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The Toughest Stand up Fighting You Can Imagine

December 21, 2004 08:53 AM

I am sure that most of readers have quite good idea what Muay Thai or Thai boxing is. My first live contact was with master Chang who worked as waiter in restaurant in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia ? I was shocked when I saw what a real master of only about 110 lbs. can do to the heavy bag. It was 50 bone breaking roundhouse kicks with left leg and immediately the same with right without stoppage. I mean bone crushing, not that ballet choreography when you stay on one leg and whip 3 times another. I was hooked. Depending on the tournament it is 3 to 5 rounds of 2 to 3 minutes, classical weight classes, fists and feet, elbows and knees, hard clench fight and throwing.

Now imagine some changes:

-No gloves, only bandages.
- You can hit (or be hit) with your head.
- If you throw your opponent, you can hit him (or be hit yourself if you are the one who is falling) while he falls until his head is one foot above ground.
- There are NO weight classes. If you are a little guy who made it to the finals, you are just little guy who was good enough to have a chance to become the champion, the heavyweight champion. In the beginning though judges try to put together fighters of similar sizes.
-And the dessert, the so-called ?flag? tournaments at the top level. Each champion has his own flag with the symbol and they challenge each other as they did in medieval knight's tournaments. All fighters must finish the first round in the circuit, after the last two are over, the first two started the second round, and after that for all pairs who started the third and last round without a time deadline, there can be only two endings. A K.O. or a withdrawal, which most often means the reason is a serious injury. Oh, by the way, a K.O. doesn't mean that you wasn't able to get up for 10 sec. Depending on the agreement before the tournament you'll have at least 2 minutes to come round and you have the right to continue as if nothing happened (often you can see a stubborn fighter who finishes on the floor of the ring countless times to win at the end.

If you don't know where people fight this way, go to Myanmar (former Burma), where they practice Myanma Yuya Louvi ? a traditional full-contact martial art that hasn't been changed for centuries (as you can see by rules). Why have most people never heard about this? Well, I am not sure, but I think the first reason is the politically complicated situation which results in closeness of the country, and second, you must admit that the rules are little bit harsh for wide popularity.

I was fortunate to practice under guidance of Nilar Win ?a champ from Myanmar who spent some time in Croatia on his way to Paris. In Burma they all have fighting/spiritual names given by coaches or peers for a characteristic in fighting, and the meaning of his is 'Shiny Jewel'. It describes his excellent proficiency in fighting and coaching. Let's try to say it this way - until meeting that man I was good fighter, after that he made me a warrior. Today he holds a very successful Thai boxing centre and creates champions on the French and European levels.

How do you prepare for such an event? I can give you example of one of his championship training:

He used to 'jog' as he called it. When I went with him for the first time, it was serious run for 6 -7 miles, a sprint workout (for example 15 x 100 metres with an easy jog back to the starting line), a 'jog' back home.

After a warm-up (mobility exercises, shadow boxing, rope jumping) :
5 rounds x 5 minutes of roundhouse kicks on a heavy bag,
5 x 5 knee work on a heavy bag,
5 x 5 hand work on Thai pads,
1 x 5 shadow boxing using all techniques as ?relaxation? round and transition to sparring
15 x 5 with 5 different sparring partners in circuit. Rest between rounds is 30 seconds. Sometimes he would change partners for 25 rounds x 3 minutes without rest ? 75 minutes sparring total.

Considering modern training theories, someone will tell this way of working out is straight path to overtraining, but how can one prepare himself for fight without deadline against similar prepared opponent under the above mentioned rules? You can come to such a level only after years of persistent daily practice. Of course, if you compete for three 3-minute rounds, you should customize your preparation. You have no use of marathon endurance but lacking wind, strength and explosiveness in last round of match.
But today, when you see more and more limitations and rules (for example K1 ? no elbow, no clench fight, and the last one was, you can hit only ones after you catch your opponent's lousy kick and then you must let him go), it's nice to see that somewhere someone still practice hard enough in traditional way further of modern fame and commercialization, and closer to the old and real purpose of martial arts, for the battle.

