You can clearly see the difference. Off course, I love the Thai greats because of their calm control and technical superiority. But if you love fighting, Ramon, Hippo and Andy cannot keep you cold. Off course, you also have top Thais who’ s fighting style lies somewhat closer to the Dutch like Anuwat and Bovy. But still, the difference in ring tactics is obvious. So why do I refuse to agree with the concept of “Dutch Muay Thai”?
Because this “Dutch” fight style comes from the fruit out of the loins of Kyokushin, which was savagely raped by traditional Muay Thai. In the first part of the 60’s, Karate practitioner Tatsuo Yamada got dominated by a Thai fighter. After this savage violation, Yamada’s gym gave birth to a strong child when he brought over a Thai to integrate their techniques into his karate system completed with aspects from Western Boxing. After a while, the term kickboxing was introducedby Japanese boxing promoter Osamu Noguchi for a hybrid martial art combining Muay Thai, boxing and Karate. In those early years, there were “Karate vs. Muay Thai fights”. For example the 12th of February in 1963, three karate fighters from Oyama dojo went to the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Thailand. They won 2 of 3 fights by KO. The only man who lost, a great Kyokushin fighter Kenji Kurosaki, would later become one of the great pioneers in what we call “Thai boxing”.
So, to be historically correct, you can name this style Japanese kickboxing. However, I think this is not fair as the fine-tuning and improvement of this art has been promoted by people all over the world. And yes, the confident, pragmatic and goal directed Dutch must be proud because of the big advances they made for this part of the fight world. In the 70s, Dutch Kyokushin fighters like Jan Plas, Johan Vos, Tom Harinck and of my home country, André Rigiani regularly to Japan to fight. However, when they were also could not cope with the Thai fighters they adapted. Some picked the Japanese masters ‘and their own brain and went to work. Rigiani and Harinck traveled further to learn the art in the country of the smile: Thailand. These pioneers started the Muay Thai league where I fought my way up.
In France, a twofold approach happened. You had Patrick Brizon and Roger Paschy who, as the Dutch did, followed Kenji Kurosaki in his mix of kyokushinkai with the addition of some muay thai techniques in the second part of the seventies. In this time of disco tunes, wide pants Thaiboxing spread the world. The WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organizations) with great fighters like Samir the Prince reflect this tradition. At the other hand, you also have Gilles Belloni who traveled to Bangkok directly. In the Parisian area, he flew over Pud Pad Noy Worawut, who was a top Thai fighter at that time. As such, the Thai oriented traditional Muay Thai scene was born in France.
Soon the full contact and Kyokushin karate shows were soon replaced by “Thai boxing”. Like in Thailand, it is a full contact sport. You can punch (with gloves on), kick, and knee without controlling the impact. However, the clinch is restricted to “active clinch” in the hope to keep the fights exciting for the broader public. Every once and a while, two fighters agree in using elbows but this was and is more the exception than the rule.
Speaking about rules, that is what we were talking about. So let’s get to the point I want to make. Like I said, in Thai boxing, scoring is completely different from “Muay Thai” scoring. Generally all techniques score rather equally, provided they land and have impact. It does not matter that much if these techniques are performed with less than optimal form. However, it seems that most of our judges notice the impact of punches more easily than of clean kicks, let alone knees. It is even so that roundhouse kicks to the arms only score if they clearly affect (read: hurt) the opponent. Furthermore, aggressiveness is regularly rewarded on its own. So if you are a defensive stylist, technical and well timed or not, you’d better make sure that you cause some serious damage or your will be awarded a loss because you “were not fighting”.
Furthermore, each round is scored 10-10 or 10-9 (except with a knockdown which will give 10-8), each judge adds the won rounds together and at the end of the fight the majority wins too. The difference is that the first two rounds also are taken into account and that each jury member just sums up the won rounds instead of won one dominantly loses, as opposed to the win he would receive from the Thai-style judges.
So on the one hand you can say that the traditional Thai system places great importance on the technical quality of the actions, balance and ring presence of fighters. I consider the crème de la crème of the Thai fighters to be like snipers. Picking their shots and often just doing enough to take the victory. At the other hand, you have the machine gun that you need in “Thai boxing”. Here, judges are more concerned with the volume of actions, and the damage that is inflicted regardless of their form.
