Global Training Report

 

 

 

Presents

 

 Stephane Nikiema

&

The Most Distinguished Art of Muay Thai 

in Bangkok and Pattaya

 By Roberto Pedreira

Updated January 1, 2013

 

    Brasil and Thailand have a lot in common: beautiful beaches, sunny skies, warm weather, cheap prices, corrupt police, and lots of poor people. Most importantly, they both have awesome martial arts.   

    Thailand's awesome martial art is called Muay Thai, which simply means Thai boxing. Unlike Inglit boksing (English boxing), Muay Thai  allows leg kicks, knees, and elbows, which sometimes makes it seem more like a form of mayhem than a martial art. 

 There are no schools of Thai Boxing. Rather there are training camps. The people who train and are trained there are professional fighters (or preparing for a professional debut). The camps are not set up to teach farangs (foreigners) how to fight Thai style. They won't object if you simply want to skip rope alongside them in the afternoon, or kick their bags. They may offer you a couple rounds of holding and invite you to join in the clinch sparring. They might offer to show you how to kick the way they do. Basically though, they will work your ass off, but not teach you much. And why should they? Now, if you want to stay and you have what it takes to fight professionally and win, then that would be a different matter, and some farangs have done this--mostly Europeans, but also a one or two Americans (Dale Kvalheim, now a professor at Southeast Asia University in Bangkok, was one.)  

   

 

    It isn't that the Thais have anything against foreign fighters or are trying to hide their secrets from outsiders. It's just that from their experience, few foreigners have either the capacity or commitment to do what it takes to represent their camp and win, in the  professional Muay Thai ring.

   But there are exceptions.

    You can train in Bangkok, and I had before, at the Sotjidlata gym and the Jiti gym. But if you don't have to be in Bangkok, there are better places to be, and better places to train too. Pattaya for example, is a good place to train. There are numerous camps there (technically, in Naklua), such as the Sidyodtong Camp. There is less noise and pollution, less traffic, and except for clothes and boxing equipment, everything is cheaper. There are Muay Thai  "shows" at various open air beer bars in Pattaya, and real Muay Thai from time to time at Pattaya Stadium. But for the best Muay Thai, there's no substitute for Bangkok. The two main venues are Rajaman Stadium in the Kao San area, and Lumpinee Stadium on the other side of the river (the Chao Praya), not far from Patpong. Lumpinee stages fights three days a week (Tuesday and Friday, at 6:00, and Saturday at both 5:00 and again at 8:30). Rajaman stages its fights on alternate nights. Each stadium has its own champions and contenders. 

 

    Lumpinee is not luxurious and tickets  are priced according to how close to the ring you want to be. The cheapest tickets just permit you to enter. It doesn't matter how crummy the seats are because you have to stand to see anything anyway. Even then it isn't easy.  The Saturday matinee is probably the best time to go, if you want the cheap tickets and you want to be able to see the action. (However, the Saturday afternoon fights are between younger, less experienced  fighters and are not representative of the best of Muay Thai.)  I went on Friday evening. It was jammed. A few farang back packers and thousands of Thai gamblers. Most cards feature at least one English Boxing match. No one watches.   

     Like most crowded, polluted big cities, a little bit of Bangkok goes a long way. The next morning I took a taxi down the coast to Pattaya. My plan was to start out at the World Class Gym, hit the bags, get into some kind of Muay Thai shape, and then venture over to Sidyodtong Camp on the other side of the highway.

 

Almost There, viewed from back of a Songthaw

 

Interkan

 World Class Gym had been renamed and remodeled. It was now Interkan Promotion. I was worried about what other changes had taken place. I liked those bags!

 The boxing area had moved from the third floor to the roof. New and better weight training equipment had been installed. But the bags were what mattered. I circumspectly walked up the final flight of stairs. I opened the door, this is what I saw:

 

  I was the only one in the building other than the little Thai girl at the front counter. It was about 5:00 and the wind started kicking up, as it generally did at that time. A  dark, "half" looking guy came in and began adjusting the tarpaulin that kept the rain out. He saw me and said "English boxing....tomorrow, you come, I teach you Thai boxing". "Sounds great", I answered. He stood 1.88 centimeters (about 6'2") and this and the fact that he spoke English told me his father had been a farang. I had no idea who he was or how much he knew about Thai boxing, but if he could at least hold the pads correctly (not something to be assumed), it would be good. 

