Legendary Dutch Trainer Talks Technique & Fight Life
A champion in karate, savate and Muay Thai, and a pioneer of the Dutch style of kickboxing that dominated the kickboxing competitive circuit for many years. His style is incredibly unique to him and his students.
Despite a start in kickboxing more than 40 years ago, Lucien Carbin remains one of the finest coaches in kickboxing today. He is the man behind phenomenal fighters such as Ilonka Elmont, Andy Ristie, Tyrone Spong, Alistair Overeem, Gilbert Yvel and Rob Kaman.
Today we talk with the cerebral kickboxing coach and talk about how he developed his style, blending karate and Muay Thai; his falling out with Andy Ristie; and how he trained Fedor Emelianenko to defeat Mirko Cro Cop.
On His Style
MTG: You initially started out in Kyokushin karate and kickboxing with Jan Plas (at Mejiro Gym). Do you feel that karate has been as big an influence on your style as it has other Dutch kickboxers?
CARBIN: Yes, I think it has. Although I didn’t start out with Jan Plas, he and I were both students of Jon Bluming (the founder of Kyokushin in Holland). I think that Kyokushin is a very good foundation for Thai boxing.
MTG: How did you become involved in Thai boxing, and how did you mix the karate style with Thai boxing?
CARBIN: When Jan Plas went to Japan, he wasn’t allowed to train with Mas Oyama (the head of Kyokushin karate). He went walking there and saw Mejiro Gym (the original Tokyo gym) and went inside. When he returned to Holland, he told me I had to focus on kicking low, because I was a great admirer of Bruce Lee and was only kicking high.
I started developing my own way of kicking low. In my style, I use all of the kyokushin kicks. With Muay Thai you only see two types of kicks: low and roundhouse. Also, when I was training in Kyokushin, I was training always in boxing gloves.
MTG: And over time while training Thai boxing, you developed what you call All Style Muay Thai, is that right?
CARBIN: No, I call it Carbin All Style.
MTG: So when you train fighters in Carbin All Style, do you train them to fight like you, or did you change the style after you retired and began to pass on your knowledge?
CARBIN: I like them to work hard on footwork, as a way of defending. Through the years, we’ve had to change the style from time to time. I know some gyms in Holland are training the same style over and over again.
That’s not how we do it; every day we develop the style. I approach every fighter differently, with the basics of Carbin All Style, because every fighter is different.
MTG: A technique I often see your fighters perform is to punch while they are recalling their kick, or to throw a knee strike when the arm is coming back. How did you develop these unorthodox techniques?
CARBIN: I like athletics, so I notice that all sprinters have powerful arms. So they use the arm to pull the leg forward.
I used the same technique like sprinters but with kicking. Moving the arm in this way makes the following combination very easy and you don’t use any power.
MTG: Pulling the arm back into the knee or kick makes it harder?
CARBIN: Yes, you gain more speed.
MTG: It’s interesting because most fighters expect a combination to be over after a kick. It must hurt more when a surprise punch comes.
CARBIN: A surprise punch always hurts. Most of them result in a knockout.
MTG: Something I’ve noticed is that your fighters do not always fully rotate into roundhouse kicks (mawashi geri) like Thais do. Why do you prefer that method?
CARBIN: It depends. We have three types of roundhouse kick: One to prepare for the punch after; one to kick on the arm (like the Thais do); one to change the angle of the kick.
MTG: Does that shorter roundhouse kick make it easier for your fighter to punch immediately after?
CARBIN: Yes. With one roundhouse kick, our hips are going back; with the other, they’re going forward. It depends on the follow-up technique.
On Fedor vs. Cro Cop
MTG: After he trained with Tyrone Spong, the great Fedor Emelianenko seemed to employ some of your techniques to beat Mirko Cro Cop.
CARBIN: Before the Cro Cop fight, he came to prepare for it in our gym. At that same event, I was there with Alistair Overeem, so unfortunately I couldn’t be in Fedor’s corner.
MTG: What did you make of Fedor from a kickboxing perspective?
CARBIN: He is very, very strong. He actually has powerful front kicks; it’s a pity he didn’t use them.
MTG: Maybe he was concerned he would push his opponents away, when he mostly wanted to throw them.
CARBIN: Yes, he was worried about the left roundhouse kick, Cro Cop’s strongest weapon.
MTG: In that fight, he was forcing Cro Cop to move backwards to stop him from throwing that roundhouse kick. Is that something you told him to do?
CARBIN: Yes, we were checking how Cro Cop moved. He takes one step too many before he kicks; his footwork wasn’t that good before he kicks. So he was always too late in landing the kick.
MTG: Essentially you got Fedor to beat Cro Cop at his own game.
CARBIN: I told Fedor not to focus on the roundhouse kick, but on his own way of attacking.
On GLORY & Andy Ristie
MTG: Quite a lot of your fighters have had success in K-1, but now it seems that Bellator and GLORY are the best places for kickboxers to earn money. Do you feel that it’s harder for people to make a living in the sport now?
CARBIN: Yes, it’s harder to make a living in the sport because in GLORY, you need to have good friends. We’re fighting in Kunlun, China, and in Russia. We don’t fight at Glory.
MTG: Can you explain what you mean by “good friends?”
CARBIN: It’s not the best fighters competing at GLORY, it’s a select group of fighters.
MTG: I had noticed that some fighters have had an easier time getting to the title than others. Wasn’t it you who coached Andy Ristie to the GLORY title?
CARBIN: Yes, but a couple of days before the fight, he wanted to fight with one of my assistants. And we can’t allow that to happen; we follow Kyokushin rules. Andy wanted a fight with one of my senseis.
His attitude was too much… Andy got personal and he took it to the gym. So after that, we separated.
MTG: You asked him to leave?
CARBIN: We haven’t seen him since that day.
MTG: Could you see yourself working with Ristie again in the future for his comeback?
CARBIN: No way! Once a trouble maker, always a trouble maker.
On Aspiring Fighters
MTG: When I first learned about you, I started by watching padwork videos of you and Ilonka Elmont… and I felt that I learned a lot from that alone. What do you think are the most important techniques that an aspiring fighter should learn?
CARBIN: He should learn balance, and how to use his body, when to kick and when to punch… and of course, to use his most important weapon — his eyes. Giorgio Petrosyan’s number one weapons are his eyes.
Lucien Carbin has all you could want in a coach.
He doesn’t simply give commands and hope that his fighter is tough enough to pull through. He knows why a fighter must do what they do. His dedication to the art of striking is extraordinary, and he has developed a crafty style of fighting that is unique to his gym.
If you would like to train with Lucien Carbin, he encourages you to contact him through Facebook so that arrangements can be made. He has a lot of foreign fighters who come to train with him, and he accepts people from all walks of life. It is surely the opportunity of a lifetime to train with and absorb knowledge from this legendary Dutch striking master.
- Andrew Bryan is an actor, writer and martial artist based in the UK. He likes long walks on the beach, fighting technique, and history.