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Differences in technique and method in Thailand vs western countries

- - - - - cutting weight technique

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#1
Kaitlinrose

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One of Sylvie's posts about clinch got me thinking about the differences in technique and method in Thailand vs the west. It's interesting how some things may be effective in the West but are not at all effective in Thailand.

Part of this is due to relative inexperience in western countries, for both trainers, fighters, and officials.  I also think part of it has to do with the influence from MMA, at least in America. Often amateur and even pro fighters will compete against someone with an MMA background who is competing in Muay Thai for experience, though it isn't their primary sport. The judges and commissions often do not score according to Thai rules, so that changes the game significantly.

One big difference I have noticed is in cutting weight. You cannot safely do a water load/sodium cut the same way you could do in America. This is due to both the heat in Thailand and the likelihood that your trainer will want you to train until just a day or two prior to the fight. Granted, you don't really need to as it is so easy to sweat in the heat. It is still a major difference, no less. 

There are many differences from a  technique perspective, but one that sticks out is that your block has to be at a much more narrow angle in Thailand. Less experienced fighters tend to have more superfluous movement in their kick, so it tends not to be as direct. It seems this has caused fighters in the states to both use and instruct a wider and less condensed block. 

What are some major differences you have noticed?


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#2
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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Ass-back is a huge western vs Thai difference that I think goes beyond any particular technique. The west has at least a few fighting styles that favor ass-back (or head forward) positions. The wrestler's hunch, and some styles of western boxing. This is a big difference, and it really plays out heavily in clinch where head-forward results in very easy throws or knees. I also feel like there are extra-circular reasons behind this. Culturally it is somewhat in the body image to pull the groin away in times of attack (for what seem like obvious reasons), but also that there is an element of modesty when in proximity. But hips-forward is a really important part or position in Muay Thai stances and Thai clinch, and there seems like there is a kind of "shyness" involved with the western body image/behavior that makes this much harder to access for western fighters.


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#3
Kaitlinrose

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Ass-back is a huge western vs Thai difference that I think goes beyond any particular technique. The west has at least a few fighting styles that favor ass-back (or head forward) positions. The wrestler's hunch, and some styles of western boxing. This is a big difference, and it really plays out heavily in clinch where head-forward results in very easy throws or knees. I also feel like there are extra-circular reasons behind this. Culturally it is somewhat in the body image to pull the groin away in times of attack (for what seem like obvious reasons), but also that there is an element of modesty when in proximity. But hips-forward is a really important part or position in Muay Thai stances and Thai clinch, and there seems like there is a kind of "shyness" involved with the western body image/behavior that makes this much harder to access for western fighters.

Totally! It's a significant difference, and hard to let go of as many instructors teach ass-back as proper posture here. I suspect that in addition to the reasons you have mentioned above, it has to do with the fact that people have a very difficult time keeping their chin tucked with a tall posture.

In the west, there are many opponents with heavy punches but NOT many opponents who know how to knee effectively. There are even fewer who are clinch literate. Kicks may be fast but they aren't HEAVY, nor can you expect them to be without the hips properly engaged. It then becomes "more effective" to protect one's self from heavy punches rather than a skilled clinch and knee game *most* of the time.

This is further compounded by the fact that most commissions have the same people judging all sports. Very few commissions even differentiate between strikes on how they are scored, nor do they take factors like balance and composure into account. 

Since punches are not scored the same in Thailand, they become less of a focus and *typically* less of a threat. Obviously, there are still knockouts, but you don't see people losing on points to rabbit punches the way you do in the States. The kicks and knees, however, are incredibly dangerous and score higher. So, of course, taller posture is more effective. 

Because it is so difficult to fight regularly in the US under Muay Thai rules alone, most people fight at least one other style (K1, boxing, MMA, etc). I bet if you ran the numbers, people who fight both  MMA and Muay Thai lose to a pure Nak Muay (in a Muay Thai fight) via knees a high percentage of the time. 


