WHAT I WISH I KNEW BEFORE MY SMOKER
The idea of stepping into the ring in whatever capacity is something so foreign to fresh newcomers to Muay Thai.
It’s one that I never thought that would happen, and here I am just a few hours after my first smoker (or interclub, if you’re British) and I’ve learnt a few lessons, as it was a rather brutal affair.
Stepping into the ring is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and you need to be better prepared than I was. Here are a few lessons I learned the hard way:
CONDITIONING IS EVERYTHING
In the first round, my opponent threw three consecutive roundhouse kicks that all caught me across my stomach, causing me to collapse and almost vomit. I hadn’t conditioned myself at all, nor had I sparred without a body protector or done much conditioning during training. Mistake number one.
Conditioning is crucial to your survival. Your opponent will not hold back. They will throw kicks to the body, legs and head (albeit light to the head). You have to be able to take these kicks with little to no reaction else your opponent will see your weakness and capitalize, tearing apart your morale and knocking you down over and over.
Work on conditioning with:
- Leg Conditioning – Grab a partner, take off your shin guards and kick each other on the upper leg – try not to give each other a dead leg! This will build up muscle in target areas for low kicks. A lot of people focus on the outside of the legs for conditioning, meaning when a kick lands on the inside of the thigh it does a lot more damage, so work on both the inside and outside of the thigh.
- Abdominal Conditioning – You’ve got a few options for abdominal conditioning. My preferred method would be to have a partner repeatedly slap my abdomen with a Thai pad. Other methods involve taking punches and kicks to the abdomen at a power level you and your partner agree on, and then working some variations and combinations, as well as being taken by surprise. Another method to also build up core strength at the same time is to do a set of sit-ups, then between each rep have your opponent slap you with the Thai pad or punch you.
- Neck Conditioning – This is an odd one, because not many people think you’d need to condition your neck. Imagine being in a clinch with someone who’s a fair bit stronger than you. They’re trying to pull your head further and further down, closer and closer to their knee. You’ll want to be able to keep your head up high and reposition yourself to dominate the clinch. To do this, lie on the floor and move your head backwards so that your shoulders begin to lift off the ground. This will allow you to keep your head higher in the clinch and keep you away from the dreaded knee to the face – one of which I received and got a rather bloody nose as a result!
CONTROL THE CORNERS
The squared circle is an intimidating prospect and is one that should be broken down into segments before it can be tackled all at once.
First of all, ensure that you have confidence. That is confidence – NOT bravado. Bravado will get you hurt, whereas confidence will keep your opponent on the back foot. Demonstrate this confidence by forcing your opponent to the outside of the ring. Stand in the center of the ring and, without letting them circle you like a predator hunting their prey, force them to be on the edges. From this dominant position, you then have two very viable options:
- Take the fight to them. Use a combination of punches and kicks to back them up to the ropes, and clinch up with them. You can then either get them into a corner or throw them to the ground. When in the corner, use knees and body hooks to keep your dominant position and see the rest of the round out. This will teach your opponent how to adapt to various situations, like being backed up into the ropes, or being overwhelmed with a clinch. Throwing them is a risk to take, as it could result in someone getting hurt (I witnessed a man break his wrist as the person throwing him didn’t let go, forcing him to land with his arms extended), however, it will teach your opponent how to keep control over the clinch and how to avoid situations like that in the future.
- Let them bring the fight to you. Instead of going on the offensive, take an opportunity to learn something for yourself. To do this, give your opponent the chance to throw some combos at you. This’ll give you a period to assess how your defensive work is, as well as to think up ways to respond to certain things (during my bout, my opponent repeatedly threw a lead roundhouse kick and, when I wasn’t taking them to the midsection, I would repeatedly parry them to the side. I would either kick low, kick high, jab over the top, hook to the stomach or show off with a kick to the back [which would’ve scored big points in a real fight.]) Diversity is key, and if they’re being predictable, then two wrongs don’t make a right. Ensure that you aren’t getting complacent with your combos.
RISK IT ALL
Stepping into the ring as an amateur is something I didn’t think I’d ever do a year ago. When it finally happened, it was a terrifying experience, but a huge learning opportunity. It’s all about having the right mindset. If you go in worried about getting your ass kicked, then when push comes to shove, you’ll be so paranoid about getting hurt that you’ll end up getting hurt worse.
You’re there to learn – and nobody can take away from you the fact that you had the courage to step into the ring and face someone. Not everyone can say that. Remember what Ali said: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
- Ben Evans is a 17-year-old Brit with a year of Muay Thai training under his belt. His experience in martial arts so far has inspired him to continuing learning and helping to teach others about the sport.