Nikiema

   It turned out that he was the owner of the gym, and that he knew quite a lot about Thai boxing. In fact, he was a boxer himself and a good one, with a 65-10 record, with 35 KOs. His name was Stephane Nikiema ( below, coaching overweight farang tourist), and he is well known in France. I was right that he was half but wrong about the particulars. Instead of a Thai mother and farang father, his mother had been Polish and his father African (from Burkina Faso) both living in France when they met and where Stephane was born. Now 35, Stephane had been fighting since 1983, when he was discovered by Samart, representing the Joki camp. He had been training in Thailand for many years, although due to his size (and therefore lack of opponents), most of his fights had been in Europe. 

     Yeah, I guess he knew something about Thai boxing.    

 

 

 Muay Thai Basics

   We've all seen pictures of Thai boxers, or guys trying to look like Thai boxers, with the hands up and elbows angled out. It has probably occurred to a lot of people that it wouldn't be hard to stuff jab after jab through that big opening.  But nobody fights like that anymore, Nikiema explained, as he demonstrated the hand position that everyone does use. It looked a lot like a boxer's hand position: hands up in front of face, elbows in tight, lead hand somewhat forward, and importantly, the chin resting on the forward deltoid. You will never get "knocked", he said, by a blow to the head, if you fight like this. This is how he fights and he has never been "knocked" by a shot to the head. He's been "knocked" by knees to the ribs and shins to the thigh, but never by a shot to the head. The leading cause of knockouts in the myriad manifestations of the hurt business is hands held too low. It seems to make excellent sense to keep them up. Medical specialists will also tell you that the safest position for your head and neck to be in is a "slightly bulled" position, with your chin touching your deltoid. People who fight professionally already know this.

 The next order of business was the Thai kick, which goes by various names depending on where it is aimed and how it is used tactically, but basically, it is the same kick. (There are just two kicks in Muay Thai, this one, and the straight push kick). The kick is really just a rotational body movement, with the leg extended and rigid. In a sense it is the reverse of a taekwondo back spin kick, but instead of contacting with the light, delicate (many small bones) foot, you contact with the shin (the second heaviest bone in the human body--the tibia). Maximum power is generated when you kick at the level of your own waist, and that's why Interkan didn't have a long banana bag. You develop bad habits (such as scrunching forward) when you start out trying to kick low. The body mechanics are the same whether you kick high, middle, or low, but you can't learn them if you start out trying to kick low. Overweight, middle-aged farangs like banana bags, Nikiema said, because kicking correctly is too hard for them. "You ever see a banana bag in a Muay Thai camp?" he asked. In fact, I hadn't.

   Because you are on your toes, you can spin completely around, 360 degrees and end up back where you started, ready to do it again if necessary. This is assuming you do not contact something, such as a rib cage or skull--or a raised leg with the shin turned out to intercept the incoming kick (this shin to shin contact is generally more painful for the kicker than the blocker). You are giving up your back, for a split second.  This isn't a serious problem in a Muay Thai match, since as in English boxing, you can't attack the opponents' back. Moreover, the only way you can actually spin 360 is if your opponent jumps back out of the way, which (usually) gives you time to complete the turn. Like any technique, it works best in its own context. For a vale tudo, you'd probably want to modify it to resemble a kyokushinkai kick a little more. 

    On the way down, I found Nikiema washing the windows. Except for his assistant and former stablemate Samlong, the staff of Interkan were hopeless, Nikiema said. They want their wages but don't want to work. Nikiema and his Thai wife were partners.  She came from a big family. In Thailand, families share. So all of her relatives worked at Interkan. However, their view was, since they basically were partners too, why should they take orders from anyone? Nikiema thought the windows should be clean, they didn't think it was that important, and certainly didn't have to be done in such a big hurry. Who was to say he was right and they were wrong? Nikiema's wife felt caught in the middle, but was less able to withstand her family's pressure than Nikiema's.