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#4
Sylvie

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A big difference, which I think is less of a difference in camps where they are accustomed to and focused on training westerners, is how correction is given. There's a lot of correction to little kids as beginners - literally posing their bodies to the correct forms - but you wouldn't do that to an adult so you don't see that among newer students from the west. But then correction comes in long intervals after that and trainers tend to let a technique be wonky so long as balance is maintained, with the knowledge that the correct form will kind of hammer itself out or smooth out over the rushing water of the balance, so to speak. When Dejrat, who is real adamant about "correct technique' would show me something I was doing wrong, the issue was balance. In the west everybody is off-balance, so the focus is on a million tiny details which won't make any difference at all because the balance isn't there. Here it seems like it's balance first, technique second, power last. Reverse that for the west.


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#5
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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In the west, there are many opponents with heavy punches but NOT many opponents who know how to knee effectively. There are even fewer who are clinch literate. Kicks may be fast but they aren't HEAVY, nor can you expect them to be without the hips properly engaged. It then becomes "more effective" to protect one's self from heavy punches rather than a skilled clinch and knee game *most* of the time.

 

This is an interesting point, and one I have to say that I haven't given enough weight. And from your description it sounds really accurate. The big bombs come more from above. But I remain convinced that there are real, substantive differences in how each culture views the body. Rabbit punches may win in the west, because anything to the head feels or looks damaging, in how the body is mapped. In Thailand it's the opposite. Sylvie has lost several fights to rapid rabbit knees, really quickly thrown knees in a row that might not even touch the body. They are almost symbolic strikes to the gut. Yes, they require some additional balance, and that is on display, but it's more than that. You'll see slow motion replays, for instance in a Channel 7 fight, of knees landing to the ribs. Not really something the west would select out from a round. I think the west sees the head as the center of the Self. It is not only its expressive self (the face), it holds the brain (what science tells us is our core self). Strikes are directed to the head, because the head is essentially us. In Thai body mapping - and this is my little theory - the essential Self is divided up. Yes, the symbolic self (face) is above, but the life force of the self is conceived to be more in the gut. Blows to the gut, or ribs, feel more directed to the opponent's life force. We still have this in our language, things like "gut check", or "gutting it out", or "that takes guts", but these are largely leftovers from a differing world view of the body and the Self. Ancient western cultures considered the spleen or liver as core centers of the life force of a person. I suspect that the big divide on how scoring is done, especially in how body kicks or knees are scored, has to do with this different sense of Self.

Now, if we say this is correct, then it makes sense that the Thais would also become more proficient at designing techniques to attack (and protect) that core Self, and a martial art meant to do so. The west is filled with head-hunting because the head is seen as the essential life force of a person culturally.

...I do find your notes really interesting though. How though would you explain the difficulty westerners have in putting their hips in during clinch? Sylvie's been doing this full time for a long time now, and even though she's gotten to a place of very balanced hips in clinch, driving the hips in is still very difficult for her to do, even though she knows that is an essential "safe" place in clinching. There has to be something going on there. Of course it's not just Sylvie, we've seen it over and over again, with trained and untrained westerners alike.


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#6
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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 Here it seems like it's balance first, technique second, power last. Reverse that for the west.

 

That pretty much puts it in a nutshell.


All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare. - Spinoza


#7
Kaitlinrose

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A big difference, which I think is less of a difference in camps where they are accustomed to and focused on training westerners, is how correction is given. There's a lot of correction to little kids as beginners - literally posing their bodies to the correct forms - but you wouldn't do that to an adult so you don't see that among newer students from the west. But then correction comes in long intervals after that and trainers tend to let a technique be wonky so long as balance is maintained, with the knowledge that the correct form will kind of hammer itself out or smooth out over the rushing water of the balance, so to speak. When Dejrat, who is real adamant about "correct technique' would show me something I was doing wrong, the issue was balance. In the west everybody is off-balance, so the focus is on a million tiny details which won't make any difference at all because the balance isn't there. Here it seems like it's balance first, technique second, power last. Reverse that for the west.

