Monday, January 31, 2011

How your brain impedes your muay thai training

In the process of learning muay thai the most difficult part for us Westerners is our natural inclination to over analyze everything. And if you're an American, forget about it. Our society is driven by instant gratification. I mean, isn't there a cheat code or cliffs notes? Anything?

Muay thai is inherently foreign to the Westerner. The techniques require you to purposely put your self off balance, and the ultra aggressive nature of the system goes against what society has taught us growing up. For example, think about your personal space and how uncomfortable it was for you the first time you did a clinching drill with a fellow student who you didn't really know.

The techniques, from round kicks to elbow strikes are made up of many moving parts all working in unison, and it takes a while to get comfortable with moving your body in that somewhat awkward way. For example, they say it takes 10,000 reps of the muay thai round kick before you get to the point where you can throw the kick without thinking about the technique.

It's very easy to get frustrated with yourself over the course of your training (it usually kicks in around the 3rd month in). But it's that over analyzing, trying to break down every component of a technique is what throws you off track. Ideally, you while training techniques, you're thinking about anything other than the technique that your practicing. If you find yourself getting frustrated with yourself, here's a couple pointers that I've found works:

1. Don't spend too much time focusing on a trouble spot. For example, you aren't pivoting on a round kick. Work on it but spending too much time on one issue will likely leave you neglecting the other parts of the technique.

2. Don't rush it! Throwing a crappy kick really fast will in no way clean up your technique. It's easier to throw poor technique quickly than clean technique slowly. Take your time, you aren't in a race.

3. Hitting bags and pads is fun, it feels good - but shadowing the technique is where you really make strides in cleaning up your form. Never neglect your shadow training.

4. This is the hardest part. Once you've practiced enough to where your body can physically throw a technique correctly (you understand the mechanics), then stop thinking about the technique while you're training. The ultimate goal is for you to be able to execute any muay thai strikes, whether it be kicks, knees, elbows, body movement - without thinking. It just becomes a natural part of how your body moves. Thinking, and over-thinking your technique will actually impede this. So think about anything else other than the technique - girls, work, school, does Taco Bell really use fake beef?

5. Step one in transitioning from muscle memory to subconscious reaction is to train thai pad drills where your partner calls out combinations at a pace that tires you out. And after you've reached the point of exhaustion, you keep going - s/he increases the intensity/complexity of the combos. Its meant to push you beyond the point where your brain cannot process the incoming orders, and its your reptilian brain & your body simply moving on instinct and muscle memory. That's where the real learning takes place.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are we all closet Fairtex mauy thai haters?

I'm a marketer by day, a chew toy for my dog by night, and a few evenings every week, I share my experience in muay thai with others. In marketing, I've learned that if your competitor mentions you (usually not in a nice way) in a press release, you've done your job.

So I'm about to make sure that someone at Fairtex has earned their paycheck. Someone out there has been going through my posts and pointing out on how I frequently rail against Fairtex, in particular. His/her name - Anonymous. So, Anonymous, here you go.

I agree with Anonymous on a number of points: I think that the popularity of muay thai is a great thing, I agree that 12 rounds of boxing isn't very efficient, and 2 guys grappling for extended periods of time in an MMA match isn't exactly the ideal way to handle a fight in the street.  I also understand that in Thailand, you grow up to either be a poor agrarian, get pulled into the sex trade, or, the only way out of poverty, train to become a muay thai fighter. Muay thai is the national sport and deep  rooted aspect of Thai culture, of which I have profound respect for. Otherwise I wouldn't have dedicated my entire adult life to learning and sharing muay thai.

My rationale is based on the the fear that mass commercialization of muay thai by profit driven enterprises such as Fairtex, Master Toddy, Tiger, MMA gyms etc., however much widespread attention it brings to the (sport, style, art, what have you), will have an effect similar to what the McDojo model did to TKD and Karate during the 1980's and 1990's. The retail muay thai gym business model is this: bring in 100 students: perhaps 3-5 of those 100 will become a champion fighter. Those fighters will bring in another 200 students, of which, another 3-5% will go on to be champion fighters. This stable of fighters will bring prestige to the gym, which will drive larger numbers of students - driving revenue, credibility and opportunity for expansion. This model is scalable in a business context, however, it makes it very difficult to maintain the quality of instruction over time. We can see this happening right now with Krav Maga. It's explosive popularity has made Krav THE system to learn for self defense. The path to instructor certification is fairly short, because the more paying certified instructors you have, the stronger the system (as an entity) will become. 

But popularity does not mean quality.

Here's a prime example: Master Toddy's instructor training program states "In 5 days you will learn what it normally takes 5 years to learn". The 5-day program comes with a price tag of $3,000. To me, Toddy's entire muay thai instructor / kru / ajarn program is entirely based on driving revenue. What can you really expect to absorb and how do you achieve long term retention over 5 days? Dude, proper elbow technique can't even be achieved in 5 days.

