A TKD black belt's adventures in Muay Thai

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As many of you know, I recently switched from TKD (3rd Dan) to BJJ (white belt). My BJJ school recently opened up Muay Thai classes. My instructor is a BJJ black belt with Muay Thai and MMA experience, who has coached professional fighters, up to and including UFC fighters. I've also seen the pictures of what happened when someone tried to burgle him.

The training is very, very different from what I'm used to. We spend most of the time with gloves and shinguards on. But we also spend most of the time practicing on each other. I want to say a typical class is 50% partner drills, 25% bag work, and 25% pad work (usually kicking shield). Our hands and legs are more padded than TKD, but body and head left unprotected, unless we protect it. We're working on body conditioning along with technique, which is something we didn't work on much with Taekwondo. I don't mind the body hits too much (unless I get hit in the same spot over and over again), but I'm not liking when I take one to the head during these drills. This is one of the advantage I see in Taekwondo compared to Muay Thai, it's safer for your brain.

Technique-wise, I'm struggling with some things I thought I would, and some things I didn't think I would. There's a few things I know I need to work on and I'm glad I'm training Muay Thai to work on them. There's a few other things (like the specific details about how I punch) that I wonder how many of the corrections are about the Muay Thai way vs. just correct or incorrect. For now, I'll do them the Muay Thai way to learn them as best I can, then make those decisions. And there's some things I excel at. Mostly to do with kicks above the waist. In particular, we were working on spinning kicks, and needless to say I have a pretty good spinning kick compared to the rest of the class. I estimate I've probably done at least half a million back kicks in my life, so I think that's a big part of it.

I do feel like maybe my coach is teaching us like we're already advanced. This is a minor complaint I have with BJJ as well. It's a little difficult to work on my hook punch when we're doing a combination that also includes an overhand, a leg kick (which I struggle with), and two different styles of hook punch; oh and I'm learning the handwork, legwork, and headwork to not get clobbered on the receiving end. I personally wish he would just have us do a single technique or maybe a 2- or 3-technique combination and cover what you're supposed to do on each side. Just like I wish we had a consistent curriculum in BJJ class so I could take some time to actually get good at a move instead of spending a week and moving on. Don't get me wrong, I love my gym and my coaches, but I do wish it was a little different in this way.

One thing I really like about my BJJ professor and my Muay Thai coach is that we don't get into stupid arguments about martial arts. My coaches respect my martial arts training. My BJJ professor respects that I am proven teachable based on my rank in TKD. My Muay Thai coach respects my footwork and my (above-the-waist) kicks that I've learned from there. And he loves my Kiyhaps. Similarly, I'm not going into BJJ saying, "I'm a black belt in HKD so give me my blue belt", or going into Muay Thai class and saying, "I know better than you how to kick so just teach me hands" or "Hands are pointless I just want to show off my double back kick." (Even though sometimes I do get to).

The actual funny thing is the closest we've gotten to one of those conversations is my coach thinks TKD actually translates better to MMA than Muay Thai does. I don't know if I agree with him on that, but he does make a convincing argument, especially to me who doesn't follow MMA that much. He says you have to learn Muay Thai to know all the different strikes. But that folks who come in and fight the way you do in Muay Thai have too high a stance and tend to be easy pickings for a grappler. I think his idea of a perfect MMA fighter (which happens to line up with his training) is a BJJ base with Muay Thai on top for striking. He says someone who does Taekwondo as a base is going to be in-and-out and the footwork and stance is much better for MMA.

Overall, I like Muay Thai, and I think I'm learning very useful skills. However, unlike TKD and HKD, and my plans for BJJ, I don't think I'm gonna stay too long. Maybe a year or two. After that, I plan to split time between BJJ and TKD, and push towards my goal of opening a school.
 