It is only when the amount of landed actions and the degree of aggressiveness are fairly equal, that “technical beauty” comes into play. And this brings us to the last difference I can think off: completeness. In close Thai boxing fights, the most “complete” fighter will win as opposed to in the traditional system. So even if your opponent looks “fresher” than you and ready for more while you are not, if you have landed more and /or with more effect, you win.
So, if you think about this: What effect will this have on the fighters’ style and ring tactics? If you have read it well, you see how these two systems are on some aspects almost diametrical opposites. Now, what does happen when a Thai boxing fighter competes in Traditional Muay Thai or vice versa?
Well, I can tell you: A lot of misunderstanding, frustration and even anger.
“WHAT? I lose? f**k,d**n;f*****g A******s!!! I won clearly! I never saw judges who were biased like this. Hometown advantage? Ok. But this? What a f*****g travesty! …”
. Yes in the system they are used to, they would have won. But in the other system, that is not so sure. Often times, the mutual understanding is seriously lacking. Off course, clear domination, a couple of knockdowns (if your opponent does not fight back too hard) or a KO will get you the victory in both systems if the judges are honest and capable. But that is an entirely different topic. Focus Nico. Focus!
As I said, I had to go through a long awakening process myself. Indeed, I grew up in the Thaiboxing circuit. Mario, my trainer, had gone through the typical progression in our region from Shotokan Karate, trough Full Contact, Thai boxing into the hybrid Muay Thai style that characterizes my hometown gym Chikara.
I started when Mario was still travelling to Breda in Holland several times a week to train at Maeng Ho. This was the stable where Ramon dekkers became great. Mario trained under Cor Hemmers, Machiel De Boer and Sylvio Zimmerman. Naturally, I wanted to emulate my great example at the time: The diamond!
I approached my fights as a hunt. I was there, ready to chase down, catch my opponent and eat his heart raw (a bit too much “Last of the Mohicans, I guess”). I was there to hurt them. I wanted them broken, wanting to quit and/or knocked out. So I threw everything with all the power I could muster in my small 115 pound “Grashopper” body. I was small but ferocious.
When my entrance song began, Mario turned to me, gave me his typical “evil smile” and yelled: Who is the man?
I am the man!
Yes! You are the man! When the intro was over the beat began to bang, Mario’s sly smile appeared again and without losing eye contact he started to jump up to charge me completely. Before I knew it, I found myself jumping in sync with him, growling and pumped up. Ready! Then I walked to the ring. No Ram Muay, just jumping and growling eagerly. My eyes fixed on my opponent. After the ref’s words, I greeted my victim, the bell rang and I charged.
With little pause, I worked him from all sides. I advanced with a barrage of punches followed by a kick. So I kept going forward. With each action my opponent landed, I became even hungrier. And so I won, fight after fight, just taking my opponent’s shots and overwhelming him with my conditioning and aggressive style.
Often, after a fight, I was banged up. I did not care and felt like “the toughest kid alive”. I was goint to be the next diamond. However, I did not possess the punching power of that legend. But I would get there. I would have to take some hard shots in the process, but who cares?
Somebody did and this changed my fighting style profoundly. It was after my last semi pro fight. Once again, I faced a strong opponent who, I heard after the fight, was already fighting pro several years. The first rounds I got banged up so hard that my skin looked like that of a smurf. My opponent even started showboating and showing disrespect. That was a stupid mistake. I got myself together and went after him. With each combination I threw, the public roared like wild troop of Vikings.
The roof came down when I lost by split decision. Booooooooooo! Boooooooo! The public was right but I still waved my hand up and down to calm them down. An official complaint was submitted and the decision was revoked a few weeks later. But at the time, I could not care less. I knew this was fight was mine, victory cup or not. So I entered my dressing room with a wide smile, happy about the show I gave and thankful for the rush I felt.
I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the Rocky Mountains appear on my face. As a nature freak, I enjoyed the view. I considered it a token of my fighters’ heart. When my trainer and coach went for a drink to cool down from the excitement, I sat down next to a befriended trainer who’ s mouth corners could not be reaching for the ground more.
“What is wrong my friend? Did your boys fight that bad?”
His eyebrows sank down and, still smiling, I wondered why he was looking that angry at me: “What?”
“Nico, why are you smiling?”
“Well, the judges stole the decision, but I knew I won. I performed well and the public loved me”
“Perhaps the public did, but your brains do not. You have to be careful, Nico. If you keep on going on like this, you will not stay that smart for long. “.
