ON THE ROPES
The muay Thai trainer known as Master Toddy likes to have his students cut their teeth on a specially designed striking pad that’s positioned near the ropes that surround one of his boxing rings.
“You can stand in front and hit it to get your distance with uppercuts and other punches until you feel comfortable,” Master Toddy says. “Then you learn how to punch and kick while bouncing off the ropes to get their energy. You really need that energy in round four and round five.”
ON READING YOUR OPPONENT
“In round one, watch your opponent,” he advises. “Notice how he stands, how he moves, how he blinks. You have to feel him out and think about what he wants to do to you.” That’s the best way to beat him, Master Toddy says.
ON THE PHYSICAL VS. THE MENTAL
“Fighting is 50-percent mental,” the muay Thai master says. “Conditioning is only so important. I know one guy who runs marathons, but the conditioning doesn’t do him much good in the ring. He never wins; he never believed in himself.
“I would say, ‘Kick him with your right leg.’ He would ask, ‘What happens if he kicks me at the same time?’ I told him I couldn’t be his muay Thai teacher because we couldn’t connect. Letting him stay would have wasted his time.
“You have to be determined to win. If you’re not, you’re wasting your time.”
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ON GOOD TEACHERS
It’s very common for good teachers to connect with their fighters — even if they don’t call it “connecting,” Master Toddy says. “I might do more than other people because I come from the background of a monk. My family believed in the same things I do. My fighters do, too.
“Like Lisa King — we connect every time she fights, and she wins. She has the spirit. Of course, everybody has bad days. If your spirit is strong, though, it won’t matter. You can still be strong and win.”
ON MEASURING SKILL
Master Toddy says people often ask him if the person with the better technique will win a fight. “No,” he says. “The person with the heart of the lion wins. It can help you beat someone who’s technically better than you.”
The best test of skill in muay Thai is competing in Thailand — with no family and friends around you, he adds. “You can’t call yourself the world champion of muay Thai without having beat the Thais.”
After one incident in Thailand, Master Toddy began cautioning all his fighters about unexpected mental conditioning. “I had one fighter who went there to train,” he recalls. “She was watching a fight, and a boy she knew got knocked out right in front of her. She felt that knockout and heard his head hit the floor. She said, ‘I hope that doesn’t happen to me!’
“Then everything started going wrong. I tried to get rid of her negative thoughts, but she got knocked out in the first round of her next fight.
“Whenever someone gets knocked out, you shouldn’t look at the person getting carried out. You should look at the winner — and celebrate! Feel his victory!”
ON CATCHING UP
Thais start training in kickboxing at age 4 or 5, making it extremely difficult for an American fighter who doesn’t begin until he’s 25 to catch up. But Master Toddy has a solution.
“I have them train certain things and fight smart,” he says. “For example, in Thailand, they don’t score much on punches because they don’t want muay Thai to become boxing. So training smart might include developing a big punch or a sneaky elbow. The Thais are so far ahead that a foreigner doesn’t have to win to be victorious there. If he goes five rounds with a Thai champion, he’s a winner to me. If he loses a split decision, I jump up and down!”
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“Prepare everything before a fight,” Master Toddy says. “Your clothes, gloves, even your toothpaste and toothbrush — everything you need to make your day. Then you don’t have to worry about the little things. You can focus on fighting and winning.”
ON BEING BOSSY
“I don’t believe in telling my fighters every move to make,” Master Toddy says. “Many fighters ‘die’ because their cornerman tells them what to do. You have to let the fighters make their own decisions.
“I try to keep my instructions short: ‘What a beautiful day! You look good. I like your moves.’ Then, after everything positive has been said and the fight starts, I might say: ‘Breathe until you feel better. I believe in your right hand. Remember when you knocked out your last opponent with it? You can do it again.’
“With some people, though, you have to yell. It depends on the connection.”
“Some instructors train their fighters to be angry,” he says. “I don’t like my fighters to get angry before a match. When you get angry, you drain your energy very quickly, and you can run out of gas.
“My style is to tell them to relax, that when the time comes, they’ll do the right thing. It’s a Buddhist attitude.”
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ON THE BENEFITS OF STUDYING
Much of the payoff of training in muay Thai isn’t about learning how to kick and punch, Master Toddy says. “It’s about the spirit, as well as discipline and mental training. That’s why we have the pra jiad, or armband.
“We used to cut the clothes of our mother and father to make it. Then we would wrap them together with a small Buddha. If I hit your arm, it was weak. But if you wrapped the band around your arm first, you wouldn’t get hurt. It’s all psychology. That’s one reason we have to honor tradition. Muay Thai is not too much about religion; it’s more spiritual.”
“Thailand is one of the hottest countries in the world,” he says. “How do I train my people to compete there? I turn the heater on in the gym here. I put them in hot water before they go so they get used to the ‘pressure’ of the heat and humidity.”
ON BASEBALL BATS
“I always try to encourage my students, but I punish them, too,” Toddy says. “I have a baseball bat, and sometimes I hit them until they do things right.” (laughs)
Robert W. Young is the editor-in-chief of Black Belt.