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One thing I'll add - even through all the body conditioning and doing 2x classes instead of 1x, I'm less sore after doing BJJ+MT than I am on just BJJ. I think MT helps loosen me up after being smashed.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Our hands and legs are more padded than TKD, but body and head left unprotected, unless we protect it. We're working on body conditioning along with technique, which is something we didn't work on much with Taekwondo. I don't mind the body hits too much (unless I get hit in the same spot over and over again), but I'm not liking when I take one to the head during these drills. This is one of the advantage I see in Taekwondo compared to Muay Thai, it's safer for your brain.
I wanted to highlight this point, just to present an opposing experience. Mostly so you don't assume all Muay Thai is like this (and I can't say which experience is more common).
I've been to 3 muay thai gyms in total.

We never 'conditioned' or took shots to the head. Any strikes meant to the head were/are done to a pad that is held up head height. In my current one we wear protective gear around our stomach too, which is needed with how often teeps or knees are thrown.

I would not continue training at a gym where we hit each other in the head in drills, and I would make sure the coach knew that's why I'm not continuing.
 
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I wanted to highlight this point, just to present an opposing experience. Mostly so you don't assume all Muay Thai is like this (and I can't say which experience is more common).
I've been to 3 muay thai gyms in total.

We never 'conditioned' or took shots to the head. Any strikes meant to the head were/are done to a pad that is held up head height. In my current one we wear protective gear around our stomach too, which is needed with how often teeps or knees are thrown.

I would not continue training at a gym where we hit each other in the head in drills, and I would make sure the coach knew that's why I'm not continuing.
I'm not supposed to be taking them to the head, but he didn't really do a good job of going through how not to.
 

JowGaWolf

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This is one of the advantage I see in Taekwondo compared to Muay Thai, it's safer for your brain.
My teacher would say that if you get hit in the head then it's your fault, because your opponent accomplished their goal.

I do feel like maybe my coach is teaching us like we're already advanced.
My guess is that that he's teaching at an obtainable level. Which basically means that if he's teaching it, then you have the skills and ability to learn it. The things he's not teaching are things that he thinks you are not ready to learn yet.

I personally wish he would just have us do a single technique or maybe a 2- or 3-technique combination and cover what you're supposed to do on each side.
This is why you practice. To learn how to do the things that you can't do, and to get better at the things you can do. This not only applies to physical training but also mental training. It will literally "rewire your brain and how it communicates with the body."

Don't get me wrong, I love my gym and my coaches, but I do wish it was a little different in this way.
You wish it was in a way that you are used to. That's not the best way to train. Everything I've learned was something I wasn't used to. That only came later after I learned it. Then I was used to it.

But that folks who come in and fight the way you do in Muay Thai have too high a stance and tend to be easy pickings for a grappler.
ha ha ha.. where have I heard this discussion about a higher stance vs a lower stance lol.

My best recommendation is to not over analyze things. Take things as they come. Learn things as they come.

I would not continue training at a gym where we hit each other in the head in drills, and I would make sure the coach knew that's why I'm not continuing.
When I used to teach I had students punch to the head in drills. The goal wasn't to hit the head, but to get the students used to having the head targeted. If a punch landed on the head, then it was because the defender's attention was divided. The speed of the punches depends on the skill level of the person receiving the punches.

I still train in a similar manner because it's important to see what those types of punches are like and to do it in a way that if you get punched in the head that it doesn't knock you out. It allows mistakes to be made with minimum damage. Similar concept. The only way this type of training works is your training partner is focused on sending punches where your head is vs sending them where they know your head will be.

Can you get hit in the head? Of course. Mistakes happen, people lose attention. Slip right instead of left. But these should be mistakes that one can walk away from and not get rattled from.

This would be an acceptable drill for me. If the defender keeps getting hit in the head then the attacker needs to slow down and the defender needs to pay more attention.
 

JowGaWolf

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I'm not supposed to be taking them to the head, but he didn't really do a good job of going through how not to.
That means your partner needs to slow down so you can focus more and react. Some people freeze when things move fast. If you are like that, then it might mean you are getting caught off guard. It may mean your mind isn't in the game. If that's the case then the attacks have to either slow down or you need to just not do the exercise until you are better focused.