I did not understand so I laughed.
“It is not funny!, he screamed, “People perhaps love the way you fight but that is just for now. Tomorrow they will boo you just as easily and you will have received all that punishment for nothing. You are a smart boy, do not end up as X.”
“X?” I was stupefied. What did he mean by that? X was the kind of fighter I wanted to become. He was aworld champion, renowned for his relentless pressure, tough chin and fighter’s heart.
“Have you ever talked with him?”
“No, but he is a great fighter. What are you talking about?”
My friend leaned it a bit, pulled up his eyebrows to check if I was not messing with him and said “Nico, you don’t comprehend what I am telling you, are you?”
“Hu? I replied. “No, I do not” I said while I opened my hands like Jesus and shrugged my shoulders in lack of understanding
He sighed deeply, dropped his head and chook it in frustration. I noticed how my more experienced friend tried to calm his nerves. He sucked as much air in as possible, held it for a moment and let it all go in the hope the tension would leave his body with his exhalation. It did not help. The tension was still there. He had to release it and snapped at me: “Just talk with him! Then you’ll understand!” Then he turned his back, left the room and left to avoid making even more of a scene.
“What was wrong with him today?” I thought. “Why was he not happy with my performance? He just must be jealous that his boys did not perform as I did?” My stomach gurgled, my center heated up, I felt how anger started to radiate all over my body. I decided to cool down and stepped in the shower. It was of no use. My brain was put in motion and winded up the fire under my heart and my head started to pounce: “What an asshole!”
When I came back out of the shower, my trainer was back, looked at me and asked me “What is wrong boy? Why so grim?” I told him what had happened. He kept silent and his smiling eyes lost their joy. “Why would our friend spoil my performance so?” Mario looked at me, then and said: “just talk with X”.
My mouth dropped and I thought: “you too?” Fed up, I put on my clothes and went for my well deserved beer. “What do they think: “he is happy. Let’s ruin that.” Fuck that”.
But my anger would soon make way for a deep understanding. Still a bit pissed off, I decided to focus on enjoying the spoils of life/ I drank my pint, talked with some guys and forgot all about it when a group long legged dolls came ant play with me. What a life! All of a sudden, a tap on my shoulder pulled my attention out of the flirty conversation and I heard a man say “Good fight, you should have won”. Still gleaming and proud, I turned around to give “this fan” also some attention. I turned and so did my stomach. There he was: X.
For a moment, I was taken aback: What would I find? We talked about some casual stuff first. As I was interested in his insight, I asked how he would have handled my opponent. X tried to answer: “well, you did good.. I would….eeuh…I…I would …have given more up..up..percuts as they landed every time”. As the conversation went on, I got increasingly worried. I told myself “relax. He probably has stuttered his entire life”. But with every word he seemed to have more trouble keeping his attention in the present moment and an uneasy feeling crawled up to me. After a few painful moments his trainer, a man who I still consider one of Belgium’s best fighters, joined us. Not soon after, I heard how a blond girl called X over. This was my chance to ease the mind and asked X’s trainer: “Excuse me for asking, but has he stuttered all his life?”
He leaned in and whispered in my ear: “He never was the brightest bee in the hive, but boxing did not teach him to avoid slamming himself into the window, if you know what I mean”. He came even closer and his barely noticeable words made me shiver as a snake on the barbeque: “You better learn to keep your hands up”. Hahahahahahaaaaaa. Cracking up, he left the building and like that he left me in shock.
I got it now. There I was. My goal was to become an example of mental and physical toughness. I wanted to be like X and beyond, show the world how unbreakable I was and strong. I saw myself years ahead, trying to explain that I had received my masters but not soon after lost my… what was that word again… int… I felt how I could not remember anything and noticed as the years progressed, so did the shaking of my hands. No, that…that never. Up until that moment, I had always considered X and I, like minded fighters. But right there, I decided that I would not end up with a mind like that.
My analytical mind kept me up all night and I decided to use it for something I really care about for a change. I went after all the tapes of the top fighters of that and previous eras to find the “magic formula” why guys like Ramon could go forward and avoid being hurt. Back in the day, internet and video streaming was not yet for everybody. I had never heard of YouTube so I had to search for the manually in specialist store for the videotapes. You remember or you don’t, but these are those plastic boxes with a long shiny ribbon inside.