     Nikiema was perplexed. "Seven years we are together. Never a problem. Now nothing but problem".  If things don't smooth out soon, "no more business in Thailand. I go back to France. I don't need zees trouble". He would give it a week.

Muay Thai Shows

    I had plenty of time to kill in the evening. I dropped by all of the open air beer bars that feature Muay Thai shows. In years past, the shows had actually presented some fairly authentic matches, with minimal staging. The fights are not regulation of course. Some of the fighters used to be pros, others are just guys who know enough to make it look convincing to a farang audience.  The rounds are short (2 minutes instead of 3), and fewer (3 instead of 5), elbows are not permitted, and 16 oz. gloves are worn. The fighters don't even bother to wear mouth protection, which gives you some idea how seriously they take it. Occasionally, you see some displays of genuine skill. More often its the equivalent of pro wrestling. If a farang wants to climb in the ring and test his skills, the Thais are happy to oblige. I've seen relatively clueless farangs (usually big drunk Australians) get their legs kicked to pieces and wimp out after trying to take their tiny little opponent's head off with Herculean swings, and I've seen farangs with obvious skills dismantle their Thai opponents with superior technique. The Thais are not at all nationalistic about it. If you're good, in their eyes, you're good. They especially love anyone who can throw good knees. On the other hand, they tend to despise someone who can't defend his legs or deal with the clinch, especially when it's a big farang getting thrown around by a small Thai).  

 Once in a while there are real Muay Thai fights at Pattaya Stadium. Since this is a provincial stadium, the fights showcase up-and-comers and young guys honing their skills, and young kids just starting their careers. Some of the kids look as young as eight years old, but their skills are real. They look like miniature Muay Thai warriors. 

   Farangs often fight here too. Most of them are quite good, and in fact, most of the fights I saw over the years between farangs and Thais were won by the farangs (who usually seemed to be French of Arab descent). The one exception was the Canadian guy who seemed to think he was in a taekwondo match. He went the distance though. As he left the ring to the changing room, the Thai guy next to me yelled out at him, "Hey you!--number 10!", then turned to me and chuckled.  Thais don't respect guys who can't defend their legs or deal with the clinch. 

    

Kao (knees)

    The next day, I started by throwing multiple kicks at the pads and kept getting hung up having to readjust when my "opponent" (the pad holder) didn't step back, leaving me too close for a second kick. No problem Nikiema explained. You simply fold your lower leg back (toes pointing back), and make contact with the knee. This is precisely when you should be throwing knees. And the body mechanics are identical. In other words, if you are too close to make contact with the shin, contact with your knee instead. Folding the lower leg back makes the knee a good striking tool.   

   Nikiema took this opportunity to fix my hand position. I learned a long time ago to throw my right hand back when throwing a right kick. It never felt quite right, exposing my head like that. I assumed the Thais thought it was ok because the head would be out of range at the instant the kick landed. But I saw fighters get knocked out like that. I decided the best way would be to keep my hands up at all times including when kicking. Nikiema didn't think either method was right. Neither one gives you the necessary head protection at that crucial moment. Attack may be the best form of defense, but you are also most vulnerable when you are attacking. Nikiema recommended extending the right arm straight out. Your left elbow will be straight up, hand pointing down and forward. This isn't a "stance" however, but rather an integral part of the attacking movement. It made sense, and eventually felt comfortable after I got over my normal grappler's reluctance to extend my arms. It helps to conceptualize your right arm not as being available to being locked, but rather as thrusting to the opponent's head (in fact, it is  intended as a checking action).

Punches

   Obviously, Nikiema's hand position is a boxer's hand position. But Thai boxers don't punch like boxers. The Thai's punches are less powerful because they do not step in for straight hand strikes. If they are not close enough to punch, they don't punch, they kick. If they are close enough for hooks, they throw knees and elbows instead. And although they call their lead hand a jab (or rather, a "yab"), it isn't used the way an English boxer uses a jab, to keep the opponent off balance, to make him react, to create openings for power shots. They don't use them for defense either, probably because knees and push kicks work at least as well as, if not better. 