For me there have been days when I was just off my game and I stopped doing the drill. Mentally I just wasn't on point. No amount of repetition is going to benefit me if my mind isn't focused. If punches or kicks got in because they were too fast or because I froze, then I would ask my drilling partner to hit slower. The goal of my drilling partner wasn't so much to hit my head as to target where my head is. It was my job to cover, block, redirect, or move off center. Beginners and young students often have trouble because they feel the need to track where the head his going to hit the head. If that's what is happening then tell your partner to hit where your head is and not where it is going. The rest is on you to pay attention.
 
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You wish it was in a way that you are used to. That's not the best way to train. Everything I've learned was something I wasn't used to. That only came later after I learned it. Then I was used to it.
When I did TKD it was the opposite. And as I got to the advanced level, I wish it switched to this way. At that point, I had no experience in this way.

I feel the best path to learning is beginners start with structure, and you expand out as it gets more advanced. My TKD and HKD was all structure. My BJJ and HKD is all move-of-the-day.
This is why you practice. To learn how to do the things that you can't do, and to get better at the things you can do. This not only applies to physical training but also mental training. It will literally "rewire your brain and how it communicates with the body."
And why we go to class is so we can learn how to do effectively and safely from someone who already has that knowledge.

When kids first learn to drive, we don't hand them the keys and send them on their way. We send them to a class to learn how, and when we do let them drive, it's under direct supervision. They're learning how to do something they don't know how to do, but they're not doing it by getting into a crash and then going "Oh, I need to signal there."
When I used to teach I had students punch to the head in drills. The goal wasn't to hit the head, but to get the students used to having the head targeted. If a punch landed on the head, then it was because the defender's attention was divided. The speed of the punches depends on the skill level of the person receiving the punches.
Which it wasn't tuned to my level. I've done a few weeks.
That means your partner needs to slow down so you can focus more and react. Some people freeze when things move fast.
We also typically aim for the gloves and don't try and hit the head. Luckily this guy shows up sparingly.
 

JowGaWolf

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I feel the best path to learning is beginners start with structure, and you expand out as it gets more advanced.
I agree with this. Even when I'm training other people I tend to find myself always returning to structure. Even if I wanted to escape from it or not start with it. I always end back to a lesson on structure. I tried to integrate it into some exercises and it just eventually lead to a lesson on maintaining and creating structure. Better to learn it early than to try to cultivate it later.

When kids first learn to drive, we don't hand them the keys and send them on their way
Not sure this is a good comparison. I never took a class to learn how to ride a bike. I never took a class to learn how to skate. The tricks that I learned how to do on those things were basically learned by me asking a friend how to do it, getting a description of how to do it and then practicing it.

This is not how I learned how to do it. My guess is most kids don't learn this way.
Kids are more comfortable with learning a lot of things on their own simply by trying to copy what they see. Adults aren't like that we often need guidance that kids don't need. Tell a kid how to do a horse stance and they do it. Tell an adult to do the same thing and it turns into a production and a nightmare of over analysis. As an adult we often get in our own way when it comes to learning.
 

JowGaWolf

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We also typically aim for the gloves and don't try and hit the head. Luckily this guy shows up sparingly.
yeah this is why I say "we punch where the head is." "Trying to hit the head" is something totally different.
Punching where the head is looks like this. You can still slip the wrong way or forget to slip, but it's not the same as actually trying to hit the head. Can your head still get hit? yep. Is the guy with the pads trying to hit the head? nope.

Trying to hit the head tends to look like this. You don't want your drills to look like this. The punches are not hitting where the head is. They are actually tracking the head which means they are anticipating head movement and are trying to catch their training partner off guard. Drills aren't supposed to work like that. Drills allow for mistakes to be made without being costly.

If a person wants to track a target in a drill then you gotta do it with pads. The guy in the Jow Ga video is tracking the pads and he's trying to hit them. The pads are position in locations where a head might be.
If you were doing drills and are getting hit in the head, then tell your partner to slow down, so that you can get the drill and reaction time down.

If he was tracking your head and anticipating where it will be then he's not doing a drill, he's actually trying to hit your head and it would be good to switch partners. For me, I tend to take stuff like that personal as if they are intentionally trying to do it and disguise it as training.
 

