Diesel was tired. You could see it on his face. The head trainer of FA Group in Bangkok took off his leather belly pad and placed it on a nail so the piece of equipment hung over the ring. He took off his thai pads and shin pads and drank some water from a tin cup.
“Noey,” he said. “Noey maak.”
In preparation for a fight active fighters will smash pads with their trainer every day, often times twice a day with one fighter’s session going from fifteen to thirty minutes. Most trainers will hold pads for more than one fighter per session creating a tremendous amount of wear and tear on their body especially over a sustained period of time. As one trainer stated “Hitting pads is the only time, outside of a fight, that you will ever throw with full power at your human counterpart…” <-ZB Taking that much damage all the time has to shape the way one thinks and acts and so recently I surveyed 9 trainers who have gyms across the United States; Staten Island, Pittsburgh, Reno, Louisville… what holding pads was like for them.
Most of the trainers had scaled back in some way over the years with their pad holding with one pad holder stating, “in the beginning I think I made it too much about me. I made it too much of a big deal. It was probably 60 percent of my athletes training. Over the years I have dialed it back to the final stages of camp as a tool to test, refine and get inside my athlete’s heads.” -EH
Another trainer stated that he “…focuses on power, speed and balance. I don’t string together very long combinations, but focus on shorter, more practical combos that are realistic and efficient.” – MDL This indicates a dialing back or simplicity which is further reinforced by a third trainer who stated “I tell my students, KEEP IT SIMPLE! The most important thing is balance. If you have no balance, then you can’t even stand up, let alone throw a technique. Balance is my primary focus. Wherever the hitter leaves from, they return to.”
For a fourth trainer basics were of paramount importance but he emphasized timing rather than balance as “Basics is what makes people better. I’ve never been one for flashy crap. I’ve never thought it looks cool or has impressed me. I hold for people to hit really freaking hard with good timing.” -CM
Only one trainer of the nine increased the complexity of his pad holding, “Holding pads has changed for me over the year in small ways, adding more combos. I’m always looking for ways to hold that make the most realistic targets as possible. I started off focusing on just Thai Pads, now I usually use focus mitts, and body pad, and the fairtex leg pads.”
With the majority of trainers having stated that they tend to keep their pad work straightforward I wonder if this trainer in the group might return to more simple routines. As one trainer noted his style had “…evolved from simple things in the beginning, then trying to do complex things back to taking a simple approach again.”
Perhaps most interestingly is the Thai respondent who rather than focusing on the complexity or lack thereof of his padwork he noted that the change of holding pads for him over the years was more due to cultural differences as “In Thailand I would have to catch for the fighters and respond to them. Here in America the fighters respond to the trainer.” -GA
However one trainer argues that catching for fighters is more of an evolutionary process in the training regime, “You start by holding combos or calling out and progress to “hit” and catch. No choreography, but you can implement a combo by “flashing” the target.” <-SS
The majority of the trainers had equipment that they were particularly attached to ranging from Twins, to Fairtex, to Boon to RevGear. While one company didn’t stand out amongst the crowd each trainer, with the exception of one, was rather particular about the gear they used for example one trainer stated “I’ve been using the medium size raja pads for a few years and they’re definitely my favorite because they’re really hard which I like my guys hitting hard pads it’s good conditioning for the shin and they’re really mobile,” -CM while another said “I like the one strap K Thai pads. Top king shin pads, belly pad, probably amedium sized boon belly pad. The really dense Top king focus mitts, although I wish they had finger covers on them.” -BP
Of course there was some brand loyalty in terms of equipment, “Fairtex equipment because of the good quality and style.” But some felt that the equipment available didn’t meet there needs; “I’ve had trouble finding mitts I really like. Right now I’m using a pair of fighting brand mitts that are pretty solid. I prefer micro mitts but have a hard time finding ones I like. Also for the newer fighters I don’t like to hold the micro mitts until their accuracy is at a certain level.” -JF
A third of the respondents weren’t particularly specific about the equipment they used; “I’m not partial to any set brand. I like switching up my equipment as much as possible.” –ZB or were not specific about the brands they used as in the case of this trainer “My favorite is Thai Pads and a Belly pad. I feel this is the best equipment to simulate a fight for a fighter. When I was training it was always my favorite to hit and now as a coach it’s my favorite to train my fighters.” -VS
A good pad holder
While having the right equipment will certainly make things easier on the body there is not a doubt in my mind that being a good pad holder is a skill, one that is acquired. There were several key points that the trainers brought up in terms of what makes for a good pad holder; “first and foremost, giving the striker the most realistic targets,” -JF a second trainer reinforced this point saying that a good pad holder “…can simulate what it’s like in an actual fight with giving pressure and backing up. Knows when to push the striker and when to ease up. -CM
