Global Training Report
A very special training report
Sityodtong Boxing Camp
Nongprue, Pattaya City, Thailand
Back up your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Muay Thai and English Boxing
By Roberto Pedreira
If you think that all you need is to clinch, take it to the ground, mount and either rear naked choke or armlock, then logically you don't need anything else. However, there are times when going to the ground is not the best strategy and other times when stretching out on the ground for an arm lock is neither possible nor safe. There are also times when slamming someone to the ground, mounting, punching their face until they roll, and then sinking in a rear naked, might be overkill. It never hurts to have options One of the best options to have is Muay Thai: devastating knees, elbows, and leg kicks, a clinch game that you have to experience to appreciate.
The Air Con bus from Ekemai terminal in Bangkok to Pattaya costs 90 baht (1$ = 40 baht), and takes about 90 minutes, thanks to the new expressways. I arrived in Pattaya, checked in at the Beach Hotel on Soi 6, and took the first baht bus to Sityodtong Camp. (Since Sityodtong Camp is far off the baht bus circuit, the usual 5 baht fare doesn't apply. You have to negotiate. If you want the lowest price, you'll have to spend quite a bit of valuable training time talking to baht bus drivers. It is easier to just offer 120 baht and be on your way. Some drivers will take less, but if they do, it is a sign that they probably don't actually know where the Camp is, in which case you'll waste valuable training time wandering around trying to find it).
Or you could just rent a motorbike.
Farangs (foreigners) are welcome to train at Sityodtong., and there are always lots of them there, some for just a day, some for many months, some just once, and others, like me, several times every year. Some are top professionals, and champions in their own countries, and some are total beginners who just want to give it a try. I met farangs from America, Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Canada, England, Finland, France, Holland, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, and Russia. Skill levels range from nonexistent to top professional. Everyone is welcome.
There are two types of farangs: Those who fight for Sityodtong and those who don't. If you want to fight while in Pattaya, you can do it either at the Best Friend boxing bar, or at the recently built Pattaya Muay Thai stadium, near the Tiffany transvestite show in North Pattaya. Just mention it to one of the trainers and they will set it up. Several of the farangs did it. Some like Ulan from Switzerland looked sharp and knocked his man out. (Ulan sparred with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in Switzerland and said that Nogueira can't kick, but he has natural instincts for fighting., even on stand up. Ulan didn't test Nogueira on the ground however, because, despite his small size (70 kgs.) he's hoping for a contract in Japan, and doesn't want his arms broken in training.)
Others, like Phillipe from France, needed more work on fundamentals--the referee stopped his fight to save him from unnecessary punishment. The fighters train exactly the way the Thais train and they do not have to pay for the training. Non-Sityodtong fighters can can be more flexible with their training, avoiding the morning runs for example, if they choose. They also pay their trainers a small fee, which is negotiable ("up to you", the Thais say).. If you are a Sityodtong fighter, you will end up working with a variety of the best trainers. Otherwise, you will be assigned (sort of) one of the trainers who has the most free time--and probably, will not do any more than he absolutely has to. Getting the trainer who is right for you can take some time.
You will need to find out what each trainer's teaching style is, and then persuade him to work with you, and in particular, to convince him that you are serious about being taught. Few of the trainers can speak much English, and since "teaching" is mostly a matter of communication, they prefer simply to hold the pads and occasionally offer some limited feedback along the lines of "no good" or "My Dee".
After several years of working with insufficiently motivated trainers, I convinced Kit to work with me, six days a week for four weeks. It took a while to understand his holding patterns and commands and feedback, but between Kit's English and my Thai, communication was usually not a major difficulty, most of the time.