    The Thais also don't "dance". Neither do they float and sting. English boxers can fight on the balls of both feet, on the ball of their rear foot, or flat-footed, depending on their preferences. The Thai boxers I have seen in action fight flat footed. Nikiema however believed that being constantly on the balls of the feet makes kicking and knees more efficient. He's won 65 of 75 fights using this method. I wasn't going to tell him he was wrong. 

Calisthenics

 We finished the work-out with Thai calisthenics. Thais do body weight exercises. There is a pull-up bar just in front the nearest heavy bag. It is mounted about 7 feet overhead, with nothing nearby to step up on, which made grabbing it for reverse grip chin ups difficult. Nevertheless, we did (or in some case tried to do), 20 pull ups and 20 chin ups then laid back down for many sets of abdominal exercises, some good, but most of the old fashioned variety that work the hip flexors and stress the lower back more than they develop the abs  The fact that these awesome fighters do a particular drill doesn't mean it's a good drill to do. It may even be detrimental. But if everyone else is also doing it, no one would notice the effect, hence rather than neglect doing something that traditionally has always seemed to work, they keep doing it just in case not doing it would leave them unprepared. The Thais and Nikiema had well developed abs, no doubt about that, but that may have been the result of everything else they were doing, rather than the sit-ups. Lifting the leg to throw a knee or block a kick. for example, works the abs. So does crunching to take a kick. In fact, almost everything they do in training requires abdominal contraction. This alone is probably enough to account for their ripped abs.   

Beer Bars

 Almost everything is illegal in Thailand. That gives the police and politicians and other organized criminals abundant opportunities to receive bribes for letting people do it anyway. Prostitution of course is illegal. Therefore, obviously, there are no prostitutes in Thailand, as one prominent politician proclaimed. It is also illegal for a farang to own a bar with girls in it. My guesthouse was on Soi 6, which has a fair number of quiet low-keyed bars, most of them apparently owned and run by farangs. The Bull Ring Bar, the Jasmine Pub and the Ruby Aircon Bar were all owned and run by farangs The Jasmine was owned by a German who told me he cleared US $2,000 a month during the low season and all he did was drink and f**k. US$2,000 is a lot of money in Thailand. The Ruby was owned by a Belgian who also claimed to be raking it in. The Bull Ring was owned by a friendly New Zealander, technically a tourist, who had just gotten back from one of his periodic a visa runs to Laos. He was consoling a Brit who was looking for his Thai wife, who he had met working in the bar and married and brought to the UK. Seems she had run away. 

   Farangs can't own bars, but they can own other businesses, if they have a Thai partner. The partner can be fictitious but usually the partner is a Thai wife. How well the partnership works depends on how well the husband and wife are getting along. Or rather, how well the husband and the Thai wife's family get along.  

   Nikiema's family relationship didn't seem to be going well. The rent on the four story building probably came to about US$600 per month, based on what other farang businessmen told me they paid. However, there is an up-front, non-refundable, one-time payment, equal to about ten times the monthly rent. And to remodel the gym and install new weight training equipment had to cost something. All that would be down the drain, Nikiema said, if he and his wife and/or her family couldn't come to an understanding soon. He wasn't optimistic. 

 Leg Defense

   The next day was devoted to blocking leg kicks. This is a misunderstood art. It is largely tactical. Blocking a hard kick with your shin is not painless, no matter how well conditioned your shins are. It hurts Thais too (although they are accustomed to it), and it damages the bone and the skin and other tissue over the bone. This is precisely the reason you don't see many leg kicks in Muay Thai fights: they are easy to block but it hurts to do it. It hurts the kicker a bit more however, and that is the key. Because it costs him to throw a leg kick that gets blocked, he won't do it unless he can reduce the chances that it will be, for example, by maneuvering the opponent into a position where he can't block (his weight on the blocking leg), or timing it so that the opponent can't react.  

