Muay Thai adventure day 4: The karate curse

I have absolutely no idea whether this is true, but I suspect The Karate Kid both made karate and ruined it.

What I know for sure is that The Karate Kid ruined the modern world.

Seriously, read that article in the link above. Go on. I’ll wait.

Anyway, what I mean is that I think the movie made it a martial art for children, which in turn had the effect of stigmatizing it among teenagers and adults. To give just one example, Dane Cook is known as “the karate of comedians”. Not a compliment.

In spite of this, I still feel a sense of loyalty to my first martial art. I was happy to see that it will be an Olympic sport in 2020. At least at the school I went to, we never did anything really impractical like punching from the hip. A lot of the good, basic principles of fighting I learned there have stayed with me to this day.


Just don’t try that on the street, kid

Unfortunately, so has a lot of the bad stuff. Well, I shouldn’t really say “bad” — a lot of the stuff that’s different than Muay Thai. Okay bad. I thought I filtered it all out in my kickboxing years, but I was wrong.

I was hitting the Thai pads with a partner yesterday, feeling great. My punches had snap and I wasn’t letting my hands drop. I was making sure to twist on my back foot while throwing the cross, which is really where all its power comes from.

boxing gloves

“Once a fighter puts on those lobster claws, he’s good for only one thing” – Sam Sheridan, A Fighter’s Heart

“Your stance is too wide,” one of the instructors said.

I looked down. It was. My feet weren’t anywhere close to each other. It was a very karate-type stance.

Later, after he had seen me throw 15 to 20 more combos, he figured out why that was happening. It wasn’t that I was starting in a wide stance — it was that, with every combination, my feet were getting just a little bit further apart. That’s a problem because it robs you of all of your power in your punches, elbows, knees and kicks.

Sparring in karate is point sparring. That means whoever scores the first clean punch or kick scores a point and wins that round. The philosophy behind this was that the fighter — having developed his limbs into weapons — who strikes first wins. Thus, sparring should be about scoring that first, crucial punch or kick. Ironically, power becomes an afterthought in point sparring. A wide stance is often used because of this.

I think point sparring is interesting on its own as a sport. As I mentioned, I’m looking forward to watching it at the Olympics in 2020. But as a philosophy of fighting I don’t know what to call it other than complete bullshit.

Whenever I’ve started something new, I’ve always found it helpful to imagine what style I want to move towards. I’d rather be a power boxer. When I watch fights on Youtube, I like the fighters that throw bone-shattering kicks.

After class, a few of the instructors usually hang around and hit the bags a bit. My partner and I decided to pick their brains about kicking, and they were happy to help.  In karate, your roundhouse kick has a flick and you hit with the foot. In Muay Thai, you keep your leg straight and swing it into your opponent, hitting with your shin. Again, I’d like to think I’ve purged the karate from my fighting soul. My kicks are hard but sometimes I catch a little flick in them.


The unlucky subjects of my kicking fury at Milton Muay Thai

The instructors were mostly happy with our kicks. Besides the satisfaction of hearing a powerful “thud” each time you hit the bag, throwing hundreds of kicks also helps get your shins used to hitting things. The goal for serious Muay Thai fighters is to make their shin bones strong by creating little micro fractures in them. When the bone repairs itself, it comes back stronger. Also, you eventually want the nerve endings in your shin area to die.

I’m not sure how enthusiastic I am about that last part.

About Richard Raycraft

Journalist and audio nerd. Thrill seeker.