When you train in Thailand, your pad holder (trainer) plays an essential role in your development. Some people get lucky and end up working with amazing trainers, while other people get the short end of the stick and get someone who doesn’t care.
The truth is that most students who come to Thailand can’t recognize the good from the bad. People assume because a pad holder is Thai, they must be amazing. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
Additionally, just because a pad holder is popular among foreigners, does not make them a good pad holder. I’ve known some pretty lousy pad holders to be popular among “farangs” (foreigners), just because these were charismatic guys who talked a lot.
Usually, the trainers who are outgoing and very talkative, tend to be popular on a lot of people’s lists. It can be hard to separate the difference between someone who is a nice person, from being an excellent pad holder.
While most Thai trainers are a big step up from the pad holding you get back home, I’ve worked with a lot of Thai trainers who are easily forgettable. Some of these trainers were bad; others were just lazy and looking for the time to pass.
A high-level pad holder can see the skill set of the student and adapt the pad rounds accordingly. If a trainer is working with a beginner, they should go over the basics of Muay Thai. Conversely, if a trainer is working with someone advanced, they can free flow the pads to provide them more a realistic feel.
Since most people who visit Thailand don’t have enough experience to tell the good from the bad, this list puts together some qualities you should look for in a pad holder.
10 Signs You Have A Good Pad Holder
#1. They Identify and Correct Mistakes
The first thing you should look for in a pad holder is someone who identifies and corrects your mistakes. Is the guy just calling out combinations to make you tired, or is he trying to help you improve?
Any dummy can sit back and make you throw 50 kicks with each leg and tire you out, that is easy. It is much harder to analyze someone’s technique, and figure out what they are doing wrong.
Unless you have perfect technique, expect your pad holder to correct you.
Now I know that some of you are reading this probably think that you have perfect technique, but trust me, you don’t. The moment you lose your ego and realize that you have a lot to learn, that is when you can make some drastic improvements in your game.
When you get corrected by your trainer, you should feel thankful that they care enough to offer feedback.
Trainers that offer feedback and try to make you better are the ones you should try to go with. Watch out for the “very good, very good” type of trainers who praise you for everything, even when you know you are doing something wrong.
#2. They Adapt to Your Skill Set
Skilled pad holders can see the skill set of the student and adapt the pad rounds accordingly. If a trainer is working with a beginner, they should focus on the basics of Muay Thai. Conversely, if a trainer is working with someone advanced, they may go over advanced concepts or decide to drill their fundamentals if needed.
You are never too good for the basics. I don’t care how many years of training and how many fights you have; it is always a good idea to focus on your fundamentals and refine them.
I’ve seen some trainers teaching fancy footwork or combos to beginners, who don’t even know how to punch correctly. This is a bad thing. Don’t be fooled because you are learning a cool spinning elbow, into thinking your trainer is making you better.
Whenever a skilled trainer is working with a beginner, they keep everything down to the basic 1-2 strikes, to ensure that every technique is performed correctly.
I know one trainer who would teach these advanced feints to every student he held pads for. While it was an excellent technique for advanced students to pick up on, teaching those tricks to beginners only confused them, and caused them to work on things they shouldn’t be working on.
Good trainers adapt their pad rounds to the skill set of the student.
#3. They Focus on Rhythm and Pace
Another sign of a good trainer is one that focuses on trying to teach you the proper Muay Thai rhythm. If you don’t come from a traditional Thai gym, there is a good chance that you don’t have good rhythm.
If you are like me, when you work with a new trainer, you want to show them how amazing you are (or how out of shape we are). This usually means we end up not relaxing, and become very stiff.
Some of the best trainers I’ve worked with spend half the time trying to get me to settle down. “Sabai…..Sabai….” is a common phrase said by a lot of trainers trying to get their students to relax and slow down. They typically pace back and forth in a rhymic motion, trying to get you to emulate their rhythm.
While you might find it annoying having someone keep telling you to relax, this is how you learn how to fight like a Thai. Thais are efficient in their movement and are always relaxed. When your muscles are tense, it will cause you to gas out at a much faster rate. This is why good pad holders emphasize learning how to develop the Thai rhythm.
#4. They Develop Movement and Balance
Good trainers will make you utilize the space of the ring throughout the pad round. They won’t just keep you in the corner and make you hit the pads. They will focus on your movement and balance in each round.
Learning how to move around the ring and adjust to your opponent is a skill that can be developed in pads. Eventually, you will learn how to circle out when your opponent comes forward, and how to move forward, backward, and to the side.
A Thai trainer that stays in one spot without moving around is usually just lazy. Good pad holding involves constant movement around the ring.
#5. They Simulate Realistic Strikes
When you watch good Thai pad holders, you will notice the strikes they make students do are the same strikes you would use when you fight.
They don’t focus on flashy combinations; they drill the simple bread and butter strikes that you will use throughout your fighting career.
All of the combinations and strikes are done in rhythm. When they hold for a one-two-right kick, there is a pause before the kick, to allow you to reset your stance for the kick.
Every pad holder has their unique set of combos and strikes they like to use. This is why typically when you train at one gym in Thailand, you will find the pad holders have a similar pad style. This is how pad holders pass on their fighting style to the students they teach.
#6. They Can Emulate Fighting styles
Good pad holders can replicate different fighting styles to help you adjust your game to various types of opponents. They can play the role of the aggressor, counter fighter, knee fighter or any other fighting style you might encounter.
These pad holders typically work with fighters and prepare them for their opponents in the ring. When I trained in Bangkok at a gym called 96 Penang, I remember watching a fighter named Bangpleenoi prepare for his fight against a heavy hitting puncher with strong low kicks.
