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      My first muay thai class

      My first muay thai class

      It was Tuesday evening and I had just gotten off the bus at the Kitchener Station.  The original TKO Fighting Arts was located on Charles St. West,  just a 10 minute walk east of the station.  I remember my mind racing with uncomfortable thoughts.  Half excited, and half scared. "How will I do?  Are people going to laugh at me?  Was my friend John right and that I am just way over my head on this one?" (If you guys don't remember John, you can read about him HERE).  These thoughts lingered in my mind as I anxiously walked towards the building;  I remained determined to see this day through.  I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?  I arrived at the location some minutes later in front of an old dilapidated greyish white building and thought, “Damn, this is some Rocky S#%* going on here!”  I entered, walked up a flight of stairs and turned left down a corridor towards TKO.  As I arrived at the entrance, there were a bunch of people just mingling by the entrance way.  Awkwardly, I excused my way through the thickened crowd and was greeted by a young man in a grey tank top built around my size.  I assumed he was the man to talk to since he was surrounded by a posse of students all trying to grab his attention. “My name is Bao, I’m here for my trial class.”  I said tentatively.  He replied in a stern voice with a straight face, “I’m Chris, fill this waiver out and change over there.  Class will start in a few minutes and the instructor’s name is Scott.”  He pointed to the change room directly behind me. 

      I got changed and proceeded to the training floor.  This place looked more rundown than in the photos I thought to myself.  I wanted the real deal and I knew after stepping in here that this was it.  As I apprehensively stood there in the middle of the training floor, someone spoke out, “Name is Alvin, looks like your first class.  Grab a rope over there, we are going to start soon.”  I felt a little more relaxed and welcomed as someone actually noticed me!  “Thanks.” I replied, and went to grab a skipping rope.  Some moments later, a gentleman twice my size walked on the floor.  He was wearing some funny looking shorts and towered over the rest. I assumed that he was our trainer Scott.  He directed his attention at us and yelled,  “This ain’t no country club! Start skipping and pick it up!”  I began skipping.

      We skipped for a few rounds and then followed up with calisthenics.  Push ups, squats, burpees, situps, all the usual body weight stuff.  After about 20 minutes of conditioning, we paired up. One partner was instructed to wear pads, and the other to get their boxing gloves on.  Scott taught us a few beginner punching techniques and we would practice these strikes on the pads with our partners.  The entire training session lasted about an hour long and boy was I tired by the end!  I knew at that very moment that this is what I wanted to do.  I signed up on the spot.

      Reflecting back on that day, I realize that most of my anxiety came from the moments leading up to the class.  The class itself wasn’t so bad!  And the feeling I felt after the class was amazing.  In my head, I had made up all these scenarios of possible things that could go wrong...but that was all it was, "made up" scenarios.  Ultimately, it was just me being afraid of negative judgement and criticism.  I was lucky enough that TKO Fighting Arts was very supportive and  welcoming.  The members were all friendly and had made me feel right at home.  Within the first month, I made some amazing friends and couldn’t be happier about my decision to join.  I love muay thai, but it’s truly the community and camaraderie that keeps me coming back.  You’ll never know what you are missing until you put yourself out there to try something new. 

      Don’t be afraid of being afraid.  Be afraid, and do it anyway. 

      Former UFC Champion,  George St. Pierre, said it best:

      "Before every fight, before every hardcore training session, I was afraid.  Afraid to be humiliated, afraid to disappoint my mentor, and afraid to get hurt. I believe I shouldn't be afraid to admit I'm afraid.  Being scared doesn't make you a coward.  You know what? There’s no courage without fear.”


      The old "dilapidated" TKO Fighting Arts building, downtown Kitchener ON.  Some time after TKO moved out, the building was over taken by big tech firms like GOOGLE and given a nice little makeover.


      The guy that greeted me upon my arrival for my first class, Chris (left).  That's me to the right of him.  Chris soon became a great friend and mentor of mine.  16 years later and we still keep in touch.


