One of the best things about sparring with high level Thai fighters is they are always controlled. Most of the time these fighters don’t have big egos and aren’t trying to prove anything. They are confident in their abilities and don’t have to show you how good they are by putting a beating on you.
If you’ve already read my sparring articles on technical sparring or hard sparring, you already know that there is no ‘winning’ in sparring. Sparring is meant for you to work on your game and to try to improve your timing.
When I visited Evolve MMA, I was able to get in some sparring work with Muay Thai champion Penake Sitnumnoi. If you don’t know who Penake is already, make sure you watch his highlight video HERE before you continue reading this. Penake was given the ‘Fighter of the Year’ award in 2012 and has won multiple Lumpinee championship belts.
The funny thing about Penake is he is probably the most unassuming fighter you will ever meet. If you saw him on the streets you would probably think that he was captain of the chess club in school. He looks like the typical college student you would see crammed in the library doing late night study sessions.
Given his non-threatening appearance, it is easy to underestimate Penake if you don’t know who he is. Fortunately, Penake doesn’t have an ego and is an extremely friendly guy. While he doesn’t talk too much, he’s always smiling and doesn’t go hard when he spars.
The following video showcases my sparring session with Penake.
Technical Sparring is about Improving
I’ve already written extensively about sparring and the importance of losing your ego when you spar. If you get into the mind set of “winning” when you spar, you are doing yourself and your partner a disservice. Once in a while you may spar a douchebag who is trying to knock you out, but for the most part the guys you spar with are there to make you better.
The first thing you should have noticed during this sparring session is the control and lack of power. Whenever Penake lands a strike on me, he doesn’t throw any power behind the strike. Sparring with speed and control allows you to work on timing without injuring your sparring partner in the process.
Even though I was gassed out in the sparring round (I hit pads right before) Penake never took advantage of my fatigue by trying to over power me.
It is important to spar when you are already gassed out because it is the closest simulation to a real fight. Even though you may have the best cardio heading into your fight, your cardio will almost always go out the window in the later rounds. The nerves, tension and stress will sap all of the energy from you.
Learning to keep a Poker face when you are tired can help you prevent your opponent from capitalizing on fatigue. Thai fighters are very good at concealing how they feel in order to prevent their opponents from capitalizing on their weakness.
In Thailand, Thai boys start learning how to develop a poker face from the moment they start fighting. Anytime you start panting for air the trainer will hit you and tell you not to show that you are tired. Keeping a poker face is not only important to prevent your opponent from knowing that you are tired, it is also important to show the judges you strong throughout the fight.
If you can develop a good poker face, you can gain a psychological advantage in the later rounds of a fight. Trust me, it can be extremely disheartening in a fight when you have thrown your best shots at your opponent and they are still coming forward strong.
The best way to improve your game is to train with guys who are better than you. When you spar against guys like Penake who have better timing and can read your strikes, it forces you to adapt your style to their level.
That is one of the reasons why a lot of the best gyms continue to breed to level fighters. When all of your training partners are world champions, it forces you to raise your own game up in order to compete with these guys in training.
When you watch Penake spar you will notice how relaxed he is throughout the sparring session. He doesn’t waste any unnecessary energy and is always in control of his movements.
In addition to the sparring session I had with Penake, I also got a chance to cinch with him when I was at Evolve. I’ll try and post that video in a few weeks so you can witness what it looks like to get completely dominated in the clinch by a world champion.
If you want to train with Penake in the future you can check him out over at Evolve Vacation to learn more.