In preparation for the fight, Bangpleenoi’s pad holder emulated his opponent with punches and hard low kicks throughout the round of pads. He even switched to the Southpaw position so he could get an exact feel of how his opponent would fight.
In preparation for his big fight, Bangpleenoi 96 Peenang doesn’t get a break between pad rounds. Instead, another trainer simulates his opponent’s fighting style and precedes to punch and kick him while he’s dead tired. This is how they build champions on Bangkok. #muaythaitraining #bangkok #muaythaifighter #thaichampion #superstar #muaythaipros #muaythaibeast #Priewvayao #96peenang #muaythaipros
In additional to emulating opponents, skilled pad holders can also teach you how to fight using specific styles. They can help you develop better forward knees or even become more evasive with your blocking and countering.
#7. They Improve Your Conditioning
If you have an upcoming fight, the pad holders role is to ensure that you are ready for the challenge. They need to ensure you have enough cardio to last the five rounds of the fight (depending on the rules).
To improve your stamina, your pad holders will increase the volume of strikes you perform on the pads over time. This is usually why trainers make their students hit 50 kicks at the end of rounds.
Anytime you see a fighter who is unfit in the ring, that looks bad on that fighter’s pad holder.
If you plan on fighting, it is essential for your pad holder to push you to the limit, so you are prepared to last five hard rounds of the fight against any opponent.
If you aren’t fully committed to doing the necessary cardio to get into fight shape, your trainer shouldn’t make you fight in the first place. (Of course, this is a fairy tale and never happens in Thailand. If you want to fight in Thailand, nobody will stop you.)
If you aren’t training for a fight, your pad holder is probably going to be more concerned with your technique, then your conditioning. That being said, some pad holders are known cardio machines and will put everyone through the ringer on pads.
#8. They Teach You Defensive Instincts
One of the roles of the pad holder is to teach students how to defend.
How do pad holders do this? By striking you throughout the pad rounds. By making you defend while you are hitting pads, it keeps your mind sharp and thinking about defense instead of only offense.
Making you defend while you are hitting pads, keeps your mind sharp and ready to guard at all times.
If you are just starting out, your pad holder is probably going to be throwing slow strikes, to ensure you block them. And as you progress, you can expect the attacks to come faster and harder at you.
The only time I chipped teeth in training, was when a trainer threw a hard uppercut at me during a round of pads. He ended up clipping my jaw, which caused my teeth to clash and I lost part of a tooth. After that incident, I was always more alert when working with that trainer.
While most pad holders won’t hurt you with the strikes, they will make sure that you realize that the attack would have landed if they didn’t hold it back.
#9. They Can Freestyle Pad Work
Occasionally you will run into pad holders with next level skills. Anyone can try and freestyle their pads, but only a handful of trainers I’ve worked with are proficient at it.
To freestyle pads, it requires the pad holder to have a fast reaction and move the pads to your strikes. Instead of calling out a punch-kick combination, you kick and punch when you want to, and they have to react to your offense with the pads.
Freestyle pad work is excellent in teaching you how to think about your next move before you do it.
This style of pads is not for everyone and is only good for already developed fighters. If you try to freestyle pad work with someone who is inexperienced, it is going to confuse them.
#10. They Occasionally Bash You Before a Fight
A good pad holder is going to make sure you are 100% ready before you fight. This often means smashing you with punches and kicks during the pad rounds, so you learn how to defend against attacks, instead of only focusing on offense.
Sometimes a pad rounds can end up turning into a sparring match, except you only get to hit your pad holder when they allow it, but they can strike you at any time. This offensive handicap teaches you to keep a steady defense after every strike.
While most trainers will throw the occasional strike to keep you honest, pad holders who are preparing students for a fight will sometimes throw hard strikes, and the rare body shot that can drop you if you don’t block it.
Have you ever wondered why some fighters who come from certain gyms are tough as nails?
They usually have a trainer who is bashing them on pads, making sure that these guys are ready for anything in the ring.
A pad holder who knows how to apply pressure to a fighter and emulate sparring during the pad rounds is a great asset in preparing for a fight.
I should point out that there is a difference between beating up students and preparing them for a fight.
I’ve seen some videos of non-Thai pad holders beating up students during “Muay Thai testing.” If you go to a gym where you have to go through any “testing” that involves getting bashed by a pad holder, you should find somewhere else to train.
Here is an example of what NOT TO DO as a pad holder. These so-called “instructors” are beating up beginner students and calling it “testing.”
After reading this article, hopefully, you have a better idea of what you should look for in a skilled pad holder on your next visit to Thailand.
The key to finding a good pad holder is to try a few pad holders out before you commit to having one person train you. Don’t get forced into hitting pads with a trainer who is lazy and doesn’t care about you.
Just because a trainer is a world champion and is “famous” does not make them good. Some of the best pad holders I’ve had, were not the best fighters when they were competing at a high level.
A good pad holder is going to help take your technique to another level. They will offer you constant feedback and drill the basics into your head. No matter how many times you hate being corrected, they will continue to correct you until they see proper form.
If you notice your pad holder looking at the clock and eager to end the round, find a new one. There are too many good trainers out there to be stuck with someone who doesn’t care.
Finding a good pad holder in Thailand is more important than the gym itself. You could be at the “Best gym in Thailand,” but that means nothing unless you are working with a good trainer.
When you first arrive in Thailand, the easiest way to tell if someone cares about you is to see how often they correct you. If they don’t offer much feedback, they probably don’t really care about seeing you improve.
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