      Scott with his funny looking shorts.


      The oldschool TKO Fighting Arts crew.  That skinny bald kid standing proud is me.


      I would love to hear your story.  Feel free to tell us your first muay thai experience below.



      Creating muay thai combos

      Creating muay thai combos

      Have you ever been asked by your coach to come up with a combo of your choice and stood there drawing a blank? Do you have a heavy bag at home but don’t know what combos to work on?  Or couldn't think of any good combos when holding pads for your partner?

      Here are 3 principles to consider when creating your own combos.

      1. Left to Right

      A good rule to follow is to flow from one side of the body to the other (ie. left strike right strike, left strike, right strike). This also applies to strikes from different weapon groups (mixing punches and knees).


      Example #1: Left jab, right cross, left hook, right low kick, left knee, rear elbow


      Example #2: Left jab, right cross, left uppercut, right cross


       Example #3: Right cross, left hook, right low kick


      2. Striking Ranges (refer fig. 1.1 above)

      In muay thai there are four major ranges - Snug (1), Close (2), Medium (3), Long (4). When combining the individual strikes from these groups, do not connect 2 strikes that are 2 or more ranges apart. For example, a strike from Range 1 (snug) can be connected with a strike from Range 2 (close) but not with a strike from Range 3 or 4 (medium and long). The reason for this is simple: if you can make contact with your elbow strike, you are too close to effectively throw a long range weapon like a pushkick! Vice versa, if you are standing afar and throwing pushkicks, and then trying to skip multiple ranges to get on the inside for the elbow strike is extremely dangerous, as a skilled opponent will likely intercept you with a more suitable weapon while you are on your way in.

      There are exceptions to this rule. Feints and setups can make it less risky to skip multiple ranges. Faking a push kick (Range 4-Long) to temporarily distract your opponent while simultaneously jumping in for an elbow strike (Range 1-Close) is an example of a feint tactic. However as a beginner to intermediate practioner, you should stick with the basics during sparring. Here is a great fight between Buakaw and Mike Zambidis to illustrate why one has to be careful when skipping multiple ranges in muay thai.  Zambidis unsuccessfully attempts to "jump" into the close range from the long range with hooks only to be punished repeatedly by swing kicks.  When in close, his punches are nullified by the superior knee strikes and clinch throws.


      3. Keeping it Simple

      Don’t get too crazy with the length of your combo! The longer the combination, the more your technique for each individual strike will suffer. What’s more important than volume is the placement (aka accuracy and precision) of these strikes in conjunction with timing as well as choosing the most suitable strike for that specific situation. I suggest 2 to 4 hit combos (no more than 5!), and keeping it to the very basic strikes (refer to the strikes in fig. 1.1 above). 

      Here is a collection of 10 basic combos by Sean Fagen.

      Some of you may now be thinking, “These ideas and concepts are too technical and won’t work in a real fight.” Well my friend, you obviously don't know good muay thai. Go watch some Samart, Rodtang, or Saenchai fights.


      What equipment is needed for muay thai?

      What equipment is needed for muay thai?

      Below is a list of equipment you will need for a muay thai class as a beginner and up to the intermediate level.  As you progress in your training, you may require additional specialized equipment for higher level sparring and competition. 


      1. Boxing Gloves

      A quality pair of boxing gloves go a long way in your training so don’t cheap out on this item.  I have had students try to save money on gloves only to replace them some months later.  A good pair of gloves should last you several years at 3-4 training sessions a week and will cost anywhere between $75-$200.  Velcro straps are suggested as you don’t want to waste time fiddling around with the lace-up gloves.  Leather is best but synthetic leather can be just as good if it's from a reputable brand.  I suggest having 1 pair for heavy bag and pad work (view standard size chart), and 1*16oz pair for partner drilling and sparring.    

