Last week we were doing pad training in class and some of my students weren’t getting an important concept. So I showed them a clip of muay Thai legend Ramon Dekkers doing some pad training. Take a look at the clip first and then I’ll explain:
There are several things you can see in this video:
- Ramon hits hard. He punches, knees, elbows and kicks with plenty of power. You don’t see him holding back.
- He’s fast. Look at the combo he does at 1min.40, especially the hook punches.
- He does complex combinations. He’s not just throwing a jab-cross-leg kick like everybody else already does. He makes long combinations that involve all ranges, all weapons, switching leads, stepping forward and back, etc.
- You never see him off balance. He doesn’t stumble or slip up, he’s in control the entire time.
But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about. It’s important, but for now it’s just background information. Here’s the thing:
When he strikes the pads, he goes full speed, full power with perfect control.
Before and after, he moves away and is totally relaxed.
If you’re an old hand at working with training pads and focus mitts, this isn’t news to you. A good pad man teaches you these things very early on. But if you’re new to working with pads or you aren’t paying enough attention (like when you’re getting tired…), it’s easy to start making mistakes. Some of my students were making two specific errors:
- Staying in front of the pad man after they finish striking.
- Wasting energy by working at the same pace all the time.
Let’s take a look at these two.
Run Forrest, run!!!
Assuming the goal is to hit your opponent and never get hit back, it’s very simple:
If your opponent can’t reach you, then he can’t hit you.
How can you make sure he can’t reach you? By stepping out of range.
Sounds easy enough but it’s one of the most common mistakes even experienced fighters make. They stay put when they should be moving. Sometimes this is an honest mistake, other times it’s the result of an overly offense-based strategy but very often, it happens when they get tired. When you run out of gas, focusing on good footwork becomes hard. It’s easier to stay in place and try to block incoming blows. Not necessarily more efficient but it is easier. The inherent danger is that you risk taking too much damage; block or no block, it still hurts getting hit and one blow too many can mean you end up on the canvas.
So it’s more effective in the long run to step away from an opponent when you’re done striking. Or at the very least be ready for him to come at you. This is exactly what Ramon does in this clip. You see him either pushing his trainer back, holding him off or stepping and circling.
When you’re working the pads (and even more so when you work on the heavy bag) getting that kind of automatic footwork down takes a lot of work. It’s something you have to constantly be aware of or you’ll stop doing it. Working on the pads is a great opportunity to ingrain this: you can hit all out and come very close to full on fighting but each time you finish up, you either move or the pad man makes you move.
A good pad man forces you to move by hitting you if you stay put (you are in his range too after all…) or stepping through you. Both options teach you to pick up your feet and get the hell out of there. Ramon Dekkers shows this very well in this video.
I didn’t hear no bell!
Going several rounds in a professional fight is tough; it takes enormous stamina to do so which is why fighters do so much conditioning. But regardless how good a shape you may be in, we all get tired at some point so you have to manage your physical resources well to avoid wasting them. This is a skill in and of itself, one you can also learn while working the pads.
Depending on the type of competition you’re in, rounds can be 3-5 min. or longer with 1 min. rest in-between. That rest period will help to recuperate for the next round but if you’re fighting at a high pace, it won’t nearly be enough. That’s why fighters use a concept sometimes called “active rest” or “active recuperation”. This means you alternate fighting hard with short periods of either not attacking or working at a lower intensity. You can do this in several ways:
- Move out of range. As mentioned above, if you are out of range, your opponent can’t hit you and you can “rest” a little bit. I’m not saying you should chill and pretend you’re drinking cocktails on the beach, this isn’t black or white. But it is an opportunity to take a breather and conserve energy. That said, your opponent has to let you or you have to make him let you: If he keeps going on the offensive, it’ll be hard to catch your breath, even if you move out of range because he’s in your face all the time. To avoid this, you need excellent footwork and angles so he races past you or can’t really follow. Or you need to make him pay for rushing in with well placed counters as you move away from him. If you do that well enough, he’ll hesitate before coming at you which gives you time to recuperate a bit. Again, this is a skill that you have to learn, not something you can just make work out of the box.
- Brawl – Combinations – Stop hits. The more energy you have, the more techniques you can throw at your opponent. So when you’re fresh and with a full tank of gas, you have the energy to brawl with the guy: stand toe to toe and trade blows. When you get tired a bit, you can no longer keep up that pace and have to switch to combinations. This takes less energy than brawling and the goal is to do cumulative damage while making it hard for your opponent to go on the offensive. When you desperately need to take a breather, you switch to stop hits, which takes even less energy (but is perhaps more difficult). These are single techniques that stop the opponent in his tracks and/or stun him, giving you time to get away and recuperate. For this to work, you need good technique and excellent timing. As you get more tired, you switch from brawling to combinations to stop hits. As soon as you recover enough, you can increase your output again and crank up the intensity. Caveat: this concept is purely aimed at managing physical resources. It does not take into account strategy and tactics. So you need to factor these in as well before implementing this approach.
- Stop wasting energy. You should never waste energy but if you are getting tired, this counts even more. Leave the showboating and fancy moves for when you’re fresh. Sure, doing that somersault kick is cool and yes, every now and then a fighter lands a KO with it. But more often than not, it fails, leaves you wide open and costs a lot of energy. Energy you don’t have to spare anyway. So when you get tired, keep it simple.
- Alternate types of impact. Despite what most fighters think, there is more than one type of impact. Penetrating impact is the most common type you see in the ring or the cage because it often does the most damage. But there’s also bouncing, shock wave and ripping impact. Each type has slightly different energy and technical requirements, meaning you don’t get as tired from using the one over the other. Penetrating impact however is the one where you can easily waste the most energy: if every blow you throw is aimed at knocking the guy out, you’ll run empty real fast unless you have superb conditioning. So one way of recuperating is using the other types of impact, the ones that even though they may be slightly more difficult technically speaking, cost you less energy. I cover this topic in greater detail in both my first Combat Sanshou video and my book The Fighter’s Guide to Hardcore Heavy bag Training.
Watch Dekkers again in the video. He does all this (and more). You see him alternate really long combinations (brawling) with shorter ones (combinations). Then he does single or double techniques (stop hits) and moves around a bit. In the mean time, he switches the types of impact around.
But the key issue is this: when he isn’t striking, he’s relaxed and conserves his energy. He moves around or stands there totally focused yet very relaxed. He isn’t tightening up muscles that don’t need to be tight. He’s relaxing as much as he can without becoming weak. He’s ready to explode into action at any time but he’s not tense. Finding this state of relaxation is one of the keys to active recuperation. It’s also a key to winning fights but that’s for another time.
Here’s an example of Dekkers working on this by doing more relaxed pad work. You see him warming up on the pads for a muay Thai fight in Thailand. Notice how relaxed he’s moving yet his body mechanics are identical to when he strikes full force.
What my students were doing wrong was being overly tense. They didn’t distinguish between the times you’re punching and kicking (when you need to use your muscles all-out) and when they were supposed to step out of range (the moment you can relax a little bit, without dropping your guard though). That costs them a lot of energy. Energy they don’t get back yet might need during the fight.
When you work on the pads, there is a lot more going on than just punching and kicking. To get the most out of this type of training, you need to be focused not only on your techniques but also on these other factors. Ramon Dekkers and his trainer show this exceedingly well in these two videos.
If you’re interested in more information about working on the pads, you might enjoy this video of mine called Pad Man. In it I cover a lot of the bases on how you can get the most out of working with Thai pads, focus mitts and kicking shields.