"What you want, boxing or Muay Thai?" he asked. Sityodtong is first and foremost a Muay Thai camp, but has several current or recent world boxing champions, including WBA Super Feather champ Yodsanan Nanthacchai (37-2-1) so they definitely know how to train boxers.. Boxing was the first "martial art" I learned, and I figured I might as well start out by reviewing what I thought I already knew. But Kit told me I was doing everything wrong. I was happy to hear that because it meant that I had a lot to learn, a professional personal trainer to teach me, and four weeks with nothing else to do (I believe 6 days per week X 8 weeks would be necessary to learn the fundamentals of attack and defense and to dial them in, but 6 days per week X 4 weeks is a good start). I decided to suppress my natural inclination to ask questions and pose hypotheticals, and instead just do what I was told. That's often the best approach when the learning the basics of anything.
Like every boxing trainer everywhere, Kit started with posture first. Hands up, elbows in, chin down. Despite thinking that I was faithfully maintaining this posture, in reality, I wasn't. Consequently, I had to be reminded constantly and was always surprised, because I genuinely thought that my hands were up, elbows were in, and chin was down.. I finally dialed this in, back-sliding occasionally. He also insisted that the front hand be slightly bent and at the same level as the rear hand, which should be touching the side of the face. The elbow should be tucked in tight, with no space between elbow and ribs. The protects the liver and helps keep the punches straight.
As in any boxing gym, the first punch taught was the jab. When you jab you must keep the elbow in very tight. Kit insisted on turning the fist over sharply at the point of contact, leading with the second knuckle. and extending from the shoulder at the end of the punch. The owner of the gym, Mr. Yodtong Senanan, came over and showed me how to do it too. Naturally, one must step when throwing the jab, because otherwise you won't reach your target (or to put it another way, if you can reach the target without stepping, you are too close). No doubt there are other ways to jab, but this way seemed "as good as any and better than most".
The next punch in the teaching sequence was the right cross. Having just thrown a jab, your body will be loaded up for the cross. As with the jab, the chin must be held close to the deltoid, the fist must turn over, the second knuckle must lead, the shoulder must extend, and the hip must rotate. Unlike the jab, the heel of the trailing foot must turn out. Kit insisted on stepping with the cross, unless you are throwing a jab-cross combination and in which case have already just stepped. Obviously, stepping puts more weight into the punch. Muay Thai fighters don't step because the leg would be open to kicks, but since boxers don't have to worry about that, stepping is a no lose proposition.
Throwing a right cross loads up the left hook, so the hook is the logical next punch in the sequence.. Kit taught it from an extremely tight posture, amateur style, with the palm turned down and no movement emanating from the arm at all. All movement derives from hip rotation and shifting body weight from the front foot to the rear foot.
"Is the professional style of hook different from this way?" I asked Kit. "Not different, same". he answered. But Nueng, who had fought as both amateur and professional, confirmed what I already suspected, that they are not the same. Professionals tend to hook with their palms in, not down, which gives them more flexibility about range. The angle of a palm-down hook is more limited, because if the wrist is not kept straight, it is in danger of snapping when it lands with impact. The palm-down hook however has the advantage of being more likely to score on an opponent who is religiously keeping his hands up. Everything considered, it seemed that the amateur style hook was the best to learn first, since it depended more crucially on good basic posture and hand position. A wide palm-in hook can easily degenerate into a wild sloppy swing, and bad habits can be hard to break. On the other hand, palm-down hooks, if not executed with perfect hip rotation and excellent timing, can turn into lady-like slaps. This doesn't bother amateur boxers, because light punches score points anyway as long as the striking surface of the glove makes contact on the target area. However, for a real fight, or for Vale Tudo, light punches like this are not worth the risk of throwing them. For Muay Thai, elbows are generally better alternatives to tight palm-down hooks and .Muay Thai hooks are more like swings (however, if your opponent reaches with both arms wide to clinch, that is when a tight hook. could be effective and safe to throw.. An overconfident opponent sometimes gets sloppy in his clinch entries and I have seen a few get flattened with hooks.)
Interestingly, none of the professional boxers training there did anything "correctly" showing that when you are good enough, you can break the rules. But you have to know what the rules are before you can break them.