      2. Shin Pads

      Shin pads are used for partner drills, sparring, and in amateur competition.  They are there to protect your shins and feet from excessive damage.  They also act to reduce damage dealt to your partners during training.  From my personal experience, you can get away with a relatively cheaper pair of shin guards since they are not used as frequently as boxing gloves. The lowest you should spend for shin guards would be around the $65 mark and no more than $130 unless you are a competitive fighter who has a taste for the really high end stuff. View standard size chart.


      3. Hand Wraps

      A hand wrap is a strip of fabric that wraps around your hand and wrist to protect the knuckles and bones from damage induced from punching as well as give additional support and stability to your wrists.  It is absolutely essential that you make it a habit to wear hand wraps every heavy bag and focus mitt workout as they are often overlooked by beginners.  Impact at the wrong angle on a punch can see you with a broken hand and weeks or up to months of recovery time.  You should be washing your wraps after every session so I suggest you have at least 2-3 pairs of hand wraps. 


      4. Thai Shorts

      Training muay thai isn’t the same without a pair of Thai shorts on!  The high cut of the shorts allow for a wider range of motion, enabling you to kick higher and with ease.  They also do a great job of "wicking" sweat to the fabric's outer surface while drying faster than your average cotton shorts.  Even if Thai shorts are not mandatory for  classes, you can show the coach that you are taking your muay training training seriously by wearing them :).


      5. Mouth Guard

      A mouth guard should be worn every partner drilling or sparring session to protect the jaw, tongue, and reduce head trauma from punches.  Even when you think it’s going to be a “light” training day, you never know with some partners who always seem to go a little too hard.  You also cannot prevent accidents from happening.  Another reason why you should wear your mouthguard in training is so that you can get used to breathing with a mouth guard on as this will help you easily adapt to that feeling for when you are sparring or competing and required to wear one.

      6. Headgear (optional)

      These may not be needed until you start sparring, but if you have the funds a headgear is a great addition to your fight kit since you will eventually need one.  For beginners and intermediate who want added protection, go for the headgear that has the padded cheek protection.  The open-face headgear is best for more serious competitors as they allow for better vision while offering a little less face protection.


      How I got started with fighting

      How I got started with fighting

      I graduated from the University of Waterloo 15 years ago.  Yes, you guys may think "what a great accomplishment!"  In a way I guess it was, but I barely passed my last year, and it took me 5 years to receive a 3 year degree that I don't give a crap about.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not against school or formal education!  It just wasn't for ME.  Growing up in a traditional Asian family, I never had the choice not to go to University.  So I did it anyways just to please my parents.

      Shortly after graduation, between sitting on my ass playing World of Warcraft and watching TV, my long lost childhood passion for Martial Arts was reignited once I began watching PRIDE FC, a MMA organization based out of Japan.  Inspired by fighters like Wanderlei Silva, Kid Yamamoto, and Fedor, I decided to search online for fight gyms in Kitchener.  There were few selections but I remember stumbling onto a muay thai gym called TKO Fighting Arts.  The website was pretty simple, but what caught my eye was how “raw” the fighters and gym looked in the photos.  There was no glitz and glamour, just toughness...I needed toughness.  

      When I told my friends about this, one of them (let's call him John) did not sugar coat how he felt about my new found interest. “Dude, there’s no way you're gonna hang with these guys.  You’re just some university kid, you know how tough you gotta be to fight? You won’t be able to do it.”  These words of his still linger with me today.

      I don’t know where I found the courage to even consider such a sport. Maybe it was because I was fed up feeling like a nobody and desperately hoped that muay thai was going to be something that could give me direction and purpose. I decided to go try my luck with a trial class…After the session, I was hooked.  I never could have imagined that my simple decision to start muay thai would eventually send me down a path of unbelievable adventures and self-discovery.  

      So to everyone reading this; go out there and try something new!  It might be scary, it might be hard, at times you may even want to quit...but do it anyways.  See you in the next post.


      On a side note, many years later I did end up cutting John out of my life.  We don’t need friends like John in our lives.