On Monday, I got a Facebook message from Kiatphontip Gym in Bangkok. I can only assume I was speaking with the owner/manager. He wanted to confirm my plans for next week and arrange transportation from the airport to the gym.
Shit, this is, like, real.
I missed class on Tuesday to move out of my apartment in London, Ontario. These things together meant I went extra hard at Milton Muay Thai yesterday (Wednesday).
I don’t think I’ll ever feel physically ready for training in Thailand, but I’ve made a lot of progress in just over a week at MMT. My thighs have stretch marks now. Like, the good kind — the kind you get after you do at least 100 squats a day. I always feel good after class and I don’t have as many aches the next morning.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that I sweat like crazy after a minute of warming up. A health professional told me that this is actually a good thing, but when I can’t see the punches coming because my eyes are burning I tend to disagree. Other students get the impression that I’m gassed after jumping rope for 30 seconds. Not cool.
Whenever you start something new, you’re going to come in with assumptions that turn out to be wrong. Recognizing that is an important part of maturing. Even then I’ve been surprised — my best technique is something I hadn’t thrown once until about a week ago: the leg kick. Even more baffling is that my left leg kick is actually stronger than my right.
For those that don’t know, a leg kick is a kick to the side of your opponents thigh. This is unique to muay Thai and MMA, since American kickboxing doesn’t allow kicks below the belt. In muay Thai, your legs aren’t legs when they’re kicking — they’re baseball bats, and you need to swing them as such. With the leg kick, you’re like a lumberjack chopping down a tree.
I’m torn about this, because I’ve never been a big fan of the move. Very, very few MMA fights have been won on the strength of a fighter’s leg kicks. A muay Thai kickboxer might throw one or two in the early rounds as part of feeling out his or her opponent, but that’s about it.
Part of the reason is that leg kicks can’t finish a fight. You can’t knock someone out with one. A lot of really tough fighters go for a nap when they get hit with a hook, uppercut, or head kick. Their toughness has no say in the matter. Even with the hardest leg kick, though, they might wince at the pain, but then they keep coming at you like nothing happened.
Another reason is that it leaves you vulnerable to a takedown. If you’re a kickboxer and you’re fighting a wrestler, a reasonable strategy might be to throw as many leg kicks as possible. After 10 of those, no matter how tough he is he’s not going to try and take you down — one or both of his thighs will be like giant, red beets. But to get to that point you, well, need to throw a lot of leg kicks, and every single one leaves you vulnerable to the takedown. Eventually he’s going to recognize a pattern. Once he gets you on the floor, all he needs to do is stay on top of you for a few minutes to win the round.
Still, in one of my first classes an instructor spoke of leg kicks so hard they can actually sweep your opponent off of his feet and onto his ass. It was like he was telling some sort of storied fable. Then, yesterday, this almost happened to my partner while he was holding the pads for me. It was a sign.
It felt good in a way I can’t describe. Martial arts training has always made me feel like a big of a megalomaniac, which I guess is why it’s so addictive.
I’ve always liked getting really, really good at a skill others tend to overlook in any given discipline. I was horrible shot in the army, but I was the the best radio operator and one of the best navigators in any platoon I was in. The radio operator and the navigator are rarely the hero in the movies, but they’re definitely not anonymous foot soldiers. I like being known for something in that way.
So, for all its flaws, I’ve decided that the leg kick is going to be my signature move. Where other fighters neglect it, I’ll throw 1,000 a day, till my shins bleed. What the hadoken is to Ryu, the leg kick of everlasting sting is to me.
I’ll have to come up with a better name for it. Suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org