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Sometimes the biggest challenge in learning a new method under a new instructor is simply letting go of our pre-conceived notions of how the training ought to be done, which are built upon our prior experiences, and simply trusting in and embracing the new methodology.

It may take a fair bit of time before you become comfortable with the new methodologies. But its best to train the new method in its own right rather than try to force it to become more like your prior experiences. Even if that is all at the subconscious level it could be affecting how you interact with the training.

You may ultimately decide that you are not compatible with the new methodology. That is ok, there is nothing wrong with that. But it means the new method is not a good fit for you and you should not continue to train it.
 

drop bear

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I'm not supposed to be taking them to the head, but he didn't really do a good job of going through how not to.

In muay thai you are creating frames not doing parries. Generally

So everything is drawn back towards you and suppoted by structure.

So mostly it should be a case of leaving your hands where they are pretty much.
 

Jared Traveler

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The training is very, very different from what I'm used to. We spend most of the time with gloves and shinguards on. But we also spend most of the time practicing on each other. I want to say a typical class is 50% partner drills, 25% bag work, and 25% pad work (usually kicking shield). Our hands and legs are more padded than TKD, but body and head left unprotected, unless we protect it. We're working on body conditioning along with technique, which is something we didn't work on much with Taekwondo. I don't mind the body hits too much (unless I get hit in the same spot over and over again), but I'm not liking when I take one to the head during these drills. This is one of the advantage I see in Taekwondo compared to Muay Thai, it's safer for your brain.
While this is probably great training, it sounds like a dutch kickboxing class in how it is run, and dutch style mindset. You very rarely wear shin guards in Muay Thai, even when doing partner drills. You also rarely intentionally do body conditioning, and a kicking shield is also used very sparingly.

I think dutch style kickboxing is awesome by the way. I'm not saying you couldn't teach a Muay Thai class in this way, the real question would be examining the techniques. Are they Dutch Style techniques and focus? Or Muay Thai style techniques and focus?

Some of those questions might be;
1. Are you catching body kicks primarily or blocking them?
2. Is your primary focus on blocking low kicks and catching body kicks? Or is it on punches and punch defense?
3. Are you focusing on stringing punch combinations or clinching?
4. How is the low kick being thrown? Muay Thai style or dutch style?
5. Are you practicing a lot of elbows and knees? Or mostly punches?
6. Is the clinch focused on simply throwing knees from the plum? If so it's probably not real Muay Thai clinching, which does very little of this generally. And shows a lack of knowledge about the clinch.
7. Are you learning the long guard or are you learning boxing defense?

These are some immediate things off the top of my head, but there are other things. Muay Thai is a buzz word that people like to use, but often aren't teaching it.

Again to be clear I think Dutch Style is awesome. I'm also not trying to tell you what you are learning, just suggesting some things to look for.
 
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1. Are you catching body kicks primarily or blocking them?
2. Is your primary focus on blocking low kicks and catching body kicks? Or is it on punches and punch defense?
3. Are you focusing on stringing punch combinations or clinching?
4. How is the low kick being thrown? Muay Thai style or dutch style?
5. Are you practicing a lot of elbows and knees? Or mostly punches?
6. Is the clinch focused on simply throwing knees from the plum? If so it's probably not real Muay Thai clinching, which does very little of this generally. And shows a lack of knowledge about the clinch.
7. Are you learning the long guard or are you learning boxing defense?

A lot of the options you give me don't even include the answer. This seems like you threw a bunch of darts at a board to come up with the questions.

For example, we aren't primarily catching or blocking body kicks. We're primarily using them for body conditioning. If we are defending, it depends on the kick whether we block or catch it. We're doing more kicks than elbows. We're not doing a long guard or boxing guard.

I don't really know how to answer these questions, because you asked if it's A or B and it's usually C or a mix of A, B, and D.
 

Jared Traveler

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So you are both catching and blocking body kicks? But primarily not doing either of these but just learning how to condition your body and get hit?

To be clear I wasn't asking about a boxing guard. I was asking how you were defending punches. Is it using the long guard, or the defense is traditional boxing. Doing things like covering, parrying, ducking or slipping punches?

I think no matter what you are learning it's probably quality training in striking.
 
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