Friday, August 14, 2009

10 Steps to Avoid Bad Habits in Muay Thai

Everybody does it. We're all vulnerable to those bad habits that are developed over the course of months, sometimes years. It's either that hand that creeps down below your chin, or that little movement you make right before you throw a technique that screams out "I'm now going to throw a round kick!" Personally, I have to always make sure I'm not dropping my hands, and I tend to spend too much time baiting my opponents when I spar with junior students.

Bad habits developed in training muay thai, boxing, or MMA can be easily reversed with a little observation, some effort, and a lot of patience. I'll share with you my little bag of tricks that I've picked up over the years that has helped myself, and my students avoid the pitfalls of laziness:

1. Mix it up: Maintain a good mix of sparring, shadow and pad drills in your regimen.

2. Train with different people: It's very easy to get comfortable working out with the same person every week. Pro - you've made a friend, con - you're not only picking up each other's bad habits, you're also consistently reinforcing them. Make sure you train with people of varying heights, body types, and skill levels.

3. Spend time with your shadow: Shadow boxing is the most crucial element in training muay thai. This is where you improve your speed, dial in your footwork, and most importantly, clean up your technique. Shadow helps form and reinforces the good habits you want. Just watch the senior students, instructors or pro fighters at your gym. They'll spend a good 20 minutes warming up with shadow. They're doing it for a reason.

4. Seek out those better than you: Hold pads for advanced students, ask to do drills with that guy who seems to throw every technique perfectly. This is where you learn. Additionally, you'll have a pair of knowledgeable eyes watching you, able to spot what needs to be corrected.

5. Ask your instructor: Unless you train at one of those McMartial Arts mega gyms where you're stuck in a class with 40 other people and you've never met the head instructor because he's off in a corner training the next BJ Penn upon whose wagon he's hitched his stars, then request some face time with your instructor. Request the s/he watch you shadow for a few rounds or hold pads for you. Explicitly ask for a critique. Any muay thai instructor worth their salt (and your business) should happily comply.

6. Slow down: If you can't throw a proper round kick slowly then you certainly can't throw it properly fast. Example: your kicks are getting lazy and you aren't turning your hip over. Spend time practicing shadow and on a heavy bag, slowly and deliberately exaggerating the proper technique.

7. Watch yourself: Keep a keen eye on yourself while you train. Perform random habit inspections on yourself once every two weeks. Stop midway though a drill to check your footwork, shadow in front of a mirror and scrutinize your technique, have an instructor get on you when s/he sees you exhibit your bad habit.

8. Corner Drills: Nothing helps you keep your hands up like getting punched in the head. We train corner drills which are defensive no-win scenarios in the ring or cage. A partner throws punches, elbows, knees, at you for the entirety of the round and all you can rely on is your cover, body movement, and footwork. You're not allowed to hit back. A couple rounds in the corner will work wonders on those sloppy habits.

9. Check your ego at the door: Trust me, you may look cool bobbing around with one hand down at your waist, but one day the right opponent is going to come along and knock that cocky look of your face. Pride is a dangerous thing, and believing that you are invincible will lead to lazy defense and sloppy technique. Be confident, but remember that there is always someone better than you.

10. Self awareness: Know what your bad habits are, what you need to work on and have the patience with yourself to work through it.

Here's the good thing about habits. Once you get rid of the bad and introduce the good, your training will only reinforce them.


  1. This is my favorite post so far. #4 is ESSENTIAL - one can't learn anything unless one is challenged to utilize one's full skills against someone who will FORCE that person to do so.

    Corner drills are outstanding too. ALL the points you make here are outstanding, Don. Thank you.

  2. Nice job, good tips and you kept the tips in the arena they belong;combat sport not self-defense.

  3. As part of the 'self awareness' I'd like to start videoing myself hitting the bags or pads.

    Sometimes I know my coach says I need to be more [punch, kick, insert whatever] but because I can quite work out what he means. If I was able to see what I was doing wrong I think it would help more. Even pictures are quite nice - all my photos from fights act as great feedback for what I'm doing right and wrong.

  4. very simply there are too many lieing people who are mis representing them selfs as knowldgeabel in muay thai .. however they dont know much ..

    this is especially true for fighters-champions who teach!!!

  5. Very true Anonymous. I've found that more often than not, a great fighter does not necessarily equate to a great instructor. In fact, quite the opposite. So do your research and seek out the smaller school with instructors who have the skills, time, and incentive to provide you with quality instruction.

    Just because a gym flies in a couple of guys out from Thailand means that they're great teachers. Fairtex recently had one of their facilities shut down (Mountain View, CA) because they had their Thai instructors living on site in sub-standard conditions. Exploitation is not cool at all, Fairtex.

  6. I couldn't agree more with this list, especially number 4. I got my arse absolutely KICKED last night sparring against a guy that was both bigger and better than me, but he helped me pick up on where I was going wrong, namely leaving myself open when I was turning. I'm sore from that butt whooping, but I learnt more than I would have from someone worse than me.