    An effective block is in fact an interception. The leg should be bent at a bit less than 90 degrees, (providing an angled rather than flat surface), toes pointed down, and foot angled slightly out so that the muscles also, rather than the bone alone, take the impact. Do not keep your leg close and wait for the kick to reach you. It may seem safer, Nikiema says, but a strong kick will go right on into your supporting leg. A savvy opponent will take devastating advantage of this if you do it twice. 

     After having his kicks blocked a few times, he will be much more conservative about throwing them. The fact that you are able and ready to defend them (even at cost to yourself) will make it unnecessary to actually do it--most of the time. If your attention lapses, that's when the leg kick is coming in. 

Jiu-Jitsu

    Nikiema's assistant Sam was showing a British guy named Gary (with Nikiema  above) how to play from the Thai clinch. The Thai clinch, unlike the boxing clinch, is not a place of respite. Rather than resting in the clinch until the ref breaks it, you will continue fighting. If your position or technique is inferior, you will get tired faster in the clinch than at range exchanging shots. Just keeping upright when someone is throwing you around by the neck while laying rabbit knees (kao kratai) on your ribs will exhaust you quickly. The idea of course is to be the one with the superior position and technique. Or at least, to have parity, in which case, conditioning over the course of the fight becomes a big factor. 

   Gary weighed 190 lbs. Sam was probably about 130, at most 140. Despite the difference, he easily flung Gary around, and at one point tossed him to the ground and fell on top of him and mounted. "I guess I could use some Gracie jiu-jitsu right about now", Gary said.

   I guess so.

   Later, Gary asked me how long it would take to master the basics of jiu-jitsu if he went to Rio and stayed a while. I estimated six months, for anyone with an open mind, a good attitude, no fear of tapping, and more or less normal athletic ability. You can legally stay in Brazil for six months on a tourist visa and six months is about how long it takes the average person in Rio to get a blue belt. 

   Training was finished for the day. I asked Nikiema how things were going with his wife and her family. "They are going to lose everything", he said glumly.

   On the way out I met his wife. She was well dressed, spoke English well, and was making a web site for the gym. Her mother was there too. She was in charge of the kitchen. Her brothers also were there. I never saw them doing anything that resembled work. Also on duty was a young Thai girl who sold the juice and water and handed out the locker keys and towels. After many trips to Thailand over the past ten years, I could understand and communicate in Thai on a somewhat better than basic level. But I couldn't understand a word she said. In fact, I couldn't even tell if she was speaking Thai or attempting to speak English.

 Push Kicks

    Back at Interkan the next day, it was time for push kicks, which are not exactly pushes, nor are they precisely kicks. Nikiema's view was that you should not "push" your opponent with the kick, because then he will be out of range for a more damaging shot. Nor should you try to snap the kick, since it is mechanically impossible to generate real power that way. (Power comes from the rapid transfer of bodyweight, usually via hip movement.) Rather, you should use the kick the way you would a jab, to keep the opponent from getting too close, and to make him react. You can use either foot, depending on the range and where your weight is. As Nikiema demonstrated this and other kicks I reflected on how easy it would be to grab them and go to the ground. Of course, Muay Thai is not vale tudo. Moreover, in a real match, Nikiema (and any other smart fighter) would take this possibility into account and adjust his game accordingly, relying on leg kicks, setting the kicks up with head attacks (and thereby bringing the opponent's hands up). Nikiema in particular, with his long arms, could probably deliver several sharp elbows before hitting the canvas. Every game has its rules.

    "Tomorrow, sok", Nikiema said. Sok means elbow. I can think of 27 reasons why it's a good idea to use your elbow rather than your fist if you have a choice. Twenty-seven is the number of bones in each hand (8 carpals, 5 metacarpals, and 14 phalanges). They are small. They break easily. They heal slowly. There is a reason Thai boxers wear cushions on their hands but not on their elbows. It is not to protect their opponents' faces, but to protect their own hands. If elbows could be as easily damaged, they would find a way to pad them up too.