Kit improvised a combination; Jab, sway back, jab, stop, jab, cross, stop, cross, hook. He also insisted on completely returning ("go back") to the original position before launching the next punch, even with jab-cross combinations. This took some getting used to but I grew to appreciate its salubrious effect on balance and weight shifting potential. After one is good enough, everything is done at maximum speed and short cuts can be taken without sacrificing best form--which is designed to provide the optimal combination of minimal exposure with maximal potential for power generation..
Training rounds at Sityodtong are 5 minutes with a break of what seemed like about 20 seconds between rounds. Most people did 3-4 rounds. I did five, but the level of intensity was not the highest. I was concentrating primarily on good form rather than continuous activity. In any case. it was hot and five rounds was plenty. I planned to do another 20-30 minutes of clinch, if possible, a little later on.
Uppercuts are problematic. An uppercut can follow any other punch and can be effective but no punch really loads up an uppercut that much, and uppercuts expose a lot of your own targets. As one trainer says, uppercuts are easy to throw but hard to know when to throw. Boxers tend not to like to throw uppercuts because they think they are going to get hit--which is often what happens.. The angle Kit espoused left a tremendous amount of head exposed and even while shadow boxing, the exposure made me feel uncomfortable. He also wanted the punch to start with a counter hip rotation. This seemed a suicidal combination, the same kind that cost Buster Douglas his heavyweight title. I suppose with great timing it could work and Sugar Ray Leonard used this type of uppercut effectively against Thomas Hearns in their first fight. Kit taught uppercuts to the body in the same way. The punch however doesn't really look like an uppercut, in that it enters horizontally and directly from the front. (with elbows in tight). As always, the chin is down, the non-punching hand up.
The first line of defense in boxing is posture and distance--hands up, chin down, elbows in, and far enough away from your opponent that he can't hit you without stepping.. Not using your hands for defending means you can use them for attacking, which is obviously better. But sometimes you have no choice but to use them, and sometimes redundancy in defense is advisable. Parrying while slipping is a more reliable defense against a straight power punch than either one alone, although often just one will suffice. It depends on the opponent and on how safe you want to play it. If the hand is parrying, it is not counterpunching, or at least, the counterpunch will be a beat behind. Most boxing trainers teach parrying and slipping together. For beginners, it is better to be safe than sorry, and counterpunching is not a beginner's skill anyway. Actually, the jab, being lighter, but faster, is not precisely parried. Rather is is either "patted", or "caught", depending on the trainer's preferences. A "pat" is a downward motion of the hand. This is a good technique to teach beginners because it obviously requires them to have their hand up to do it. But "catching" works just as well if the hand is up where it should be. Here, you simply turn your palm out, while rotating it in, so that it is basically in front of your face, where it will intercept the jab. The motion is short hence usually will be there in time.. For insurance, it is wise to also "slip", that is, move your head to the outside of the punch (i.e., to the right in the case of a left jab).
I didn't have problem with this, which seemed to surprise Kit. How come I was so competent at this skill when I was apparently so clueless at the rudiments like keeping my elbow in tight? The reason was that I had practiced patting, catching, and parrying punches against live opponents for many years and thousands of reps. I had also held the focus mitts for hundreds of rounds. Holding the mitts is excellent but neglected practice for defense.
Boxing was great, but I thought it was time--being in Thailand and all--to start doing some Muay Thai too. So after after the first week or so, I began doing 2-3 rounds of boxing, and then segued to 2-3 rounds of Muay Thai (for a total of five rounds). I have described the basic Muay Thai techniques elsewhere (see Nikiema) and will add here only that the Muay Thai teep (push kick) is now being done in a way that makes it essentially identical to the sport TKD front kick. It is a tactical tool, like the jab, and not designed to be a "put away shot".
