♫♫ I slayed MC’s back in the rec room era
My style broke *&%*$#ing backs like Ken Patera ♫♫
Do those lyrics sound familiar??
If you’ve ever trained at Stride Muay Thai, you’ll know that Wednesday’s at the gym are usually, “WU-WEDNESDAY’S”! I feel like it’s my responsibility to educate some of our younger members (and by younger members, I mean those under 40) not only about proper Muay Thai, but also about what real hip hop is suppose to sound like! And nobody has ever done it better than the Wu-Tang Clan 🙌!
“Liquid Swords” by GZA is the best album individually released by anyone from the Wu. Convince me otherwise.
The lyrics quoted above also happen to have inspired my blog post today. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the song is called SHADOWBOXIN’ <— Click here to listen along while you read **WARNING**not appropriate for work!
Music snobbery aside, let’s talk a bit more about shadowboxing.
Within a gym, there are many avenues to gauge a students progress. You can see it when they work the bags, hit the pads or when they do partner work and ultimately in sparring. All of those things are great! As a coach I am always happy when I see my students getting better at each of those elements. But the area I look to the most to see the overall development of my students is when they shadowbox.
This may seem surprising, because shadowboxing can sometimes be overlooked for the flashier elements of training. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen students “go through the motions” of shadowboxing, but not fully taking advantage of the time. Instead, their minds are wondering what other techniques they’re gonna be able to do on the pads today. This is fine though, it is a natural development in most gyms. But next time when it’s time to shadowbox, look around. I’m willing to bet, the nak muay who have been training longer and have more experience approach their shadowboxing a little different than a newer student.
For me, watching a student shadowbox is the piecing together of all the different puzzle pieces that they have picked up along the way during training. Shadowboxing is where everything, such as FLOW, TIMING, BALANCE, UNDERSTANDING and most importantly INDIVIDUALITY come together. So let’s break these down, and see if we can change the way you may look at shadowboxing.
I can still picture in my head the day, that my Muay Thai training changed forever. I was training at Legacy Gym in Ubon Ratchathani, in eastern Thailand. It should also be mentioned that this was during my first ever trip to Thailand. I had spent my first month training at Por Pramuk in Chachoengsao. I was having difficulties transitioning from my 15 years of Kung Fu training to the ebbs and flows of Muay Thai. A lot of the weapons are…well… as they say in Thailand…”Same same, but different”. (I won’t get too much into this transition from Kung Fu to Muay Thai, as I think that deserves a blog of it’s own.) I understood what I was being taught and shown, but I just couldn’t put it together for some reason. I’m sure if I saw myself shadowboxing (or any of my training for that matter) in those days, there would be some serious cringing going on!
So, back to Legacy Gym. I had been at the gym for probably a week or so. The general routine at Legacy Gym was, running (around the lake) shadowboxing/bag work, then rounds with a trainer and then sparring or clinching. I had finished my run, now I just had to get through shadowboxing so that I could get to the padwork!! So I started my erratic shadowboxing. That is, until one of my trainers decided to stand beside me. He probably noticed my spastic combos, or was just blown away by how stiff and disjointed I may have looked! Haha. This trainer was Phut – pronounced “poot” . (I believe Phut Bunrong is currently a trainer at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket). Phut stood there a bit longer and then he said the 2 words that would change my Muay Thai training forever. He said “Sabai, sabai”. I looked at him. I knew sabai meant relax, so I did the work in my head and realized Phut was saying “relax, relax.” Also in my head, I was thinking, what is he talking about!? I want to throw my 9 move combos as fast as I can! Then Phut took the combo I just threw, but broke it down to individual moves. He started with a teep. Then he said, “sabai, sabai”. After the teep, he looked so relaxed. He made sure he was balanced. Bounced up and down a couple of times, and then threw a simple jab. Then a cross. Then a roundhouse kick. “Sabai, sabai”. More balance checks. Then stepped in, threw an elbow and and then a knee. I just stood there. A little blown away. We just did the same combo, but the combo Phut threw was beautiful! It was at that moment, that something in my head clicked. The rhythm of Muay Thai started to make more sense to me. Being relaxed, then exploding into CLEAN technique. Somehow in this one moment, the jumbled mess in my head cleared up and all of my training changed from that point on. My bag work, pad work and partner work all became cleaner, and made much more sense!
