MuayThai — Sport or Art?
Written by Don Heatrick
In this post I'm not comparing the modern-day MuayThai ringsport with it's origins in the battlefields of ancient Siam. I'm going to explain my thoughts on how any sports person can transcend beyond a biomechanical system of levers and physiological power plant. When does physical action become an art? What are the benefits and how can you accomplish this?
Sport science is getting increasing levels of exposure in the media, both positive and negative. The value of science in sport is being debated by both the heads in the sporting world and the lay observers in the general public. Ed Smith, former England batsman and writer for the Times says:
"My view is that sport science is critical to optimal performance. But we sport scientists shouldn't forget that not everything can be (nor should be) measured. The art in sport has a value that we cannot quantify." ~ Ed Smith
I feel that the art in MuayThai (or any sport for that matter) manifests when you become creative, when logical thought processes dissolve and you simply respond. I remember experiencing this back in 2007 when attending the Amateur World Championships in Bangkok, during my first pre-fight preparation with England coach Kru Yai Vinnie Deckon.
Vinnie had spent time warming me up on the pads, building intensity as my fight approached. As I moved up though the physical and psychological gears, I suddenly responded to Vinnie's aggressive change of position with an instinctive knee — where he wasn't holding pads. I immediately apologised for hitting him, and he replied; "No, that's good. You're getting creative — that shows you're ready... just go steady, you know I'm an old man!"
It would be difficult for an opponent to see such a shot coming, because even I didn't know I was going to do it, it just happened. This intuitive, artistic element is invaluable in the ring. You need to achieve a certain level of arousal, or mental state to access this powerful ally. But there's also more to it than that.
I'm sure you've all experienced at some time what many athletes refer to as being "in the zone" or "in flow". It often happens by accident, leaving you with the rushing feeling that you could do no wrong, everything was easy and time seemed to slow down. As an aside, I love how flow state is shown in the scene "not without incident" from the movie Equilibrium. If you haven't seen it, take a look at the short clip below.
Artistry also comes with individual interpretation. We’re all different anthropometric sizes, heights and body weights. We all develop a personal MuayThai. Different coaches show you different ways of using the same technique. It’s not that one is right and the others are wrong; they have different applications — working better in different situations or for different sizes or styles of fighter. Be open-minded and find what’s true for you. One-size-fits-all solutions rarely have great value and you must find your own MuayThai.
I feel that applying your own personal MuayThai in a flow state is the essence of art. If you can cultivate this flow in your training, you'll find it easier to unlock your unconscious ally in competition when it's most needed. Onlookers will observe a beauty in your movement and timing, and you'll feel time slow as you act intuitively as though driven by an external inspiration.
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Don is an ex-pro fighter, Muay Thai and strength & conditioning coach from the UK, with over 25-years experience in combat sports and athletic conditioning. He is passionate about all things that lead to improved fight performance and loves sharing what he's learned (and continues to learn) along the way.
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