I'm just as passionate about muay thai as  you, Anonymous, but I'd say my passion has a different focus. That's all. Just like Ajarn Lek who works to preserve mauy chaiya, Tony Jaa who's done wonders to bring muay boran to a worldwide audience,  I work to spread the word about the older battlefield forms of muay thai (muay chao cherk) and demonstrate how muay thai can be integrated into effective close quarter combat. BTW - in no way am I putting myself on the same level as Tony Jaa and Ajarn Lek, however, I bet I'm taller than both of them.

There are a few others, like Daniel Sambrano who are willing to share for free...sort of. The price you pay - you have to listen to our rants about the bastardization of an ancient and inherently efficient fighting system.

 We all drink the muay thai kool-aid, just different flavors. As far as the fate of muay thai as a sport / martial art, all we can do is hope for  the best. And thanks, Anonymous for your comments.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hit’em with the Ground or a Wall

Due to the popularity of MMA Fighting and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu many who get into streetfights today try to take their adversaries to the ground to subdue or finish them from there.

To me it just doesn’t make much sense to take someone down to the ground when you don’t have to.

Most will do it out of training habits, the way you train is the way you will fight, and others will do it because their opponent is getting the best of them.

And still others will do it because of getting into a clinch and not knowing how to fight at close quarters. But whatever the reason, you need to stay off the ground to have a better chance of surviving. Even if you don’t know how to punch and kick like a pro, you can still fight standing up and defeat your attacker in a vicious streetfight.

So how do you go about accomplishing this feat without getting yourself into more trouble?

Simple, learn to use your environment as a third arm or a fighting partner in a streetfight. Instead of punching your attacker in the face, grab his face with an open hand and slam the back of his head into a wall, or grab him by the back of the neck and slam his face into the wall. Use a light post, fence post, and street sign post to drive his shoulder or clavicle into it. Or corners of buildings, using stairs, cars, or maybe even the edges of tables to cause damage with. And speaking of damaging them, how about throwing the ground at them, by tripping them, slamming them or throwing them into the ground on their head, neck or shoulder.

All these suggestions can help keep you staying off the ground while at the same time putting them on it, hard. Learning to use the environment will give you a great advantage over your adversary in a streetfight. You will have an element of surprise on your side if you need to use it. As you train yourself to use the wall, buildings, cars, fences and the ground, you will find that it doesn’t take much on your part to use these structures and solid objects. You will find that there is allot of hurt you can cause before you need to flop on the ground.

While many will look at these tactics and call them dirty or cheating, just remember there are no rules in a street fight, so do what you need to do to get home to safety.

In a street fight there are usually multiple opponents you’ll have to contend with and some will have weapons, so even the odds by slamming one or two of them into a wall or car bumper and lower their numbers. If one of your limbs gets injured or broken your environment can come to your aid to help you prevail. If you slam them hard enough into a structure, it might be just enough to knock the fight right out of them.

So the next time you’re attacked and think you’re at a disadvantage think again the whole environment is just waiting to help you. You no longer have any excuses when it comes to your safety in a violent encounter. But remember environmental weapons are available to whoever is smart enough to use them; either it’s you or your adversary. Training in a well lit, cushioned training center will not prepare you for fighting in a dark and cold alley. Prepare yourself both mentally and physically by using environmental simulations in your training. Train yourself in confined and open environments, look for the advantages in these areas and learn to use them effectively.

Also learn how to counter your opponent if he uses the environment on you, be ready for this reality.

In conclusion street fighting is a lot more than using your fists, knees, head, elbows or kicks. Fighting dirty by using the environment will go along way in giving you the edge in a violent situation. So when the need arises don’t even hesitate for a second, hit’em with the ground or a wall and finish it quick.

Daniel Sambrano

Why You Don’t Hit With Intention

One thing people find hard to understand is the relationship of the mind -body connection.

The state of the mind affects the state of the body, and visa versa. It is important for you to understand just how much your mind goes into your strikes when you’re fighting. You cannot hit someone or something unless you first think about doing it in your mind; your fist just doesn’t shoot out and hit someone on its own. And the more intention you put into hitting harder the more of your mind goes into the strike.

So in all actuality when you hit someone with your fist, you are really hitting them with your mind. As strange and mystical as it sounds, this is the way it is. You punch with your mind first, not your fist. When you go to the gym and start mindlessly striking the focus mitts or heavy bag you do yourself a great disservice. You need to realize the capacity for the mind to react decreases in proportion to its intent to attack.

So the way you train is truly the way you will fight.