Timing and flow go hand in hand with Muay Thai. One of the best ways to get your timing down is to get your breathing in order. Every technique that you execute should be accompanied by a strong breath out (offensive and defensive). When you breathe out, it helps to contract your muscles and core, adding power and explosiveness to your technique. If you throw multiple techniques on one breath, you are probably lacking power on one or more of the techniques. Develop the discipline to move in rhythm with your breathing.
Once you have your breathing and timing down, it’s time to make sure you are balanced during all of your techniques. Sometimes it’s just a matter of millimeters that balances out an attack for you. Your foot a little more to the right, or bending your knee a little as you land a punch, or getting a little higher on the ball of your foot for a kick. All these minor details, when identified, worked on and corrected make a huge difference to your weapons. Often times with beginners, I’ll stand beside them like Phut did to me. I’ll ask them to throw one technique. I’ll tell them to relax and ask themselves, ” am I balanced?” If the answer is yes, then I ask them for the next technique. If the answer is no, then we figure out how to get them more balanced.
Flow, timing and balance builds a solid foundation for a nak muay. I tell my students, picture building a pyramid. You mush have a solid foundation in order to reach the peak. So with that solid foundation, now it’s time for students the truly start understanding what techniques they are throwing, why they are throwing them, and whether or not these techniques make sense or not. This is the time where we can start to nitpick some of the finer details. Making sure guards are in the correct positions. Making sure proper seals are made when blocking kicks etc.
My favorite part about watching my students shadowboxing is watching each and every single one develop their own style. I love giving my students a strong foundation, and then have them start using their favorite weapons and strategies. Some students love to kick, so their shadowboxing style consists of combos that set up their favorite kicks. Some of the students love to throw elbows and knees, and you can start seeing them set up those techniques.
The long winded lesson here. When shadowboxing. Relax. Develop your flow. Break everything down until you can throw every technique correctly, with balance and precision. Start imagining yourself in a fight, and plan your attacks and defenses. Work the style that you enjoy!
Other important factors when shadowboxing.
When you begin, just start with the techniques that you’ve learned. If it’s your 2nd class and all you’ve learned so far is a teep, a jab and a cross, then spend your time working on those 3 techniques. As you pick up new weapons, then slowly start incorporating them into your shadowboxing.
Once you’ve got the basics down, don’t be shy by looking around at your teammates and mimicking their techniques. Break it down, figure out what they are doing, and why they are doing it, then make it your own. If there is a fighter that you admire, go on Youtube. Watch their fights or training. Pick out a combo they did that you like and start working on that combo!
Mirrors. Mirrors are a great tool if you have them. Use your reflection as a guide. It’s one of the only times you’ll get a perfectly matched opponent. Same height and weight as you. Punch yourself in the mouth every time. Teep yourself in the gut every time you teep. Use the mirror to make sure your hands are where they are suppose to be. Is your guard up? Did you swing your arm on your roundhouse? You can learn a lot watching yourself while shadowboxing.
Pace. You can shadowbox at different paces for different challenges. There are days maybe you want to really challenge your flow. Maybe throw with a little less power, but group your combos together, make sure you’re always moving and at the same time balance. There are days where you may want to work your explosiveness. Short combos, thrown with intent, accompanied by proper breathing. Sometimes this breathing naturally turns itself into snarling, or growling. This is all part of the process as it means you are really engaging your core and other muscles as you throw. I’m a firm believer that there should always be lots of noise when shadowboxing. You wanna slow things down and really work on your balance? Take your gloves off and go grab a pair of 3 – 5 lb hand weights. Don’t mask your technique with speed. Throw everything a little slower and figure out where your balance is during each phase of your technique.
See? There is a lot that can be gained from shadowboxing. So next time, instead of just going through the motions, looking ahead to what the next drills will be, take the time to embrace your shadowboxing rounds. It’s one of the best tools you have at your disposal, that you can utilize pretty much anywhere and anytime!
Do you like shadowboxing? Are there any aspects of shadowboxing that I left out? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading and “Protect Ya Neck” <— See, I brought it back around full circle with Wu Tang!! 🙌!