We’re into week number two of reopening after the lockdown, and it’s great to see our students starting to fill up the gym again.
We’re still in Phase One of our reopening plan and therefore avoiding partner drills to maintain social distancing. We’re making the guidelines work to our advantage, focusing on dynamic flexibility and stability throughout class time. The sessions begin with a thorough warm-up; usually joint circles and jump rope, forward leg swings and side leg swings, and footwork drills. Shadowboxing drills concentrate on the theme of the week. In some classes, students work those same drills on the bags. In others, the drills may revolve around other skills such as footwork on the mat. Forced off the usual padwork, we are discovering creative new ways to develop well-rounded skills, and it’s working!
The reactions we’ve received from people about Phase One reopening protocol have been quite different. A few people have told me they don’t see any point in coming back until they can do padwork, clinch and sparring drills. Others who have tried the new classes have asked if we can keep a couple of “no partner” classes on the schedule once things return to normal.
And here’s the amazing thing: I’ve seen more improvements in students following a week of these classes than I would normally see in a few months!
You see, pads, partners—and even bags to a degree—can become crutches. We think we need them to train Muay Thai, but they’re only one small element of our training. And if we’re not careful, they can disguise lack of technique, poor balance, and lazy footwork.
Throw a full-power punch or kick with poor balance and sloppy technique into the pads or a heavy bag, and you think you’re strong. But do that same technique into thin air with poor balance and sloppy technique and you’ll fall over or injure yourself.
Now, in sparring or a fight, are there times you miss? Are there times you hit thin air?
I’m reminded of what our friend 6x World Champ Lamsongkram told us about training as a young kid in Thailand. When you start out, the training is focused on making you stronger and fitter; lots of running, pushups and conditioning. You learn some basic footwork and maybe a kick or a knee. You practice it into thin air for hours everyday. After a period of weeks, if you’ve shown you’re progressing, you get to take that same kick onto the bag for hundreds and hundreds of repetitions. Lam told us he had to do 500 each leg every morning and every afternoon. Finally, after a long period of working fundamental technique and strength, you may get to practice that same kick on the pads with a trainer. If that goes well, you’re shown the next piece of the jigsaw puzzle. You go away and practice that until you’re ready to start putting things together on the pads and eventually in sparring.
Unfortunately, most of us want to jump ahead to the sexy stuff that we think looks cool: padwork, sparring and fighting. We don’t want to focus on the fundamentals—but it’s the fundamentals that make the real difference.
And focusing on your own fundamentals is the key to progress. Students are saying that they appreciate being able to concentrate on their own skills for the entire session. That’s huge, as the real learning—making the technique your own—only occurs when the focus is on yourself.
So I encourage you all to come back as soon as you feel safe. Rest assured that we’re following CDC guidelines. And if you don’t feel safe just yet, follow along online and start working some of these crucial drills. Remember, you don’t need any equipment or partners to improve your Muay Thai.