I think part of this is due to Muay Thai in the west being centered around recreational business, as opposed to raising professional fighters. They need to keep people engaged. Make it fun! Most people looking for a fun recreational activity are not going to spend hours and hours perfecting their structure as a hobby. 

This is why you see schools in the States teaching a spinning back elbow to students who can't yet block a kick without falling over. Hammering on proper balance and structure to the degree that one must to create an effective fighter is NOT going to create a large student body, which is what supports a gym as a business here.

Most people will never fight but still like to have a goal to work toward and measurable progress. This leads to the development of independent belt ranking systems based on not the "doing" but the "practicing" of Muay Thai. And now we have entered the murky waters of "Can what is being taught still be considered Muay Thai?".  

In Thailand, the kiss of death for a gym would be ineffective fighters - regardless of how much they are enjoying training. Though at many gyms in tourist-heavy areas, you might see a similar focus to that of the west as you had mentioned above. 

To your point about the balance>technique>power chain, I think you are spot on. Interestingly, BJJ in the US is taught more similarly to MT in Thailand in that the focus is always position over submission. Get good position first, then worry about your technique and finishing a submission (or striking on the ground if it's MMA). It is also one of the only martial arts where even the recreational students participate in live rounds regularly. The ratio of people actually "doing"Jiu Jitsu is much higher than the ratio of people actually "doing", rather than simply practicing, Muay Thai in the US. /tangent


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#8
Kaitlinrose

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 How though would you explain the difficulty westerners have in putting their hips in during clinch? Sylvie's been doing this full time for a long time now, and even though she's gotten to a place of very balanced hips in clinch, driving the hips in is still very difficult for her to do, even though she knows that is an essential "safe" place in clinching. There has to be something going on there. Of course it's not just Sylvie, we've seen it over and over again, with trained and untrained westerners alike.

I've got nothin'! Even wrestling may be "ass back" prior to a shot, but employs a "hips in" strategy as a defense. Maybe there is a hip inflexibility piece to the puzzle? It's less comfortable to have the hip joint hyperextended as we westerners are notoriously tight and inflexible? Total shot in the dark. 



#9
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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I've got nothin'! Even wrestling may be "ass back" prior to a shot, but employs a "hips in" strategy as a defense. Maybe there is a hip inflexibility piece to the puzzle? It's less comfortable to have the hip joint hyperextended as we westerners are notoriously tight and inflexible? Total shot in the dark. 

 

Well, here is a theory I entertained a while ago. The squat toilet since childhood, and squatting in general as many Thais do/did to just relax and wait around, produces a lot of flexibility, and possibly a lot of technique that grew out of it. I wonder, as the western toilet spreads throughout Thailand if hip flexibility will just generally be reduced, and Thai technique may be changed. This has less to do with hips in, but your mention of the hips made me recall this chain of thought.


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#10
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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To your point about the balance>technique>power chain, I think you are spot on. Interestingly, BJJ in the US is taught more similarly to MT in Thailand in that the focus is always position over submission. Get good position first, then worry about your technique and finishing a submission (or striking on the ground if it's MMA). It is also one of the only martial arts where even the recreational students participate in live rounds regularly. The ratio of people actually "doing"Jiu Jitsu is much higher than the ratio of people actually "doing", rather than simply practicing, Muay Thai in the US. /tangent

 

This is just such an interesting point about BJJ. You are much closer to the world of MMA than I'll ever be, but it does seem to me that BJJ passion, and all the detailed "educated fan" knowledge was one of the things that really grounded the commercial expansion of MMA. While it was sold as brutal and ass-kicking, the BJJ fan made the whole thing science-y. You had to understand positions in order to really be a real fan. The attitudes toward BJJ seem to mirror the "real" love of Muay Thai. They are in some respects parallel. But because Thai Muay Thai is thought to be just "striking", it just devolved into kickboxing with a few "cool" techniques.