Conditioning for Thai/Burmese boxing

Let's describe first traditional methods of Burmese and Thai boxers. They put a great emphasis on strength, endurance, and hardness of the contact parts of the body. Workouts are hold early in the morning and late in the evening because of the humid and warm climate. Sun would catch fighters on the river coast in dawn. They would run, swim and pitch fists in the mud ? opening and closing it inside ? developing strength and endurance for punching and clench fight. For hardening fists and elbows they would hit an unripe coconut hung on rope. For feet, shins, and knees they used a ?tandy? yield which is bigger and harder than coconut. Similar to the karate tameshiwari practice they used to break stones and bricks of fried pug. For hardness, flexibility, and agility they played ?chin lon?, a game where you hit a ball made of knit sticks with legs and head (in Thailand they called it ?tackrow?) and they played it on acrobatic level. They climbed on palms for strength and agility. They incorporated long, slow running and swimming, and also lots of sprinting work (today's recommendation is to sprint with mouthpiece as a situation training for a clench fight ?the principle of specificity ? and the emphasis is on practicing proper breathing). They include lots of jumping exercises and jumping kicks and punches. First for conditioning, and second they are better afterwards in the easier standing versions ? the ?train hard, fight easy? principle applied to technique. Beside lots of calisthenics (for example, they do many gymnastic bridges from the standing position and call it the ?monkey wheel?) they use barbells and dumbbells. They also practice special tumbles.
You should use every aspect of your training for developing other aspects. 90% of kickboxers leave their head and ribs open when roundhouse kicking ?a no-no. Croatian K-1 and Pride champ Mirko ?Cro cup? Filipovic would use that opening for his famous left high K.O. kick. Here is a good example of how technique practice and conditioning should become integrated. In every one-hand kettlebell exercise my recommendation is to put the free hand's middle finger on your temple and the elbow as close as possible to your ribs ? in that way you condition yourself for proper hand alignment in fight. (As Steve Maxwell somewhere said, 1 improper rep has to be neutralizes it with 10 proper ones). That becomes really interesting in the DARC swing where you change hand position in every rep ? you let your bell fly and put immediately that hand on temple while the other catches it ?a very nice rhythm, but always listen to the Party and do such exercises outside. My couch still hurts since I failed to catch the kettlebell above it.
Following are some kettlebell exercises that I found very helpful for kickboxing:

? The front squat ? with one and two kettlebells. Kickboxing benefits are numerous.
? The elbow press ? it strengthens the shoulder girdle for explosive movements and faster elbow strikes.
? The arm wrestler's wrist curl ? for the special clench hold.
? The get-up sit-up ? try it alone while pushing the wall with your feet, and push bell hard.
? The alternate snatch with 2 kettlebells ? for explosive endurance in hand techniques.
? The DARC swing ? Endurance, explosiveness, and coordination, especially if you touch your middle finger to your temple on every rep.
? All one-leg exercises, e.g. the military pres and the deadlift.
And two new kettlebell exercises. When you have to fight for a few hours you really must have great shoulder endurance just for holding your hands up. That is the reason why in Burma they pay attention to the shoulder girdle. I learned to do these two exercises with a barbell but I like the kettlebell version better because your hands work independently.
-The jumping jack press really helped me with other high rep ballistics. Snatch or C&J two kettlebells. From there jump your feet together while simultaneously lowering the kettlebells. Immediately jump out and press up. It's a quick movement and maybe you'll feel a little bit awkward at first. Respect all the attention, power breathing, and tension principles and please, start extremely light. Believe me, the 1-pood kettlebell is for real players. Do the exercise for low reps and high sets fashion, but explosively ? like punching. I like to superset it with jump shrugs. When I really want to fry my upper body in a short time I do following combo: snatch, exhale and inhale completely, 2 or 3 (depending what else I did in that workout) jump presses with power breaths, exhale and inhale completely, snatch, jump press, and so on... Between the rounds I walk around until my breathing calms, but I breathe through the nose all the time.
? The slow low is a grind exercise. Two KBs hang in your hands in front of your thighs, as in upright rows. Bring them to your shoulders slowly. Considering that the weights are too heavy for strict reverse curl, the first part of the movement is like the upright row. Keep your elbows as close to body as possible and please, push your shoulders down to the ground to protect them at all times! Then slowly push the kettlebells forward from your shoulders. They will go down more then forward; fight them..
Choose the exercises you need most. If you lack wind in the fifth round, do more high-rep ballistic stuff. If you need more explosiveness, do low rep ballistics in multiple sets. For more clench strength do more grinds. If you finish on the floor to often, incorporate more oneleg versions, etc. Think about your needs, listen to your body, and design a simple but effective program for yourself. Be imaginative.

Davor Kudrna can be reached at