo.
He wants me to raise my knee higher before throwing the push kick.
It was like graduation day for me, because Shlomo was always the one
who had to translate for me in the past. The only question I wasnt
able to ask was if the reason these guys sounded so weird when they
spoke Thai was because they were uneducated, or because they were speaking
a rural dialect, or because they were missing teeth, or because they
were punch drunk, or because, and we didnt rule out the possibility,
that they were actually drunk.
This will be one of the great linguistic mysteries will be with us till
the end of time.
Training at Kawila was excellent. They helped me get my kicks in line,
which is one of my biggest weaknesses. It was cheap and convenient,
and I learned to speak Thai with punch-drunk trainers, who were missing
teeth. So, as always, when you go train in Thailand, you dont
need to spend a lot of money. And, it is sometimes better to go to the
gym with the least foreign students.
© Antonio Graceffo June 2008
Antonio Graceffo holds a black karma in Bokator. He lives in Thailand
and has practiced Muay Thai for a number of years. He trained in Cambodia
for several years in boxing, Bradal Serey, and Bokator. In Philippines
he has studied Kuntaw and Yaw Yan. IN Lao he studied Muay Lao. He has
also trained at the Shaolin Temple, in China, and in schools and gyms
in Vietnam and Korea. He is a frequent contributor for both Black Belt
and Kung Fu magazines. His book, The Monk from Brooklyn, available on
amazon.com tells about his experiences at the Shaolin Temple.
He is a qualified Emergency Medical Technician, as well as an adventure
and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV
show, Martial Arts Odyssey, Currently he is working inside
of Shan State, documenting human rights abuses, doing a film and print
project to raise awareness of the Shan people. To see all of his
videos about martial arts, Burma and other countries: http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=Search
Antonio is self-funded and seeking sponsors. If you wish to contribute
to the In Shanland film project, you can donate through
paypal, through the Burma page of my website.
Get Antonios books at amazon.com
The Monk from Brooklyn
Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves
The Desert of Death on Three Wheels
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