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Good coaching is about telling you what you need to hear, not what you want to believe

Despite attempting to divorce myself from ego and distance myself from pride, I've still got them.  My saving grace is that I have a greater desire for improvement and a central processing unit that contextualizes information well.  As I get instruction from Ian, I'm simultaneously mortified by how plainly obvious (after he explains or demonstrates) technique is and astounded that I wasn't doing the abundantly obvious already.  I can either blame lay off and injury for that, or just accept that this is the nature of improvement.

We started with shadowboxing, for reasons that elude me I'm still tense, I'm like water, unfortunately it's water at about -7°C.  We actually video recorded some of my workout (which will hit the internet sometime after my sex tape) and I do some sort of hand jive everytime I step.  It looks terrible, and if you time it right you can punch me in the face.  So that's out.  Next I still have difficulty fully extending my jab and having this occur simultaneously with my lead foot landing.  Another thing that I have trouble with is the posture, I actually have very good posture but for muay thai a more hunched posture with scaphoid abdomen is advocated, which allows more hip pivot.  Also I need to stay just barely on the balls of my feet, without rising on the rear foot as I come forward to throw a cross.

I worked on the perpendicular turns.  Again, one of the keys to this style of muay thai is that you are never, ever off-balance.  Each component is on balance, allowing a seamless flow from attack to defense.  When I step with the rear foot, it pivots inward, toes toward me, however I simultaneously shift my weight between my legs to begin the evasion and smoothly slide, rather than fall into the pivot.  A smaller step is fine, if I'm worried about misstepping.  It is important to use the hand on the side you are pivoting to as a guide/slap this helps your upper body turn allowing the former lead leg to flow into its new rear position.  The pivot foot rolls to the floor (a lá the stance switch in my first lesson).

There are two methods to generate power.  The "brute" method is simple and direct, apply more strength and weight to generate power.  The advantage is it has no learning curve and requires no technique.  The drawbacks are many fold: increased injury potential (for you), athleticism dependence, unsystematic and therefore unteachable, and sacrifices balance.  The "technical" method is still simple but more indirect, applying proper technique leads to efficiency, efficiency leads to speed, which translates into power based on dependence on velocity.  The advantages are that you can learn technique that is maximally safe for you and damaging to an opponent, it is systematic and while being an athlete helps it is not the limiting factor.

The "brute" method is exemplified by the haymaker, the bigger and stronger you are the harder you hit with it,  if it connects and you don't break your hand.  A "technical" method, i.e. a fast, straight, and accurate jab, can beat the haymaker, if you will, to the punch.  I like to brawl, I won't deny, but it has diminishing returns so I try to be more technical, only to cock punches and shift my weight into an unbalanced position.

The last drill we did was a jab-kick combo in the heavy bag,  The first version was step jab hitting the bag, then lateral stepping, toes pointed away from the bag while simultaneously throwing the kick.  Not so much a hop and kick as a slide and kick.  The shoulders turn through, making the leg whip the bag, and then pivot back using the step to offset yourself.  We did a second variation at greater range, where the step jab is away (not hitting the bag), then taking a 45° step to deliver the whip kick.


Oppositional Defiance to Relaxation

Another session of muay thai today, starting with a shadowboxing review:
  • Relax
  • The shoulders roll forward, making the abdomen scaphoid.
  • Once again, the jab lands when the front foot lands.
  • The cross power is generated by the pivot of the rear leg on the balls of the feet, without leaning.
  • We worked on the leg cover which occurs by straightening the base leg and when the cover leg rises so that the knee sits just inside the elbow, toes pointed down (contrary to the style I have previously learned).  The straightening of the base leg is to shift the weight securely over this limb, to prevent being knocked over. 
  • When stepping off for the kick, the ball of the foot lands as the weight shifts toward this leg, this allows the transfer of weight without being off balance.  Rise up on the toes, extending the body when you kick.  If you need to check your balance, throw a half extended kick and hold.

We did a few focus mitt movement drills:
  • Step-Jab
  • Halfstep-step jab
  • Halfstep jab
  • Step jab, jab (do a "nonmoving step" to generate power of the second jab)
  • Step jab, jab-cross
  • Step jab, step jab-cross
  • Step jab, retreat jab-cross, left-1-2 90° turn

Lastly we did a movement drill, retreat to the ropes, do a rear foot perpendicular turn, roll through to your normal side and shuffle back to the center, now retreat in the opposite direction to the ropes, do a lead foot perpendicular turn, and shuffle back to the center.

I need not lunge, but I need to relax.


Mastery of Inertia

I try to figure out concepts when I train, to give my brain a "big picture" of what I'm trying to accomplish.  Today's muay thai lesson was all about mastering inertia.  In all fighting if you have absolute control of your position and direction of movement you are probably going to win.  Ian is attempting to show me how each piece of movement, offense, defense, and footwork are discrete packets that are seamlessly woven together.  If this were calculus, movement is the derivate, the completed action the integral.  For them to be seamless, I must retain my posture and balance.  No chasing, no lunging, no moment where I can't change direction.  It makes perfect sense, but is difficult to implement.  Rather than committing to a combination, you perform the first packet of your offense or defense and then based on what happens the next.  Your plan is open concept, able to change with the conditions of the fight.