Off course, the first thing I did was analyzing much of Ramon’ fights as I could find. Up until then, I only had seen him walk over his opponent like an unstoppable steamroller. But now I saw him having trouble dominating another Dutch Fighter: Gilbert Ballentine. No way, Gilbert even managed to character his way to a victory. But, it did not enlighten me much. This top fighter was a bit more elusive as the Diamond but still took a hell lot of punishment to get to his gold.
One day, Mario showed me a tape (or was it a dvd already) of Ramon losing vs a Thai. I do not remember his name but the impact this moment had on my concept of fighting all the more. The thai guy came, considering who he was fighting, relatively unharmed out of the fight while our diamond bleeding severely and stood there with his hands hanging down. It dawned to me. Perhaps there is another way towards domination besides walking trough you opponent with will and power. I realized, the Diamond had a “Kamikaze” like style, but was charged with full blown nukes. I attacked with my Uzi but did not blow away my competition with that much ease. Then I read an article about how the Diamond could not fight any more because he his ankle was jacked up because of his impressive series battles in Thailand. Something started to shift inside.
Around that time, Mario travelled to Thailand with my other friend and training partner Johan Gebrueurs to train in Fairtex. This was when the gym was still a small, hardcore gym in the suburbs of Bangkok. They almost were the only farangs (foreigners) in the camp and so received a whole lot of attention. They came back transformed and that was when the click in my mind was made.
Mario had sharpened his already snappy sense of timing and had added good clinching to the mix. Johan came back a “Jonsanan style” fighter (if you do not know Jonsanan Fairtex, look at this classic fight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKcrPWC4hlc&feature=related against Sakmongkol: and enjoy!). Johan had always been a tough go getter but now added strong roundhouse kicks and clinch to his arsenal.
It dawned to me that my trainer Mario’s great strength his sense of timing, speed, and unpredictable technical ability was. Why did I not try to emulate his example more.
Around that time, I stumbled upon a video of Namkhabuan Nongkeepahuyuth. Whow! A new world opened. In this fight, Namkahbuan was also offensive as hell but at the same time he managed to stay clear from punishment. I dedicated myself for a while to look after fight videos of Thai fighters. And back in the day, I had to go through some trouble.
Be aware, it was the time that internet was not yet common for everybody and as a worker’s son, not for me. But with time, I found some real ring geniuses like Boonlai and Samart.
Step by step, Mario started to integrate some more traditional Muay Thai aspects into his lessons and soon we found t that this upgraded style worked well for us. Bit by bit, I evolved into a “hybrid style” fighter with traditional Muay Thai tactics but still capable of the Thaiboxing combinations if the situation asks for it. I still go for the kill, put pressure, attack and counter continuously but do it now with more patience and, most of the time, with less emotion. In my fights, I started to use much more knees and kicks and tuned my combinations down to shorter ones. However, we predominantly fought in Belgium and Holland so trained for the Dutch scoring system and thus our tactics were still focused on volume.
But then I flew the first time to another country to fight. It was in the UK where the Traditional Muay Thai system ruled. More or less at the time that in Holland and Belgium Thai boxing became the number one fight sport, masters Sken, Toddy and Woody worked hard to promote their art in the UK. It took a while to get the movement going but at the moment I consider UK Muay Thai a bunch of top notch Nak Muays (Muay Thai fighters). If you do not know names like Liam Harrison, Michael Dicks but also Julie Kitchen, look up some of their fights, please. After a heavy battle I was ready for my victory. My opponent went crazy when he received the victory. At the outside, I remained calm but inside I lost my mind also. It felt like they had lured me in with their friendly faces and good treatment, only to stab me in the back a day later. In my mind, the fight was mine. I had landed more, gave him an eight count. Yes, he had fought back with heart but I won at least three of the five rounds. The promoter saw my confusion and tried to explain how the scoring was different. But I did not accept this; this is not how it is. Now I would reframe it as: It was just not the way I thought scoring would go.
So it took me a couple of years to understand the Thai scoring and then a few more to accept the reality: It is just a different game. As my goal at the time was Thailand, I decided to throw myself even deeper into the traditional Muay Thai style.