You need to learn to have that all important mind-body connection in your training, so that you will be able to move as one unit against your adversary with focus and intention. Because if you don’t, when you need to protect yourself against an attacker you won’t be able to coordinate your mind and your body effectively. Due to the rush of adrenaline coursing through your body and brain, you will be at best about as good as your worst performance in the gym. When you train focus on what you are doing, learn to put intention into your strikes and don’t just go through the motions as you throw your strikes. Be all there when you train, stay focused on what you’re doing and don’t get complacent with your training. Start to develop focused intention whenever you train, make it a habit and in time you will be doing it without much effort on your part.

You will be able to instantly “turn on” when the need arises and strike as one unit without much wasted effort and hit harder with full intention and commitment. Remember it all starts in the mind and translates through the body and out the fist into your adversary. So learn to be one with your punches and have hardcore intention with every strike you throw and let them feel what you’re thinking!

Daniel Sambrano

Saturday, January 08, 2011

How to Increase Your Striking Power Using Stairs

Question what’s easier, climbing up a flight of stairs or coming down them?

Obviously coming down the stairs is easier than going up them.

Now why is that? Because coming down the stairs uses less energy due to gravity.

Also the majority of your weight comes forward as you step down and it takes less muscular force to do it with.

In boxing one of the lost arts of the sweet science is “Drop Stepping” with your punches, particularly the lead left, it has become a weak version of its once powerful self.

Sure many will argue, but I step with my jabs all the time when I punch or others will say but if I step with my jab it just slows me down.

Now while all these are legitimate arguments, if you are just stepping you’re only using a fraction of your potential power.

Now there is a big difference between stepping and drop stepping and that difference is like night and day.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a street fighter, amateur/pro boxer or MMA fighter if you don’t understand how to drop step you’re leaving a large amount of knock out power on the table.

So let me teach you a drill that will help you find that long lost power potential in your strike.

And it all starts with finding a set of stairs to step off of to develop this power.

Drop Step Drill #1

The first thing you’ll need to do is find a platform to stand on, it should be about 6-12 inches high.

A set of books, phone books, mats or stairs will do.

Next stand on the platform, feet parallel to each other, shoulder width apart.

Take a long step (3-4 feet) and slap the ground flat footed with your left foot.

Hold the position for about 5 seconds to stabilize yourself.

You should have the left foot flat on the ground and the right foot still on the platform with the heel raised.

Repeat the drill 5-10 more times before switching to the right foot.

Do this drill everyday for 2 weeks or until it feels natural to you.

Extra Tips

· As you do the drill make sure as you step down you don’t raise your knee upward, just drop forward as if you tripped over something.
· Shift all your weight forward as you step and slap the ground flat footed.
· Breathe out forcefully as you drop step thru your pursed lips, this will brace the abs and lower your center of gravity.
· Stay as relaxed as you can through out the drill.
· Make sure to practice the drill equally with both feet.

Drop Step Drill #2

Once it becomes easy to do the first drill it’s time to move on.

Stand on the flat ground feet parallel to each other, shoulder width apart.

Have a training partner stand behind you, now while staying as relaxed as possible with your eyes closed, and have him push you on the back of your lead or right shoulder.

As you did on the platform, take a long step and slap the ground flat footed with the lead foot.

Hold for a few seconds and repeat, do this for 10 repetitions, then do the other foot.

Extra Tips

· Remember to shift your weight forward as you step.
· Don’t raise your knee; you’re using your hip to step with not your knee.
· When you land bend your knees slightly; you want to feel springy.
· Stay relaxed, the more relaxed you are the quicker your drop step will be.
· Once it starts to feel easy to do start shortening the step to 2-3 feet or less.

Adding the Pow!

Once you get used to drop stepping start adding your straight punches.

The jab, cross and overhand right all work well with the drop step.

Just make sure your strike lands a split second before your foot slaps the ground or you’ll lessen the force of the strike.

Yes the hook and uppercut work well with the drop step, just make sure you learn to shift your weight as you strike.

Use a heavy bag, focus mitts, maize bag, and leather medicine ball to strike on.

Take your time with these pieces of equipment as your fists and body will be striking harder than they ever have.

So they must get used to the impact and concussive shock of your power.

To All The Naysayers Listen Up!

Now while some will say this style of striking is slow, don’t pay attention to them because they’ve never been hit like this before.

You see the force of a drop step punch is so powerful that it can stun and unbalance a person to the point that it freezes them in place like a statue.

They will be literally anchored to the ground and won’t be able counter the punch as easily as they think they can.

Even if they take the hit, they will be so unbalanced and de-stabilized by the strike that their timing and distancing will be off.

I’ve seen people go into a standing fetal position or just stand there frozen in time after being hit by a drop step straight left.

This is something a jab can never do because it wasn’t designed to have any knock out power.

So keep practicing this drill to improve the power of your strikes.

In Conclusion

The drop step drills will help you become a more powerful and dangerous striker just like the great power punches of the past.

Now there is no excuse for you to have a weak punch and not be able to generate enough force to knock someone out.

So find some stairs and get to stepping!

Daniel Sambrano