Sok (elbows)

  Nikiema liked elbows. Elbows do damage. They are pretty much fool-proof. No matter how you throw an elbow, if it lands, it's going to hurt. There are only two defenses against elbows. One is to be out of range--either too far away or too close. The other is to put something between your face and the elbow. That something is usually your own arms. Being out of range is good but of course you'll still be subject to other attacks and Thai fans do not like fighters who stay out of range. Dancing and floating are not appreciated in the Muay Thai ring. 

  If you stay in tight, you'll be safe from elbows, but vulnerable to rabbit knees, and to being tossed around in the clinch. Staying tight is a good technique to do, but not all the time. The most generally applicable defense is to keep the hands up. Thais are good at keeping their hands up. The penalty for forgetting is an elbow in the face. Because the defense is so effective, Thai elbows tend to be downward slashing motions, designed to come over the top of the defense, if possible, and to open cuts more than to induce unconsciousness--although this does happen at times. (A put-away elbow shot would probably need to land on the jaw or temple, just like a punch would.)  

   Elbows can be thrown from almost any angle but for practical purposes, the only angle that matters is the downward slash and this is what the Thais concentrate on. Because the technique itself is so simple, and the defense so effective, most of the art of the elbow lies in the set up. As always, no technique works without a set up, and the better the set up, the better the technique works. To set up an elbow, you need to do two things at the same time. You need to get your opponent's hands down (even a little), while he is still close enough to reach, without (needless to say), getting hit yourself. Usually, you'll be in a clinch environment when this happen--before the clinch, or during the clinch, or immediately after the clinch. Elbow technique goes hand in hand with clinch technique. It is possible to throw elbows from outside. You can leap in with an elbow smash. You can jab and then fold the arm in for a follow-up elbow slash. You can initiate a straight right and if your opponent suddenly closes the gap, you can convert it in mid-strike into an elbow. There are many possibilities, but the most reliable application of the elbow is from "trapping range", to borrow a term from the lexicon of Dan Inosanto's JKD Concepts.

Stan The Man

   I was watching the Thai Boxing show at the Best friend Boxing Bar, wearing a jiu-jitsu t-shirt. The well-known K-1 fighter Stan "The Man" Longinitis noticed it and asked me if I was Brazilian. No I said, but I've been to Brazil. Stan the Man hadn't been to Brazil but he had been to Los Angeles, and in some ways that's almost the same. The next day I stopped by to watch Stan training at the Kung fu school next to the Sidyodtong Camp. Stan had very serviceable boxing skills, but his kicking was total karate. Stan was too small to reign supreme in K-1, but if he had gone over to Sidyodtong instead of the kung fu school, he might have done a bit better in Japan.  

   I don't want to say nothing bad about kung fu because I never studied kung fu. I feel entitled to bad mouth karate and hapkido though. Even so, that night it wasn't jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, or English boxing that saved my life, it was hapkido. I was at an open air beer bar early in the morning, like about 4:00 a.m., down where all the Arab bars are, when a clown on the next stool pulled a gun and pointed it right between my eyes. I bobbed to the side and deftly disarmed him with a hapkido wrist lock. OK, I knew it wasn't a real gun, because he had shot someone in the leg across the street. It was a pellet gun but powerful enough to cause the victim to yelp. It could have cost me my vision in at least one eye if he had pulled the trigger, and he had shown that he was willing to do that. So the several years I had spent with hapkido in Korea were far from wasted. (As if that weren't enough, a few nights later I found a pickpocket (a bad pickpocket obviously) with his hand in my pocket, clutching a 20 baht note. I recovered the bill with another hapkido wrist lock, impressing everyone, embarrassing him, and making me an enemy I didn't need to have. A few days later he attacked me with a machete, but that, as Paul Vunak would say, is another story. 