  • Relax
  • Keep fight posture, that is shoulder rounded, chin tucked, with a scaphoid abdomen, while punching.  This makes it easier to twist, i.e. throwing hooks, and allows for more hip thrust, as they travel from back to front, during knees and kicks.
  • Small steps, you can always take another step if you need to get closer.
  • The jab needs to extend fully and lands simultaneously with your lead foot.  You don't need to lunge with cross, if they are out of range after the jab, reconsider your action, i.e. kick.
  • And, oh yeah, relax
The absolute control of my inertia extends to kicking.  The kick is delivered like a whip, the knee pointed at the target before turning over, allowing the lower leg to strike with the knee flexed or extended depending on the range.  The base foot pivots on the ball of the foot, and as it rotates back rolls to the floor, like the stepping drill last week.  This allows the kicking foot to be placed, loaded for movement or striking, rather than falling to the floor.  Remember as you kick that your body elongates, your shoulders rotate in a plane parallel with the floor and your hips.

Lastly, I learned how to turn perpendicularly: Step the rear foot laterally and pointed medially, about a shoulder span, then pivot to the opposite lead.  Check your balance by your ability to strike, defend, and move.  Shuffle backwards and repeat on the opposite (new rear leg side), returning to the same facing and lead as you started.  Don't lean your head past your knee and keep your shoulders parallel with the floor.

We used this to work a drill on the heavy bag, the "Jab-1-2": Close distance-jab-(1) lead foot lateral step and slap-(2) pivot to the same lead, perpendicular to your original position, rear kick.  Open distance and close with the jab-(1) rear foot 90° lateral step and slap-(2) pivot to your opposite lead, rear kick.  It helps to say Jab-1-2. Really.


Forget emptying my cup, I'm emptying the entire cooler

I've decided to be selfish.  With time limited by familial and professional pressures, I'm focusing on learning more and self-development (translation getting back into shape and salvaging what limited skills I have).  Today I did muay thai, for the first time in over a year, in a private lesson with Ian Ransburg at Top Level Gym.  Ian is a positive, patient coach with a critical eye and he pushed my brain much further than my sinews (which is another good thing since I'm sinewpenic).  During the hour long lesson never even got my gloves on.

On Movement

Ian had me shadowbox for a little bit, before stopping me and starting the lesson.  First, I need to relax and loosen up.  I need to keep my hips over my legs, taking small steps to get where I need to go, multiples if I have to, rather than over committing, just in case my sparring partners aren't as impressed by me as I think they ought to be.  In order to be able to adapt my attack, I need to be able to move, I cannot move if I am overextended, so small iterative corrections are the method to deal with that.  In essence, stop lunging.

Jab / Lead Hook

The long range guard starts with the lead hand 6-8" in front of the rear hand, shortening the distance and increasing the speed of the punches delivery.  My hands needs to be higher, I have the tall man's curse of keeping them lower than is advisable.  The lead hand can feint, turning into a jab, hook, grab, or slap at a moments notice.  The recommendation is to feint while moving, making opponents hesitate.  Power is through speed and the transmission of the energy developed from forward stepping.  I apparently cock my jab hand, giving a photographer or an opponent that long moment to get that beautiful shot of my face.  The jab loads the cross, I need to lessen my over rotation on the cross, keeping my spine erect.  The hook comes directly from the long range guard, delivered by rotation, keeping my head forward, an upward angle is acceptable for the body, while the horizontal fist for the head hook.  Keeping the feet within the same square lessens over rotation.

Lead Knee

When leg covering, the elbow slides lateral to the thigh.  For knees, we worked primarily the lead, using a short switch step so that I'm not stepping into the knee, leading to falling forward but rolling my hips over the through leg, from here rising to the ball of the foot, as the hips thrust through.  This will force the shoulders back rather than arching backward.  The knee is aimed medially, making the leg and foot go laterally.  The knee leg should be tucked tightly to the thigh, sharpening the wedge like shape.  The kneeing leg comes back placing you in the opposite stance, from which you can work, or you can resume your previous set-up.  The kneeing side arm guards the face, with the antecubital fossa in front of your jaw, avoid rotating the body to do this.

Rear Kick

Move into range then roll through the base leg 45° to create an angle.  The knee comes straight up, and is aimed at your target, then the leg turns over, like a bullwhip power is generated by speed.  If you miss, do not spin through, rather place your kicking foot on the far side, as if you switched directions.  Take a step forward and then pivot around your lead foot to return facing your opponent.  The body is erect, and your shoulders and knees should be in the same plane when landing the kick, the lead hand whips downward.  The knee comes straight back, your leg should be bent when it hits the floor.

"Horse Stance" Sweep

A trick for use against an opponent not squared with you, but has the same lead.  Throw your rear hand across their body as you step in behind them, almost in a "horse stance".  Sweep your arm backward to trip them over your leg.

Switch stance footwork

Essentially use the bounce to roll off the rear heel to switch stance going backward.  Conversely, going forward roll of the lead ball of the foot.  Switch the guard so that the lead hand and foot are unilateral.