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#11
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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There are many differences from a  technique perspective, but one that sticks out is that your block has to be at a much more narrow angle in Thailand. Less experienced fighters tend to have more superfluous movement in their kick, so it tends not to be as direct. It seems this has caused fighters in the states to both use and instruct a wider and less condensed block.

 

Sylvie has been criticized by Thais for not opening her block up more, so this is a little ironic. But here is a short clip of Sifu Mcginnes, who happens to be a sometimes coach of Sylvie (he's a Karate guy), making fun of westerners for having such a wide block, something he attributes to westerners imagining that shin has to directly meet shin:

He and Dekkers take the conversation in a different direction, but it came to mind.


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#12
Kaitlinrose

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This is just such an interesting point about BJJ. You are much closer to the world of MMA than I'll ever be, but it does seem to me that BJJ passion, and all the detailed "educated fan" knowledge was one of the things that really grounded the commercial expansion of MMA. While it was sold as brutal and ass-kicking, the BJJ fan made the whole thing science-y. You had to understand positions in order to really be a real fan. The attitudes toward BJJ seem to mirror the "real" love of Muay Thai. They are in some respects parallel. But because Thai Muay Thai is thought to be just "striking", it just devolved into kickboxing with a few "cool" techniques.

I think it's helpful to look at MMA and BJJ when trying to build Muay Thai in the States because they have done so well here. I don't think copying the MMA model completely would work, but there are some things that have we can take from it. Obviously, it is much more popular and the US has many of the top competitors. Neither BJJ or Thai boxing is "ours" though, so why have we cultivated higher level of Jiu Jitsu than we have Thai boxing?

On more than one occasion, I've heard a grappler express the idea that they like Jiu Jitsu better because your game keeps evolving. You can always learn and develop more. In striking, they said, you can only get stronger and/or faster at the moves you already know. That basic idea seems to be very prevalent here in the west. It's laughable, but it also kind of makes sense that they have that perception.

In BJJ, it's not really acceptable to open a school unless you are a black belt or maybe a very experienced brown belt. Because Jiu Jitsu practitioners must actually do Jiu Jitsu to advance and it takes roughly a decade or more, a black belt is going to be very proficient.

There is no such standard for Muay Thai or striking in general. Anyone can open a gym and call themselves a Muay Thai/boxing coach and nobody bats an eye. The likelihood that an average person who has practiced striking (of any kind, really) trained under someone advanced enough to set them up, make them feel like nothing works, and kick their ass in slow motion without hurting them as a BJJ black belt does, is quite slim. So, the perception is that striking ability is based on some technique, but primarily athletic attributes.

In Jiu Jitsu, almost everyone gets to see and experience what advanced looks like first hand - whether they end up making it that far themselves or not. Just as a BJJ black belt can sweep a beginning/intermediate student at will (without injuring them), an advanced Thai boxing trainer might sweep someone off of their feet during rounds. In Thailand, this happens frequently, but in the US many trainers simply do not have the timing or control to do these things. 

I don't mean to paint every trainer in the US with the same brush, as there are some very good instructors. The point is that there is no requirement to be at any level before putting one's self in a position of authority. If BJJ was primarily taught by purple and blue belts in the US, the perception of that art would be quite different as well. 


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#13
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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I think it's helpful to look at MMA and BJJ when trying to build Muay Thai in the States because they have done so well here. I don't think copying the MMA model completely would work, but there are some things that have we can take from it. Obviously, it is much more popular and the US has many of the top competitors. Neither BJJ or Thai boxing is "ours" though, so why have we cultivated higher level of Jiu Jitsu than we have Thai boxing?

 

I've tried to point this out to people, but fans of Muay Thai are caught in a kind of bubble and they don't realize that the popularity of the sport may be actually decreasing in the big picture. People in gyms don't realize it because they are surrounded by other enthusiasts.