   Jiu-jitsu reigns supreme, as Rorion taught us, but that isn't the same as saying that it is the most effective and most appropriate art in every situation. I believe a jiu-jitsu fighter will have a significant advantage over Thai boxers, English boxers, judokas, wrestlers, and everyone else, in a vale tudo, assuming that the factors of size, skill, and preparation are held reasonably constant. But obviously, not every situation is a challenge match against another trained fighter representing a different style (or sport). Wrist locks are not the tools of choice in a vale tudo. Similarly, an elbow to the face, or a mata leão would not have been the best responses in the situations I described in the previous paragraph. I believe that Mario Sperry is better than me at jiu-jitsu, based on the one time I've rolled with him (and the fact that he is a black belt with many titles, and I'm not) but unless he knows the same wrist locks, would he have dealt with the problems in a superior way?

    Actually, Mario Sperry probably wouldn't have been in a bar at 4:00 a.m. in Pattaya, which once again proves that jiu-jitsu reigns supreme. (On the other hand, I can think of a few jiu-jitsu fighters who would probably feel right at home there at any time of the day or night.)  

     Nikiema's relationship with his wife wasn't getting any better.  She had been complaining that her head felt like a spike was being driven into the base of her skull everyday all day for the last week.  "Maybe it'll turn out to be nothing serious, just stress related." I said. Nikiema said he didn't think it would be that simple.   

Thai Clinch

 The clinch is the Thai's Plan B, their faithful stand-by, for dispensing with clueless farang challengers. If the leg kicks don't get them, the Thai clinch will. From this position you can control your opponent's body and exhaust him as he tries to keep his balance; wear him down with rabbit knees to the kidneys, liver, and ribs; and you can protect your head very effectively against elbows. Other arts have related techniques for controlling a body via the head. Silat and Kali have very sophisticated techniques from this tie up. Even hapkido has one or two rudimentary moves. But the Thais, who make their livings in the clinch, have perfected it. Most of their sparring is done in the clinch, and the sparring itself consists of getting and keeping the better position in the tie up, or at least attempting to defend from an inferior position. The practice resembles what wrestlers call "pummeling" with two differences. They have gloves on (although they often practice without gloves). And they are not looking for an overhook-underhook position. Rather they want to have both of their arms around their opponent's neck, their elbows on his chest for leverage (and a little pain), and they want their arms inside their opponent's. This gives them the best position for off-balancing the opponent, according to Muay Thai rules. 

     We only had time for the very basics. I was looking forward to learning more, especially because clinch training is where you get to work extensively with a resisting opponent. Shadow boxing, even hitting bags and pads, can get old fast. There's no substitute for a resisting opponent. 

    I didn't see Nikiema anywhere. I asked the little Thai girl at the front counter if she had seen him ("Stephane tee nai?")  She pointed outside. Nikiema was seated on his motorcycle.

Nikiema on motor bike headed back to France.

. "See you tomorrow", I said". "No", he replied. "No more. Finished here. I go back to France. No more make business in Thailand."

     Sam had had enough too. He was also leaving. Nikiema's wife was apparently the legal owner of the gym. No doubt she'll find someone to teach Muay Thai there. The bags and pads will still be there. But for a while it was nice training with the real deal and one who didn't mind giving up the goods.

   Nikiema told me he planned to open a gym in Cannes--which is the kind of place anyone who likes Rio or Pattaya would probably like. If he does, GTR will bring you the details.

   Or, he may end up back in Pattaya. Stranger things have happened in Thailand..

Post Script 2002. In March and again in August of 2002, and every year since then, Roberto has returned to Thailand and Pattaya to see how things are going. Has Nikiema patched things up with his wife? Apparently not, because Interkan is now a shoe store. Nikiema has seemingly found a better use for his knowledge, coaching Jerome LeBanner, the hard hitting K-1 striker out of France. You could see the results in his brief fight with Don Frye. Don, who is a grappler, attempted to clinch with Jerome, who prior to meeting Nikiema, had no clinch skills. Jerome tossed Don to the canvas like a 12 year old girl  using Thai technique when Don attempted to grab him. Big mistake.

Post Script 2013. As predicted in 2000, Nikiema is back in Pattaya with a new gym. GTR will file a report in the near future.

(c) 2000-2013, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Revised November 22, 2009.

Revised August 21, 2012

Updated January 1, 2013 

Updated October 5, 2013

 

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