The second facet that came up and was unilaterally stated was the importance of developing a fighter and their style as one trainer stated, “A trainer can see where you’re strong and where you’re weak. They can tell you the whats and when’s. A trainer knows every individual, and the areas they need to focus on. The second they start holding pads, they can see the hitters strong suits, based on the hitters knowledge and skill level.” -ZB This knowledge of a person’s abilities was shown by a second trainer, “I think a good pad holder is someone that can adapt to the style of the fighter that they are holding for and someone that is able to change their own style of holding based on the needs/goals of the person hitting. Someone striking the pads as a beginner has to have a different style of holder than someone who is fighting in 2 weeks.” -MDL A third trainer reinforced this idea saying, “a good pad holder is someone who knows how to make their fighters work and to push themselves. As a pad holder I first look at someone’s natural ability and then shape their fighting/pad work based on that for example if someone is good at punches we work punches.” -GA
The impact on the body
Almost all of the fighters stated that holding pads over the years had impacted their bodies. It can be “…be grueling at times. I’ve had bruised forearms and taken the occasional kick that misses the pads from the overanxious newbie ;) It can definitely wear on you, sometimes feeling the effects hours after the training session.” –Deluca This repeated stress becomes hard on the body as one trainer stated, “My shoulders were already bad when I started holding a lot but now they always hurt. It’s hard to sleep most the time. I’ve also developed these crazy big calluses on my forearms. They’re like big horns.” –CM Another trainer was a bit more specific about the long term repercussions of holding with constant “…minor impact on hands, forearms. Most of mine is SI joint related.”–SS Another trainer had similar difficulties with joint pain saying “If there was one thing I didn’t like, it would be working with someone who trains inconsistently. A lot of times their accuracy is off. So they punch my wrist or high on the mitts near my finger tips, which both are rough on my wrists and hands.” -JF
It can be hard for trainers to deal with holding pads while staying in shape, “it actually has impacted my body a great deal. Specially recently. As I had mentioned since I opened my own gym I don’t really get much of a chance to get any work in myself because I am always focused on my members or fighters. So I don’t have much time to keep my own muscles in top shape.”-VS Staying in shape becomes even harder as holding pads also impacts recovery rates as one trainer said “It has impacted my body a lot. My recovery rate is not as fast as when I was younger. Sometimes people will kick and miss. Sometimes when I hold for bigger people it takes a lot on my shoulders and elbows.” –GA
Only one trainer had noted positive effects on the body saying, “actually pad training keeps me from getting fat! It keeps my body strong so these kids don’t completely run over me.” –EH
Most striking was the trainer who simply stated that holding pads has “…shaped me into a broken shape. I get tweaks and aches and pains from holding. I’m more selective of who I hold for now.” –BP So next time your trainer holds pads for you remember all the work they do for you.
-GA Ganyao Arunleung is the head Muay Thai trainer at Pacific Ring Sports in Oakland California. After 8 years as a fighter he has spent 34 years as a trainer and formerly was the trainer for Thong LukBarnram Samart Fairtex.
-ZB Zach Bunnell has been training and competing for the last 10 years with a total of 27 fights he is still currently active as a fighter and six months ago opened up his own gym Reno City Kickboxing.
-MDL Mark DeLuca is a former professional Muay Thai World Champion who began in 2012 to focus solely on training others. He has brought Ron King multiple WKA American Championships and has represented the USA in Italy for the WKA’s where King won 2 silver medals. He currently coaches out of Yamaski Academy in Woodbridge Virginia.
-JF Jason Farrell began Martial Arts when he was 6 years old and began doing Muay Thai in 2006. He fought for a few years and then began couching in 2008. He has turned several several homegrown fighters pro including Jared Tipton who as an amateur was a WKA National Champion and Patrick Riveria who is a two time WKA World gold medalist. Farrell is the headtrainer of Level Up Boxing in Maryland.
-EH Eric Haycraft began doing martial arts in 1988 and started Muay Thai and Kickboxing in 1991. He had his first fight in 1993 and his last in 2004. He has helped his wife, Lindsay Haycraft, gain Gold at the WKA world championship, and Bronze at IFMA in Russia. Haycraft’s fighter has gone onto fight internationally in Spain, Germany, Slovenia, France… He is the owner of Real Fighters in Louisville, Kentucky.
-CM Chaz Mulkey fought for over 6 years and been in the fight business for over 10 years. He has trained Evan Dunham and Vinny Magalhaes but his top fighter is Kawika Lagasca, a top US amateur fighter. Mulkey coaches out of Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas Nevada.
-BP Bryan Popejoy had approximately 20 fights but has been coaching for over 24 years. He has worked with formerly ranked Rajadmnern fighter Kornphet Petchrapat. He works out of Boxing Works in Torrance California.
-VS Vinny Scotto had a few amateur fights since beginning training in 2005. He opened his gym in 2013, Staten Island Muay Thai where he works as head coach.