Check this out. This is the popularity of the search term subjects BJJ (blue) vs Muay Thai (red) in the United States:

Muay-Thai-Interest-Over-Time-e1494419360

As you can see, both (probably) rode the wave of MMA and the UFC, but while BJJ has maintained its popularity Muay Thai has been in the decline in the US for a while now. This same curve is reflected in many other countries as well. There is a kind of crisis in the potential of Muay Thai in the west, and people just aren't aware of how deep it is. I think all your observations about BJJ are huge and important elements. We really should be thinking about how BJJ and Muay Thai both played out in the aftermath of the wave of MMA.


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#14
Kaitlinrose

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Check this out. This is the popularity of the search term subjects BJJ (blue) vs Muay Thai (red) in the United States:

Muay-Thai-Interest-Over-Time-e1494419360

As you can see, both (probably) rode the wave of MMA and the UFC, but while BJJ has maintained its popularity Muay Thai has been in the decline in the US for a while now. This same curve is reflected in many other countries as well. There is a kind of crisis in the potential of Muay Thai in the west, and people just aren't aware of how deep it is. I think all your observations about BJJ are huge and important elements. We really should be thinking about how BJJ and Muay Thai both played out in the aftermath of the wave of MMA.

That's really interesting. Do you happen to know what caused the spikes in 2006/7 and 2008? 



#15
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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That's really interesting. Do you happen to know what caused the spikes in 2006/7 and 2008? 

 

The only event I could find for the first spike was the Cro Cop vs Bob Sapp fight in the last week of July of 2007, which corresponds closely to the timing of the spike:


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#16
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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It could be that the 2008 summer spike was related to an MMA fight between Kaitlin Young and a certain future actress who did not make weight for that fight. The Google Trends data does not exactly match itself in differing views. It's hard to tell.


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#17
Kaitlinrose

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It could be that the 2008 summer spike was related to an MMA fight between Kaitlin Young and a certain future actress who did not make weight for that fight. The Google Trends data does not exactly match itself in differing views. It's hard to tell.

Ha! That would be funny if that's what it was...I don't remember how much Muay Thai was emphasized in the promotion of that bout. Cyborg was fighting for Elite XC as well. Actually, almost all of the females signed to Elite XC at the time had a Muay Thai background, and the cards were on CBS during prime hours. I doubt Kimbo was the cause of anyone looking up MT, so you might be right :laugh:


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#18
K. von Duuglas-Ittu

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Ha! That would be funny if that's what it was...I don't remember how much Muay Thai was emphasized in the promotion of that bout. Cyborg was fighting for Elite XC as well. Actually, almost all of the females signed to Elite XC at the time had a Muay Thai background, and the cards were on CBS during prime hours. I doubt Kimbo was the cause of anyone looking up MT, so you might be right :laugh:

 

I'll say this, if very early female MMA fights were the cause of major spikes in Muay Thai searches in the United States, apparently some of the highest (proportional) spikes ever, people may have underestimated how powerful female MMA is, especially in regard to triggering new interest. At least in that time period. Anecdotal across thin data, but interesting.


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#19
Kaitlinrose

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Another difference I've noticed is the perception of wins and losses.(I say this cautiously, as Sylvie or someone else who can understand Thai knows what is being said about a person rather than only to them.) In the west, fighters are sort of regarded as "only as good as their last fight".

Ability is almost seen as static, rather than ever changing. If someone has a fight, or heaven forbid a streak, when they don't look the best people will make assertions that they "just aren't a fighter" or they "aren't mean enough to fight". If someone loses three fights people will start asking them about retirement, even if they are good fights. 

It seems that in Thailand, taking a loss is just viewed as a part of the process. Fighting without heart seems to draw far more criticism than in the west, but the outcome of each bout is not directly tied to a fighters worth and perceived ability. 


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#20
Alla

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I have another idea why punch defence is considered more important in the West than in Thailand. Distribution of weight classes. The most competitive weight classes in Thailand would be at lower weights than in the West. Heavier weight class - higher probability of punch knockout. If most fighters you train are middleweights and above a single punch knockout is something that happens regularly. If a majority of your fighters are around featherweight - not so much.
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