Private Session with Karuhat Sor Supawan – Spacing and Timing
Training with the legend Karuhat is some of my favorite time spent doing anything. There’s something about his energy that really speaks to me. There simply is nobody else who fights like Karuhat, whose name means a fortress and that’s pretty much how he looks when he’s checking kicks faster than my eyes can read them on the screen. But it’s not as though he never gets hit – he stands in and that means taking strikes – but it’s as if they don’t register at all. Occasionally he gets tagged and it knocks him off balance, but he catches himself and it almost looks like slow motion, like that camera effect that has become so popular after The Matrix and his arms just extend out, almost softly, to right himself and then he comes back even faster. The special effect of slow-mo badassery and then the regular speed of retaliation. His cocky, aggressive and dominant energy when he’s moving forward drives me crazy. I could watch highlights of how he covers distance without ever having to see a landed strike, that’s how much I love how he moves. I want to be Karuhat and his generosity in how he works with me in private sessions (I’ve now had two) is just… incredible. This post is about the first session I had with him, the full hour and twenty minutes of which is available for Nak Muay Nation members.
The first time I met Karuhat, nicknamed “Yod Shihan,” which is like the peak wizard or ultimate master (Shihan is a rank in Karate but the word is borrowed from Chinese in Thai), I didn’t know who he was at all. My Muay Thai brother and superstar of Thailand, Kaensak Sor. Ploenjit, had agreed to corner for me in a fight in Hua Hin and he brought Karuhat with him. They were going to go out drinking together and my fight was a kind of precursor to the night. Sitting at a table next to the ring, Karuhat was peering through these old-man reading glasses at his phone, smiling sweetly and chuckling to himself at everything Kaensak said to me in English. Karuhat doesn’t really speak English, so I’m not sure if he was just aware that he was being talked about or he just thought it was funny that Kaensak was talking him up to me. What I was being told was that Kaensak, who was awarded the very prestigious “Fighter of the Year” (Yodmuay) two years in a row – an incredible honor – had fought Karuhat maybe 3 times and that I ought to know who he is because he beat up Kaensak two of those times. “He as good as me,” Kaensak said. I asked him to spell Karuhat’s name in Thai so I could look on Youtube and within the few minutes of flipping through a few of his fights I was sold. I idolize him as a fighter and he’s wonderful as a person.
So, getting to come train with him had me a bit nervous, because he’s my hero. But it turns out the way he instructs very naturally in the process of just doing Muay Thai, it suits me really well because I tend to get really nervous and stiff when I’m being corrected in an instructional setting. We met at Chatchai Sasakul’s gym in Bangkok (he’s a superstar boxer from the same era as Karuhat and Kaensak… all these fighters are buddies now, it’s totally like the fantasy of Jimmy Hendrix hanging out with Bruce Lee in heaven or something) and as the session began Karuhat basically just kept trying to get me to relax while watching me shadowbox to warm up. He imitated my stiffness, shook his head “no” with a very sweet smile and then showed me the way he wanted my cross to just erupt out of a relaxed shoulder. Almost as though the fist is pulling the body behind it as it flies through the air. When we got to the ring he had brought a Thai pad but he just stared at it for a minute before telling me he didn’t feel like holding pads and we should just spar. Sure, right, I’ll just spar with this legend and my personal hero… no problem.
But it actually is no problem, which is amazing. Certainly that’s largely to do with my development over the past few years and, indeed, very recently. I’ve gotten my ass kicked in sparring many, many times and it can shut me down and my response can be pretty shitty. But due to my development, kind of in my heart more than anything, and Karuhat’s demeanor, I responded well to this challenge and laughed so much from my joy of the experience that Chatchai came over to watch us a few times. Like, “what is all this cackling about?” He made fun of Karuhat, saying that he likes to spar with girls because it makes him feel tough. It’s a typical joke between older, ex-fighter Thai men, but it’s a funny one every single time. And what was truly so valuable about Karuhat’s approach, apart from how much I loved it in my soul, is that he instructs along the way. In really fundamental things, like relaxation and spacing, but also he’ll throw in some absolutely beautiful (and very signature) move and then show you how to do it. I would do privates with him every week if it were financially and time-wise possible. I just get so much out of it.
above, a 12 minute video segment of our session
12 Minutes With Karuhat
In this clip (and you can see the full hour+ on nakmuaynation.com) you can see how much Karuhat packs into the time spent sparring with him, without really interrupting the flow of it being a free-form sparring session. He’s instructing and suggesting and correcting, but not drilling or taking it “off the field” of play, so to speak. It’s fucking brilliant for my style of learning.
Mostly he was trying to get me to relax because tension telegraphs and slows you down. So, not only can your opponent see what you’re doing, but you look shit while doing it. With his relaxed flow you see what’s coming but too late. And you can’t see it as much in the video because the camera flattens things out, but in the experience of working with him and feeling him catch your leg and throw you around, it’s all very plastic – he doesn’t yank on anything, he doesn’t shove, he just tips you in the direction you’re already going to kind of throw you off your intended trajectory. Like tipping a ball mid-air, or cradling a football when you catch it instead of trying to bounce it off your chest or something.
One of my favorite moves of all time is in the first 5 minutes of this clip (and I previewed it in this blog post here), when he parries my teep and uses that to turn me to the ground in one beautiful, no-power-wasted motion. It’s such a signature move, categorically, for how Karuhat fights, even though I’ve never seen him use it other than on me. It’s glorious. Even Chatchai (you see him standing against the ropes watching us) thought it was funny. You basically step outside the leg and use your own frame as the thing tripping your opponent and you barely have to guide them over it, but they spin almost 180 degrees. Here it is in slow motion:
When he has me working on catching the kick he first wants me to jump on my counter kick, to really sell it but also because you have to kick over the leg you’re throwing. Then he shows me how to catch on the right side (so, your opponent’s left kick) and switch your stance on impact, something that Burklerk taught me as well (my Burklerk session here). It makes you immediately ready to throw your counter. I struggled a lot with his step-back after catching the kick, which he does so gently and it just kind of pulls you forward and off balance on your standing leg but ultimately hurling you into whatever he’s about to do – double impact. He wants you to cradle the pull, like the football I mentioned earlier, instead of yanking on it. He imitates my tension and it’s pretty funny. But if you laugh at it, you relax a bit. See how that works?
You can read more about Karuhat in this Siam Fight Mag interview.
If you’d like to see the rest of the session become a member of Nak Muay Nation. And take a look at the rest of my Nak Muay Nation feature articles with legends like Dieselnoi, Burklerk, Yodkhunpon, Sifu Mcginnes, Rambaa, Arjan Surat and others.