Punching is not emphasized in Muay Thai to the degree that it is in English boxing, partly because the other tools in the Thai arsenal make superlative hand skills less necessary and also because training time has to be allowed for leg attacks. Also the Muay Thai clinch has the potential to shut a superior boxer's game down completely. Knowing this, it would be foolish to invest too much in boxing skills at the neglect of other skills.
Muay Thai is popular in Thailand, boxing much less so. Thais generally learn Muay Thai first, and later, if they segue into boxing in their careers, focus more on hands, because obviously (1) they already have the Muay Thai skills but (2) don't need them for boxing.. This is what the Thais do and it makes sense for them. But there's no reason you can't focus on hands first and add Muay Thai later. If you are not preparing for a professional fight career, you can do them both, for example, 3 rounds of boxing followed by 2-3 rounds of Muay Thai.
Thai clinch is pretty much the same as Greco-Roman wrestling, with the exceptions that in Muay Thai you are wearing gloves, and that you and your opponent can punch, knee, and elbow each other in the clinch. But the tie ups are the same, and the unbalancing principles are the same. There are a variety of tie ups, and entries into better tie ups, or for exiting bad tie ups, but few Thai fighters use more than three tie ups. They are (1) both hands behind opponent's neck, inside his arms (2), one hand around his neck, the other arm underhooked and tied with the first hand (sometimes called a "pinch headlock" in Greco), and (3) double underhooks. With any of these, the opponent basically can't do much to hurt you, but you can move him around at will and insert rabbit knees when the mood strikes you. You can also throw him to the canvas. You obviously can pull his head down into a knee, if he makes a mistake. This doesn't happen often because Thais keep their necks straight.
Wrestlers call the first tie up a collar tie, but I have never seen wrestlers using double collar ties. I'm not sure why not, not being a wrestler myself, but I would guess that double collar ties just don't work in wrestling competitions. Or possibly, they work too well. If you have good control of your opponent's neck, it is pretty much impossible for him to throw or tackle you. Great defensive techniques that make it impossible to attack tend to become forbidden in combat sports. Offensive techniques too can be prohibited if they are too effective. If your opponent stays very upright to avoid being pulled down into knees or off-balanced, he becomes vulnerable to crack-backs (as they are known in Greco). But crack-backs are illegal in Muay Thai, supposedly because they are dangerous to the lower spine, I was told, but I doubt both that they are dangerous and that this is the reason they are illegal.. Another move that works perhaps too well in Muay Thai is the basic hip throw or any of its variants. If you cannot get the inside position on a double tie, you simply wrap your arm around the man's head, turn inside, step back, and throw. This is a very effective move. But it is forbidden in Muay Thai. In any case, wrestlers don't use double collar ties and Muay Thai fighters don't use crack-backs and hip throws. But both work very well in Vale Tudo, and in the street.
(In case the terminology is unfamiliar, a crack-back is like a bear hug around the lower back. You pull in and to one side while pushing the opponent's upper body back with your shoulder or chest. Jiu-jitsu guys all know this move but they usually do it with an outside hook trip. Obviously, Greco guys can't do this. It works fine either way.)
The Thais tend to dominate in the clinch because they do a lot of clinch sparring and they start young (photo above). From 5 to 6 p.m.., when most farangs are wrapping up their training, the Thais start "playing". Naturally, they get good at doing what they do a lot of. Farangs tend to think clinch fighting isn't sexy enough. They want the spectacular crowd pleasing knock out.. The Thais know better. Good luck knocking someone out who knows the clinch game well. (And also, Thai crowds are more pleased by good knees and good clinch technique than by flashing fists and feet of fury). Clinch sparring gives you most of the benefits of live sparring, but without any serious risk of getting damaged. The more you spar, the better you are going to be, as long as you don't spar in such a way that you can't fight at all. Clinch sparring is perfect for this..