Now I am in need of a new challenge and my new goals lie with MMA. But enough about me, we were talking about the difference between Muay Thai/Thai boxing in Europe VS America. I feel like the Muay Thai world and Kickboxing world in Europe have merged more or less. Gradually Muay Thai or Thai boxing took over 95% of the fights on events organized under former Kickboxing organizations like the WAKO. Whether it is traditional Muay Thai or Thai boxing which took over depends of the history.
I have the feeling that Muay Thai in the states is just starting to really come off the ground. The evolution from Full contact (no low kicks, elbows or knees allowed), to Kickboxing (No knees or elbows allowed) into Thai Boxing or Muay Thai now seems to finally get to its final phase in the States. I have no idea why it takes so long for the American public to embrace the sport but we are getting there. However, I want to point out that this is just the point of view from a newcomer in “American Muay Thai history”. Ask some of the American pioneers about that.
What I can say is that now, traditional Muay Thai scoring bouts seem to overpower the Thaiboxing scoring events like K1. As I said, there are a lot of guys doing good work for the sport. You have top trainers specialized in traditional Muay Thai like Kevin Ross’ trainer Mark Beecher, Primo Bellarosa and Eric Haycraft. Furthermore, if you prefer the Thaiboxing style, look up some of the California or Nevada based Dutch top trainers. Training all over the world, I often see that much trainers try to use the Thai system of training. When in Vegas and what I heard from American Muay Thai practitioners, there is lot of pad and bag work with a focus on hard single actions. I do not know that this is the wisest way to train the sport when you do not have 4 to 6 hours a day to train. In Thailand, you train almost all day and because of the law of large numbers, great fighters pop up here and there. Great competition makes great fighters. However, in countries where living from Muay Thai is hard, you have to develop training systems that are more time efficient. Most fighters also have a full time job in Western countries. The Dutch, pragmatic as they are, have developed a bunch of great training systems and drills.
In Vegas and Santa Monica, people asked me why there is the class difference between the general American and European fighters. My answer is twofold. First, we have a longer tradition in Thaiboxing/ Muay Thai. You guys will get there BUT…and this BUT is important, I have noticed that a lot of people go and train all over the place to get pieces of everything. I do not think this is wise. In Europe, you train in one gym 95% of the time and sometimes you go to other gyms to spar or make some contacts.
This makes that a real team develops where a group of people help each other improve and a positive cycle of continuous improvement appears. Like this, there is always a healthy competition within a gym where one member does not want to give way to the other but still help the other to get better because he is part of her or his team. Furthermore, like this you train yourself in one system so your weapons become automatic. And this without confusion that often erupts when visits to another gym confront the fighter with different viewpoints. What to choose? Who is right?
So, choose a good gym with intelligent training systems, technical sharpness and physical challenges and stick to it. Forget jumping around, it just tires you out.
I am sure that you can find a lot of good gyms but in the Thai system Eric Haycraft, Primo Belarosso and Mark Beecher are good teachers. But if you want to learn the Thaiboxing style, I know at least three top trainers who reside in the States.
Off course, I have to mention one of Holland greatest legends Rob Kaman (www.robkaman.com) who resides in California but travels all over the States to teach his system. If you get the chance to train with him, do!
Then you have the real intelligent Marco Van Den Broeck, the man behind “Dutch Muay Thai Trainer” fight system. Marco often resides in Vegas”( https://twitter.com/#!/dutchmuaythai) and bred great Thai Boxing fighters like Chris Ngimbi and Nieky Holzken. These days he works with MMA top guys like Amir Sadollah and Nik Fekete. This man is a specialist in cutting corners and slick fighting. He will make you without a doubt an unpredictable, complete fighter.
And last but not least, you have the UFC veteran Antoni Hardonck near LA (www.dynamixmartialarts.com). This great guy trained with other legends like Ernesto Hoost and Ivan Hyppolyte. He developed a well balanced system based on proper body mechanics and useful training drills to develop timing and continuous counter ability. He worked with MMA toppers like Vladimir Matyushenko, Kamal Shalorus, Jared Hamman, Ronda Roussey and Gabe Ruediger and in Muay Thai with Charles Bisset. If you want to train with him, you will find him in Santa Monica (together with the great BJJ master Henry Akins). I consider Antoni one of the best standup trainers on the earth. In my opinion, he is a Thai Boxing mastermind. Put this together with one of the best BJJ instructors in the world, Henry Akins, you know the quality that Dynamix has to offer.