Jiu-jitsu guys need to do more of this--whether you think of it as Thai or Greco doesn't matter. True, it is a bit harder to get good tie ups in a gi, when the opponent is holding your sleeves and collar, or both sleeves. But it can be done. There are excellent ways to deal with the gi. They are basically modifications of what wrestlers are already doing without the gi. If your opponent knows you can throw him with a double collar tie, he is going to hurry up and put you in his guard, to prevent that from happening. You may prefer not to be in his guard, in the ideal world, but it is very nice knowing in advance what your opponent is going to do. Because then you can have a pre-arranged strategy to counter it. And if indeed you do like to work from the top in the guard, then this is best of all possible worlds.
Blocking Low Kicks
What is the best way to block low kicks? Different coaches teach different methods. I saw three different methods for blocking being taught by various trainers. I discussed this question with several trainers and several foreign fighters. The consensus was that they are all good but each one has a "hole", so the best thing is to use all three but randomly, so that your opponent can't anticipate your move and exploit the "hole". Basically, the blocks involve putting your shin or knee in the way of the incoming kick (since this will hurt, you hope that most of the time the possibility that you will successfully block the kick will be enough to discourage your opponent from kicking. If you have to actually block every kick and your opponent isn't fazed by the pain, then you are in a for a long night). The differences are primarily in the angles. The pictures below illustrate.
As Panya Kraitus and Dr. Phitsuk Kraitus say, Muay Thai is is an art ("a most distinguished" one), not a science, sweet otherwise. Muay Thai is primarily the art of smashing an opponent with shins, elbows, and occasionally, if necessary and if possible, gloved hands, using the clinch game to facilitate all of the above as circumstances permit. Muay Thai is not hard to learn--6 days a week for 4-8weeks should be enough to learn the basics. But like other combat sports, the essence of Muay Thai lies in overcoming a trained, resisting opponent. Therefore how good you need to be depends entirely on how good your opponents are. Since your ring opponents also understand that, they will be doing everything they can to be ready for you. Only one guy can win the fight so to maximize the odds that you are that guy, you need to do what the Thais do. Having learned the basics, about 90% of what Thais do in training is (1) running and (2) clinch sparring. The other 10% is not what they do but what they don't do: Staying up late at night drinking beer. For some people (farangs especially), that is the hard part of Muay Thai training. If you can handle that, the actual fighting will be (relatively) easy.
More about Muay Thai and Boxing on GTR:
Muay Thai Clinch
Muay Thai Knees
Piston Horiguchi Boxing Gym, Chigasaki Japan
Kenny Weldon (VHS review)
Sean O'Grady (VHS review)
Ned Beaumont (book review)
Animal MacYoung (book review)
(c) 2003, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Revised October 31, 2009.
Revised August 20, 2012
Revised October 6, 2013
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Boxing on Film
GTR recommends The Harder They Fall. It is the best boxing movie ever made, probably It is based closely on the boxing career of Primo Carnera.. It co-stars three genuine boxers, including two ex-heavy weight champions (Max Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott). It is especially fitting that Max is in the movie because in real life, he is the one who exposed Primo (on June 15, 1934) as the pro-wrestler, circus strong-man that he was. The big star of The Harder They Fall of course was Humphrey Bogart, most of whose other movies are eminently worth seeing.
1. Slaps however, do not have to be light. Slaps can be heavy and be very effective in setting up follow up moves. Look at Gracie in Action, where Rickson fights Hugo Duarte on the beach in Rio, absorbing some solid knees before ultimately mounting Hugo and making him admit that Gracie jiu-jitsu still reigned supreme. There are not many better ways to get someone to stop lipping off and start throwing down (if that is what you want) than by slapping his face like a "bitch" . Rickson describes the incident here. You can see it below (it's on Volume 2, probably).
2 Evander Holyfield is the one who took it from him. When talk show host Arsenio Hall asked Evander how he did it, Evander replied, "I punched his face". Buster's poorly timed uppercut is what permitted Evander to do that.